Henry Edward Whitney, Sgt 1509, 1st Battalion, Australian Infantry
Killed in action 20th August 1916 in the Somme, France
Henry Edward Whitney was born in Macclesfield on 8 April and baptised on 1 May 1881 at St Alban’s Catholic Church, Macclesfield, the son of Mary, a cotton twister, and John Whitney, a coach smith of Macclesfield. His name was incorrectly recorded in the baptism register as ‘Joannes Henricus’ – John Henry. In the 1891 census, nine-year-old Henry Edward was living at 18 Great King St with his parents and siblings John James (13), Joseph Arthur (7), Ann (3) and Agnes Jane (1).
Henry was educated at St Alban’s School and attended St Alban’s Catholic Church. He joined the Cheshire Militia (4th Cheshire Regiment) with service number 4303 and served in South Africa during the second Boer War. He returned home injured and was awarded the Cape Colony and Orange Free State medal clasps.
By 1901, the family had moved to 4 Water St, Macclesfield, and Henry, aged 20, was employed as a cotton weaver.
Henry married Elizabeth Bennett at St Alban’s Catholic Church on 30th June 1902, and by 1911 the couple were living at 1 Brunswick Square, Macclesfield with their two children: ten-year-old Bertha Bennett and James, aged 8. Henry was employed as a general labourer and his wife was a cotton weaver.
Henry left his family and emigrated to Australia, leaving London on the Benalla on 17 April 1914 and arriving in Australia the following month. His wife and family were planning to join him in Australia when war broke out.
Henry enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force on 19 November 1914 at Liverpool in New South Wales, Australia. His army service records describe him as 5 feet 8½ inches tall, weighing 10 stones 11 pounds, with a 34½ inch chest, dark complexion, blue eyes and black hair. A note states that his teeth were to be attended to.
After training, he was posted to Egypt in February 1915, where he participated in the Lone Pine Charge. He moved to the Dardanelles in May 1915 and participated in the landings at Suvla Bay. After the evacuation from Gallipoli, Henry arrived at Alexandria on 28th December 1915. He immediately went absent without leave for three days, for which he was punished at Tel-el-Kebir, forfeiting three days pay and being given 21 days field punishment no. 2 – shackled in irons for up to two hours per day.
On 12 March 1916, two months after this punishment, Henry was promoted to Lance-Corporal, and ten days later he left Alexandria on HMT Ivernia, arriving at Marseilles on 28th March 1916 to fight in France. On 21st May he was allowed ten days furlough, during which he travelled to Macclesfield to see his wife and children for the first time in over two years. He rejoined his unit in France on 1st June 1916, and two months later, on 13th August, he was promoted to Sergeant. Just one week after his promotion he was killed in action at Pozieres, on 20th August 1916, when a shell burst in his trench.
After Henry’s death, Elizabeth moved to 7 Loney St, off Crompton Rd, Macclesfield.
Henry’s death was reported in the Macclesfield Courier of 9 September 1916:
SERGEANT H WHITNEY KILLED
Mrs Whitney, of 1 Brunswick Square, off Green Street, has received information stating that her husband, Sergeant Henry Whitney, of the Australian Imperial Force, was killed in action in France on August 20th… The following letter from deceased’s commanding officer, Capt Howell Price, states: “A large shell burst in the trench killing Sergeant Whitney instantaneously… Sergeant Whitney was a brave, quiet, competent and reliable soldier. He was buried by the Rev Ashley Brown and a cross has been erected in his memory. His comrades mourn the loss of a popular hero.
Sergeant Whitney, who was 36 years of age, was formerly employed at the Macclesfield Gasworks, and emigrated to Australia about three years ago. He obtained employment there as a platelayer, and joined one of the Australian contingents about 18 months ago.
He was first sent to Egypt, where he took part in the famous Lone Pine Charge, and was then sent on to the Dardanelles, where he, amongst other Anzacs, so distinguished themselves. He was also in the landing at Suvla Bay. About three months ago he obtained a short leave and came over to see his wife, after which he was sent back to France. He went all through the ‘big push,’ and was in the recent heavy fighting around Pozieres, being killed there as stated on August 20th.
