|2nd Lieutenant Henry Leslie Paxton BALDERSON|
8th (Service) Battalion Devonshire Regiment attached to C Company, 1/6th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment (TF)
Date of birth: 7th June 1892
Date of death: 23rd July 1916
Killed in action aged 24
Buried at Pozieres British Cemetery, Ovillers La Boisselle Plot IV Row G Grave 43
|Henry Leslie Paxton Balderson was born at South Lea on the 7th of June 1892 the only son of Robert Henry Balderson, a wine and spirit merchant, and Edith (nee Paxton) Balderson of South Lea near Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire.
He was educated at New College, Cliftonville, Margate in Kent and at Lancing College where he was in Seconds House from May 1907 to July 1910 and was a member of the Officer Training Corps.
On leaving school he trained as an accountant and worked for Harper Bros., Chartered Accountants of 10 Trinity Square, Tower Hill in the City of London.
On the 4th of April 1911 he enlisted at Dukes Road, Euston Road as Private 974 in the 28th (County of London) Battalion (Artists Rifles). At a medical examination, which was held on the same day, it was recorded that he was five feet eleven inches tall. He won the Silver Cup for best recruit in the same year. He attended the battalion's annual camps at Dover Camp, Aldershot from the 6th to the 20th of August 1911 and from the 28th of July to the to the 11th of August 1912. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on the 14th of July 1914.
Following the outbreak of was he was mobilised on the 5th of August 1914 shortly after which he applied for a commission. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Devonshire Regiment on the 15th of September 1914, was attached to the 8th Battalion and embarked for France with his battalion from Southampton on the 25th of July 1915 and disembarked at Le Havre at 7.30am the next morning.
The 25th of September 1915 was the opening day of the Battle of Loos and the 8th Battalion Devonshire Regiment found themselves in trenches in front of the German position of Breslau Trench, to the south west of the Quarries near Hulluch, which was their first objective that day. A new front line trench had been dug and C Company occupied them with A and D Companies in support in the old front line. There was some shelling of the German positions overnight but at 5.30am on the morning of the 25th a deluge of fire fell on them. There was some response from the German artillery which caused casualties in the densely packed Devon’s trenches. Then gas and smoke were released from the British trenches and, although all went well at first, the wind changed and the men suffered from the effects despite their newly issued gas helmets. “Zero” hour was set for 6.30am but D Company must have started their advance before that, as the three front companies were level with each other and advanced together across no man's land. Because of this there was much bunching at the gaps in the British wire and losses were heavy as the Germans opened fire with rifle and machine gun fire. Although the battalion crossed and took Breslau Trench in only 12 minutes most of the officers and men were cut down by rifle and machine gun fire as they crossed no man's land. Henry Balderson was severely wounded by a gunshot wound in the abdomen and was evacuated by 2 Field Ambulance. He was taken to No. 4 General Hospital at Versailles the following day.
His mother received the following telegram dated the 27th of September 1915: -
"2/Lieut. H.L.P. Balderson 8th Devons reported by No. 4 General Hospital, Versailles seriously ill gunshot wound abdomen. Any further news telegraphed as received. It is reported, permission to visit cannot be granted."
On the 23rd of October his mother was sent the following telegram: -
"Regret to inform you that hospital reports 2nd Lieut. H.L.P. Balderson still seriously ill 17th inst."
On the 28th of October he was loaded on board the SS "St Patrick from Rouen and landed at Southampton on the 30th of October from where he was taken to the Hon. Mrs Burn's Hospital at Stoodley Knowle, Torquay.
His mother received a further telegram dated the 6th of November 1915: -
"Lieut. H.L. P. Balderson Devon Regt. admitted Mrs Burn's Hospital Stoodley Knowle, Torquay Oct 31st with gunshot wound abdomen."
A Medical Board sat there on the 16th of November which granted him six weeks leave and he left the hospital on the 19th of November 1915. On the 15th of February 1916 a Medical Board sat at Aylesbury which passed him as "fit for light duties". He joined the 11th (2nd Reserve) Battalion of his regiment at Wareham on the 19th of February.
On his recovery he was attached to the 1/6th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment and returned to France on the 22nd of June 1916, joining the battalion in the field on the 27th of June where he was attached to C Company.
On the 22nd of July 1916 the 1/6th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment moved from Donnet Post, through the village of Ovillers and along the railway line for an attack on Pozieres the following morning. They were under occasional shell fire as they proceeded but successfully moved to their assembly positions. At 12.15am on the 23rd they moved forward further still, under more shelling, but with few casualties. At 12.30am they moved to the attack, immediately coming under accurate and sustained machine gun fire which swept through the leading waves, led by Lieutenant Corbett, cutting them down in large numbers. Although the following two waves led by Henry Balderson continued on, they were unable to close with and, silence the enemy machine guns. Those who got closest to the enemy parapet reported belts of wire in front which had not been cut as there had been little or no British artillery support for the attack. A small party of bombers entered the German trench but were soon beaten back. The attack was a failure with C and D Companies losing all their officers in the assault. Casualties were difficult to collect from the field due to gas shells which began arriving shortly after the attack head petered out. Henry Balderson's body was found and recovered on the 20th of August.
His mother received the following telegram dated the 23rd of August 1916: -
"Deeply regret to inform you that 2Lt H.P. Balderson 8 Devon Regt previously reported missing 23 July now reported killed in action on that date. The Army Council express their sympathy."
The battalion war diarist recorded:-
"The cause of the failure was in my opinion the lack of artillery preparation. None of the M.G.s [machine guns] … had been knocked out and the enemy line had hardly been shelled at all."
Lieutenant Scull wrote:-
“From all accounts he led his men nobly. It will be a great comfort to hear that he was greatly respected by his men and brother officers.”
Lieutenant Anderson wrote:-
"I do know this that he died with the other officers in his Company like the man he had already shown himself to be to all of us."
Company Quartermaster Sergeant Johnson wrote:-
“Your son was admired and loved by all his platoon; very few of them are now left, but they all join in expressing their deep sympathy. We have lost a gallant officer, but our loss is small in comparison to yours who have given up an only son to our dear Motherland.”
His Platoon Sergeant wrote:-
“Have you any objection to me keeping the photo (sent for recognition) I shall treasure it, and the memories of your son’s gallantry, coolness under fire and personal concern for his men will live long in my memory.”
His mother applied for his medals in October 1919.
He is commemorated on the Boxmoor War Memorial in Hertfordshire and by a stained glass window in St John's Church at Boxmoor.