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Herbert Hitchon was born on the 15th July 1892 at 80 Cog Lane in Burnley, the son of John Robert and Mary Jane Hitchon (nee Longworth). His parents married in Holy Trinity Church, Habergham Eaves near Burnley on the 10th February 1878. Herbert was the youngest of four surviving children, the others being; Fred (1878), Walter (1882) and Maria (1886).

By 1901 the family had moved to 6 Watson Street in Burnley where they would remain for a number of years, Herbert`s father was employed as a labourer. Sadly, John Robert Hitchon passed away in 1910 and the Census of the following year shows Herbert, his sister Maria and their recently widowed mother Maria still at the same address in Watson Street. Also in the household was a 14 year old granddaughter, Margaret Ann Doherty. Herbert was working as a cotton weaver, later information stating that he was employed at Hargher Clough Mill.

Herbert attested on the 12th December 1915, initially being posted to the 5th (Reserve) Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment with the service number 4640. His papers note that he was 5`5” tall and he was said to be in a fair physical condition. The following day he was posted to the Army Reserve. Herbert was mobilised on the 19th February 1916 and then journeyed south to join the 3/5th (Reserve) Battalion stationed at Witley in Surrey.

He embarked for France on the 7th August 1916, sailing from Folkestone to Boulogne and on arrival was sent to the 25th Infantry Base Depot at Etaples where at some point he was posted to the 1/5th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment. However, on the 17th August 1916, Herbert, together with one Officer and a number of other ranks were sent to reinforce the 1/4th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, joining them in the field at Mericourt on the 17th August 1916. Herbert`s papers also state that he was a qualified bomber.

Extract from the 1/4th Battalion LNL War Diary

17/8/1916 – Coy and platoon training. All transport was brigaded and proceeded to new area. 1 Officer and 119 other ranks reinforcements arrived from the 1/5th Bn East Lancs. Regt.

According to the Battalion War Diary, the 1/4th Battalion had moved to the area around Millencourt by the end of August 1916 before moving on again to a camping ground near Fricourt. 

Extract from the Battalion War Diary

Millencourt 

6/9/1916 – Battalion moved at 9.30am from MILLENCOURT to camping ground near FRICOURT. Took over lines from 9th East Surrey Regiment.

Fricourt

7/9/1916 – Warning order received for the Brigade to go into the trenches. This was confirmed in the evening.

7.40pm – The Battalion marched off for MONTAUBAN where guides of the 8th Devon’s were waiting. The sector taken over by the 164th Brigade extended from the east edge of DELVILLE WOOD in the direction of GINCHY. Two battalions – 1/4th LNL and 2/5th Lancs Fusiliers were in the front line, and the remaining two were in support. B, C and D Coys of the Battalion were in the front line and A Coy was in support.

Delville Wood 

8/9/16 – Heavy shelling on both sides. Coys in front line spent as much time as possible in improving trenches, which were very battered, and in connecting up with their left and right.

Casualties; 4 killed, 29 wounded, 1 o.r. to hospital sick

9/9/16 – Heavy shelling all day by our artillery. D Coy was withdrawn from DELVILLE WOOD and went in support. At 4pm the barrage started and at 4.45pm the Division on our right attacked. Our objective was to capture HOP ALLEY with B and C Coys and the Lancs Fusiliers were to go over us and capture ALE ALLEY. The Battalion assaulted at 5.25pm and by entering HOP ALLEY, gained its first objective. The second wave failed to reach ALE ALLEY, and HOP ALLEY, being heavily shelled and becoming untenable under intense machine-gun barrage was evacuated by B and C Coys and the original line was taken up in PILSEN LANE.

Supporting Coys from the 1/8th K.L.R. and 1/4th R. Lancs. Regt. were sent up to strengthen the line and working parties were despatched to consolidate the position.

Casualties 22 killed, 125 wounded and 79 missing.

Delville Wood

10/9/16 – 8am, the Battalion, which had suffered considerably under shell and machine-gun fire, was withdrawn from the front line and sent into support . The day was spent in resting. In the evening carrying parties were supplied to take up rations for the units in the line. 3.20 pm Battalion stood to in view of renewed attack on our front.

Casualty – 1 other rank wounded.

Unfortunately, the one other rank referred to as being wounded on the 10th September 1916 was Private Herbert Hitchon who had sustained gun-shot wounds to his right arm. Herbert was taken to a casualty clearing station before being sent back down the line to 26 General Hospital in Etaples. Sadly, Herbert succumbed to his wounds three days later, his papers note that he died at 10.35pm on the 13th September 1916 at St. John`s Hospital in Etaples.

Herbert`s service papers also confirm that he had been officially transferred into the 1/4th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment on the 9th September 1916, the day before he died, and that he had been re-issued with the service number 6223.

Mary Jane Hitchon, as Herbert`s official next of kin, was first of all informed that he had been severely wounded and then notified of his death and a short article appeared a few days later in the Burnley News, dated 20th September 1916;

SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER – BURNLEY SOLDIER DIES IN HOSPITAL

On Saturday we announced that Private Herbert Hitchon, 5th East Lancashire Regiment, son of Mrs. Hitchon of 6 Watson Street, Burnley, was in hospital suffering from severe gunshot wounds, and that he was reported to be in a dangerous condition. On Sunday morning, Mrs. Watson was officially notified that her son had died in hospital. He was 24 years of age and had only been at the front for 5 weeks. As we stated on Saturday, Private Hitchon formerly worked at Hargher Clough Mill. He was associated with St. John`s School and was a teacher at the Wood Top Sunday School, of which he had also been Secretary.

A number of Herbert`s personal effects were later returned to his mother in Burnley, these included; 1 ID Disc, 1 charm, 1 pocket wallet, 6 photos, 1 A.B. 50, 1 note book, a small purse, 9ct gold ring and a cotton bag.

After the war Herbert`s mother took receipt of her sons` British War and Victory Medals that he was entitled to and would also have received his Memorial Plaque and Scroll in recognition of his sacrifice.

Herbert was laid to rest in Etaples Military Cemetery.

Photo taken in April 2018

Janet Davis

Janet Davis

Janet Davis has been researching her family history for many years and through this she discovered many relatives who served in WW1. This interest then led Janet to do many walking the battlefield tours with her husband. In April 2013 she discovered this website and volunteered to help. Janet believes that there are lots of stories still to be told, most of them very sad but at the same time they are a fascinating insight into the men, their families, what they did and where they came from.
Janet Davis

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