LEONARD HEASMAN was born in Forest Row, Sussex in 1890, the son of John and Alice Olive Heasman and brother of George Henry Heasman (born 1887), Mabel Heasman (born 1892), Frank Albert Heasman (born 1895)*, Charles Reginald Heasman (born 1898)* and Florence Heasman (born 1900).
In 1891 the family were living at 'Highbrook', West Hoathly where John Heasman was a farmer. By 1901 the family had moved to Ansty, and by 1911 had moved to Coopers Farm, Barns Green, Horsham. Later the family moved to Morgans Green, The Haven, Five Oaks, near Billingshurst (but still within the parish of Rudgwick.)
Leonard's personal service record appear to have been destroyed during the Blitz of the Second World War, however surviving records indicate that he enlisted for service in Horsham on 15th September 1915, becoming Private SD/686 of the 11th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment (the SD prefix to his service number indicates that he joined the South Downs battalions). These battalions were raised commencing September 1914 after Colonel Claude Lowther, of Herstmonceux Castle received permission from the War Office to raise units of local Sussex men. Three battalions, the 11th, 12th and 13th Royal Sussex Regiment (occasionally referred to as 1st, 2nd and 3rd Southdown Battalions, or ‘Lowthers Lambs’) were raised by the end of 1914.
The 11th Battalion (11/Sussex) was formed on 7th September 1914, and training was undertaken at Cooden Camp, near Bexhill. It remained here until July 1915, when it moved to Detling Camp, near Maidstone, before proceeding to North Camp, Aldershot, on 29th September 1915. In October 1915 the battalion, together with 12th & 13th Battalions Royal Sussex Regiment, became part of 116th Southdown Brigade, 39th Division, which had formed in Winchester in August 1915. The Division assembled at Witley in October and November. Leonard Heasman and the 11/Sussex remained in Witley Camp until March 1916.
TO FRANCE WITH THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE
On 5th/6th March 1916, Leonard and his colleagues departed Southampton to land at Havre, France. At some stage it appears that Leonard was transferred from 11th Battalion to the 13th Bn. In the following months the South Downs battalions served in the Fleurbaix and Festubert sectors of the British line before moving to the Richebourg area. On the 1st June fellow Rudgwick man Pte John Ezra Bryant Beacher was killed by artillery fire whilst serving with the 13/Sussex.
THE DAY SUSSEX DIED
On 30th June 1916 116th Southdown Brigade took part in a two battalion diversionary attack near Richebourg as a prelude to the Battle of the Somme, which commenced the following day. The assault battalions assembled in the area south of Rue du Bois at 1.30am and a preparatory artillery bombardment of the German line commenced at 2.50am. 15 minutes later at 3.05am Private Leonard Heasman and the men of the 12/Sussex and 13/Sussex climbed the parapet of the front line trenches to advance in the half light of dawn across No Mans Land towards a salient in the German front line known as The Boar’s Head.
Leonard and the 13/Sussex advanced the 250m in a easterly direction towards the west facing German front line between the Boar’s Head salient and the Ferme du Bois (Wood Farm).
Trench map illustrating the attack by the Southdowns battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment on 30th June 1916
The 11th Battalion (including the author Edmund Blunden) were held in reserve and provided carrying parties for the assaulting waves. In places the Sussex men took the German front line trench and held it for about four hours. The German second line trench was captured for about half an hour and repeated counter attacks repelled until the shortage of ammunition and mounting casualties necessitated a withdrawal. In other areas the attack was impeded by uncut barbed wire defences, and the drifting smoke screen employed by the British to cover the advance acted to confuse the men as to the direction of advance. Once back in the British front line the men were subjected to retaliatory artillery fire inflicting more casualties.
The Battalion War Diary reports the day:
30.6.16 Report on Operations.
1. The battalion assembled at 1.30pm on the morning of the 30th June in readiness for the assault with all four platoons of each company in the front line.
2. The preliminary bombardment on the morning of the attack opened at 2.50am and at 3.05 the leading wave of the battalion scaled the parapet, the remainder following at 50 yard intervals. At the same time the flank attack under Lts Whitty and Ellis gained a footing in the enemy trench. The passage across No Man’s Land was accomplished with few casualties except in the left companies which came under very heavy machine gun fire.
The two right companies succeeded in reaching their objectives but the two left companies only succeeded in penetrating the enemy’s wire in one or two places.
Just at this moment a smoke cloud which was originally designed to mask our advance drifted right across the front and made it impossible to se more than a few yards ahead. This resulted in all direction being lost and the attack dissolving into small bodies of men not knowing which way to go.
Some groups succeeded in entering the support line engaging the enemy with bombs and bayonet and organising the initial stages of a defence. Other parties swung off to the right and entered the trench where the flanking party was operating, causing a great deal of congestion. On the left the smoke and darkness made the job of penetrating the enemy wire so difficult that few if any succeeded in reaching the enemy trench. Some parties of the right company succeeded in reaching the enemy support line when they were subjected to an intense bombardment with H.E. and whizz bangs. Capt Hughes, who was wounded, seeing that his company was in danger of being cut off gave the order for the evacuation of the enemy trenches and the remainder of the attacking force returned to our trenches. The enemy who was evidently thoroughly prepared now concentrated his energies on the front line and for the space of about 2½ hours our front and support lines were subjected to an intense bombardment with heavy and light shells causing a large number of casualties. Ultimately the shelling ceased and to all intents and purposes the operations closed, the battalion being relieved by the 14th Hants at about 1.30pm and taking over their original billets at Vielle Chapelle.
Principal causes of failure.
a. The unfortunate incident of the smoke cloud,
b. The preparedness of the enemy,
c. The intensity of the enemy’s shell and machine gun fire,
d. The failure of the artillery to cut the enemy’s wire on the left.
Our casualties were unfortunately heavy and resulted in the loss of many valuable officers and men including Capt C.M. Humble-Crofts, Capt & Adj R.D. Whittaker, Lt H.L. Fitzherbert, 2Lts Dudley, Morgan, Oliver, A.L. Prior and Diggins killed and missing, and Capt Hughes, Capt Makalna, Lt W.W. Fitzherbert, 2Lt H Turner wounded. Amongst the wounded were CSM Robinson, CSM James, CSM Sears and CSM Hartley, the latter lost a foot during the bombardments. The enemy casualties are also considered to have been considerable, large numbers of dead being seen in the enemy trenches.
The attack lasted less than five hours, but in the day’s action the three Sussex battalions lost 15 officers and 364 men killed in action or died of wounds. A further 21 officers and 728 men were wounded or taken prisoner. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission register records that 8 officers and 160 men of 13/Sussex were killed in action or died of wounds on the 30th June 1916. These casualties included Private Leonard Heasman. During the action Company Sergeant Major Nelson Victor Carter, from the 12/Sussex, posthumously won the Victoria Cross for his action capturing a machine gun. He was killed by a sniper whilst recovering wounded men from the battalion.
The local nature of these three ‘Pals’ battalions, recruited from the towns and villages of Sussex, meant that these casualties tragically impacted the communities of the South Downs. Swamped in the tragedy that was about to occur on the battlefields of the Somme, ‘The Day that Sussex Died’ proved to be a sad prelude to the story of loss that was about to be played out through so many wider communities of Britain and the Commonwealth. With sunrise the following day the whistles blew to signal the advance on the Somme front; by sun down approximately 60,000 more casualties had occurred, some 20,000 killed in action.
Private Leonard Heasman's body was never formally identified as recovered from the battlefield, and as such he is one of the 99 of the 168 men of the 13/Sussex who are commemorated on the Loos Memorial to the Missing who fell on the 30th. He was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
* Family Information
Charles Reginald Heasman served as Private G/28987 of the 3rd Battalion Middlesex Regiment, Private 96227 of the 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers and Private G/22288 of the Royal West Kent Regiment. He attested on 19/02/1916, and was mobilized on 15/05/1916 at Chichester. Embarked at Devonport 01/09/1916, disembarked Salonika 11/09/1916, joined 3/Middx 21/09/1916. Contracted chronic malaria and was returned to the UK on 09/05/1918. To France with the BEF on 23/09/1918, transferred to 3/Royal Fusiliers 24/10/1918. Wounded in Action 04/11/1918. Rejoined 3/RF on 10/11/1918. Transferred 4/RF 27/02/1919, transferred 6/Royal West Kents 11/03/1919. Returned to UK 30/08/1919. Discharged on 31/08/1919. Personal Service Record online
Frank Albert Heasman served as Gunner 65531 of the Royal Garrison Artillery and Private 373889 of the Labour Corps. He survived the war.
1898, 1901, 1911 Census returns
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Medal Records Index
Soldier's Died in the Great War
Battalion War Diary