A service was held in Horley last week to celebrate a First World War soldier’s contribution to town life as well as the sacrifice he made in battle.
Henry Webber died aged 67 on The Somme after he finally convinced the government to let him support his sons at the Front 100 years ago. He is still the oldest soldier to die in active service.
Last Thursday, July 21, on the centenary of his death, a plaque on a lectern was unveiled in the Horley Memorial Gardens to commemorate his life.
Three generations of his family were there to witness the occasion, some of whom had only met each other for the first time last week.
Great-grandson Paul Bellinger, was only reunited with his birth mother and half-siblings Iain Lowe and Ann Barney ten years ago.
Their children and grandchildren travelled the globe to be at the service.
He said: “Many of us connected with the family would have known little about Henry had it not been for our sister Ann Barney, she unravelled so much of our history. She sadly died earlier this year.
“It’s thanks to Ann we now know so much of Henry Webber’s achievements and his extraordinary life.
“You can’t imagine how proud we are of him. Thank you Henry for giving us such a rich history.”
Lt Webber’s great-great-grand-daughter Kate Morrow, who flew in from Dubai to be there, said: “Ten years ago I didn’t know about this. It’s quite overwhelming to hear who he really was. It’s amazing and I’m blown away by it. There’s so much people know about him. I’m just hearing more and more and more.”
Public service came first for Henry. He was not only a dedicated family man, but also one of the founding members of Surrey County Council and Horley Parish Council - now the town council. He was also a magistrate, captain of the Gatwick Golf Club and a warden at St Bartholomew’s Parish Church for ten years.
The plaque, arranged by the town council, summarises his life story.
Town mayor Cllr Mike George said: “I think it’s very gratifying that we have been able to arrange this memorial service dedicated to Henry Webber. He was the very first parish council chairman and a Surrey county councillor at the same time. It’s a very great honour to commemorate his life and his passing.”
To the family he added: “We hope we have done justice in honouring your great-great-great grandfather.”
The service was taken by Rev John Glasspool, chaplain of the Royal British Legion.
He said: “Although he was nearly 50 years older that the other serving officers, they didn’t know that and he was completely accepted by his fellow officers. What marks out the First World War generation of soldiers is the unswerving sense of duty and loyalty they had in the face of complete unknown danger.
“For many of those soldiers, the sacrifice they made was of their lives.”
Pupils from Horley Infant School, Meath Green Junior School and members of the Horley churches were among those at the service.
Chairman of the Horley Royal British Legion said: “It’s nice to recognise one of our own. We had our own service to commemorate The Somme (centenary). There’s an awful lot written about Henry Webber.”
The war hero served as a church warden at the town’s parish church for a decade.
Current St Bart’s Church warden Ann Golding has been in the post for just over a year. She said: “Knowing what duties on a church warden is and to think he fitted so many other things in is life; that’s a tribute to him. He was just such a people’s person. He must have been an amazing man.
“The fact he didn’t need to sign up; that’s such a dedication to his country.”