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Henry Berry

Henry Berry, more commonly known as Harry by friends and family was born in Gloucester on January 8th 1883 the youngest child to his parents James and Hannah. After attending St Marks School at the outbreak of the Boer War the young Berry enlisted in the Gloucestershire Regiment, despite the fact that at sixteen he was too young to be engaged in active service. As an alternative he was posted to the 4th Militia Volunteers who customarily remained within the borders of the United Kingdom, although this tradition aside when asked to serve on St Helena guarding Boer prisoners of war the entre battalion duly volunteered and departed for the South Atlantic on board the RMS Goth in January 1900 arriving ready for garrison duties on the 21st April of that year.

Although life on St Helena may have been somewhat less exciting than popular opinion of the time suggested it did allow plenty of opportunity for organized sports. It is likely that it was at this time that Berry had his first introduction to, and discovered that he had a talent for, both Rugby and Hockey, although it was to be the former that became a passion in his life. At the end of the Boer War in 1902 the 4th Militia received orders to return home to their more customary duties. Having recently received the Queens Medal for his service in the conflict and by now of age Berry decided to make a career of military life and transferred to the 1st Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment moving with his new unit to both Ceylon and India, serving at various times over the next seven years in Trincomalee, Lucknow, Umballa, Lahore, Dalhousie and Bombay.

Whilst with the first battalion Berry continued to play rugby as he moved around the Asian sub continent, captaining the ‘D’ Company rugby team for five seasons during which time they remained unbeaten. His time with the Battalion was cut prematurely short, however, in 1909 when he contracted malaria and after his repatriation he left the Army returning to Gloucester and civilian life.

Back home Berry soon reestablished his love for rugby joining the Gloucester club at Kingsholm almost as soon as he returned. Originally a three quarter his new club saw him in a different light and soon converted him into a forward. This transformation obviously suited Berry as he was soon selected for Gloucestershire and was a reserve for England during the 1909 season. Greater honors were to follow.

January of 1910 was to prove a busy month for Berry as he married Beatrice Arnold at St Catherine’s Church in Gloucester . Berry was by now a publican and together they would run the Red Lion and later the Stag’s Head in Berry ’s home town. Berry would also find time that January to pay a visit to Twickenham on the 15th for a double first of both his debut cap against Wales , which was also to be the first international played at the new stadium. In a closely matched game, blighted in part by persistent rain that turned parts of the new pitch into a sea of mud, England generally deserved their hard fought victory winning by six points to three, their first victory over Wales since 1898. Bolstered by Berry ’s display as a thinking forward who was fleet of foot the England selectors retained his services for the following match as well as the rest of the international season. England 's next opponents were to be Ireland in a match also to be held at Twickenham on February 12th. Played in front of the Prince of Wales and his guest Prince Albert of Schleswig-Holstein it proved to be a poor match that resulted in a scoreless draw. England were generally regarded as being fortunate to hold on for this result as Ireland had the better of the play. The following month saw Berry travelling with the team to Paris to play France at the Parc de Princes on March 3rd. This provided a far better English performance with Berry distinguishing himself with a debut try for his country ten minutes after kickoff during the English teams eleven points to three victory. This left just one remaining encounter for the 1910 international season and two weeks later England again travelled, this time to Inverleith, to take on Scotland on March 19th in the Calcutta Cup match. Scotland proved to be the better side in the first half and it was not until the second period of play that England started to assert themselves. The English pack, including Berry who again crossed the line to score, played far better than expected gaining praise in the following match reports. Berry himself was described as having provided splendid support for his captain R. Dibble in a match that England eventually won by fourteen points to five.

The international season was over with England securing their first title since 1892, and missing out on a first ever grand slam only due to the draw with Ireland . Despite his strong season in a white shirt for whatever reason the England selectors decided not to favor Berry again. He returned to Gloucester where married life continued, his first child Harry George being born in August 1911. Rugby still played a major part in his life. In the 1910 season he played for the Gloucestershire side that won the county championship and he remained a valued member of the Gloucester club until 1913.

Still in the Army reserve Berry was recalled to the colors with the outbreak of war in August 1914. Initially posted to the third reserve battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment he was sent to guard the Woolwich Arsenal and the Thames Forts. Berry soon returned to the first battalion where he had spent so many years as a young man and was soon posted to active duty arriving in France in February 1915 with the rank of corporal. Back in Gloucester Berry ’s second child Phyllis Irene was born on April 14th. Although Berry chose her middle name he was destined never to see her. The following month saw the Gloucestershire regiment, along with fifteen others, preparing for the second Battle of Artois, more commonly known as the Battle of Aubers Ridge. Sensing the Germans strategy of keeping a defensive posture in the west whilst moving troops to the Eastern front and secure victory against Russia whilst also recognizing the need to support the French decision to launch a quick attack to capitalize upon this a British plan was rapidly drawn up to utilize a pincer attack against the German forces around Neuve Chapelle. Few definite objectives were set beyond this with individual units encouraged to press on across the flat terrain as far as possible. The battle plan was flawed in many ways. Intelligence was poor. There was very little surprise to the British tactics meaning that the Germans were well prepared. The short tactical bombardment used as a precursor to attack was ineffective with the artillery also being in poor repair and short of ammunition. The British trenches were poorly laid out making the movement of reinforcements difficult, although these were in short supply with ongoing action also in progress both Ypres and Gallipoli. Conversely the Germans had plenty of time to improve their defenses dramatically, a fact missed by the British intelligence Officers. As part of the Southern side of the pincer, and despite already heavy losses Berry and the first Gloucester ’s went over the top at four o’clock in the afternoon on May 9th 1915. They were met by withering machine gun fire from the well prepared Germans. The battle would prove to be an unmitigated disaster for the British. No ground was won and no positive effect on the French attacks held concurrently to the North could be seen. During their attack the Gloucester ’s lost two hundred and sixty two men. Henry Berry was one of them. His body was never recovered.


"The Complete Who's Who of England Rugby Union Internationals", R Maule,  Breedon 1992

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© D A Hunter, 2008
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