Forgotten Names Recalled: The Singapore Cenotaph Project

19/12/14
 
One hundred years ago today a young man charged across No Man's Land near Ploegsteert Wood in Belgium and met his death. Second-lieutenant Stanley Henson was the first to die from the Isle of Wedmore in Somerset. Second-Lieutenant Robert Sayers was the first man with links to the Straits Settlements to be killed in action, having lived and worked in Penang, but Stanley Henson was the first to have lived in both Penang and Singapore and to have left the Straits Settlements to join in the war to be killed in action.

 
From The Bond of Sacrifice
 
The Unit War Diary of the 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry gives an account of this day 100 years ago. You can read the full entry below.
 
'By 1 pm
B and C Coys were in position, B Coy
lining our right trench and C Coy in rear
of this trench'


 
'At 2.30 pm precisely (all
watches having been set by Divisional time)
the attacking company dashed forward from
the wood. The men carried straw mattresses
consisting of strips of wire netting stuffed
with straw which were intended to be thrown
over the wire to form a bridge. Every
other man carried wire cutters. After the
leading platoon on the right had advanced
about 40 yards a howitzer shell of ours
burst amongst them and did great damage.
The left platoon advanced about 50 yards
but was stopped by heavy cross fire from
machine guns and rifles and was held up,
Lt Henson being killed. The two supporting
platoons of B Coy were not able to carry
the advance much further.'


 
'At about 6 pm the situation was that our left
had gained about 80 yards of the road which
was our objective and the line then followed
about the line of the German wire until
it joined the Rifle Brigade. ...
It was eventually
decided not to attack again the next
day. The only result obtained was that
the Enemy were driven out of the wood.'


 
'The casualties suffered by the Battalion
were 3 officers killed (Capt F.S. Bradshaw
Lt G.R. Parr and Lt. S.B. Henson) and
3 officers wounded and missing (Capt
R.C. Orr, Capt C.C. Maud DSO and
2/Lt K.G.G. Dennys).  _____ NCOs &
Men Killed _____ wounded and
missing.'

Why weren't the numbers of NCOs and men killed given? We can only speculate that at the time of writing they did not know. Gaps were left for the entry to be updated but it seems it never was.

This year is also the centenary of the Christmas Truce, a spontaneous event that saw a cessation of hostilities along some sections of the trenches between German and British troops. In at least one part of No Man's Land a football match  was played, an event that has been commemorated in many ways from Paul McCartney's Pipes of Peace song and video of 1983 to the current Sainsbury's Christmas advert in partnership with the Royal British Legion. The reason this is relevant to Stanley Henson is that his body was recovered during the truce.

The entries in the Somersets' War Diary for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1914 give an actual account of the events in their section of the trenches, although there was no football match in their area.
 
'Dec 25: There was much singing in the trenches last night by both sides. Germans opposite us brought up their Regimental Band and played theirs and our National Anthems followed by "Home Sweet Home". A truce was mutually arranged by the men in the trenches. During the morning officers met the German officers halfway between the trenches and it was arranged that we should bring in our dead who were lying between the trenches. The bodies of Capt Maud, Capt Orr and 2/Lt Henson were brought in and also those of 18 NCO's & men. They were buried the same day. The Germans informed us that they had captured a wounded officer and this was thought to be 2/Lt K G G Dennys who commanded one of the attacking platoons of B Coy on the 19th. There was a
  'sharp frost last night which continued during the day, and the weather was very seasonable. Not a shot or shell was fired by either side in our neighbourhood; and both sides walked about outside their trenches quite unconcernedly. It afforded a good opportunity for inspecting our [illegible word] by daylight -- The enemy's works were noticed to be very strong. A very peaceful day.'
 
News of Stanley Henson's death reached Singapore on 13 January 1915. After an initial mistaken correction that he was wounded believed taken prisoner, confirmation of his death was received and published in newspapers on 30 January 1915. Perhaps because Stanley Henson was the first man from Singapore and Penang to die who was well known to many people, there was a great deal written in and to the newspapers of the Straits Settlements both as eulogy to the young man and as condemnation of the Straits Settlements Police who had refused to give him leave. There was no doubt that he was well liked and that his death brought home to many the reality of a war that was being fought nine thousand miles away. Stanley is buried at Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery.

 
Rosemary Lim