Herbert Widdowson was born on 2nd December 1883 in Old Whittington Chesterfield. His parents were George and Isabella. As far as I can check Herbert was the youngest child of the family, he had two older sisters and two older brothers.
He started attending Websters Endowed School on 9th April 1888 and his address at that time was just given as Old Whittington, I think the family were possibly living at Newbridge Lane at that time, they certainly were on the 1881 census.
The School admission register for 1888, Herbert is listed in the bottom section.
Sadly for Herbert, in 1887 his mother Isabella died when he was just three years old and George was left with five young children to look after.
The 1891 census shows what the family did next.
George moved his family to live with his widowed mother and his elder married sister at 57 High Street Old Whittington. Herbert had another sister shown on the 1881 census, Sarah, but she isn’t appearing on the 1891 census. At the moment I am unable to trace where she may have been in 1891 or if she was still alive.
The next record is the 1901 census, and George and his family are still living with his mother.
Now only Herbert and his older brother John are still living at home. Herbert was working as a General labourer and we learn later that he worked at Sheepbridge Works. Sheepbridge would be a short walk for Herbert from his home on High Street.
His brother John was a working as a circular sawyer at the timber works. He probably worked at the Wood Mill at the bottom of Whittington Hill.
High Street early 1900’s as Herbert would probably have known it.
Pictures courtesy of picture the past
Herbert’s father George died in April 1902, at the relatively young age of 48. He is buried in Old Whittington Churchyard.
Herbert’s Grandmother Sarah died in February 1903, at the grand old age of 88 years and she too is buried in Old Whittington churchyard. It must have been a sad time for Herbert and his brother.
John married in 1905 and according to the 1911 census was living at 57 Church Street Old Whittington with his wife and two children. Herbert, on the other hand, was living at 39 High Street Old Whittington. He was a boarder in the house of Mr and Mrs Thorpe.
Herbert was 27 years old and still working at Sheepbridge.
Herbert enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters on 3rd September 1914. The war had barely started but the Campaign to enlist men was in full force. Lord Kitchener knew the war was going to be a long and costly affair and that we would need a much bigger Army. On the 3rd September, the day Herbert joined, 33,204 men were recorded as joining. The highest number in one day during the whole war. It would be easy to think that Herbert was inspired to join by Lord Kitcheners famous posters.
However, the posters didn’t start appearing until the end of September 1914, by which time voluntary enlistment had passed its peak! Further information on WW1 recruiting can be found at
Herbert joined the 1st Battalion Notts and Derbyshire Regiment (Sherwood Foresters) his service number was 19990. (It was formerly 14078-Leicestershire Regiment). He arrived in France in March 1915.
Herbert was in the machine gun section, he was a Lewis gunner. The picture below shows what a difficult, but important job Herbert had. The Lewis gun was lighter than the Vickers machine gun, and widely used in WW1.
This excerpt taken from here gives a brief explanation of a Lewis Gun –
Lewis Gun, with its distinctive barrel cooling shroud and top-mounted drum magazine, was the British Army’s most widely used machine gun during World War One. Each Lewis Gun required a team of two gunners, one to fire and one to carry ammunition and reload. All of the members of an infantry platoon would be trained in the use of the Lewis Gun so that they could take over if the usual gunners were killed or wounded.
The 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters were involved in much heavy fighting, some of the Battles they took part in –
The Battle of Neuve Chapelle 10-13 March 1915
Battle of Aubers 9 May1915
Action at Bois Grenier 25 September 1915
They also saw action in the battle of the Somme in 1916.
I have no record of which Battles Herbert personally took part in, but undoubtedly he was involved in some if not all the above Battles.
He died of his wounds on 5th October 1916, he was 32 years old.
I had no idea how Herbert was killed until I checked the Register of Personal Effects and it shows that he died of Gas Poisoning. Seeing it written in black and white certainly gave me a shock!
The 1st Battalion War Diaries for October 1916 give an account of the gas attack which D Company (Herberts Company) came under, and I assume when Herbert died.
A report in the Derbyshire Courier 7th November 1916 pays tribute to Herbert Widdowson, transcript below.
Old Whittington Gunner Killed
News of the death on 5 October of Private Herbert Widdowson of Old Whittington has been received by his brother.
Enlisting on 3rd September 1914 in the Sherwood Foresters, he went over to France on 7th March 1915. He was in the Machine Gun Section, and had seen many rough encounters, for he had been in the trenches regularly, with the exception of a short leave, which he had some little time ago. Prior to the war he worked at Sheepbridge Works.
Captain R F Moore the Divisional Commander, writes to the relatives as follows
“It is with my deepest regret that I have to inform you of the death of your relative, Private H Widdowson. He always proved himself to be a most valuable Lewis gunner to us, and I deeply deplore his loss. Accept my deepest sympathy in your sad bereavement”.
Herbert is buried in Vermelles British Cemetery more information about the cemetery can be found here
The grave registration report mentions Herbert’s parents, but as they had both died it would be his brother John who would arrange for the Inscription on Herbert’s grave –
From battlefield to Eternal rest
Herbert’s grave in Vermelles Photo courtesy of TWGPP
As yet I have been unable to trace Herbert’s Medal record card, but according to the medal rolls he was awarded the British War and Victory Medals and should also have been awarded the 14/15 Star.
Herbert’s elder brother John married in 1905 and continued to live in Old Whittington. On the 1939 register John is listed at Church Street Old Whittington and at that time Herbert’s other brother Fred is also living with John and his family.
Herbert is commemorated on Old Whittington and the Brushes War Memorials.