Monday, October 20, 2014

201994 Private Harry Rufus Reed, 1/4th Royal West Kent Regt

Henry Rufus Reed was born in 1888 in Buxted, Sussex; his birth registered in Uckfield District in the March quarter of that year.  He was known as Harry rather than Henry and so I shall refer to him as Harry from now on.  He was the youngest of six children born to William and Louisa Reed, his siblings being Louisa (born in 1876), William Reed (1878), Herbert Norman Reed (1880), Helena Reed (1882) and Florence Reed (1883).  At the time the 1901 census was taken, Harry was living with his parents and Florence at Bineham Farmhouse in Chailey.  He is recorded as a 13 year old scholar and his father noted as a domestic coachman.  In fact William Reed was head coachman to the Blencowe family at Bineham mansion.   

Nurse Edith Oliver was obviously quite close to the Reed family and a number of photos of them appear in her album.  A page of photos shows Bineham farmhouse (with William Reed senior and his wife just visible in the foreground) and photos of Herbert Reed with his nieces and nephews.  Other photographs depict Louisa (Louie Reed) and her mother together and Mrs Reed in fancy dress costume.  There are also autographs and verses that were written by Louie and Herbert.  A photograph in the possession of the Reed family also shows Edith with Mr and Mrs Reed and Louie.

Herbert Reed certainly did not serve during World War One and I have not researched his brother William.  Harry though, did serve with the Royal West Kent Regiment and is mentioned in Chailey’s parish magazine.  In June 1916 it notes that Driver H R Reed is serving with the Royal Field Artillery in England and then, five months later, that he is a private with the 1/4th Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment (a Territorial Force battalion) in Egypt.  This information is then repeated up until February 1917 after which his name ceases to appear. 

Harry's medal index card records two numbers for him: 5167 and 201994.  The first, four digit number, would have been the original number allocated to him when he joined the territorials (probably in mid 1915) and the second number was that issued to him when the Territorial Force was re-numbered in early 1917.  There is no mention of a Royal Artillery connection. Luckily however, a service record survives for Harry and this shows that he originally attested with the Royal Artillery in February 1916 but transferred to the Royal West Kent Regiment four months later. He served in India and was invalided from there in February 1917 before being discharged as no longer physically fit for war service in April 1917.

The 1/4th Royal West Kent Regiment spent the First World War in India fulfilling garrison duties, and it seems likely that Harry stopped off at Egypt en route and sent word back to his family that he was in there.  This information found its way into the parish magazine but does not appear to have been updated once he landed in India 

Back in Chailey there was sadness and joy for the Reed family.  On 4th January 1916, The Sussex Express carried news of Herbert’s death, noting that he had been an invalid for the past ten years.  He was 36 years old and was buried at Chailey Parish church. Edith Oliver was among the mourners and a photo of Herbert’s grave also appears in her album. 

The following January there was happier news however, when Helena Reed married Charles Colbourn at Chailey.  The East Sussex News covered the story on Friday 2nd February: 

"WEDDING.  The marriage was solemnised at the Parish Church on Saturday by special licence of Corporal Charles Colbourn, Royal Sussex Regiment, and Miss Helena Reed, second daughter of Mr and Mrs Reed of the Farmhouse, Bineham… the bridegroom is home on ten days’ leave from France.  Later in the day the happy couple left for London where the honeymoon is being spent." 

Nurse Oliver’s album contains a line drawing of a castle by a Lance Corporal C Colbourn and this is almost certainly Charles Colbourn.  An entry by his sister-in-law Louie appears on the same page.   

I had wondered for a long while whether C Colbourn was a patient of Nurse Oliver’s but I think it is more likely that he was asked to leave his mark as a friend rather than as a patient.  His medal card (he served with the 1/5th Royal Sussex Regiment) gives no indication that he received a Silver War Badge and whilst this is not conclusive evidence by any means that he was not wounded or did not fall sick during his time in the army, other evidence points to the fact that he was Helena Reed’s fiancĂ© or husband.  Happily, both Charles Colbourn and Harry Reed survived the First World War.
Medal index card courtesy of Ancestry.

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