Harry Spackman, who just about survived WW1

Published in Personal History, War

John Henry (Harry) Spackman was born on March 15th 1890 in Fyfield, Wiltshire. He was one of nine children all of whom were born before 1901 and all of whom were still living at the time of the 1911 census.
Harry Spackman joined the Army in June 1907. He enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment at Marlborough. His army no. was 7886 and his rank was Private.In 1907 or 1908, the Wiltshires were posted to Dublin and stayed until at least early 1911. His army records include a few disciplinary offences which occurred in Dublin. On Dec 28th 1908 he was “drunk and creating a disturbance whilst on stable guard”. He was confined to barracks for 10 days. In June 1909 he had “dirty trousers on guard mounting parade” for which he was confined to barracks for 3 days. In Sept 1909 he was “drunk on S. Great Georges St at about 8.50 pm”. The punishment this time was another 10 days confined to barracks and a 2/6 fine.
By 1914, the 2nd Wiltshires were in Gibraltar as part of the Gibraltar Garrison. They returned to England in September 1914 and were deployed to Belgium in October. The regiment took part in the 1st Battle of Ypres.On Oct 24th 1914, during the critical stages of the Battle of Ypres, the 2nd Wiltshires were entrenched on the eastern side of a wood which had been called Polygon Wood because of its shape. During the ferocious German assault on this day, a general order had been given to retreat to the western side of the woods. However, in the confusion of battle, the 2nd Wiltshires did not receive this order. They were completely isolated and eventually overwhelmed by 3 German battalions. Amongst those captured was Harry Spackman. On Nov 8th, he was listed as missing after the catastrophe of Oct 24th. On Dec 4th 1914, Harry was listed as a prisoner of war in Gottingen, Hanover. He was repatriated from a hospital in Switzerland in Dec 1918.
Sometime and somewhere during his stay in Dublin (1907-1911) Harry had met Mary Jane Kavanagh, a Dublin girl. They were to be separated by his postings and of course by the First World War. They might have met up again prior to the posting to Gibraltar and there is a slim possibility that they got together in Sept 1914 when the Harry’s regiment was camped in the south of England (he was awol for 2 days yet got a meaningless punishment).
Where, when and how Harry and Mary Jane met up again is unknown. It is reasonable to think that they had an enduring love that survived long separations. Prisoners of war were allowed to send and receive letters so they probably did correspond. They were married on July 6th 1921, in the Parish of St. James, Dublin, a week before the Truce.
They lived for a while at 13 Usher’s Island (next to the site for James Joyce’s “the Dead”).
The moved to London in 1923 as Harry had severe chest trouble from his years of exposure as a POW. Harry died in a military hospital on April 24th 1924.
I eventually married his only granddaughter.

Joe Darcy
Former Master Mariner and now a Dublin Tour Guide


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