CYRIL HENRY LENEY

Private, 91839, 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry
Killed in Action, 27 May 1918, near Hermonville, Marne, France, aged 19
Buried in Hermonville Military Cemetery, Marne, France: Special Memorial 5
 

Private Cyril Henry Leney, 91839, 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, was born in West Hoathly, Sussex, in November 1898. He lived at Hartfield Grove and Shrewton, Wiltshire and enlisted in October 1916 in Devizes, Wiltshire at the age of 17 years and 11 months. He was killed in action on 27 May 1918, on the first day of the Battle of the Aisne, near Hermonville, Marne, France, aged 19, and is buried in Hermonville Military Cemetery, Marne, France: Special Memorial 5. His exact grave has been lost.

He was the son of George (b.1873) and Elizabeth (b.1874) Leney. In 1911 he was aged 12 and living with the family in West Hoathly, a village on the western fringes of Ashdown Forest. His father, George was listed as a domestic coachman. His sister, Clara, was born in nearby Danehill around 1889. George died in 1940 in Uckfield, Sussex, aged 67. Cyril had an elder brother William George listed as aged 14 in the 1911 census. He also had a younger sister, Maud Elizabeth, aged 10. All were listed as scholars.

His brother William George married Florence K. Pattenden in East Grinstead in the summer of 1928. William George died in 1969 in Devon, aged 72. It is likely that he served in the Royal Navy in the First World War. His mother, Elizabeth, died in Devon in 1968 aged 94. She was born in Broxbourne in Hertfordshire in 1870 and was listed as a servant in Streatham in the 1891 census. Her maiden name was Kirkby. She was married in St Albans in 1893. Her father was a general labourer in Hertfordshire. His father, George, grew up in West Hoathly, the son of Abraham and Mary. Abraham was a carpenter in 1881 and was born in Lingfield, Surrey.

Cyril Henry Leney's pre-war occupation was a baker's motorman. He originally served as M/318138 in the Motor Transport in the Army Service Corps. He then transferred to the 53rd Royal Fusiliers with the new service number 62527.

The 15th Division of the Durham Light Infantry was involved in the Battle of the Aisne, which lasted from 27 May to 6 June 2018. Cyril Henry Leney was killed on the first day of this battle.

The attack was launched early on 27 May with a ferocious heavy artillery bombardment of 4,000 guns across a 40 km front, against four divisions of IX Corps. Owing to the heavy concentration of primarily British troops in front-line trenches, casualties from the bombardment were severe; IX Corps itself was virtually wiped out. The bombardment was accompanied by a gas attack, designed to disable defensive gun crews, after which 17 divisions of German infantry, under Crown Prince Wilhelm, began their advance through a gap in the Allied line.

With the Allied forces entirely taken by surprise, the rapid progress of the German troops was reminiscent of the more fluid war of movement of the opening months of the war. Between Soissons and Reims the Germans broke through a further eight Allied divisions, four British, four French, reaching the Aisne in under six hours. By the end of the first day the Germans had gained 15 km of territory and had reached the River Vesle. By 30 May the Germans had managed to capture 50,000 Allied soldiers and 800 guns, arriving within 90 km of Paris by 3 June.

Cyril Henry Leney is listed on the war memorials in Colemans Hatch and Hartfield. He is not commemorated on the West Hoathly memorial despite the family connection there. There is a link to Hartfield via Cyril Henry's paternal great-grandmother, Marie Wilmhurst, who was born in Hartfield in 1791 and later moved to London Road, East Grinstead. She died in 1874. His great-uncle James Leney lived in Forest Row in the 1881 census and his other great-uncle, John, lived in Ashurst Wood at the same time.

Carol O'Driscoll