3 June 2009

236418 Sapper Henry Peirce, 353rd Electrical and Mechanical Company, Royal Engineers

Medals held:
1914-15 Star, British War Medal, British Victory Medal.

Henry Peirce was born in the village of Cowfold, Sussex in 1889, his birth registered in Cuckfield in the September quarter of that year. He appears on the 1891 census living with his family at Edwards Cottages in Nutfield, Surrey. The household comprised Philip Peirce, aged 37, a domestic gardener born in Petersfield, Sussex; his wife Mary Peirce, aged 35, born in Cowfold, and their five children: James Peirce (aged 11), Anne Peirce (aged nine), Phillip Peirce (aged eight), Esther Peirce (aged three) and Henry (aged one). All of the children are noted as having been born in Cowfold.

By the time the 1901 census was taken, the family had moved and grown. Philip Peirce was now living at Avenue Cottage, South Nutfield with his family. James, now 21, is recorded as a labourer, his brother Philip recorded as a domestic under gardener. Thirteen year old Esther is noted as a scholar whilst Henry, who must also have been at school, has nothing recorded against his name. There were also four other siblings, all born in Nutfield. In age order they were Fred Peirce (aged nine), Charles Peirce (aged five), William M Peirce (aged three) and Catherine Peirce (aged one). The family surname is recorded incorrectly as Pearce on the 1901 census.

Henry’s service record, if it survives, does not exist in the WO363 or WO364 series held at the National Archives. We do know however that he enlisted in September 1914 in Redhill, Surrey with the 16th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (The Church Lads’ Brigade). Indeed, his number C-30, suggests an enlistment into this battalion on the day it was formed: 19th September 1914. He may have been married at the time of joining up but if he wasn’t, he certainly was by the time he was killed in action in 1918. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records the additional information that he was the son of Philip Peirce and the husband of Flora E M Peirce of 44 Earlsbrook Road, Redhill, Surrey.

Henry arrived in France on Christmas Eve 1915 and if he was still with the battalion in 1916, almost certainly took part in the Somme battles later that year. At some point though, he transferred to the Royal Engineers and it was whilst serving with the 353rd Electrical and Mechanical Company that he was killed in action on 19th August 1918. He is buried in Cerisy-Gailly Military Cemetery in France. Soldiers Died in The Great War notes Henry’s place of birth as Horsham, Sussex which goes against the information recorded on the 1901 census. Nevertheless, the name H Peirce does appear on the Horsham town memorial.

Henry’s brothers also served during the First World War. Fred served with the London Regiment, William served with the Royal Field Artillery and Philip served with the 11th Middlesex Regiment. Like Henry, he too lost his life in the service of his country; killed in action on 12th May 1917 he has no known grave and is commemorated on the war memorial at Arras.

Henry and Philip Peirce are both recorded on the war memorial in South Nutfield, the war memorial in the parish church – Christ Church - at South Nutfield and the war memorial in Nutfield High Street. Additionally, photographs of all four brothers appeared in a album kept by the vicar of Christ Church. When I visited the church in September 2008, I met the current vicar, the Reverend Trevor Kemp, and he kindly dug out acetates of three of the Peirce brothers: Henry and Fred photographed together (above; Henry, standing) and their brother Philip. Henry and Philip were also both mentioned by name in the South Nutfield Parish Magazine.

A memorial plaque (also known as dead man’s penny) would also have been sent to Henry’s wife some time after his death, but if it exists still, it is not in my collection.

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