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Sergeant Horace Sheffield

14014 6th Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment

Sgt Horace SheffieldSon of Mr Frederick & Mrs Lizzie Sheffield

Aged 24 years

Died 11th April 1916

Commemorated at Carnoy Military Cemetery
Grave S.15.

Born at Rushden, enlisted at Northampton.

Brother of Frank Sheffield.

The Rushden Echo Friday 12 November 1915, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Germans Crafty as Monkeys - But Whacked Any Time Now - Rushden Sergeant's Impressions - Germans Voluntarily Surrendering - Absolutely Sick of the War and Half-Starved - What Mine Warfare is Like - 'A Rotten Way of Fighting' - Like the Explosion of a Thousand Guns

Sergt Sheffield's Thrilling Description - Tribute to Colonel Ripley - Steelbacks the Finest Regiment in the British Army

Sergt H Sheffield (Rushden), of the 6th Northants Regt, son of Mr F Sheffield, of Crabb-street, Rushden, has been spending eight days' leave from the front with his friends, Mr and Mrs Gilbert, of 26 Oakley-road Rushden.

Sgt Horace SheffieldIn the course of an interesting account of his experiences, which he vouchsafed to a representative of the "Rushden Echo" he said:-

"I enlisted on Sept. 4th, 1914, and after 11 months training was sent to the front about the beginning of July this year. I was sent into the firing line almost as soon as I landed in France, but we were put into a fairly quiet part of the trenches where most of the fresh troops are sent to receive what we call their baptism of fire. Newly arrived troops are given a course of about four days' instruction in these trenches, with a line regiment. We were put in with the Cheshires, and when we had completed our four days there we were sent to another part of the line by ourselves, and we found new quarters very much hotter than those we had left. I don't know how it is, but the enemy always seem to know when a fresh regiment get in line, and then for about two hours they subject you to heavy artillery fire.

"If we had thought it quiet in the first trenches we entered, here it seemed like hell, and at the commencement I never thought I or anybody else would come through alive, but after a few hours you become accustomed to these experiences, and take no notice of shells. As it happened on this occasion very little damage was done to the first line, where we were, by the enemy's fire, as our trenches were so close to the German's that if their shells had exploded near our parapet it would have done as much damage to the enemy's trenches as to ours. They, of course, were aware of that fact, and consequently they concentrated their fire on our reserve trenches, and you ought to have seen them when they had finished with them. The trenches were battered beyond recognition, looking for all the world like so much ploughed up ground on to which wagon loads of earth had subsequently been emptied. Strange to say, the casualties were remarkably few, but from what I have said you will realise that the firing line is in a good many instances very much safer than the dug-outs in the reserve trenches. They had been blown sky high, very few being left, and we couldn't rebuild them, as the enemy didn't give us a chance.

"It was reported in some of the newspapers that my battalion took part in the battle of Loos, and particiapted in the charge, but this report was not correct. We took no actual part in the battle, although we were at the time holding part of the line in the same district. As a consequence we had a good view of the battle, and also heard the noise of it, I can give you my word. I shall never forget the din of the artillery. It was terrible to stand and listen to it. Just imagine 5,000 guns on a four mile front, firing day and night incessantly. Thousands upon thousands of shells must have been poured into the German positions. It seemed as though the universe had gone made, the noise was not only deafening but nerve-wracking. On the other hand, this trench warfare is terribly monotonous and trying. All the fellows are 'edgey' to get on the move, as sticking to the trenches makes you feel you are not getting on with it. However, the general opinion out at the front is that the Germans are whacked any time now, although they are as crafty as monkeys, and keep you constantly on the alert. When you are on sentry duty it doesn't do to relax your attention for a single instant, even though you are on double sentry. One of the men must be constantly on the look out, as each side send out patrols to see that no working parties are re-building parapets, and you have to keep your eyes peeled for those enemy patrols all the time.

