Henry Thomas Allen

Henry Thomas Allen

Born in Fenstanton in 1880, Henry was the second youngest in a family of six boys and three girls. At the time of his birth Henry's father, aged 45yrs, was working as a bricklayer, probably self-employed. His two eldest brothers of working age were also bricklayers.

Robert's father died on 26 February 1891 aged 56yrs, when Henry was 11 years of age. In Robert's will he left £51 5s. to his wife, equivalent to £6,000 today. Eliza, aged 50yrs, took over the bricklaying business. Robert's death seems to have caused the breakup of the family. Matthew, aged 15yrs, lodged with a relative in Eliza's home village of Wilburton. Rebecca, aged 19yrs, set off to London to work as a servant. Henry remained at home, working in the bricklaying business.

By 1911 the family had moved to Church Street, Fenstanton. Although Henry's mother, was still alive aged 71yrs, older brother James was the head of household. The three brothers living at home, including Henry, were all bricklayers, but no longer self employed.

Henry married Florence Hutson in 1912. Pretty soon after a son was born, named Robert after his grandfather. Two more sons were born, Walter Charles  in August 1913, and Henry Thomas in February 1915.

Henry volunteered for service on 5 January 1915. Why would a married man with two young sons and a wife about to give birth enlist to fight? Although compulsory conscription didn't start  until January 1916, and then initially only for single men, nevertheless there was tremendous pressure to sign up. Even married men with children were pressurised, as shown in this advert from the Hunts Post. He joined the 1st/4th Northamptonshire Regiment as a Private.

After several months training, Henry left with his Regiment from Liverpool, bound for Gallipoli. The aim of the Gallipoli campaign was to knock Turkey, Germany's ally, out of the war. Started in February 1915, just about every aspect had been disastrous. Six battleships were sunk or badly damaged. Two landings were met with fierce opposition, pinned down within hundreds of yards of the landing sites.

The 1st/4th Northamptonshire Regiment landed in Sulva Bay on 15 August 1915. The battle there had commenced on the 6th August 1915. Despite encountering only light opposition, the landing was mismanaged from the start and became bogged down, quickly reaching stalemate. So bad was the state of affairs, the British Commander was dismissed within the week.

Sulva Bay WW1
British soldiers attacking at Sulva Bay
Henry would have encountered a vision of hell. Pinned down in suffocating heat of up to 45c, the British forces lacked water. With only one ceasefire in May 1915 for the burying of dead, rotting corpses, vermin and thick swarms of flies surrounded the trenches. The stench was horrendous. Much of the fighting involved failed attempts to dislodge the Turkish forces from higher ground.

Henry was hit in the head by a piece of shrapnel, dying of his wounds on 31 August 1915 aged 35yrs. He'd lasted just over two weeks. He is buried at the 7th Field Ambulance Cemetery, on the road to Sulva, Turkey. There are 640 servicemen buried or commemorated there. Henry left behind a widow and three very young children.

The irony of Gallipoli was that the withdrawal of all Commonwealth troops was the only successful operation. Over a period of three weeks in December 1915 80,000 men were evacuated with few casualties and little knowledge by the Turkish forces. After 10 months of fighting and 56,000 Commonwealth soldiers' deaths, little had been achieved.

Being born and bred in Fenstanton, Henry is commemorated on the Fenstanton War Memorial and on a plaque in Fenstanton Parish Church. So it's a bit of a puzzle why he's also commemorated on the St Ives War Memorial. Possibly most of his work as a bricklayer was carried on in St Ives, making him a familiar face in the town.

Do you have any additional information about Henry? If so, please get in touch via the make contact page.

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