Private Herbert Ryder
6181 Guardsman Machine Gun Regiment (formerly 32631 Grenadier Guards)
Herbert was born in 1897. He was the youngest of ten children living, with their parents and a lodger, next to the Nelson public house in Brown Lees - at the ‘Huts’. His father, Henry, a puddler at the local ironworks, collapsed and died of a heart attack in the street outside his home. Most of his seven brothers followed their father in to the ironworks of Robert Heath, but on leaving school Herbert worked in the local pit “lobbing on”.
On February 28th 1916 he walked to Burslem in order to join Kitchener’s Army – enrolling in the Grenadier Guards as number 32631. Being a strapping young man he was drafted to the machine gun company, presumably in order to help carry the gun. In April 1918 the Guards Machine Gun Regiment was formed to which he was transferred and became member number 6181.
In early November 1918 he was part of a machine gun section attached to the Irish Guards, their remit being to drive the Germans back as far as Maubeuge close to the Belgian border.
On the morning of November 4th whilst awaiting orders, close to the village of Villers Pol, a German shell landed on the ammunition limber killing one man and several horses. Herbert received shrapnel wounds to the side of his head. It was serious enough to have him sent back as a casualty.
During WWII he worked at the ammunition factories in Radway Green and Swynnerton. The latter half of his life was spent farming with his son-in-law. Initially this was at Childerplay Farm and then later at Knypersley Hall. The poultry side was his responsibility.
As with most old soldiers it was extremely difficult to encourage him to relate his war experiences. The only ones that he can remember are:
- He remembered feeling the surgeon’s knife going in to extract the shrapnel before the anaesthetic had fully taken.
- The statement that a good machine gunner could fire 16-18 bullets before the target hit the ground.
- When you were eating a meal you dare not look away, otherwise a potato on your plate would disappear. As children we thought it awful that a fellow soldier would pinch some of our grandfather’s food. It only dawned on us later in life that it was the other way round!
In the late 1950s and early 1960s we often saw him (when he thought no-one was looking) going through his rifle drill on the yard outside the cattle sheds. He used a yard brush as his rifle, and returned to sweeping the yard the moment he realised that he was being observed.
Herbert died in 1971 of a brain tumour; the position of which was the exact spot where the shrapnel had hit 53 years earlier. Coincidence?
Evan Sherratt October 2013.
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