"Since we have been on our present part of the line, three Germans have walked over to us and voluntarily surrendered. One of them said that they are all absolutely sick of the war, and that they are all half starved. He wanted to go back to his own lines and fetch some more of his comrades, but, of course, we could allow that, as he might have in that way conveyed information to the enemy. Both he and his comrades came over unarmed, otherwise they would have been fired upon before they reached our lines.

"There is a lot of mine warfare going on, and to my mind it is a rotten way of fighting, but both sides are at it. Our sappers have to dig down into the earth about 80 feet, and sap towards or underneath the enemy's trenches.

"When they are near enough to, or underneath the enemy's position they put anything from 600 to 1,500 lbs, of gun cotton in the mine and then blow the whole lot up. The effect is awful to describe, and the sensation to the men even in our own lines is extraordinary. The displacement of air caused by the explosion catches you like a hurricane, and the trenches shake and rock, but we always know to a second when they are going up, and prepare for it. The noise of the explosion is like a thousand guns going off at once. Thousands of tons of earth and stones are thrown up to an enormous height, and flames shoot up a hundred of feet into the air. It looks just as if the lid of hell has been opened. Just before the explosion we give the enemy several rounds of rapid fire. This brings them into the front line, towards which we have sapped, in expectation of an attack, and as soon as they have lined their trenches, up goes the mine, and down comes tons of earth and stones into the enemy's trenches, burying the occupants.

"Almost before the debris has settled our bombing parties are over the parapet, and, rushing right and left of the crater formed by the explosion, sling over bombs into the German trenches as fast as they can. These are covering the working party who are busily engaged in the rear, digging a new trench to the crater, and round its lip. Thus we may have advanced thirty or forty yards.

"It is no uncommon sight to see legs an arms sticking out of the mound of earth and stones, but it is no use trying to get these chaps out as ten to one they are dead, killed either by the force of the explosion of suffocated by the fumes from the gun cotton, and anyhow the job is too risky to take on.

"Sometimes our own chaps get buried, but not often, as before the mine is exploded, every man has been told, off to his own particular job. He knows what he has got to do and when to do it, and everything goes like clockwork. If a chap gets injured or buried by the fall of earth, in nine cases out of ten it is his own fault. Of course, our bomb throwers have the most risky job, as they have got to take the crater. Almost before the earth has finished rocking they are out and bombing as hard as ever they can. The enemy know that we have working parties out on each flank but they also know there is nobody in the centre, consequently they concentrate their fire on the flanks in the hope of catching our bomb throwers and R.E.'s and thus preventing the extension of our line.

"In regard to the enemy's shells, perhaps the worst we experience are trench mortars, and 'sausages' as we call them. The latter are shaped like sausages, and turn over and over as they come through the air towards our trenches. If they happen to fall in our trench, they lie there a second, and then explode with a terrific bang. Anybody near where they fall is blown to pieces.

"The mortar shells can be seen coming over, especially at night, as you can see the sparks from the tail. If a sentry sees one he gives warning by shouting 'trench mortar left' or 'trench mortar right' according to where it may be.

"Another nasty weapon used by the enemy is what we call the 'Whiz-bang', so called because no sooner have you heard the report of the gun than you hear the bang of the shell as it explodes. It is like lightning. 'Whiz-bang' just describes it. Then of course all sorts of grenades and bombs thrown by hand are used, and improvements on these are being made day by day. All are timed to explode in from two to five seconds, and the danger to the thrower from the explosion of the weapon he is using, although present to a certain extent, is not so great as it would appear. If, as sometimes happens, a man drops one in the act of throwing it, it is obviously his best plan to pick if up and get it out of his trench as quickly as possibly, otherwise he would be blown to pieces.

"There are also rifle grenades and these are fired from rifles. These consist of bombs on the top of steel rods which have at their other end a small cartridge. The rods fit the .303 bore of the Lee Enfield rifle and are pushed down the barrel from the muzzle. The striker hits the cartridge at the end of rod, and explodes it exactly as an ordinary cartridge, and off goes the grenade towards the enemy's line.

