Harry Howard Karslake (1880 – 1917)

Harry Howard Karslake 1880 – 1917

Harry Howard Karslake was the eldest son of Michael and Prudence Emily Karslake. He was born on the 8th February 1880 in Axminister, Devon. Harry Howards’s father, Michael was born in 1853 in North Molton, and was the son of a carpenter and leading figure in the Wesleyan faith. Michael’s father, Harry’s grandfather was John Karslake. John Karslake, worked as a carpenter on the Simonsbath estate from 1857-1875, having left school at 15, he would initially work on a farm before being trained as a carpenter and wheelwright. He married Ann Burgess in 1850. Following their marriage, they had their first son William, and in 1852 they would have Harry’s father, Michael. Methodism was thriving at the time, and when John converted to the faith in 1844 he would start to work in the local Sunday School, even becoming a preacher. John would go on to preach in many of the local chapels, and later was a Superintendent at Sunday Schools , he even opened his own house for religious services to accommodate the growing faith. John Karslake was pivitol in establishing the Wesleyan Chapel and reinstating services in Woolacombe and Mortehoe. By 1884 John and his wife had moved to Mortehoe. On the 20th January 1905, following complaints of pain he passed away at his daughters house in Lynmouth.

The interment took place in Mortehoe Cemetry on Thursday January 26th. Prior to this a service was held in the Wesleyan Chapel, this being deeply draped for the occasion. During the service the choir sang “Peace, perfect, peace” and “Now the labourers task is o’er”. The high esteem in which he was held was shown by the large number that gathered at the funeral to pay their last tribute to his memory, the spacious new Chapel being full, while many others assembled around the grave side. John worked as a carpenter at the Simonsbath Saw Mill. His life is well documented on their website, which is certainly worth a read at: http://www.simonsbathsawmill.org.uk

Michael, Harry Howard’s father, son of John Karslake married Harry’s mother, Prudence Emily Howard in 1879 in Barnstaple. By 1881 the family are living in Pursbrook, Axminister. Harry is just a baby, and Michael is working as a railway porter. Their second son Herbert James Karslake was born on the 16th May 1882. By the time the 1891 census is taken the family have moved to Mortehoe, and are living in the railway cottages, sharing their home with Prudence’s widowed father, Charles Howard. Michael worked for the London and South Western Railway on the branch line between Barnstaple and Ilfracombe. The station opened in 1874, and closed to passengers in 1970. Paul Karslake has captured Michael in his wonderful painting ‘Last Signalman’. If you look into his eyes on the painting you will even see a train. To see this painting visit: http://www.paulkarslake.co.uk

Harry Howard would enlist for war service in December 1916 and was posted to the 3rd Devons, he would later be attached to the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. It would only be a few months later, in January 1917 that Harry Howard would go to France, and some 5 months after signing up for war service, on 23rd April 1917 he would die. In a letter to his sister-in-law, written on 25th February 1917 while he was serving in France, Harry thanks her for her previous letter. He explains that the letter had been delayed because it had been sent to the 3rd Battalion Devon’s and that he was only there for a week and his address is now 1st DCLI BEF (First Battalion Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry – British Expeditionary Force). “a taste of the trenches and am quite an expert now at dodging bullets and shells” In the same letter he says “he has had some trying experiences”. He goes on to say that he has ‘had a taste of the trenches and am quite expert now at dodging bullets and shells’ At this time the letter was written he was at bombing school with another week to run, which, he says, was quite a nice change from the trenches. He describes how they ‘are choked with the most awful mud at present’ and describes it as being ‘like walking in treacle’. On the 25th April 1917, his parents would receive a letter from Lt Col Harold Fargus, Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, saying ‘we regret to inform you that your son is missing. The battalion had to carry out an assault west of Lens on 23rd April. Your son was with the left assaulting company which was practically annihilated, very few of the men got back and non of the officers.’ Lt Col Faragus would then write to inform the family of the sad news that their son had died.

Harry is commenrated on the Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais and has a grave at Score Cemetry in Ilfracombe. Harry’s youger brother, Herbet James would serve during the first world war, however unlike his brother he was fortunate enough to return to his family. Herbert enlisted into the R.A.M.C. (T.F.) on 4th September 1915, and was embodied into the Wessex Divisional Sanitary Section. He was 33 years and 4 months old, and was living at 1 St Peters Terrace, Ilfracombe at the time. On 18th September 1915, he gained promotion to temporary acting Sergeant, and then gained further promotion to Staff Sergeant on 9th October 1915. Herbert left the UK for Mesopotamia on 17th September 1916, he spent three years in Mesopotamia and during most of that time was in charge of the sanitary arrangements in Baghdad.

