Private Henry George Tree

Regiment: 2nd Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment
Service No: 10026
Date and place of birth: 2nd quarter 1895 in West Ashford, Kent
Date and place of death: 14 September 1914
(aged 18) at Vendresse-Beaulne, in the Aisne department in Picardy in northern France

Private Henry George Tree was one of two men from West Lavington who had enlisted in the Royal Sussex Regiment before the war and, following the outbreak of the war, were immediately sent to the western front as part of the British Expeditionary Force. Both were killed within five weeks of the start of the war, during the Battle of the Aisne.

Family background

Henry George Tree was born in the second quarter of 1895 at West Ashford in Kent, the son of George Tree (1867–1936), a farm worker, and his wife Georgeanna née Bull (1872–1898). The family seems to have originally come from Newenden in Kent but were quite mobile in Kent and West Sussex. His mother Georgeanna died in 1898 when Henry was 3 and his father remarried Lydia Barratt (1870–1956) in 1900 in Rye. Between 1901 and 1911 the family moved to Gosdens Heath near Lodsworth where Henry’s father worked as a cowman on a farm and Henry has the same occupation.

Henry had at least one sister, Ellen (1891–1955) and possibly a half-sister, Eliza Bull (born 1889).

At some point after 1911, it appears that the family moved into West Lavington.

Military service

Henry enlisted in the Royal Sussex Regiment in Chichester towards the end of 1912. At the outbreak of war in August 1914, the second battalion of the Regiment with whom Henry served was sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. The initial role of this force was to assist the French Army in trying to stem the tide of the German advance through Belgium and into Northern France.

Death and commemoration

The Germans had withdrawn from the Marne in the early part of September and had taken up a strong position along the line of a ridgeway known as the Chemin des Dames, north of Vendresse-Beaulne, which commanded good views towards the Aisne to the south. It was part of the role of the Royal Sussex Regiment to attack this position. (For further particulars of the action see the entry for George Sageman, also of West Lavington, who was killed in the same action.)

Henry Tree’s name on the memorial at La Ferte-sous-Jouarre
Henry Tree’s name on the memorial at La Ferte-sous-Jouarre

Henry Tree was killed on 14 September 1914 at the age of 19. As his body was never recovered, his death (along with those of 42 of his colleagues killed on the same day) is recorded on the memorial at La Ferte-sous-Jouarres in the Departement of Seine et Marne, some 50 miles south-west of where he was killed.

Henry was entitled to receive the 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal) known as “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred”; his 1914 Star had the clasp to indicate that he had served under fire in the period from 5 August to 22 November 1914.

Subsequent family history

A Mr and Mrs Tree contributed the sum of 2/6d to the subscription for the West Lavington War Memorial; it is likely that these were Henry’s father and step-mother.

Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project