"In firing these, however, you cannot use your sights as in firing a bullet - I mean to say, you cannot adjust your sights to fire at any given range. If you manage to land one of these grenades in the enemy's lines, it is more by luck than anything else. You can hear a rifle grenade coming, as it makes a cooing noised like a wood pigeon. I had a narrow escape about three weeks ago, but, as it happened, it was my observer who was the sufferer, and he had a marvellous escape. I had just left my dugout, which is about two yards from the communication trench, and had gone up the trench on duty. I left my observer reading my 'Rushden Echo,' which had just arrived, and I had not left him more than half-a-minute, when a rifle grenade dropped clean in the doorway of the dugout. It exploded at once, and a piece of shell passed through the centre fold of the paper and struck my man, first on the hand, and then over the right ear, passed upwards between his scalp and his cap, and came out of the crown of his cap just above where it struck him. Although it removed the side of his scalp it is wonderful that it did not penetrate his skull. I believe he had a fortnight in hospital, though.

"I saw another man escape death by the fraction of an inch. A bullet struck his cap badge, went clean through it and out of the centre of the crown of his cap. It made a semi-circular cut right through the leather, and we quite expected to find that he had been wounded. On turning back the leather, however, we found that his foot had not been touched, the flash being absolutely uninjured. He himself picked up the piece of shrapnel, and has kept it as a souvenir."

The Sergeant does not think the war will last much longer. Clenching his fists he said:-

"In my opinion we have got the Germans like that. It was difficult for us at the beginning of the war when we were short of the right kind of ammunition, and the Germans had then got plenty of 'hand-packed,' but now with plentiful supplies we are giving them a terrible doing, and I shouldn't be surprised at any time to see them chuck in the sponge. The spirit of the British troops is wonderful. They are much more optimistic than the British public appear to be. Tommy is cheerful all the time, whether in or out of the trenches, and why? Because he knows we are winning. We are now having sent to us plenty of melodeons and mouth organs. As you pass through the villages at night it touches one to hear all the old hymns. When a man is at the front it makes him think. Men who when at home never gave a thought to religion turn their thoughts in that direction when out there.

"As I was coming home I met an old campaigner, a sapper, and he told me that, although he never prayed when at home, he had said his prayers dozens of times since he had been at the front, and, said he 'I am not ashamed to own it.'

"You will of course remember the rumour that was about Rushden about a month a go that I had been killed. I have no idea how it arose, and should like to know, as it upset my parents a good deal. You very kindly denied it in the "Rushden Echo." Mrs Alfred Packwood wrote to my brother, Corporal Frank Sheffield, who is in my regiment, asking him if it were true. When he showed me the letter it gave me quite a turn.

"We have some of the best officers. My colonel, Col. Ripley, is in my opinion one of the finest soldiers and gentlemen in the British Army. He looks after his men just as through they were his own sons. I believe any of his men would go through hell for him. Our Adjutant, Capt. Beecham, is also every inch a gentleman. He has been awarded the Military Cross since he has been with us, and was mentioned in General French's dispatches. All our officers are fine men, though stern disciplinarians, and discipline is everything in the British Army. The commander of my company, Captain Podmore, is also a gentleman and a toff. He would never ask me to do anything that he wouldn't do himself. Although he can ride if he chooses, he always marches with the rest of us. The Northants Regiment, in my opinion, is the finest in the British Army, and my battalion is one of the finest the County has ever turned out. We get dozens of copies of the "Rushden Echo" in our company. You can see them everywhere, and we are always pleased to see them. Even the London boys read the "Rushden Echo."

"Capt. H B Simpson, son of the Mr W Hirst Simpson, of Chelveston, has been with us, but he has now gone to A Company, and everyone regrets it, as he is a very popular officer, in fact all our officers seems as it they can't do enough for us."

The Rushden Echo Friday 4 February 1916, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Rushden Soldier at Home Through All the Big Battles

Corpl Frank Sheffield, 6th Northants Regt, nephew of Mrs Durham of Park-road, Rushden, came home on eight day's leave last Monday from the front. He is the brother of Sergt. Horace Sheffield, also of the 6th Northants, whose thrilling experiences were published in the "Rushden Echo" some time ago. Corpl Sheffield feels disinclined to say anything about the war, except he went out last July, and has been through all the big battles since then. He could not claim to be an authority as to the duration of the war, he said, because he could only speak for his part of the battle-line.