Whilst in Mesopotamia he invented an ingenious fly trap which was universally adopted by the British authorities in that part of the world, and for which he received recognition from the Government. He returned to the UK on 9th March 1919. Herbert had trained prior to war as a plumbers apprentice. He had married Linda Fry Pile in 1908 and would live in Ilfracombe with their son Harry Howard (named after Herbert’s brother) and Bessie Winifred Karlsake, their daughter. Herbert would be employed as the Sanitary Inspector for the district council when he joined up for war service. A few years later, Herbert was still busy inventing things. In 1922 he invented a ‘Magic Kettle’. He also built a fantastic model railway which he exhibited at a Wesleyan Church sale, the railway is reported to have covered a 60 square feet area, and was quite a sensation. Herbert Karslake would die following a year of ill health in 1928. Michael Karslake would continue after the death of his eldest son to work at Mortehoe Station, retiring after 48 years of service. 40 of which were spent in Mortehoe.

In Memoriam

by Rev. C. H. Macartney Clayton North Devon Journal, 7th June 1917 

It was with a pang of genuine sorrow that we read the sad intelligence that Harry Howard’s Karslake, Second Lieutenant, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, had been killed in action. He was the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. H. Karslake of Mortehoe, North Devon. He received his education in Ilfracombe, and those who knew him in those early days tell us that he was a bright, intelligent lad, cherishing high ideals, and ever selecting for companions those who were likely to exert a helpful and uplifting influence upon his life. He was a great favourite with his school associates. At an early age he went to London, and entered the employment of the Junior Army and Navy Stores. His agreeableness of manner, strict attention to business duties, unswerving integrity, and gentlemanly bearing soon attracted the notices of those in authority, and he was rapidly promoted from one position to another. A few years later the Manager offered him a position in the Dublin branch of the firm, and after consultation with his parents to whom he was devotedly attached, he decided to take the appointment. As in London, so in Dublin; his abilities and fidelity soon procured for him promotion and for many years he held the important and responsible post of Secretary of the Junior Army and Navy Stores, D’Oller street, Dublin. He joined the Methodist Church, Dolphins Barn, S.C road and became one of its most valued members, having a place upon the Church Board. For many years he discharged the duties of voluntary organist and choirmaster with a fidelity and zeal which contributed much to the efficiency and inspiration of the ministry of praise. He was a delightful man to work with, and the ministers who were privileged to be associated with him in Church or musical matters will never forget the splendid assistance which he so willingly and graciously gave to them. A more agreeable and attractive personality the writer has never met and to write of him as one would like at the present is an impossible task. He was beloved by the children of the congregation and was held in the highest esteem by every member of the Church. Possessed of a somewhat retiring disposition, he shrank from public notoriety, but once he felt it was his duty to undertake a task, he discharged it with a ability and a graciousness that could not be surpassed. He was a loyal follower of the Lord Jesus, and his presence at the communion services of the Church was a splendid testimony and example to the young men of the congregation. He loved the Church, and esteemed it a high privilege to further to further its interests. Towards the close of 1915 he was recalled to London, and appointed assistant manager of the firm. When leaving Dublin he was the recipient of an illuminated address, and gold wristlet watch from the members and friends of Dolphin’s Barn Church. He was not long in London until his sense of duty and patriotism led him to join the Artisits Rifles as a private. In December, 1916 he gained his commission and was posted to the 3rd Devons. A little later he was attached to the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. In January 1917, he went to France and on April 23rd he made the supreme sacrifice for God, King and home. In a letter to his parents the Commanding Officer says: – Until this afternoon we had no information about him, except that he was missing. Three men came in this afternoon from the line. They found your son’s body in a shell hold near them. He had been shot through the side, and from his appearance must have died almost immediately. The Company, through me, offers its genuine sympathy. We mourn a valuable and popular officer.” Thus Harry Karslake died with his face towards the enemy, alone. As I gaze upon his photo which lies before me, I find it hard to realise that he will not return to his native land with the heros coming back victorious from this awful conflict. I esteem it a very great honour to have been associated with him in Dublin, and in paying this tribute to his life and work I recognise how very inadequately it does justice to the beauty of his character, and nobility and usefulness of his life. To his sorely stricken parents and other relatives, on behalf of a wide circle of friends, I tender our heartfelt symapathy.


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