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Henry Sanderson

Henry SandersonRifleman Henry Sanderson, 2104, Royal Irish Rifles, 11th Battalion

Henry Sanderson was born in Ossett in Spring 1894, the eldest child of five born to John William Sanderson and his wife, Mary (nee Wormald), who married at Alverthorpe Chapel on the 18th May 1893. All of the family were born in Ossett. In 1901 and 1911 John, a self employed plasterer and decorator, and Mary with their five children, four boys and a girl, born between 1894 and 1904, were living on Wesley Street Ossett. In 1911, Henry Sanderson was working with his father in his plastering business. The other children were still at school.

Henry Sanderson’s army service record has not survived, but it is known that he enlisted at Ossett, and joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry with service number 27225. He later transferred to the Royal Irish Rifles as a rifleman with service number 17/2104. He was killed in action on the 3rd September 1916, aged 22 years.

Rifleman Henry Sanderson was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals, but not the 1914/15 Star, indicating that he did not serve overseas prior to the 31st December 1915. Henry’s younger brother, George Sanderson, also served in the Great War and died on the 3rd August 1917, aged 22 years.

The 11th (Service) Battalion (South Antrim) of the Royal Irish Rifles was raised in County Antrim in September 1914. They joined the 108th Brigade, 36th (Ulster) Division at Clandeboye in December 1914. The Ulster Division was formed from the Ulster Volunteer Force in August and September 1914, a process complicated by the tension surrounding the issue of Home rule. In July 1915 they moved to Seaford, Sussex in England. They proceeded to France in the first week of October, landing at Boulogne. The 36th (Ulster) Division concentrated near Flesselles, north of Arras. With training and familiarisation, including periods in the trenches with 4th Division in the front line north of the River Ancre near Albert. On the 21st of October they moved to the area around Abbeville. The 36th Ulster Division took over the front line in Spring. In 1916 they Division suffered heavily on the first day of the Battle of the Somme where they attacked at Thiepval. With heavy casualties suffered on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, the battalion took the rest of the year to rebuild and was located in the Ypres area.

In 1917 They were in action at The Battle of Messines, capturing Wytschaete and in the The Battle of Langemarck during the Third Battles of Ypres and the The Cambrai Operations where the Division captured Bourlon Wood. On the 13th of November 1917 the Battalion amalgamated with 13th Battalion to form the 11/13th Royal Irish Rifles. In early 1918 the army was reorganised and the 11/13th battalion was disbanded in France on the 18th of February 1918 with the troops transferring to 22nd Entrenching Battalion.

Rifleman Henry Sanderson was transferred from KOYLI to the Royal Irish Rifles after or around the time of the Easter Rising in Ireland (24th - 29th April 1916), serving there for some time before moving to France. After the heavy 36th (Ulster) Division losses on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, new drafts were added to the Division, and by late July the Division was positioned in Messines in Belgium. Here, the high water table meant the possibility of digging only shallow trenches, which then had to be fortified by sandbags. The trenches were always flooded and dirty and were under the additional threat of German tunnelling and bombing. It was here that Henry Sanderson was gassed on the 1st September 1916.

The "Ossett Observer", 1 had this obituary for Henry Sanderson:

"A Victim Of Gas Poisoning - Ossett Tradesman's Son's Death - Rifleman Henry Sanderson, of Ossett, is reported to have died from gas poisoning on the Western front. The eldest of the four sons of Mr. J.W. Sanderson, plasterer, of Prospect-road, he was 22 years of age. He joined the K.O.Y.L.I. in February of this year, and was one of the draft that was transferred to the Royal Irish Rifles and sent to Ireland when the Irish rebellion broke out. He had been at the front some nine or ten weeks, By the same post as a previously written letter, in cheerful tone and stating he was in the pink of condition, his father received a postcard, dated 1st inst., stating that he had been admitted into a hospital suffering from gas poisoning. He died on Sunday, the news being conveyed in a letter from the Presbyterian chaplain at the hospital, who wrote: ' He always welcomed my religious ministrations, and was most grateful for them'. Before enlisting the deceased soldier worked with his father in the plastering business. One of his brothers, who is in the artillery, is at the front.

At the service, at the Green Congregational Church, on Thursday evening, the Rev. J. Gomer Williams referred to the death of Private Sanderson, who had been connected with the place since childhood. A vote of condolence was passed with relatives, the resolution being accorded by the congregation rising in their places."

Sanderson Grave at St Johns

Above: The Sanderson grave at St. John's Methodist Chapel showing the memorial to brothers Henry and George Sanderson, sons of John William Sanderson. Picture courtesy of Lisa Jennings.

Rifleman Henry Sanderson, aged 22 years, son of John William and Mary Sanderson, of Brook Street, Ossett, died on the 3rd September 1916. He is buried at grave reference II. F. 199 at the Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, 1 Nord, France. Bailleul is a large town in France, near the Belgian border, 14.5 Kms south-west of Ieper and on the main road from St. Omer to Lille.

Bailleul was occupied on 14 October 1914 by the 19th Brigade and the 4th Division. It became an important railhead, air depot and hospital centre, with the 2nd, 3rd, 8th, 11th, 53rd, 1st Canadian and 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Stations quartered in it for considerable periods. It was a Corps headquarters until July 1917, when it was severely bombed and shelled, and after the Battle of Bailleul (13-15 April 1918), it fell into German hands and was not retaken until 30 August 1918.

The earliest Commonwealth burials at Bailleul were made at the east end of the communal cemetery and in April 1915, when the space available had been filled, the extension was opened on the east side of the cemetery. The extension was used until April 1918, and again in September, and after the Armistice graves were brought in from the neighbouring battlefields and the following burial grounds:-

Pont-de-Nieppe German Cemetery, on the South side of the hamlet of Pont-de-Nieppe, made in the summer of 1918. It contained German graves (now removed) and those of a soldier and an airman from the United Kingdom.

Reninghelst Chinese Cemetery, in a field a little South of the Poperinghe-Brandhoek road, where 30 men of the Chinese Labour Corps were buried in November 1917-March 1918.

Bailleul Communal Cemetery contains 610 Commonwealth burials of the First World War; 17 of the graves were destroyed by shell fire and are represented by special memorials.

Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension contains 4,403 Commonwealth burials of the First World War; 11 of the graves made in April 1918 were destroyed by shell fire and are represented by special memorials. There are also 17 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War and 154 German burials from both wars.

In the centre of the town is a stone obelisk erected by the 25th Division as their Memorial on the Western front, recalling particularly the beginning of their war service at Bailleul and their part in the Battle of Messines. The town War Memorial, a copy of the ruined tower and belfry of the Church of St. Vaast, was unveiled in 1925 by the Lord Mayor of Bradford, the City which had "adopted" Bailleul.


1. "Ossett Observer", 16th September 1916

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site