Saturday, November 15, 2014

GS/10396 and L10156 Trooper Harry Bird,16th Lancers

Harry Bird was the brother of Alfred Bird and was born at Heacham, near King’s Lynn, Norfolk on 12th February 1886.  He was the second child and eldest son of John and Mary Bird and appears on the 1901 census living with his family at Heacham.  John Bird, born at Shouldham, Norfolk, was the 40 year old head of the family and working as a labourer at a brickyard.  His wife, 37 year old Mary, had been born at Thornham, Norfolk.  The couple had seven children with them at the time: Harry (aged 15, working as a house boy), Celia Bird (aged 12), Mary (aged 11), John Bird (aged six), Alfred (aged four), Lydia Bird (aged two) and Edward C Bird (aged under one month).  All of the children were born at Heacham.  Alfred’s older sister Alberta Bird (born in October 1883) does not appear on this census return.  Another brother, Charles, born in September 1892, had died in May 1896 and is buried at Heacham.  A tenth child, Robert Bird, would be born in September 1903. 

Harry probably moved to Chailey around 1908 or 1909.  His brief obituary, published in Chailey’s parish magazine in 1927 makes reference to the fact that he had been known in the parish for close to twenty years.  He gained employment working as a groom at Bineham House, Chailey, home to the Blencowe family.  Harry was one of two grooms reporting to the coachman.  The undated photo taken at Bineham (below) is possibly of Harry. 

He married Mabel Eliza Worth around 1916.  She had been a second housemaid at Ades (home to the Ingram, Pownall and latterly Wright families) in Chailey and it is believed that the couple may have met through attending services at St Peter’s Church.  Their marriage though took place not in Sussex but in Hampshire, being registered at Petersfield District in the June quarter of 1916. Harry must have been on leave at the time as Chailey Parish Magazine, which first noted in October 1914 that he was serving his King and Country, reported in October 1915 that he was serving with the 17th Lancers in France.  The magazine gives his rank as Trooper although this is technically incorrect as this was the rank within the Household Cavalry and was not extended to the line cavalry regiments until about 1921. 

The National Archives’ medal index card for Harry Bird shows that he served only with the 16th Lancers and not the 17th.  He had two numbers however: GS/10396 and latterly L/10156. In February 1916 the Parish magazine reports (correctly) that Harry is serving with the 16th Lancers in France and this information is repeated up until the final entry for him in December 1917.   

Harry Bird came through the First World War unscathed and was discharged to Class ‘Z’ A. Reserve on 18th February 1919.  In 1921, Mabel gave birth to twins – Gladys Lillian and Leslie Alfred – Leslie’s middle name given in honour of his dead uncle Alfred Bird who had been killed at Arras four years earlier.  

The undated photo at the top of this page shows Harry and Mabel Bird presumably while Harry was on leave.  The couple’s wedding rings can be seen so this must date the photograph to around 1916 or later.  Mabel is wearing black and Harry’s second button on his khaki tunic is also blackened.  It’s possible that they were in mourning for Harry’s brother Alfred but this is only conjecture.   

Harry died in March 1927 after contracting Encephalitis Lethargica and he was buried in St Peter’s Church graveyard, Chailey. The following month the Parish Magazine marked his death with the following entry: - 

“OUR SYMPATHY. – By the passing of Harry Bird after a long and wearisome illness bravely and patiently borne, we have lost one who has been well known to most of us in Chailey for nearly twenty years. He served in the cavalry (16th Lancers) during the War, and for some years was a regular bell-ringer at our Parish Church. At his funeral ex-servicemen acted as bearers, and a muffled peal was rung that evening.” 

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stoke, “Encephalitis lethargica is a disease characterised by high fever, headache, double vision, delayed physical and mental response, and lethargy. In acute cases, patients may enter coma. Patients may also experience abnormal eye movements, upper body weakness, muscular pains, tremors, neck rigidity, and behavioural changes including psychosis. The cause of encephalitis lethargica is unknown. Between 1917 and 1928, an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica spread throughout the world, but no recurrence of the epidemic has since been reported.” 

Some time after Harry’s death, possibly in the early 1930s, Mabel Bird married Charles Jenner.  They had no children together but between them brought up the children of their first marriages, the twins Leslie and Gladys, and Charles’ son Bernard. They lived for many years at Knights Cottages, South Street, South Chailey. Charles Jenner died in the late 1960s and Mabel continued living there until 1971 when she had to move to a nursing home in Uckfield. She died in early 1972. 

My thanks to Harry Bird's great nephew, Derek Bird, for contacting me and providing me with additional information about Harry and Alfred Bird and Charles Jenner. I have quoted extensively from the information he supplied.


No comments: