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Tragic Henry true hero of Kingsholm

By This is Gloucestershire  |  Posted: November 08, 2008

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There is nothing obvious to set Henry Berry apart from all 8,100 Glosters soldiers who perished in the First World War.

But imagine what it would mean today for Gloucester to lose one of its brightest international rugby stars, born within a punt of Kingsholm.

That is what happened on May 9, 1915. Berry was one of hundreds of 1st Battalion troops mown down by enemy machine guns within yards of his trench in northern France.

His body was never found and he left a wife, a four-year-old son and a baby daughter he never met.

But still his name lives on in the hearts and minds of his relatives, whose research in to his past reveals a fascinating story.

Before his untimely death at 32, Berry played every game in a victorious Five Nations campaign in 1910. He scored tries in two matches.

"He was described as a ‘fast and clever loose forward who shone in the line-out and loose footwork’," said grandson Mike, 63, who lives in Dean’s Way.

The family have treasured his international, regional and county caps, the red rose worn on his England shirt and his county championship winner’s medal for almost a century.

Stored in a presentation box, they are a poignant reminder of a tragic loss.

Above all, he was a loved husband and father.

"Beatrice (Henry’s wife) didn’t talk about him much but used to say to her children ‘that’s your dad there’ and point to the box," said Mike’s mum Maureen, 84, whose husband, the late Henry George Berry, was Henry Berry’s son.

"She was very proud and wanted the children to know that."

Henry Berry was born to James and Hannah Berry in Columbia Street in 1883, one of four boys and five girls.

His father died when he was just 10 and he joined the 4th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment aged 16 at the outbreak of the Boer War.

In March 1900, he went to St Helena to guard prisoners of war and spent two years in the remote South Atlantic outpost of the British Empire.

He stayed on while his regiment headed home, then joined up with the 1st Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment and was posted to Trincomalee, Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

Then, in India, he captained the D Company rugby team which went undefeated for five years.

Malaria forced him to return to England in 1909, but he recovered and played for Gloucester. A year later he married Beatrice Evelyn Arnold.

Although he started his career in the backs, he found his niche as a wing forward and, judging by reports of his nimble and quick-witted play, he would most often have worn a number seven on his back in today’s game.

Three great years of rugby followed from 1910. A debut in front of the then new Twickenham stands against Wales was won 11-6.

That was followed by a 6-6 draw with Ireland – in which he is believed to have scored a try – an 11-3 away win over France, followed by an away win over Scotland (14-5) in which he scored another try.

That year he also played in a Gloucestershire team which beat Cornwall in the county championship final at Stroud.

They were also great years of his life. He and Beatrice made a home in St Catherine Street and their first child, Henry George Berry, arrived.

Then in 1913, the effects of malaria struck again, curtailing his rugby. But he remained a reservist and he was called back to service in September 1914.

He was sent to France in March 1915. Beatrice was expecting their second child, Phyllis Irene, but he never got to see his daughter.

He was killed on May 9 at the battle of Aubers Ridge.

"From reports I have read, it was the biggest disaster to affect British troops," said Mike.

Beatrice raised both children with the help of her family, and ran the Stags Head in Alvin Street and Northgate Street’s New Inn.

She never remarried and died in 1965.

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