Richard John Heard was born in Alverstoke (Gosport) in 1896, a year after his parents married in Winchester. His mother, Fanny Luff, was the daughter of a miller in Sutton Scotney; his father, John H Heard, had been born in Exeter, Devon, and was a Corporal in the Rifle Brigade. At the time of their marriage John was 33 and Fanny 39 years old. Eighteen months before they married, Fanny gave birth to a baby girl, registering her as Marie Louise Heard, so the baby appears to be John’s daughter.
In the 1901 census, John, Fanny, and their children Marie (7) and Richard (5), are living at 46, Prince Alfred Street, Alverstoke, Gosport. John is now a Sergeant in the Rifle Brigade.
In the 1911 census, the family is now living in Winchester at 43, Monks Road. John has now retired from the army and is working as a local government clerk. Fanny states that she has been married for 16 years. In answer to the question of how many ‘children born alive to present marriage’ she has answered one child, still living. This refers to Richard, since Marie was born before they married. Marie, now 17, is an apprentice dressmaker. Richard, 15, is an apprentice outfitter.
In March 1915, John re-joined the army and became a Staff Quartermaster Sergeant, but two years later in March 1917 was invalided out as ‘no longer physically fit for war service’. John was awarded a Silver War Badge in recognition of his inability to serve.
On 24th November 1915 at the age of 19 Richard enlisted in the 2nd/4th Hampshire Regiment as a private and was given the regimental number 201708. He joined the rest of the regiment in India and in April 1917 embarked for Egypt. His Division was engaged in various actions in Palestine including The Third Battle of Gaza, The Capture of Junction Station, and The Battle of Nabi Samweil. Richard was attached to the section of the Hampshires that had to be brought back in May 1918, landing at Marseilles on 1st July 1918, to deal with the impact of the final German offensive on the Western Front – the Kaiserschlacht (‘Emperor’s Battle’).
When Russia’s armed forces collapsed in the wake of the October Revolution in 1917, the Germans imposed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on Trotsky’s negotiating team (his slogan of ‘No peace, no war’ having cut no ice with the German Army negotiators). The exit from the war of all the Russian forces enabled the Germans to switch large numbers of troops to the Western Front, using the advantages of Germany’s central position at the heart of Europe. When the storm broke over the Allies in the West in late March 1918, the possibilities of Ludendorff’s offensive splitting the French armies from their allies and capturing the railway junction of Amiens were deeply concerning to General Haig and the Allied commanders.
But enough Allied troops were transferred from other theatres of war to prevent this happening, and the Germans made serious errors on a strategic level to waste the very real opportunities of victory. The battalion war diary on 25th July 1918 describes a skilful German retreat through woods and over hills, and it was during this time that Corporal Heard was killed.
He was 22 years old and is commemorated on the Soissons Memorial with 3,879 other Allied soldiers. The town of Soissons stands on the River Aisne, approx 100 km north-east of Paris.
Richard’s sister Marie married Bernard Rafferty in 1921. By 1933 they had had four children, whose births were all registered in Sunderland.