2nd Lieutenant Henry Noel ATKINSON D.S.O., M.i.D. (3rd Battalion) – Attached: ‘B’ Company Killed in Action: 22 October 1914
An Officer with “Two Graves”!
2nd Lieutenant Henry Noel Atkinson was born at Audlem Vicarage, Cheshire on 25th December 1888, the only child of Reverend Arthur Atkinson, Clerk in Holy Orders, Hon. Canon of Chester Cathedral, and Ursula Mary Atkinson (née Cotton-Jodrell).
His father was 55 years old when Henry was born and seems to have married Ursula on 25th June 1884. This was her second marriage and she was 31 at the time of Henry’s birth. Arthur died on 24th October 1915; Ursula on 31st January 1928.
The 1901 Census shows Henry as a boarder at The College Boarding School, Heswall, Cheshire. (1901 Census RG 13/3380)
He was later educated at Moorland House, Heswall; Charterhouse School, Godalming, Surrey, where he was in the Cricket XI, and St John’s College, Cambridge. On 27 October 1908 Henry registered at Cambridge University School of Medicine
The 1911 Census (RG 14/33942) shows Henry living with his parents at Highfield Hall, Northop, Flintshire, where his father (now aged 77) was ‘Clerk in Holy Orders‘ at the Parish Church of Ss Eurgain and Peter, Northop. Henry’s occupation is listed as, “Gentleman Gardner“. The house boasted a ‘Companion‘ and 5 servants, mostly cooks and domestics. Rev. Arthur Atkinson (left) died, aged 81, on 24th October 1915. He was only ever aware that his son was “Missing“.
In his Will (Probate 1921) Henry left £2,977 1s 10d (£2977.09 – equivalent in value to about £190,000 today – 2023) to his mother, Ursula.
Henry joined the 3rd Battalion (Special Reserve), Cheshire Regiment, on 12th March 1913, joining the 1st Battalion for training on 1st November 1913.
Henry served unscathed through the fighting at Audregnies, Le Cateau and The Aisne until 22nd October 1914, near La Bassée, at Violaines, where he won his D.S.O. However, after the battle he was reported officially “missing” and was believed to have been captured.
He was thought to have been wounded and was reported, unofficially, to have been taken to a French hospital at Douai, which was eventually taken by the Germans.
He was awarded a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) – London Gazette, 1 December 1914. His citation read:
“Henry Noel Atkinson, 2nd Lieut., 3rd Battn, The Cheshire Regiment.
For conspicuous gallantry under heavy fire from both flanks by collecting a few men and checking the enemy, thereby facilitating the retirement of his comrades.”
One must wonder, though, if Lt Atkinson’s DSO had anything to do with the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.) awarded to 7085 Private Frank McCarthy, 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment, whose citation reads:
“On 15th September, at Missy Sur Aisne, volunteered to fetch ammunition under fire, and at night, at the imminent risk of being shot by both friend and foe, assisted 2nd Lieutenant Atkinson to rejoin his company“. (London Gazette Issue 29009 published on 15th December 1914. Page 10786)
The Battalion War Diary for the 15th reads (in part): “MISSY – 6.00 a.m. Norfolks and Bedfords reinforced us in Missy and an attack was ordered on Chivres Hill after the guns had shelled the lower slopes. Before this could take place Missy was shelled by the very heavy artillery brought up for the siege of Paris.
The Battalion held on to all the defences of Missy till 6 p.m. when the Norfolks took over the Western half and there was a hot fire coming into the village from the woods on Chevres Hill all day. …”
[N.B. Pte. 7085 Frank McCARTHY was killed in action on 6th March 1915. Frank is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial.]
Lieutenant Atkinson was later mentioned in Sir John French’s Despatch of 14th January 1915 (London Gazette, 17 February 1915, p. 1662): “For gallant and distinguished service in the Field.”
Henry was promoted to Lieutenant on 2nd February 1915, but by this time – as his gravestone (right) clearly shows – he was long dead.
The 22nd October 1914 was a disastrous day in history of the 1st Battalion, The War Diary for that day reads:
“5.10 a.m. Enemy made heavy attack, and took the trenches at the point of the bayonet. Battalion retired to RUE DU MARAIS under very heavy fire. Manchesters came up in support. 8.00 p.m. Battalion withdrawn and went in bivouac at last E of RUE DE BETHUNE.
Casualties: Captains Shore, Rich, Hartford, 2/Lieuts Atkinson, Leicester, Greenhalgh missing, Captain Forster, 18 N.C.O.s & men wounded, 200 N.C.O.s & men missing including Sergeant Major.
CAPTAIN MAHONY died in hospital. Lieut. T L Frost took over command of the Battalion.”
After the War, as no grave could be found, Lieut. Atkinson’s father had a tombstone laid where it was believed his son had fallen.
In 1923 the body was found and reinterred in Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery (Grave XIII. E. 12) because it was still accepting burials.
The Cheshire Regiment had the redundant stone moved to Violaines Communal Cemetery, adding the inscription:-
“In February 1923 his body (identified by his disc) was found, together with that of an unknown soldier of the Cheshire Regiment, about 400 yards from where his stone was originally erected in a neighbouring field. Both were removed under direction of the Imperial War Graves Commission, to the Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez. Removal of the stone having therefore become necessary it has passed into the possession of the Cheshire Regiment and has been re-erected in this cemetery as a perpetual memorial to all others of the Regiment who are still among the missing“.
In 1995 the Cheshire Regiment restored it and repainted the weathered inscription after some lobbying by the Lancs and Cheshire Branch of the Western Front Association.
The inscription reads:
Before the War Lieutenant Atkinson had been a keen golfer and was, in 1914, the reigning Amateur Champion of Wales. Page 28 of the 1915 “Golf Illustrated” contains the following citation, alongside his photo:
“2nd LIEUT. H. N. ATKINSON
Of the Cheshire Regiment who has just received the Distinguished Service Order for conspicuous gallantry under heavy fire from front and both flanks, by collecting a few men, and checking the enemy, thereby facilitating the retirement of his comrades.”
Similarly, ‘The American Golfer‘ Overseas Notes – London, December 7, 1914 – reported: “Another notable loss is that of Lieut. H. N. Atkinson, of the Cheshire regiment, who was Welsh amateur champion and won the championship at his first appearance at a Welsh Union meeting, beating Mr. C. H. Hamilton in the final at the thirty-eighth hole. Lieutenant Atkinson has been reported as missing, and the worst is feared.”
Noel and his father are also commemorated on a stained glass panel in Chester Cathedral.
Lieutenant Atkinson is also commemorated on the Memorial in Audlem Village, Cheshire.