Gerald Barford Hornby was born on 21st December 1896 to Herbert Edwin Hornby and Beatrice Maud Hornby [née Barford] in Paddington, London the eldest of three brothers. His father was a dairyman and a director of various milk producing companies.
Gerald was educated at Cliftonville College in Margate before finishing his studies at Wellington, leaving in the summer of 1914. Whilst at Wellington he served in the Officers Training Corps [OTC], leaving with the rank of Corporal.
On 26th October 1914 Gerald completed his application in Hounslow for a temporary commission in the military and selected the Yorkshire Regiment, better known as The Green Howards, as his preferred choice. Initially he declared himself to be a year older than he actually was but this was corrected later. It was considered to be a military offence for a potential officer to knowingly make any dishonest statements on his application.
At his army medical the following day it was noticed that he had a small varicule1 on his left side. As it was not believed to cause any trouble there was no reason to declare him unfit for military service and he was subsequently commissioned into the Regiment on 5th November 1914. For the next ten months or so they moved between Berkhamsted, Tring and Aylesbury before finally moving to Witley Camp, Surrey in August 1915 to prepare for embarkation.
On 9th September 1915 Gerald and his Battalion left Witley and marched to nearby Milford. Here they entrained to Folkestone from where the troop ships transported them on an overnight crossing to Boulogne, disembarking the following day. Following a series of lengthy forced route marches and rest stops they finally arrived, tired and exhausted, in VERMELLES on 25th September which was the reserve area for the forthcoming British assault on LOOS. At 3.15pm on 26th September the Battalion War Diary2 notes:
Moved from VERMELLES to attack Hill 70 through village of LOOS. At about 3.15pm the Battn attacked and reached the first line of fire trenches and supported the 18th LONDON REGT. The Battn lost heavily A, C ,D & part of B Coys were on right of SLAG HEAP, near LOOS PYLONS. Remainder of B Coy across road at CHALK PIT on right of 18 LONDON REGT. During night of 26th /27th A, C, D & part of B Coys were moved to left of SLAG HEAP and waited during the night to attack again.
The entry for the next day, 27th September records:
Attack on Hill 70 recommenced. This attack went on all day with varying success, the Battn again lost heavily, including the Colonel [Col HADOW] and 2nd in command [Maj DENT] and 11 other officers killed and wounded. The order to retire was given and the Battn returned to Bivouac near PHILOSOPHE.
The Battalion was withdrawn from the line the following day.
At some point during the afternoon of 26th September Gerald sustained gunshot wounds [gsw] to his right arm and back which necessitated his evacuation via Rouen/Le Havre on the hospital ship ‘St Andrew’ back to England. Here on 29th September he was admitted to 1st London General Hospital, RAMC, where he later underwent an operation to repair his injuries.
On 9th November 1915 he was granted a period of disability leave followed by a period of home service and light duties. It was during this time that Gerald wrote the following brief letter to Wellington College, which makes light of the real nature and seriousness of his injuries.
I have just returned from a brief visit (about three weeks) to France, with a little memento from the Germans in the shape of a bullet through the arm. It is nothing, but sufficient to lay me up for a few weeks. My regiment played a prominent part in the little affair at Loos, and suffered pretty badly. We attacked late in the afternoon, and I was potted just as it was getting dark in the suburbs of Loos itself.
In France we got no trenches, and all but marched straight to near Bethune, and at about three o'clock on Saturday 25th September, we were launched into the attack against Hill 70, which had changed hands several times that morning, and I think my division had the honour of finally capturing it.3
Whilst on disability leave Gerald attended regular monthly medical boards at Caxton Hall, London where he complained of ongoing pain and stiffness in the wound areas. His final medical board, at Caxton Hall, on 15th January 1916 signed him as fit for light office duties so he moved temporarily to the 11th (Reserve) Battalion at their camp in Rugeley, Staffordshire.
His own Battalion, still in France, were keen that he re-join them as soon as possible so a medical board was convened at Rugeley on 15th February 1916 and Gerald was declared fit for general service once his latest period of disability leave expired. On 15th May 1916 in the midst of heavy rain he returned to his Battalion, assigned to ‘C’ Company, who were under canvass in a wood near BRAY, 20 miles east-northeast of Amiens.
Gerald had not been back in the front line for long when on 28th May bombs, rifle grenades and shells rained down on them inflicting serious casualties leaving over two dozen soldiers either killed or wounded. Apart from a lull in the onslaught the following day, both the 30th/31st May saw a repetition, following retaliatory strikes by the British artillery, and again serious loss of life was inflicted on the Battalion. It was believed that the German target was in fact the Battalion HQ which they failed to locate.
On Wednesday 12th July 1916 the Battalion was located in MAMETZ WOOD, at which point as a result of enemy shelling Second-Lieutenant Gerald Barford Hornby, 10th (Service) Battalion, Alexandra Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire) Regiment was killed in action. He was just 19 years old.
The brief description of the action was recorded thus in the War Diary:
In MAMETZ WOOD. Got the wood quite clear and captured some guns, busy consolidating. The Battn held the E. edge of the wood from N.E. corner to S.20 a 1.5. The enemy shelling was very heavy, and caused many casualties including 2nd Lieut HORNBY. Our bombardment heavy in preparation for attack on 14th.
Gerald is buried in Dantzig Alley British Cemetery, Mametz, France. He is also remembered in the Regimental Roll of Honour kept within the parish church of Richmond, Yorkshire.
Alexandra Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire) Regiment is perpetuated today in the 2nd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment.