His outlook on life was to keep on smiling - but war took this enigmatic Wearside hero

Harry with his little sister Gladys whose loving efforts to preserve her brother's memory led to so many items of nostalgia.
Harry with his little sister Gladys whose loving efforts to preserve her brother's memory led to so many items of nostalgia.
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A Wearside soldier walked from Hetton to Sunderland just so he could enlist in the war effort.

But Henry ‘Harry’ Bones paid for his loyalty with his life – and described his feelings about war in a string of letters home.

Harry pictured out of the trenches one last time, before he died in No Man's Land.

Harry pictured out of the trenches one last time, before he died in No Man's Land.

His story comes to us courtesy of researcher Kevin Dance, who also paid tribute to Harry’s niece Joyce Raymond and her daughter Margaret Brown who helped him with his investigations.

Today, we reveal the sad and moving tale of a man of letters, and all of them full of emotion.

Harry came into the world in July 1893 to parents Thomas and Alice, who lived in Front Street, South Hetton.

Twenty-one years later, he was a determined young man who was eager to sign up for his country’s fight.

Still smiling as usual. I can tell you one thing and that’s not two – I am one of the luckiest lads out in France. I will tell you all about it when I come home again, God willing…Good night and God bless you all. Never say die, but always keep smiling

Henry ‘Harry’ Bones

He walked all the way from South Hetton to Sunderland where he enlisted with the East Yorkshire Regiment.

After a year’s training, at depots in York, Hull, and Hornsea, Harry was posted to the 8th Battalion and arrived in France in September 1915.

And that’s when his many letters home began.

An excerpt from one of them said: “I am going to turn out to be a first class shot and the Captain says that ‘the first class shots get 6d more a day’.

“I am getting on splendidly with my signalling. I was asking the Sergeant this morning if we would ever see the Front and he said ‘no there is very little signalling done out there’.

“You have no idea what we have to learn on this job, you have to have brains like Mr Gladstone.”

It is also clear from these letters that Harry had lots of female admirers and played the field.

Another said: “Mother, I am courting one of the bonniest girls in Hull. She has skin as clear as crystal and legs like velvet.

“I have never heard a word from – yet. I don’t go with that girlie at Hull now, but I am going with another one just as good.

“I have had a beautiful letter from that girl at Hetton. I think either her or Polly is the one for me.”

In a change of fate, Harry was soon to write: “I am going to fight the good fight for the good old country. I am going to 8th Battalion. They are at Ypres. So good night and may the Lord bring us together again.”

Once on the Western Front, Harry continued to send letters, postcards and cards whenever he could.

Many talked of his sadness at the news that his friends had died in battle.

Harry added: “When is this trouble going to stop?... I consider myself very lucky so far. I thank God for it. My old rhyme is never say die, but keep on smiling.”

One of Harry’s last letters was typically upbeat. It said: “… still smiling as usual. I can tell you one thing and that’s not two – I am one of the luckiest lads out in France. I will tell you all about it when I come home again, God willing … Good night and God bless you all. Never say die, but always keep smiling.”

But at the age of 23, on May 1 , 1917, Harry’s luck ran out. The 8th Battalion had moved out of Arras as part of the Second Battle of the Scarpe (which was all part of the Battle of Arras).

And by April 29, they were under heavy fire, particularly on the front line immediately east of Monchy Le Preux.

Lieutenant Martin later outlined in a letter to the family how Harry died from shrapnel wounds when a shell exploded as he walked with a comrade across No Man’s Land.

Tragically, without knowing, on the day he died, his mother wrote to him:

‘To my dear son … I received your letter and photo. I think you have changed a good deal, but no wonder … I wish you were home again, but trust in the Lord, Harry, and I hope we will soon meet again. From your loving mother.”

Kevin added: “Private Henry Bones is buried in the military cemetery at Monchy le Preux. The fierce determination of little sister Gladys to keep Harry’s memory alive has been passed down through the family.

“Because of her, his fun-loving, forthright personality is well known.”