The Rushden Echo Friday 21 April 1916, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Rushden Soldier Dead - Sergt Horace Sheffield - Unofficially Reported Killed - A Promising Military Career Cut Short

We regret to report that unofficial news has been received from various sources that Sergt Horace Sheffield, of the Northants Regiment, son of Mr F Sheffield, 56, Crabb-street, Rushden, has been killed in action on the western front. Brief mention of the sad incident is made in a letter bearing the postmark April 14th, sent by Pte Fred Reynolds, of the same battalion to his sister, Mrs Dickens, of 47, Little-street, Rushden. He writes:-

"I am very sorry to tell you that Sergt Sheffield got killed the other night. I think he was a nice sort of chap, and he was well liked out here by all his company."

By the same post as the above letter, however, there arrived some letters written by Sergt Sheffield himself to relatives in Rushden, but these bore the postmark April 12th. One such was received by his aunt, Mrs H Durham, 97 Park-road, Rushden, and in this Sergt Sheffield wrote:-

"I am glad to say we are having some splendid weather, in fact, we are having a much better time now. We get much better food and more of it. We can't expect you to keep sending us food, as is must be hard enough to get a living in England, as you are doing so much for the other boys. It is letters that we look for most; they are as good as a meal."

On the same morning Sergt Sheffield's sister, Miss Ella Sheffield, received a letter from her brother written in practically the same terms as above. This also was postmarked April 12th.

Further confirmation of the sad news is contained in a letter sent to his sister by another Rushden soldier of Sergt Sheffield's battalion, and this letter also contains the news of a Higham soldier's death as reported in this issue. Although up to Tuesday morning no direct news had been received by any of Sergt Sheffield's relative, there appears to be little room for doubt but that he has laid down his life in his country's cause.

The late Sergt Sheffield's military career has been most successful and his promotion rapid, and, we understand, he was one of the most popular N.C.O.s in his battalion. He enlisted on Sept. 4th, 1914, and after eleven months' training went to the western front about the beginning of July last year. He was home on leave last November, and on that occasion accorded us one of the most interesting interviews as has been our privilege to publish in the "Rushden Echo".

Prior to his enlistment he was an employee of Mr B Ladds, and he was formerly a member of St Mary's Church Choir and also of the Church Lads' Brigade. He was also at one time a prominent member of the St May's Football Club.

He was 25 years of age. For some years he was a member of Rushden Athletic Club, and was greatly respected by his fellow members. In every organisation with which he was associated he attained a large measure of popularity.

Three other of Mr Sheffield's sons are in the army, viz., Corpl Frank Sheffield, of the Northants Regiment, Pte Fred Sheffield, of the R.A.M.C., both of whom are in France. Gunner Cyril Sheffield, a former member of the Rushden Adult School Male Choir, is serving in the R.F.A, with the Indian Expeditionary Force.

Although it has not been gazetted, it is reported that the late Horace Sheffield had recently been promoted Sergt Major.

Further News

Come to hand on Tuesday, and was contained in a letter by Lance-Corpl W A Stock to his wife, who resides at 24 Fitzwilliam-street, Rushden. He writes under date April 15th:-

"It is with my deepest rgreat that I have to tell you that one or two of the Rushden boys have been killed. Perhaps you will hear before you get this letter. We had the hottest scrap we have been in on the morning of April 13th. It was — I can tell you, but strange to say my company never lost one. Thank God, I got through safely. I am sorry to say that it is right this time that Horace Sheffield has gone under, also Miss E Smith's young man from Higham, Drummer E Fletton and a poor fellow named Whiting, whom I saw when they brought in. When we came out yesterday I saw all three of their graves. It is awful to think about. I can't tell you how I felt when I saw the Rushden boys, and God knows how any one's nerves can stand anything like we had then, but I am glad to let you know that the Boches bit their toes, and lost more than us, and the Regt is to be congratulated on its fine work".

