London – Kensington and Chelsea (Borough of) – Brompton Cemetery (Ernest Wedgwood Harper)

This is the grave of Ernest Wedgwood Harper, located at Brompton Cemetery in London.

Ernest was born in Burslem on 21 May 1898, the son of Ernest (born on 11/04/1865) and Florence Mary Harper (born on 16/09/1872). He went to Middleport Council School and Longport Council School between 1911 and 1912 and he then went to Hanley Municipal Secondary School between 10 January 1912 and 15 July 1916. He took the Oxford Local Seniors Honours Exam (a system of external grading) where he received a third class award.

At the 1901 census, the family were living at 179 Newport Lane in Burslem, an area of the city which has now been heavily changed and most of the residential properties demolished. At this point, he was aged two years old and he had a little sister who had just been born, Dorothy May.

At the 1911 census, the family had moved to Grove Pit, Green Lane in Wolstanton, with the older Ernest working as a school teacher. There was a new addition to the family, Byron, who was aged 2 at the time of the census.

Leaving school at 18 in Burslem, Ernest might have felt a long way from the military action when signing up. He joined the third battalion of the Grenadier Guards as a guardsman, service number 28840. It appears he did see some service in France in 1916, but there were medical problems with his heart and he was sent back to London and was admitted to Tooting Hospital. He was readmitted to his unit, but instead took on clerical duties and wasn’t going to be sent back to the front line.

The story becomes endlessly sadder here, on 24 July 1918 Ernest shot and killed himself at his rifle barracks. An inquest found that he feared that he had spotted fever, but the doctors had told him that he hadn’t despite numerous tests. Florence, his mother, went to the inquest and told them how Ernest had been a clever boy and the family were very proud of him. The verdict was announced by the inquest of “suicide during temporary insanity in consequence of valvular disease of the heart”.

One can only speculate about the mental challenges that Ernest went through, clearly scarred by the conflict and perhaps having no other way of dealing with the worries about his own medical condition. I’m not sure that his service records survive, but perhaps he experienced significant trauma in France and he would be one of many who did.

At the time of his death, Ernest was part of no.8 company, 5th reserve battalion of the Grenadier Guards, with his parents living at The Grove, Wolstanton, Stoke-on-Trent. It must have been a traumatic event for his mother to travel to Westminster to attend the inquest. Ernest’s family didn’t have any connection with the area, but he was buried at Brompton Cemetery because he had died at the nearby Chelsea Barracks.

As an aside, Ernest’s little brother Byron was married in 1934 and their parents were there at the marriage ceremony. As was Ernest’s sister Dorothy May, who was the bridesmaid to the bride, and I wonder how much they thought about the one member of the family who hadn’t made it. Byron lived until 1988, remaining in the Stoke-on-Trent area.