19909 Private Eric Burton Haigh
26th (Service) Battalion (Bankers) Royal Fusiliers
Eric Burton Haigh was the only child
born to the marriage of Jonathan Marshall Haigh and his wife Gertrude (nee
Spence). As Eric was born on 27th November 1896 and his mother died a
week later on 4th December, it is, perhaps, not unreasonable to
surmise that she died of some sort of complication arising from the birth of
her son. Jonathan, a bookkeeper and banker’s cashier and Gertrude had been
married for less than two years when she died.
Jonathan Haigh was from Idle in Bradford and Gertude was from Leeds. They lived in Horsforth when Gertrude died and Gertrude is buried in Horsforth Cemetery.
At the time of the 1901 census, Jonathan
and Eric Haigh were living with Jonathan’s older brother, William and his
family. William was a clerk to a chartered accountant, so it seems that the
family was closely linked to the banking and financial world, and this is
possibly the route of employment that Eric Haigh took up on leaving school,
especially as he later went on to join a battalion of the Royal Fusiliers
specifically raised to attract members of financial institutions to its ranks.
In mid-1905 Jonathan married Florence Isabella Armitage. As Mrs Florence Haigh, she took up an appointment on 31st October 1911 as the first permanent Head Mistress of the new village school in Scholes. It is noted that Mrs Haigh undertook courses in horticulture and handywork and she put her new skills to work around the school, something which pleased visiting school inspectors. It seems that Mrs Haigh led the school through its first years with skill and dedication and when she handed over the role of Headmistress to Miss Annie Cox on 3rd July 1916, Miss Cox took over a well-established, stable and happy school.
Whether or not Florence Haigh’s health was a factor in her leaving the school is not known, but she died aged 42 on 3rd April 1924 after 18 years of marriage to Jonathan. The inscription on her headstone describes her as ‘The faithful and loving wife of J Marshall Haigh’ and ‘A real mother to the above Eric Burton Haigh’. It goes on to say she was ‘A friend of the children’ and this can be read as both a reference to her as a teacher, or as a person in general.
There is a bitter irony in that Eric Burton Haigh had survived a costly attack made by his battalion on 7th June 1917 in which the battalion lost some 203 casualties, killed, wounded and missing and at the time of his death just a week later the battalion was engaged in manning trenches near St Eloi, in the south of the Ypres Salient. It was standing to arms in anticipation of an enemy counter attack that never materialised when their trenches were heavily shelled and seven men from the battalion were killed, including Pte Eric Burton Haigh, and all seven of these are recorded as missing on the panels of the Menin Gate Memorial in Ieper (Ypres), their bodies not being recovered for burial.
As well as being named on the War Memorial at Scholes, and on the Manor House Nominal Roll, Private Haigh is further commemorated by name on the panels of the War Memorial in Horsforth and with an inscription on the grave of his mother, father and step-mother in Horsforth Cemetery, where his details are accompanied by the inscription ‘A life of promise unfulfilled here.’