Pte Robert Ireland and John Henry Ireland
William and Sarah Ireland of Wreningham, Norfolk lost two of their three sons as a result of the First World War. Pte Robert Ireland was a farm labourer before the war and served with the 1/7th Battalion, The Norfolk Regiment. He died on 12 October 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, aged 28 years. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.
Robert’s younger brother John Henry Ireland was part of 1/7th Battalion The Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment. He died at Newport, Wales on 26 November 1918 from wounds received in action at Albert, France on 2 August 1918. He was aged 19 years. John is buried in the churchyard of All Saints Church, Wreningham where a headstone commemorates the two brothers. Their eldest brother also served during the First World War and survived.
The Forgotten Fallen
The casualties of the First World War are not always immediately obvious. After suffering months in freezing cold and wet trenches exposed to the elements, many soldiers developed conditions like pneumonia or bronchitis or contracted ‘trench fever’ from the lice that infested their uniforms. Many smoked ‘like troopers’ while in the trenches or were exposed to poison gas or wounds that significantly shortened their lives.
A sad and uncomfortable truth is a number of soldiers suffering from what we would now classify as post-traumatic stress ended up taking their own lives after discharge, during or after the war. These men do not appear in the official records compiled by the War Office such as ‘Soldiers Died in the Great War’, a list of over 660,000 fallen British soldiers. Others remained in mental health hospitals for the rest of their lives which was, in a few cases, up to the 1960s. There are far more deaths as a result of the First World War than will ever be realised from the recorded casualty lists.
Harry Sparrow was only 22 years old when he took his own life. Harry, sometimes known as Henry, came from the village of Raveningham in South Norfolk. On the 1911 Census, at the age of 17, records show that he lived with his parents, George and Harriet Sparrow and three of his siblings in a cottage on Beccles Road. He was George and Harriet’s youngest son and he worked as a labourer on a farm.
When the First World War came Harry enlisted at Beccles where he joined The Suffolk Regiment and after training he proceeded to France and saw action on the Western Front. He quickly rose to the rank of Corporal and was regarded by his officer Captain Holland as ‘an excellent soldier in every way.’ His service record was said to be one of the best and he was regarded as of ‘a cheerful disposition and a first class instructor.’
On Friday 8 June 1917 Harry was seen by L/Cpl Frank Reynolds, leaning over Felixstowe Pier railings looking very depressed. Frank suggested it was time to leave and Harry replied ‘I am now going, Good Night.’ Frank started walking away down the pier and when he looked back he saw Harry take off his cap and place something from his pocket into it. Frank thought this was strange so he started
to run towards him but got there too late. Harry had jumped into the water and Frank saw him come to the surface twice but Harry made no attempt to save himself. It later transpired that Harry had placed a purse, a pocket book and a few letters inside his cap.
At the inquest Oliver Rogers, who had identified Harry’s body, said Harry had recently lost his father and siblings. His brother Charles was killed in action on 18 October 1916 and his brother George had been killed on the trawler ‘Tettenhall’ on 23 May 1917. A verdict of ‘suicide during temporary insanity’ was recorded.
Harry is remembered along with Charles and George on Raveningham’s War Memorial in St Andrew’s churchyard.