Forgotten Stourbridge soldier to be remembered on war memorial 100 years after his death

Stourbridge War Memorial. Buy photo: 311419L

Harry Whitwell. Image from the County Express - thanks to assistance from staff at Dudley Archives and Local History Centre.

First published in News

A FORGOTTEN Stourbridge soldier killed in WWI is set to be remembered following a successful campaign to add his name to the town's war memorial nearly 100 years after his death.

Tragic Harry Whitwell, of the Worcestershire Regiment, died of wounds sustained fighting for his country in Mesopotamia on February 2 1917 and he was buried in Amara War Cemetery in modern day Iraq.

Yet his sacrifice has never been acknowledged on any memorial in Worcestershire, according to the soldier's great-nephew Paul Nash who has spent the last few years trying to raise funds to have Mr Whitwell's name added to Stourbridge's cenotaph in Mary Stevens Park.

Harry, aged 24, died a few months before his 26-year-old brother Thomas, also of the Worcestershire Regiment, who was killed in action in France on May 21 1917, leaving a wife Frances and daughter Mabel.

But news of the former's death was delayed and the widowed father of the ill-fated brothers, Henry Whitwell - a mole catcher, died at an address in Stourbridge High Street in 1920 before names were gathered for the Norton memorial.

Thomas's widow is presumed to have put her late husband's name forward and made a donation towards the cost. But Harry's name, it seems, was omitted.

Researcher Sandra Taylor, who runs the National Lottery funded website - www.rememberthefallen.co.uk, said: "To our knowledge Harry is not commemorated on any memorial in Worcestershire and as such his sacrifice has remained forgotten for almost 100 years.

"With the centenary of WWI now upon us, it is entirely appropriate for Harry to finally 'come home'."

Following efforts by Mr Nash and Sandra Taylor, nearly £3,000 has been donated towards adding Harry's name to the Stourbridge memorial and to pay for a dedication ceremony to be held in September.

Stourbridge Football Club raised £340 at a match in February; Dudley Council's community forum for Norton, Pedmore, Stourbridge and Wollaston donated £1,560; the Anthony and Gwendoline Wylde Memorial Charity gave £750; and trustees of the Laslett's Hinton Charity pledged £250.

Both Harry and his brother Thomas, who lived in Field Lane in Oldswinford for a time during their childhood, voluntarily enlisted with the Worcestershire Regiment in August 1914.

Thomas, who later lived in Mamble Road, Stourbridge, served as a private in the 2nd Battalion.

While Harry, who for a time boarded and worked at Field House Farm in Clent, served with the 9th Battalion, Worcesters.

Their great-nephew Mr Nash said: "Because of the heavy casualties sustained by the 9th in Mesopotamia, Harry was given a field promotion to ‘acting’ (unpaid) sergeant.

"But he died of wounds he received in the successful attempt to capture Baghdad from the Turks."

An article published in the old County Express(predecessor to The Stourbridge News) on July 7, 1917, shows the soldier's father had appealed for news about Harry who was initially listed as missing in action.

Mr Nash, aged 65, from Birmingham said: "It means that after his youngest son had been dead for nearly six months, Henry had still not received any news. What dark thoughts must have passed through his mind when the letters stopped arriving.

"Thomas now lies somewhere near the town of Croisilles in Northern France. His name is inscribed on the Arras Memorial and in his home town of Stourbridge.

"Harry lies without a headstone in Amara, within sight of the Tigris, a long way from the Stour he would have known in his childhood."

He said their father - who was probably Stourbridge's last mole catcher - "did not live to see the dedication of the present memorial in 1923" and he added: "He was not there to see that the name of his youngest son was not listed among the fallen of Stourbridge."

A spokesman for Dudley Council said Saturday September 13 at 11am had been earmarked for a dedication ceremony at the war memorial which will be attended by the Mayor of Dudley.

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