Lieutenant Harry Noel Leslie Renton
9th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps
Harry Noel Leslie Renton, who served as a platoon commander with “C” Company of the 9th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, was aged 20 when he was killed near Hooge on 30 July 1915. The son of James Henry and Louise Renton, who lived at Aspley Guise in Bedfordshire, Lieutenant Renton is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial. An obituary for him was published in The Bedfordshire Times and Independent on 6 August 1915:
DEATH OF LIEUT. H. N. L. RENTON.
“News reached the village on Wednesday of the death of Mr Harry Noel Leslie Renton, Lieut., 9th King’s Royal Rifles, killed in action on July 31st (sic). He was the second son of Mr and Mrs J. H. Renton, and was well-known in the village, and had several times helped the Cricket Club when on holidays. He was born in Ceylon, and educated at The Knoll, Woburn Sands, and Harrow School, was a monitor at Harrow, head of his house, and in the Upper VI. He was house cricket and football captain, a member of the school cricket eleven, and kept wicket in the Eton and Harrow match at Lords in 1914. He was to have entered Oxford University in October, 1914, but on the outbreak of the war he joined the Army, and was gazetted second-lieutenant in the 9th King’s Royal Rifle Corps on Sept. 23rd, 1914, and lieutenant on Feb. 13th, 1915. He left for the front on May 21st.”
However, there is evidence that Lieutenant Renton is buried as an “Unknown Lieutenant” of The King’s Royal Rifle Corps at Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery. The specific information regarding his burial was contained in a letter that was printed in The Essex County Chronicle on 12 November 1915:
BRAINTREE SOLDIER KILLED IN COMMUNICATION TRENCH.
“Letters giving information of the death of Corpl. E. Wiffen, of the King’s Royal Rifles, and a resident of Braintree, have been received by his relatives. Sergt. Percy W. Thomson, of the same regiment, who has since also been killed, wrote as follows:-
“In the absence of his officer, I regret to have to inform you that Corpl. E. Wiffen was killed in action on August 1st. He got his head over the parapet, and I cannot say exactly whether he was hit by a sniper’s bullet or a piece of shrapnel; in any case his death was instantaneous. I know nothing I can say will alleviate the awful blow this will be to you, but I have soldiered with him ever since he first gave his services to his country. We all thought worlds of Wiffen, and I miss him terribly. He was buried by myself and a corporal before we left the trenches, together with an officer and three more. Your brother’s death was not an individual one – the battalion was given a very important work to carry out, and we lost heavily; it was coming through this that the casualty happened. The N.C.O.’s of A Company and men of his platoon have lost a soldier and a man, who, to use their own words, was a ‘jolly good fellow.’ The only thing of importance he had on him was his watch, but everything is being handed in and will be sent off as soon as possible.”
Another letter from the same writer stated:
“Corpl. Wiffen, who at the time of his death was my second in command, was buried on the left of the Menin Road near Ypres, and was laid by me by the side of one of our officers, Lieut. Renton, whose photograph appeared in a recent illustrated paper, and who was killed in the same action. I am a city fellow, and in the event of my ever reaching England I shall most certainly call upon you and tell you the things you must all be burning to know. The fighting is too furious, and it was too dangerous to make any semblance of a grave, or I would certainly have done so. Anyhow, as a second before he was joking. He was British, and you at home must be the same.”
A little later Sergt. Thomson sent another letter, this time to the deceased’s brother, Mr L. W. Wiffen, of South Street, Braintree, which read:
“Corpl. Wiffen was killed in a communication trench leading up the Zouave Wood against the Chateau at Hooge, about which you have read such a lot. He was buried at the Ypres end of the communication trench on the right-hand side of the Menin Road. He was buried with one of our officers; this grave is not marked. Wiffen did not speak after he was hit; the last words he spoke were, “Well, we’re jolly old warriors, still sticking it.” This was mentioned as I passed his traverse. I believe he then said, “Well, this is my last cigarette to-night.” He was seen to stoop down to pick something off the ground, and when the nearest man reached him he was dead. I examined him, and he was hit in the head; whether it was a bullet or shrapnel I cannot say; he was quite dead. I searched him and handed everything he had into the orderly room. He was killed about six o’clock in the evening. His grave was not marked, and it was a very risky job getting him buried at all. I might here tell you the incidents which led up to his death. We were resting in some dug-outs behind the firing line when the news reached us that the English had lost some trenches.
