Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Henry Charles Webb Theobald

Henry Charles Webb Theobald : Photograph of Henry in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.  Reference:  MR/4/A/5

Photograph of Henry in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR/4/A/5

Henry Charles Webb Theobald : (L to R) Distinguished Service Order; Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Cape Colony', 'Defence of Ladysmith', 'Orange Free State', 'Transvaal'; King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'; 1914 Star with clasp '5th Aug.-22nd Nov. 1914'; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal with 'Mentioned in Despatches' oak leaves

(L to R) Distinguished Service Order; Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Cape Colony', 'Defence of Ladysmith', 'Orange Free State', 'Transvaal'; King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'; 1914 Star with clasp '5th Aug.-22nd Nov. 1914'; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal with 'Mentioned in Despatches' oak leaves

Henry was born on the 26th June 1876 in Rusthall, near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. His father was called Charles and his mother was named Julia. Webb had been her surname before she married. Charles had recently retired from the Royal Artillery as a Lieutenant Colonel when Henry was born.

Henry went to school at Cheltenham College and became an officer in the 3rd Battalion of The Gloucestershire Regiment on the 25th November 1895. This was a Militia unit, so its members lived as civilians most of the time, and trained as soldiers for a short period every year.

Henry must have enjoyed his experience of being an officer because he was soon accepted into the Royal Military College at Sandhurst to train to be a Regular officer. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Gloucestershire Regiment on the 4th May 1898 and joined the 2nd Battalion in Jersey. He was 5 feet 8 inches tall.

In November Henry sailed for India to join the 1st Battalion. He was able to pass a riding course held in Allahabad. He had been in India less than a year when the rising tension between the British and the Boers in South Africa meant the Battalion was sent there. He arrived on the 24th September 1899, just over two weeks before the outbreak of the Boer War.

Henry was one of the 12,500 British soldiers trapped in the town of Ladysmith during the siege of November 1899 to February 1900. Throughout this time the British kept trying to break through the Boer lines and Henry played a major part in several of these attacks.

At some point in January or February he led a force of just 15 soldiers out of the safety of the British lines to destroy a piece of cover being used by the Boers. Henry and his men attacked during the night and were able to set the wooden cover (known as an abbattis) on fire. Despite the Boer soldiers firing wildly into the darkness Henry brought all his men back unharmed.

This operation greatly impressed Lieutenant General Sir George White, the Commander of Ladysmith. When he wrote his despatches reporting what had occurred in the town Henry's operation was the only one during January or February 1900 that he gave any details about.

In another incident Henry was in command of a group of soldiers who were able to blow off the end of a Boer artillery gun on Sign Post Ridge just outside Ladysmith. This meant it could not fire accurately at British soldiers.

Henry was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his gallantry and leadership. This announcement appeared in the London Gazette on the 19th April 1901.

After the siege Henry was sent to Ceylon, which is now called Sri Lanka, with Boer Prisoners of War. He was only there between the 23rd August and the 27th September 1900 before he was sent back to the UK. Henry soon returned to South Africa, he joined a unit of Mounted Infantry in March 1901.

He was promoted to the rank of Captain in April 1901, and took command of a Mounted Infantry Company in May. He had become a Captain at an earlier point in his career than most officers, but this meant he had to leave the Gloucestershire Regiment. He transferred to the Manchester Regiment in July, but stayed with his Mounted Infantry unit. He became their Assistant Adjutant in December.

On the 8th April 1902 Henry was wounded in action at Hartenbosch. He was hit in the spleen and reported as 'dangerously wounded'. It was so severe that he had to be returned to the UK on the 21st June and his doctors believed he would not be fit for duty for 9 months. This time was extended twice by medical boards until Henry was finally passed as fit on the 5th March 1903.

This meant Henry was able to join the 2nd Battalion of The Manchester Regiment in Aldershot later that month. He passed a supply course in December 1903 and then spent the next 11 years with the 2nd Battalion. By August 1914 he was in command of C Company, and this was the job he had when the 2nd Battalion mobilised at the start of the First World War.