Sergeant Whitney served with the Cheshire Militia in the South African War. He has several relatives serving, his two brothers, Quartermaster-Sergeant James Whitney, who has 21 years’ service to his credit, is at the Record Office, Shrewsbury, and Private Arthur Whitney, who fought with the Cheshires in the Dardanelles, where he was wounded, is now at Oswestry. Deceased also has four brothers-in-law in the Army, one in the 8th Cheshires, two in the 1/7th Cheshires, and one in the ASC. Their father went through the South African War with the Cheshire Regiment, and at the outbreak of the present war joined the Royal Engineers, but has now been discharged through rheumatism. Sergeant Whitney leaves a wife and two children to mourn his loss.
Henry’s death was also reported in the Macclesfield Times of 8th September 1916:
FIGHTING FAMILY’S LOSS
Information reached Mrs Whitney, 1 Brunswick Square, Cuckstoolpit Hill, Macclesfield, this week, that her husband, Sergt Henry Whitney… was killed in France on August 20th…
Sergeant Whitney was a member, by marriage, of a family who have shown a worthy example of patriotism. He was born in Macclesfield 34 years ago and was educated at St Alban’s School and attended the Catholic Church. For eleven years he was employed as a stoker at the Macclesfield Gasworks. The deceased fought in the South African War. He emigrated to Australia four years ago and his wife and children were about to join him when war broke out….
Mrs Whitney is a daughter of Mr Samuel Bennett, of Cuckstoolpit Hill, four of whose sons are in the forces. Mr Bennett, too is an ex-soldier. He was connected for a long period with the Macclesfield Militia and went out to the South African War. On the outbreak of the present war he joined the Royal Engineers, with whom he was on service for ten months in France, holding the rank of Corporal. He has now been discharged from the army on account of rheumatism and is hoping shortly to secure employment on munition work. His eldest son is Sergeant John Bennett, Cheshire Regt, now stationed at Oswestry. Some time ago he was wounded with shrapnel in the left arm. Thirty-two years of age, Sergt. Bennett was formerly employed as a foreman at the Corporation gasworks. He was educated at St Paul’s School and was at one time a well-known local footballer. Corpl. Samuel Bennett, Cheshire Regt, is also at Oswestry. He took part with the local Territorials at the landing at Suvla Bay and was subsequently invalided home from Egypt. Prior to enlisting he was employed as a fireman at Parkside Asylum. Driver William Bennett is in France with the Army Service Corps. He is 24 years of age and was in the employ of the Great Central Railway Company. Sergeant Lance Bennett, the youngest son, is in Egypt with the Cheshire Regiment. His age is 23, and he was employed at the Lower Heyes Mill.
Several of Mrs Whitney’s relatives are also on active service, and the family have other military connections. An uncle, the late Mr J Grant, formerly of Macclesfield, served 22 years in the Staffordshire Regt, in which he held the rank of Quartermaster-Sergeant. He took part in the Zulu War. Mrs Whitney’s great-grandfather, Mr John Brookfield, fought at Waterloo with the Shropshire Light Infantry. He died at the age of 82. Mr J Grant, of Shrigley St, Macclesfield, another relative, went through the South African campaign with the 4th Cheshires.
A further report of his death was reported in the Macclesfield Times of 15th September 1916.
Sgt Henry Whitney has no known grave and is named on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in Somme, France. The memorial is the Australian National Memorial erected to commemorate all Australian soldiers who fought in France and Belgium during the First World War, especially those whose graves are not known.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Sgt Henry Whitney.
GRO (England & Wales) Index: Births, Marriages
Family History Society of Cheshire “Roman Catholics in Macclesfield” CD: Baptism & Marriage Register Transcriptions
Census (England & Wales): 1891, 1901, 1911
FindMyPast Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960
Australia and New Zealand Archives WW1 Service Records
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Macclesfield Times: 8 September 1916
Macclesfield Courier: 9 September 1916
Brother of James Whitney, who served as QMS with the Shropshire Light Infantry, and Arthur Whitney, who served as Private 148 with the 5th Cheshire Regt.