Eastleach War Memorial – Herbert George Richings

Herbert George Richings, the son of James and Mary Richings, was born at Sparsholt near Wantage in 1893. James, born in Faringdon and Mary Jennings, from Stanford-in-the-Vale, married in 1870 in Faringdon and by the 1911 Census had produced ten children, eight of whom were still living. In 1901, when Herbert was seven, they were living in Berwick Bassett, Wiltshire and James was a milker on a farm, as was his elder son, William. In common with many agricultural workers at that time, James had moved around finding work and by 1911 the family were settled in Fyfield at Eastleach, where he was a cowman on a farm. This may well have been Baxters Farm. In various records Herbert is recorded as George or George Herbert but he was probably known as Herbert, as recorded on the war memorial. By 1911, only Herbert aged seventeen and his brother Ernest aged twenty were still living at home, both working as farm labourers, possibly again at Baxters Farm.

Herbert enlisted with the 10th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment in Cirencester on or around 11th January 1915. It is likely that he served with both Albert Lockey and Urban Williams in the dreadful Battle of Loos as it is recorded that he went overseas on 4th October 1915 with reinforcements for the 10th Battalion who were being decimated. The regular battalions had suffered so many casualties that barely a tenth of the original men who went in August 1914 were with them by the end of 1915. Unlike Albert Lockey, Herbert survived that dreadful winter in the trenches around Loos but, two weeks after Urban Williams died of his wounds, Herbert was also killed in action on 30th June 1916. Between 25th June and early July the Battalion diaries record that there were raids on enemy lines in the Calonne sub-section near Bully-les-Mines and it is likely that this is where he met his end.

He is buried in Loos British Cemetery, most of which is a concentration cemetery which was formed after the Armistice by the concentration of graves from the battlefields and smaller cemeteries over a wide area north and east of the village. By the end of hostilities the area was sown with many more cemeteries than can be seen today. Some were little more than a few untidy rows of graves marked by battered pieces of wood. There were little clusters in fields, by roadsides and many still lay out on the old battlefields. With the civilian population anxious to return to rebuild their lives some order had to be brought to the situation. This is when the Army Graves Concentration Units set to work and when the concentration at Loos British Cemetery took place.

Three headstones marked “A Soldier of the Great War Known unto God”

George Herbert Richings was obviously identified and is buried alongside more of his named comrades from the Gloucesters who died on the same day. However, it is salutary to note that, very near them, are many, many rows of graves bearing Rudyard Kipling’s epitaph for those who could not be identified – “A soldier of the Great War Known unto God”. One of them could just be the grave of Albert Lockey who had no known grave and is remembered on the Loos Memorial at Dud Corner.