yeovil at War

Heber Charles Purchase

Died from wounds sustained in the Third Anglo-Afghan War


Technically, Heber Purchase did not die in the Great War but in the Third Anglo-Afghan War. Nevertheless, since his name is recorded on the Preston Plucknett War Memorial, I have included this page in his memory.

Heber Charles Purchase was born in Preston Plucknett during the autumn of 1887. He was the eldest of the eight children of stonemason Charles Purchase (b1894) and Hephzibah née Power (b1866). The children of the family were Heber, Albert Stanley (b1889), Gertrude Florence (b1891), Cynthia M (b1894), Lottie May (b1896), William Thomas (1897-1972), Kate Eliza (b1900) and Ernest George (1902-1978). The family lived in Preston Plucknett and were recorded there on all census returns from 1881 onwards.

Heber was a professional soldier in the 1st (King's) Dragoon Guards. It is not known when he enlisted but he was certainly serving in India before the Great War.

The regiment, which had been was stationed at Lucknow in India at the start of the war, landed at Marseille as part of the 8th (Lucknow) Cavalry Brigade in the 1st Indian Cavalry Division in November 1914 for service on the Western Front.

Heber saw three years of fighting in France. The first major action involving the 1st (King's) Dragoon Guards was the  Battle of Festubert (15–25 May 1915). This was an attack by the British army in the Artois region of France on the Western Front. The offensive formed part of a series of attacks by the French Tenth Army and the British First Army in the Second Battle of Artois.

A continuous three-day bombardment by the British heavy artillery by 433 artillery pieces that fired about 100,000 shells was intended to cut wire and demolish German machine-gun posts and infantry strong-points. The German defences were to be captured by a continuous attack.

The bombardment failed to significantly damage the front line defences of the German 6th Army but the initial advance made some progress in good weather conditions. Several more attacks were made and eventually the offensive resulted in a 3-kilometre (1.9 mi) advance, although the British lost 16,648 casualties.

Later in May 1915, the 1st (King's) Dragoon Guards took part in the Second Battle of Ypres. The Second Battle of Ypres, 22 April to 25 May 1915, was a rare German offensive on the Western Front during 1915. It was launched with two aims in mind. The first was to distract attention from the movement of German troops to the eastern front in preparation for the campaign that would lead to the victory of Gorlice-Tarnow. The second was to assess the impact of poisoned gas on the western front. Gas had already been used on the eastern front, at Bolimov (3 January 1915), but the tear gas used there had frozen in the extreme cold. At Ypres the Germans used the first lethal gas of the war, chlorine. The gas was to be released from 6,000 cylinders and would rely on the wind to blow it over the allied trenches. This method of delivery controlled the timing of the attack – the prevailing winds on the western front came from the west, so the Germans had to wait for a suitable wind from the east to launch their attack. The line around Ypres was held by French, Canadian and British troops. The attack on 22 April hit the French lines worst and, not surprisingly, the line broke under the impact of this deadly new weapon. The gas created a gap 8,000 yards long in the Allied lines north of Ypres. The success of their gas had surprised the Germans who didn’t have the reserves to quickly exploit the unexpected breakthrough, allowing enough time to plug the gap with newly arrived Canadian troops. During the battle the British, French and Canadians suffered 60,000 casualties, the Germans only 35,000.

Following this battle, the 1st King's settled to life in the trenches. Their next major engagement was the Battle of Morval in September 1916.

The Battle of Morval, 25–28 September 1916, was an attack during the Battle of the Somme by the British Fourth Army on the villages of Morval, Gueudecourt and Lesbœufs held by the German 1st Army, which had been the final objectives of the Battle of Flers–Courcelette. The main British attack was postponed, to combine with attacks by the French Sixth Army on the village of Combles south of Morval, to close up to the German defences between Moislains and Le Transloy, near the Péronne–Bapaume road. The combined attack from the Somme river northwards to Martinpuich on the Albert–Bapaume road, was also intended to deprive the German defenders further west near Thiepval of reinforcements, before an attack by the Reserve Army, due on 26 September. The postponement was extended from 21–25 September because of rain, which affected operations more frequently during September. Combles, Morval, Lesbœufs and Gueudecourt were captured and many casualties inflicted on the Germans.

The 1st (King's) Dragoon Guards returned to India in October 1917. The regiment remained in garrison at Meerut until October 1918 when it exchanged stations with 21st (Empress of India's) Lancers and moved to Risalpur. On 2 May 1919 Afghan troops seized control of wells on the Indian side of the border. The Afghan Amir Amanullah was warned to withdraw, but his answer was to send more troops to reinforce those at the wells and to move other Afghan units to various points on the frontier. The regiment was mobilised on 6 May and formed part of the British Indian Army's 1st (Risalpur) Cavalry Brigade. It served throughout the Third Anglo-Afghan War and saw action at the Khyber Pass. At Dakka – a village in Afghan territory, north west of the Khyber Pass – on 16 May, the regiment made one of the last recorded charges by a British horsed cavalry regiment as it was already apparent the old world would be giving way to mechanisation.

While fighting in the Third Anglo-Afghan War, Heber was shot in the neck. He was hospitalised at the Peshawar stationary hospital where he died from his wounds on 5 June 1919. He was 31 years old.

In its edition of 13 June 1919 the Western Gazette reported "Mrs C Purchase, of Preston Plucknett, has been notified by the War Office, that her son, Private Heber Purchase, of the 1st Dragoon Guards, is now lying in the stationary hospital at Peshawar, suffering from a gunshot wound in the chest, which he received in the Afghan campaign."

The Western Gazette edition of 1 August 1919 reported "Official notification has been received of the death from wounds at the Stationary Hospital, Peshawar, India, on June 5th, of Private Heber Charles Purchase (1st King's Dragoon Guards), eldest son of the late Mr Chas. Purchase and of Mrs Purchase, of this village. Deceased was 31 years of age. Writing to his mother, Capt. Wrenholt states that the deceased was one of the most reliable men of the squadron, and he had known him for many years, when serving in India before the war. Lieutenant WH Muir, in tendering his sympathy to the bereaved mother, states "Your son was one of the very best men in the squadron and a general favourite. It must have been a terrible blow to you, especially after his having served three years in France, and was so near to returning home to you." Lieutenant Muir adds that he was shot in the neck in the Afghan campaign, and was buried in the south-east corner of the cemetery at Peshawar."

Heber Purchase was buried in Peshawar (Right) British Cemetery, Grave XLV53. His name is recorded on the India Gate Memorial, New Delhi and also is inscribed on the Preston Plucknett War Memorial.