After expressing sympathy with Sergt Sheffield's friends and relatives Lce-Corpl Stock continues:-

"As for the other two fellows, poor chaps, I shall never forget them. Their company got the worst of it, and we were next to them. I can't make out how we got off like it - a miracle it must have been, as it was a terrible bombardment for two hours. My company was on the spot in no time. Our deadly fire kept them back, and they must have suffered a lot more than us. I was happy to think I stood next to Charles (Pte C Bayliss, his sister's young man) - all the time, being in the next platoon. Thank the Lord, I got through safely and I trust that I always shall. We are having some different kinds of weather - sunshine, hail, and rain, but I think we can put up with anything. How happy I should be if it was all over. It is not war this, but we must still hope for the best."

On Wednesday a letter was received from Corpl Frank Sheffield, stating that he had attended the funeral of his brother.

Captain's Fine Tribute - Sergt Sheffield's Name Sent in for Mention in Dispatches - Gallant Conduct

On Wednesday Mr Sheffield received the following letter from Captain H Podmore, of deceased's regiment: Dear Mr Sheffield, I cannot say how sorry I am to have to tell you that your son, Sergt Horace Sheffield, died on Tuesday morning as the result of wounds received during a German attack on our trenches an hour or two before. I cannot speak too highly of your son's work in this company ever since the battalion was formed. I have known him ever since Christmas, 1914, and in all those months I have never ceased to admire the enthusiastic and conscientious was in which he devoted himself to his platoon.

Practically all the time we have been in France your son's platoon has been without an officer - that is to say, your son has been acting as officer all these months; and all though I have placed as much reliance on him as on any officer, and that confidence has been justified on numerous occasions where courage and a clear head have been called for. I feel that I have lost a personal friend and an invaluable assistant who can never be replaced, while the loss which the members of his platoon feel cannot be described. "Uncle Sheff" or "Father Sheff" were affectionate nicknames by which he was known in the company, and although given jokingly they bear witness to the fact that he looked after his men as no one else did and knew each one's little peculiarities just as well as if they were his own family. The result naturally was (and is) a platoon bound together in a quite extraordinary fashion, all worshipping your son and all to be depended on to follow him anywhere.

Any particularly important job which had to be done I could always depend on your son to do, if asked, or often to volunteer for, if not asked. He was not very strong physically, I think, but on several occasions he has insisted on carrying on with his work in the trenches when physically unfit, and his determination and courage have seen him through. I cannot imagine the company, and still less the platoon, without him, and I fear we shall feel the loss more (and not less) heavily as time goes on. There were, I regret to say, several other casualties at the same time as your son's, and the company had a rather rough time, so that at present one hardly realises all that one has lost. But there is no loss so heavy as that of your splendid son, and I deeply regret that I did not hear of his serious wounds in time to see him before he died.

He was at the time when the attack started outside our trenches, superintending his men putting up wire in front, and he together with seven others were caught by the bombardment before they could get back. They were immediately brought in by some of our regiment.

I should like you to know that your son's name was sent in to mention in dispatches for gallant conduct a couple of months ago. I hope that the recommendation will go though and that so gallant a soldier will get some official recognition, even after his death. But no one of us who knew him out here (nor, I can well believe, you who had known him so much longer at home) will need any such reminder to tell us that in your son we have lost a pattern of courage, devotion to duty and self-forgetfulness.

I have not dared to offer you any expressions of sympathy; it would be out of place. But what I have told you (little though it is, and feebly though, it describes your son's career with us) will, I hope, enable you to bear the heavy loss with a heightened pride, knowing that few men have had an influence so far reaching and so entirely for good.

The C.O. and Adjutant and myself, with several members of the platoon, were present at your son's funeral. He is buried in a soldier's grave near his fallen comrades, with a white wooden cross above him. We go into the trenches again in a few days, and we will then make certain of putting a wreath on his grave.