Henry went to France with the 2nd Battalion, arriving on the 14th August. Henry spoke French, but would not have had chance to speak very much because he was soon in battle against the Germans.

The Battle of Le Cateau on the 26th August 1914 was Henry's first battle of the First World War, and it was very nearly his last. He was hit by several pieces of shrapnel from exploding shells. Some hit his left thigh; other pieces damaged his left hand. He was evacuated back to the UK aboard the S.S. St. Andrews overnight on the 30th August.

Henry's recovery was slow. He was regularly assessed by medical boards to decide whether he was fit for any kind of Army service. He was passed fit for service in the UK in December, but still needed treatment in Bath.

Finally Henry recovered enough to carry on his Army service. On the 27th April 1915 he began work at General Headquarters Home Forces, based at the War Office in London. At the same time he was promoted to Major.

After a year working at the War Office on Intelligence Duties Henry was appointed Brigade Major to the 26th Training Reserve Brigade on the 17th April 1916. He moved a short way out of London to Wimbledon to take this job. He was now responsible for overseeing the training of some of the Army's new recruits.

Henry was still not fully fit, but he was getting stronger. Finally, a medical board on the 29th December 1916 found him fit enough to go abroad and serve on a Staff. Henry wanted to go and his Commanding Officer recommended that he should.

Henry was relieved as Brigade Major in June 1917. We don't know what he did during the rest of this year, although his obituary in the Regimental Gazette tells us that at some point during the war he 'commanded a mixed force of cyclists, motors and coastal patrol vessels whose duties were to keep watch on the coast for enemy activities'.

On the 27th October 1917 Henry was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant Colonel and appointed to command the 18th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in the Polderhoek area of Belgium.

Unfortunately Henry's time in command did not last very long. On the 5th January 1918 his Brigade Commander and Division Commander both reported that he was 'unfitted to command a battalion in the field'. They felt that the Battalion needed 'a man of strong character and determination', but that because of his wounds Henry was too excitable. He was relieved of command on the 11th.

Both men felt that Henry was 'eminently suited' to training soldiers. He spent a few weeks as the commander of the 18th Divisional Wing of the XIX Corps Reinforcement Camp, where he was responsible for training soldiers before they went to the front. He was ordered back to the UK in June 1918 and assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment.

In August 1918 Henry was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant Colonel again and given the job of Commandant at the School of Musketry in Hythe. He held this job until the end of the War.

Henry's injuries were still troubling him, and in July 1919 his surgeon recommended that he should retire from the Army. This was allowed, and Henry's service ended on the 24th October 1919 after 21 years and 4 months.

Henry received a pension from the Army (called retired pay) of 288 per year and stayed in the Reserve of Officers. He moved to a farm in Calne, Wiltshire.

In 1920 a former soldier named John Fitzgerald and his wife began to work for Henry. They were reportedly devoted to him and looked after him and his house for many years until John died. John's medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection.

From the 13th to the 25th April 1921 Henry returned to the Manchester Regiment. He reported to the Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne when he joined the Defence Force that was formed to assist the police in dealing with a threatened General Strike. It was never needed and Henry returned home.

Throughout his retirement Henry kept in close touch with the Manchester Regiment. He became a life member of the Manchester Regiment Old Comrade's Association and attended many of its events during the late 1920's and 1930's. He also paid for a bookcase for the Regimental Chapel in Manchester Cathedral, in memory of the soldiers at Le Cateau who had been less fortunate than him.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939 Henry was living in Guildford, Surrey. He joined a Home Guard unit based there. He commanded a platoon and stored equipment at his house, Chantry Lodge, on Longdown Road on the outskirts of the town.

After the Second World War Henry was one of an ever smaller number of survivors of the Siege of Ladysmith. He attended as many reunions as he could, but he was often ill. He was well enough to visit his old comrade Francis Dorling in the summer of 1949, but had to miss the 50th Ladysmith reunion on the 6th January 1950.

Henry died on the 12th January 1952 in Guildford. He was buried in Guildford Cemetery. He had never married and had no children. His medals were donated to the Museum of The Manchester Regiment later in 1952.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council