Gunner Raymond Algeno Hirst, 1931, 2nd West Riding Brigade, Royal Field Artillery
Raymond Algeno Hirst was born on the 27th July 1891 in Roxborough, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., the only son of Walter Hirst and Hannah Naylor.
Walter and Hannah had married in the Dewsbury area in summer 1877 and by 1881 they were living in Staincliffe, Dewsbury. Walter was employed as a card cleaner and Hannah as a spinner in a woollen mill. Two years later the couple emigrated to the U.S.A. and they sailed aboard the "Pennsylvania" to Philadelphia, arriving on the 30th August 1883. They settled in Roxborough, Philadelphia where Raymond was born. He was baptised aged 6 weeks on the 11th of September 1891 at St Timothy’s Protestant Episcopal Church, Roxborough. However, six months later, on the 24th April 1892, Raymond’s father Walter died aged 36.
Hannah returned to Heckmondwike with her young son, marrying Alfred Newsome in 1907. He was a widower who had one daughter Annie and a son Archibald (Archie). The couple with the two sons were living at North Street, Heckmondwike by 1911.
Raymond was educated at Heckmondwike Secondary School and attended the Upper Independent Chapel, where he was a valued member of their choir, cricket club, Sunday School and Young Men’s Guild. Raymond served his apprenticeship as a typesetter at the office of the "Heckmondwike Herald" newspaper. A few months before war broke out, he had taken a job on the staff of the "Ossett Observer" run by Messrs. Senior and Co. Ltd. as a linotype operator. It is known that he lived at Park Square, Ossett at this time and was engaged to be married to a Miss Roberts of Spark House, Cleckheaton.
Raymond had also served for four years as a member of the Territorial forces at Heckmondwike, being attached to the local battery of the 2nd West Riding Royal Field Artillery. He had completed his service two years before war broke out, but rejoined his battery in January 1915 when he enlisted in Bradford and was drafted to France in the April 1915.
At Ypres, on the 20th December 1915, Raymond sustained a severe shrapnel wound to the spine. He was transferred to the King George Hospital in Lambeth, London for surgery and care. His mother, stepfather and fiancée were able to visit him and may have been with him when he died on Sunday 23rd January 1916.
A large Military funeral was held on Wednesday, 26th January 1916 in Heckmondwike when thousands of people lined the roads from Church Street to the Upper Independent Chapel where a service was held. The Band and 360 men of the 3rd/ 2nd West Riding Brigade of Royal Field Artillery stationed at Bradford and led by his former Territorial Commander Major Priestley, led the procession. The coffin, wrapped in a Union Jack was carried by six comrades to the horse drawn gun carriage and then transported to the chapel for a service. He was then interred with full military honours, a gun salute being fired over the grave. The gravestone records:1
"Raymond A. Hirst only son of Hannah and the late Walter Hirst, wounded in Ypres December 20th 1915, died in London, January 23rd 1916 aged 24 years. He nobly did his duty. Also Hannah, wife of Alfred Newsome who died December 5th 1918 aged 64 years."
In late January 1917 the "Ossett Observer" had this report of Gunner Hirst’s funeral:2
"Former member of 'Observer' Staff Killed in France - Gunner Raymond A. Hirst, a member of the Heckmondwike Battery of the 2nd West Riding Royal Field Artillery, who died in a London hospital from wounds received in France, was buried at the Upper Chapel, Heckmondwike, on Wednesday, with military honours. The coffin, covered with a Union Jack, was conveyed to the chapel on a gun-carriage drawn by six horses, and was followed by almost 400 officers and men of the 2nd West Riding Royal Field Artillery, under Major Priestley, their band being also present. Gunner Hirst, who was 25 years of age, had completed his service as a Territorial, but rejoined his battery soon after the outbreak of the war. He was at that time a linotype operator on the staff of the 'Observer' and lived in Park-square."
Gunner Raymond Algeno Hirst was awarded the British and Victory medals and 1914-15 Star for his service. He is commemorated at the Heckmondwike United Reform Church Memorial, Green Park Memorial and the Vellum book. Also the St Saviour’s Memorial now held in St James’ Church, Heckmondwike.3
We are indebted to Anne-Marie Fawcett for bringing this soldier to our attention and for her additional research in this connection. We are also grateful to the Spen Valley Historical Society for their research which is largely the source of this biography.
2. "Ossett Observer", January 1917