Henry was one of the many children born to Henry and Jane Duff. He was born in 1883 in Airth, Stirling, Scotland. In 1901, aged 18, he was working as an assistant grocer in Kirkintilloch, Dumbartonshire and living with his parents.
At some time during the early 1900s he must have moved to the Biddulph and Congleton area. He met and married Hannah Jane Dale at St. John’s, Buglawton, Congleton in 1911.
According to the British Legion records he enlisted in February 1917, in Hanley. Unfortunately no service records have been traced although a medal card is available. These records also indicate an occupation of him being an agent for Pearl Insurance with a home address of 21, Thomas Street, Biddulph. This, however, is at variance with Alf Beard’s records which give an address of Davenshaw Lodge, Buglawton. Maybe this was Hannah’s address before she was married, although it has not been possible to definitely trace either of them in 1911.
In February 1917 Henry enlisted at Hanley in the 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers. Prior to Henry joining the battalion they had returned to England in December 1914 from service in India. They then sailed to Gallipoli in March 1915 to fight in that terrible campaign until January 1916 when their division, the 29th, were transferred to the Western Front. They arrived in March 1916 and prepared to fight in the Battle of the Somme and saw major conflicts at Albert and Transloy Ridge.
In mid-1917, although his medal card gives no date of entry, Henry would have joined his battalion in the field. The 2nd Battalion had already seen action in the Arras Offensive in the Spring, and soon Henry would have his baptism of fire in the oozing slimy mud of the Third Battle of Ypres. This was a desolate landscape of water-filled shell holes where the only safe passage was by using duckboards. It was a struggle to bring up rations to the troops by horse and waggon, so mules and pack horses were used. The 29th Division fought bravely at Langemarck, Broodseinde and Poelcapelle in the dreaded salient whilst pushing toward Passchendaele. Later in November the division were ordered south to fight in the Battle of Cambrai.
After a long slow rail journey the division arrived into a battle not only renowned for the use of tanks but also for the thousands of field guns employing updated firing tactics. On November 20th and 21st the 29th Division were used in immediate support of these actions and again during the attacks on Bourton Wood, where over ninety tanks were in action. The Fusiliers came under a heavy barrage of shelling with many of their men lost and wounded.
After spending a cold and miserable winter holding their trenches on the Flanders battlefield, the Fusiliers were now confronted with the German Spring Offensive in March 1918. It is believed to have been at about this time, in the actions at Estaires, that Henry fell on the battlefield. Private Henry Duff was 35 when he died, on March 21st 1918. He now rests in the Oxford Road Cemetery, Ypres and is remembered on the Biddulph memorials.
Michael Turnock and Elaine Bryan.