Barker H.

Pte 205679 Henry Barker, 1st/4th East Yorkshire Regiment


Died of Wounds 10th April, 1918

Henry Barker was born in Stokesley in 1894, the son of Henry Barker and Emily Wass, who were married in Stockton in 1891. Henry Barker senior was the son of William Barker, a Stokesley farmer, while Emily had been born in Stockton, her father being a river pilot.

In 1896 Henry and Emily had a daughter, named Emily after her mother, who was born also in Stokesley. However, tragedy struck in 1897 with the death of Henry senior at the early age of 37 years. Emily was left to raise their two children on her own. In 1901, the census records her as living on her own account at The Shoulder of Mutton near the police station in Stokesley town centre; ten years later we find her with her children living in College Square, High Green. Emily senior was then employed as caretaker of the solicitor’s office there. Her son Henry was 17 and working as an errand boy for a local grocer, while his sister Emily (15) was a milliner’s apprentice.

By the time war broke out, Henry was working as a clerk, and it was as such that he enlisted at Middlesbrough as Private 205679 Barker in the East Yorkshire Regiment (not 20569 as recorded in the Book of Remembrance).

On Thursday 28th March, 1918, Henry left Hornsea to go to France and was immediately in the thick of the fighting. The Germans were throwing themselves at the Allied lines in a last desperate attempt to win the war, and for a time the outcome of the war seemed to hang in the balance as Allied units tried heroically to stem the tide, suffering severe casualties in so doing. On 9th April, the Germans launched 'Operation Georgette.' This is sometimes called the 4th Battle of Ypres but is more accurately termed the Battle of the Lys, after the river valley in which the action took place. The Germans began the attack at 4.15am with a terrific bombardment aimed specifically at a section of the Allied front line held by a Portuguese division. Alongside them, the British units (now including Private Barker) had only just been moved into position for a 'rest' and to take on new recruits, as they had just taken a fearful mauling in another German offensive to the south. The Portuguese withdrew, and when four highly trained and seasoned divisions of German assault troops hurled themselves into the attack at 8.45am, they were virtually unopposed. The British on either flank were tired, under strength and many of them like Henry Carter were raw recruits. They too were forced to retreat, struggling to keep their front line intact as the German 6th Army drove deep into the Allied positions. It was on this very day, 9th April, that Private Barker was wounded. He died the following day as the German advance continued with the capture of Armentieres.

British forces made the Germans pay heavily for every yard they gained, but their own losses were severe, and they were undoubtedly on the retreat. The Germans felt the great breakthrough was within their grasp. The French believed that the Lys was essentially a diversionary tactic, and refused the support that Haig requested with increasing urgency. This was the setting for Haig's famous order of the day:

There is no other course open to us but to fight it out ! Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight on to the end.

It was to be three weeks before the Germans were finally checked.

The Book of Remembrance quotes the final words from Henry Barker's last (and only) letter home: “Goodnight and God bless you”.

Private Barker was 24 years old when he fell and was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. His body lies in plot B6 of the British Cemetery of Haverskerque, about 9 miles to the north of Bethune.

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