Please let me know if there is any further information I can give you. I could write for pages on your son. But what I said will, I hope, give you some idea of the place he filled in our affection and respect, and may help to bear your own far heavier loss. There was never a man who more truly "lived for his friends" and "greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." If you have time presently I should very much value a photo of your son, and should be deeply interested in anything you could tell me as to his life previous to the war."

PS -I am pleased to say that your son Frank came through quite uninjured. He is a splendid fellow, too.

Wellingborough News, April 21 1916, transcribed by Clive Wood

Young Rushden Sergeant Killed

We much regret to report that Sergt. H Sheffield of 56 Crabb Street, Rushden has been killed in action at the front. Sergt. Sheffield enlisted in August 1914, and was rapidly promoted to the rank of sergeant. He went to the front about a year ago and came home on leave just before Christmas. The parents heard unofficially on Sunday that their son had been killed and on Wednesday morning a letter came from the Captain stating that Sergt. Sheffield was killed on Tuesday April 11th. Evidently the action he was performing at the time was an heroic one for he was one of a party of seven volunteers who were erecting wire entanglements during a hot action with the Germans. All of the poor fellows were killed, one of the victims being Pte Fletton of Higham Ferrers.

The Chaplain's letter also states that Sergt. Sheffield was mentioned in despatches a few months ago-a fact which the relatives did not previously know. Before enlisting Sergt. Sheffield worked at Mr B Ladds boot factory and he was a member of the St Mary's Choir. He was only 24 years old. Much sympathy will be felt with Mr Sheffield and family.

The Rushden Echo Friday 28 April 1916, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Rushden Soldier Killed - The Late Horace Sheffield - Striking Tribute from the Major

Mr F Sheffield, of 56 Crabb-street, Rushden, whose son, Sergt. Horace Sheffield, of the — Northants Regiment, as reported in last week's "Rushden Echo" has been killed in action, has received the following letter from the Major:

Northants Regiment, British Expeditionary Force, April 13th, 1916

Dear Sir, I fear I have very sad news for you. Early this morning, during a very heavy bombardment of our lines, your gallant son was out in front of our trench, repairing the wire with six men. Before they could get back to the trench they were caught by a shell and your son and another man were killed and three wounded. I am sure Capt Podmore will have written to you. The loss of Sergt Sheffield is one which will be felt right through the battalion. There are only about three NCOs in the regiment who could hold a candle to him. Please accept the sincerest sympathy of us all in your great grief. We buried your son this afternoon in the cemetery here, and his personal belongings are being sent to you tomorrow. Believe me to be, yours very truly W J Wyndowe, Major.

The Rushden Echo Friday 5 May 1916, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Rushden Soldier's Death - Col Ripley's Sympathy

Col. Ripley, officer commanding the —Northants, on Sunday last, made a personal call upon Mrs H Durham, Park-road, Rushden, to offer condolences with her upon the loss of her nephew, Sergt Horace Sheffield, who as recently reported in the "Rushden Echo" has been killed in action on the Western front.

The Rushden Echo Friday 19 May 1916, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Rushden Soldier Honoured - The Late Sergt H Sheffield - Gallant Conduct and Devotion to Duty - Recognised by Major General Maxse

Mr F Sheffield, of 56 Crabb-street, Rushden, whose son, Sergt H Sheffield, was killed in action on April 13th, as reported in the "Rushden Echo", received on Monday a visit from Captain Podmore, his son's commanding officer.

The Captain gave Mr Sheffield the particulars of the manner of his son's death. The late Sergt Sheffield went out in charge of a party to put up barbed wire entanglements, we understand, but unfortunately they were discovered by the enemy, and Sergt Sheffield fell, riddled with bullets.

Last Sunday week the late Sergt Sheffield's family received a certificate on parchment, bearing record of the deceased soldier's gallantry. It is worded as follows:-

Sergeant H Sheffield
6th (S) Battalion, Northants Regiment

I have read with great pleasure the report of your Regimental Commander, and
Brigade Commander regarding your gallant conduct and devotion to duty in the
field from August 1915 - March 1916.

F J Maxse
Major General
Commanding 18th Division

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