WW1 Centenary: Staff Stories, Private H P Pocock

To mark the centenary of the end of the First World War, staff at West Sussex Record Office have shared their stories of family members who were caught up in the conflict.

When the Worthing Gazette was published on Wednesday August 16th 1916 right at the bottom of page 7 was a four line notice under the heading Angmering – Missing Soldiers.  Three names are given Privates G L Horton, H P Pocock and F Punch.

Of the three men named two of them had died on 30 June 1916 at what became known as the Battle of the Boar’s Head. They were both serving in the 13th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. Their names are listed together on the Loos Memorial in France.

 

Private H P Pocock was my great uncle, on my maternal side of the family tree.

Henry Peter Pocock was born on the 2 September 1893, one of 8 children born to my great-great grandparents Simeon and Kate Pocock (nee Clevett) who lived in Blaber Cottage, Church Road, Angmering.  Of the 8 children born to Simeon and Kate they had already lost one son in 1906 aged 2.

In the left hand column of the admissions register for Older’s Charity School, Angmering in 1899, it shows that Henry had been apprenticed to become a butcher’s boy

On the 1911 census Henry was lodging with the Smart family in Angmering and his trade is indeed shown as butcher.

Unfortunately no Service papers survive for Henry, but I do know he enlisted at Lewes, East Sussex and was assigned to the 13th Battalion in the Royal Sussex Regiment.

On 30th June 1916 at Richebourg l’Avoué in France the 12th and 13th Battalions, with the 11th Battalion as support, were involved in the final bombardment on Boar’s Head starting at 3.30 am.  The site of the Battle of the Boar’s Head owes its peculiar name to the network of trenches forming a salient in the shape of a boar’s head. The battle would last a mere 5 hours.

The battle aimed to distract the Germans and to make them believe that the Great Offensive would be launched in Richebourg and not in the Somme. The three Southdowns battalions lost 17 officers, with 349 men killed, including 12 sets of brothers, three from one family. Another 1,000 men were wounded or taken prisoner.  In regimental history, the battle is known as “The Day Sussex Died”.

Living in a world today dominated by instant news and images it is hard to grasp the lack of information available to families at the time. By researching local newspapers it is possible to imagine, to some small extent, the desperation and worry families must have felt waiting for news of their sons, husbands and brothers.

An entry in the Observer and West Sussex Recorder of the 16 August 16 1916 reports:

Sussex Regiment Casualties – Many wounded and nearly 300 missing were reported officially last week among the Royal Sussex Regiment…..

It then goes on to list some of the local men missing, including Henry. Seeing articles like this of the time you realise families must have been only too aware that something major had happened in France.  With the word ‘Missing’ giving a false hope that their loved one may be found, while realising as the war went on there was none and they were dead.

On 26 October 1916 the South of England Advertiser, under the heading Angmering, states that no news has been received of Henry Pocock and George Horton of the Sussex Regiment since the commencement of the “great push” whilst on the 1 November the West Sussex Recorder reports: news is anxiously awaited of G Horton and H Pocock.

I do not know when Kate and Simeon received the dreaded confirmation that Henry had been killed or how long they had to wait to hear. But like numerous families across the county and country their lives were forever changed.

This I think is borne out by the obituary notice in the Worthing Herald on 5 May 1939 for Kate Pocock, where it states she was a member of the Women’s branch of the British Legion.

Interestingly it states that Henry died at the Somme, which was always believed to be true by my family.

Whilst helping with our display of images here at the Record Office for the Armistice I remembered a photograph my mother had, taken in the late 1920s possibly 1930s. It is of the May Queen placing here spring bouquet on the war memorial in Angmering. When I scanned it I realised that the side of the memorial in the photograph includes Henry’s name, which touched me deeply.

 

Sarah Head, Technical Assistant

Uncover more First World War stories on the Great War West Sussex website and hear about the war in soldiers’ own words on the Military Voices website.

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