This news was followed up a few minutes later with the news that our battalion had been specially honoured and that we were given the opportunity of re-taking the lines. Wiffen, who, as I have previously said, was my second, and myself had a lump of ginger cake. I told him what I wanted done, and with six more N.C.O.’s and myself we started up under a perfect hail of shell fire, and our noble little platoon. All the other N.C.O.’s, with the exception of Wiffen and myself, were knocked out before we reached our destination. We retook the trenches, covered ourselves with glory, and the evening before we were relieved poor old Wiffen was killed. The Germans, who were furious, tried their best to smash us up; it was fearful, but we hung on. Now came the time to look after Wiffen; I intended burying him in a grave at the back of the trenches with an officer, but no sooner had we shown ourselves than snipers and machine-guns forced us to get back into the trenches as it was asking to be killed. We had no other opportunity that night, as they started an attack at dusk and kept on until daybreak. Of course, we were done up, but we had another try, and just management to get him buried a few minutes before our relief arrived. So we had no time to mark his grave, although should we ever go there again I shall mark it with a wooden cross, as I am sure he would have done anything for me. I was absolutely done up, and was glad to get away from the place. Really, we did our level best. I can assure you I miss him terribly, as his nature was very similar to my own, and we had many things in common. Our laughs over his parcel of flea powder, some of which he sent me with his compliments, I shall never forget.”
R/3000 Corporal Edgar Wiffen served with the 9th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps and was the son of William and Martha Wiffen, who lived at 7 Notley Road in Braintree. He was aged 21 when he was killed.
A recent, and very welcome, development has been the inclusion of Concentration of War Graves (Exhumation and Reburials) Returns on each soldier’s record on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.
Having searched for Corporal Wiffen’s burial or commemoration, the Concentration of War Graves return included with his record confirmed that his body was found in 1926, together with those of R/478 Rifleman G. E. Deakin, A/2227 Rifleman J. Ingley and an unknown Lieutenant of The King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Having recently come across Serjeant Thomson’s letter, I was intrigued to find out if the Lieutenant was Renton. I then checked Renton’s details on the CWGC website and found that he had no known grave and was commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial. At the time the remains were found, Corporal Wiffen’s name had been included with those soldiers to be commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial. Corporal Wiffen was reburied at Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery: Plot V, Row K, Grave 11. As the four bodies were found at the same map reference, and Serjeant Thomson implicitly identified Lieutenant Renton as having been buried next to Corporal Wiffen, the case for identification is compelling. The entry for Lieutenant Renton contained in Volume 1 of de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour intriguingly states that he “was killed in action near Hooge, 30 July 1915, during the capture of a German trench; unm, Buried there.” This reference also seems to support Serjeant Thomson’s account.
The writer of the letters, R/335 Serjeant Percy Walter Thomson, was killed on 25 September 1915, aged 21. He was the son of Charles Daniel and Caroline Thomson, who lived at 1 Sussex Road in Southsea. Serjeant Thomson has no known grave and is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
As well as Renton, there were five Lieutenants of The King’s Royal Rifle Corps who died between 30 July and 1 August 1915:
Lieutenant Roger Wentworth Watson – “C” Company, 8th(Service) Battalion. Buried at Sanctuary Wood Cemetery: Plot II, Row D, Grave 4.
Lieutenant F. Seymour – 7th (Service) Battalion – Commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
Lieutenant Sidney Henry Snelgrove – 14th (Reserve) Battalion, attached 7th (Service) Battalion – Commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
Lieutenant Arthur Bertram Findlay – 15th(Reserve) Battalion, attached 7th (Service) Battalion – Commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
Renton is the only Lieutenant of the 9th (Service) Battalion recorded as having been killed during this period of the fighting near Hooge, and with the evidence provided by Serjeant Thomson’s letter, the reference to his burial provided by the entry in de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, and that the body was found with three soldiers of the 9thBattalion in which he served, it appears likely that the “Unknown Lieutenant” buried at Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery was in fact Lieutenant Renton.
The evidence for the identification of Lieutenant Renton’s remains was sent to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in November 2015 and (at the time of writing) is still being considered by them.
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