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Forces War Records Blog

BROUGHT TO LIGHT: BRITAIN’S FIRST VICTIM OF WORLD WAR ONE

Blogger: GemSen It has long been believed that the first Briton killed in the Great War, just three weeks after it had started, was Private John Parr. However, the latest news according to military historian Richard van Emden, and covered by the Daily Mail, suggests that it was 51-year-old Henry Hadley, former soldier and languages teacher.

His story is both unfortunate and bizarre: Henry Hadley, a former officer in the West India Regiment, was shot in the stomach on a train home from Berlin and died just three hours after Britain had declared war on Germany. At the time Mr Hadley was teaching in Berlin and on August 3, 1914, had just heard the news that Germany had declared war on France. He left that day at 11am, well aware that it wouldn’t be long until Britain would get drawn into the conflict and knowing that he had to get out of Germany, pronto. Unfortunately, he never made it. In the wrong place at the wrong time... It all started with a heated exchange with a waiter on the train over the service, which happened to take place in front of some German officers. It never mounted to anything more than a squabble and Mr Hadley returned to his seat. For some unknown reason though, he then went to the corridor of the train, where one of the German soldiers shot him point blank in the stomach. The train was just short of the Belgium border. His travelling partner, and housekeeper Elizabeth Pratley rushed out of the carriage and found him surrounded by German soldiers led on the floor.
“They’ve shot me, Mrs Pratley; I am a done man,” Hadley gasped.
Britain was just about to formally declare war on Germany when Mr Hadley was shot. He was taken to hospital, but despite hanging on 24 hours he never recovered and died at 3.15am German time on August 5, 1914. Britain had declared war on Germany just three hours before – at midnight German time and 11pm British time on August 4, 1914. “The British government considered the shooting nothing less than murder,” stated Mr van Emden in his book ' Meeting The Enemy', that has been recently published about this unfortunate tale of events. The British Government demanded an explanation over Mr Hadley’s death, but the Germans refused to admit that it was murder and said that Mr Hadley was vague about his travel arrangements. Lieutenant Nicolay, the German officer who shot him, justified the killing by claiming that Mr Hadley was ‘acting suspiciously’, and had raised a stick at him when confronted. Mr van Emden discovered this fascinating story after unearthing Mrs Pratley’s eye-witness account of Mr Hadley’s death. The book details that after the shooting, Mrs Pratley was ‘whisked off for interrogation’ in a military prison as the Germans tried to work out whether she or Mr Hadley were spies. On protesting her innocence, Mrs Pratley was eventually released, but by then was in such a ‘weakened and nervous state’ that she was taken to a Roman Catholic hospital to recover. Educated at Cheltenham College, Mr Hadley, after his army career became a language teacher in Cheltenham and had been working in Berlin for three or four years  when hostilities broke out. "Mr Hadley was the first British casualty of the Great War and the first person to die as the direct result of enemy action. Henry Hadley just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Mr van Emden. "He also seems to have made the mistake of upsetting an armed German officer in the atmosphere of heightened tension as the whole of Europe plummeted into war. "Having spent two decades researching and writing about the Great War, his story is, to me, an amazing, fresh discovery." Sadly, it is believed that Mr Hadley’s was buried in a pauper’s grave in a German cemetery, with no headstone. Revealing Tales of War for Yourself... Between 1914 and the end of World War I, of which the 100th anniversary will be marked next year, almost one million more British troops lost their lives. War touches many people's lives. Is your family's military history waiting to be discovered? Log on to Forces War Records and have a look through our range of records and historic documents and let us help you with your genealogy quest… Also, why not record your findings and import your a family tree at the click of a button with your GEDCOM genealogy software files. GEDCOM files contain genealogical information about individuals that can be linked together, imported and exported. Use this new family tree feature and take advantage of the company’s extensive record collection. Source: Daily Mail
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