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Henry "Harry" Langstaff (1896-1918)

Weardale man served in the DLI commemorated by an oak tree at Wolsingham Grammar School

The following story contains information contributed by David and Ethan from Wolsingham School:
Born in 1896 Henry Langstaff, known as Harry, began his life in Witton-le-Wear. He was baptised into the Church of England, although we do not know the exact date of his baptism. He had one older sister, Isabella Langstaff, who was five when Harry was born. His mother was Mary Langstaff who was 40 when she gave birth to Harry. His father was George Langstaff who was 33 when Harry was born. George was a timber merchant and worked from home, as we can tell from the 1911 census.

The 1911 census also shows that the family lived at Laburnam House, Witton-le-Wear, though we do not know when they began living at this address. As a child Harry attended the Wolsingham Grammar school along with his younger sister, Bessie Langstaff. Bessie was born five years after Harry. Harry also had another younger sister, Jennie Langstaff who was born only one year after Harry. We do not know whether she attended Wolsingham Grammar school with her older siblings.

A damaged service record shows us that Harry Langstaff attested on 8 December 1915 in Bishop Auckland. Attestation was a promise to serve in the army. In most cases, enlistment happened within days of attestation, however the record shows that Harry did not actually enlist until 23 May 1918. Considering Harry’s work in the timber industry, a much needed resource for the military, it is possible that his work was considered more important to the war effort that his being a soldier. He was put in the army reserve, his attestation meaning he could be mobilised by the army at any time. By 1918, the British Army was struggling to increase its manpower, an is likely why Harry was eventually mobilised on 23 May 1918.

Harry was initially posted on 25 May as a private to the 5th (Reserve) Battalion Durham Light Infantry (formerly 3/5th Battalion), at Sutton-on-Hull, for training. On 30 September, he travelled to Folkestone, then sailed for Boulogne, and on arrival was posted to 13th Battalion, DLI. He joined the battalion south of Cambrai on 3 October.

Harry received a gunshot wound to his right leg on 25 October. An article in the Auckland Chronicle dated 14 November 1918, attached below, describes what happened to Harry following this injury.

Harry’s leg had to be amputated. News was soon received “that amputation had been successfully performed” and that he had “stood the operation well”. However, sadly, the family received news on 7 November from a nurse who wrote to say that the “poor lad had passed away after suddenly collapsing from heart failure.” She then added: “no doubt greatly due to shock after all the strain that it must have been to these lads when in action. He was a good lad, I know that no one ever heard him complain”.

Following his death at the 6th General Hospital in Rouen, Harry’s body was buried in the St Sever cemetery extension along with many of his fellow soldiers.

Wolsingham Grammar School planted 18 oak trees during 1918 and 1919, each commemorating an old scholar at the school who lost their life serving in the First World War. The following inscription appears on a plaque by the trees: “These trees were planted in memory of Old Boys who fell in the Great War “non timidi pro patria mori”.

Harry was remembered at the school for being a House Games Captain who was both pleasant and well liked.

Civil Parish: Wolsingham

Birth date: 09-Jan-1896

Death date: 3-Nov-1918

Armed force/civilian: Army

Residence: Witton-le-wear (1901 Census)
Laburnam House, Witton-le-Wear (1911 Census, Service Recrds)

Education: Witton-le-Wear Council Mixed School
Wolsingham Grammar School

Religion: Church of England

Family: Parents: George Langstaff (b 1864), Mary Margeret Langstaff (b 1857)
Siblings: Isabella Langstaff (b 1891), Jennie Langstaff (b 1897), Bessie Langstaff (b 1900)

Military service:

5th (Reserve), 13th Battalions Durham Light Infantry
Service Number 100336

Medal(s): Victory Medal
British War Medal

Memorial(s): St. Sever Cemetery extension, Rouen
Plaque 1914-18 1939-45, Grammar School, Wolsingham
Photos 1914-18, Grammar School, Wolsingham
Trees 1914-18, Grammar School, Wolsingham
Book of Remembrance 1914-18 DLI, Durham Cathedral
Book of Remembrance 1914-18, St. Anne’s Church, Bishop Auckland
Plaque 1914-18, St. Philip and St. James’ Church, Witton Le Wear

Gender: Male

Contributed by David, Ethan - Wolsingham School