Ryburgh Remembers is a parish project aimed at helping the community mark the centenary of World War 1 through a series of events, whilst also researching the names of the fallen whose names are recorded in Ryburgh parish.
At St Andrew’s church in Great Ryburgh between the two entrance gates, visitors can find the grave of William Edward Comer who died September 3 1913 aged 64 and his wife Mary Jane who died April 20 1932 aged 81. Also remembered on the gravestone is one of their sons – Harold. The inscription reads:
Also Harold Douglas son of the above aged 26 years who gave his life for his country August 13th 1915.
The Ryburgh Remembers team have been researching Harold and his family in preparation for a commemorative event that will be held on the centenary of his death. A special peal of the St Andrew’s bells will take place and hopefully the gravestone will also be cleaned. For the latter to take place, we need the permission of the family and at the moment we have not made any contact with anyone connected with Harold including descendants of his brothers. Of course, we’d also like to invite them to the centenary commemoration and share with them what has been discovered.
As anyone who is researching their family history understands, you never know what road you will taken down and who you will meet along the way. In the search for information about Harold Comer, that certainly has been the case. Here’s what we have discovered so far …
The Comer Family
Harold’s birth was registered in the 3rd quarter of 1888. By the 1901 census, Harold (born Great Ryburgh) is aged 12 living with his older brother Archibald (Archie) Thomas (aged c25) in a Maltings’ cottage whilst still at school. At the time of the 1911 census, Harold aged 22 has left Great Ryburgh and is an ironmonger’s assistant staying with his eldest brother Sidney William Comer and family at 51 Portland Street Norwich. At this time, Sidney (a Clerk to the Official Receiver in Bankruptcy Norwich) would have been approximately 37 years old, married to Maria with one daughter Freda (Winifred Mary) Comer.
Marriage and Service
It appears that Harold married school teacher Eva Blanche Pope Dunman in the registration district of Christchurch Hampshire in the second quarter of 1915. Eva Blanche christened 22 September 1893 at Piddletown (also known as Puddletown) Dorset was the daughter of Theophilus Bartlett and Ellen Dunman.
Harold and Eva’s marriage lasted only a few months as on the 28th July, Harold embarked Avonmouth aboard the Royal Edward heading for Gallipoli. 20599 Private Harold Douglas Palmer Comer was a member of the 1st Battalion the Essex Regiment. Harold had originally enlisted in Norwich for the Norfolk Regiment as a Private and was given the service number 17338. In the summer of 1915, 300 men from the 3rd Battalion Norfolk Regiment, the Regiments regular Army training battalion, had volunteered to go to Gallipoli. 100 men went in the first draft on 23rd June and 200 in the second draft on 24th July. Indications are that Harold was part of the first draft as those on that draft are recorded on the Commonwealth War Graves records as 1st Essex, whilst those on the second draft are recorded as 3rd Norfolks.
On 19 August 1915, the Royal Edward was sunk when it was torpedoed by German submarine UB-14. The Royal Edward was hit by one torpedo in the stern and sunk in 6 minutes. Around 1,000 lost their lives and Harold is one of the many commemorated on the Helles Memorial panel 144-150 or 229-233.
Throughout the project, Twitter has proved a useful tool in establishing connections around the world. Having established the Gallipoli link to Harold’s death, a quick tweet to @Gallipoli100 led to an exchange of information and Gallipoli Association Membership Secretary Keith Edmonds provided us with this photograph of the Helles Memorial.
The Medal Search
Harold’s widow Eva received his British War Medal (BWM) and death plaque in 1924 and we discovered that they had been included in a sale at Lawrences (Crewkerne Somerset) auction house in October 2009. We understand from the auctioneer that the lot was purchased by a dealer and are likely sold on by now – current whereabouts unknown. Lawrences have kindly given permission to reproduce the following extract from their catalogue:
“A BWM & PLAQUE TO THE ESSEX REGT.
British War Medal named to 20599 Pte H Comer Essex R. The Plaque named to Harold Comer.CWGC states that Harold Comer of the 1st Battn Essex Regiment is commemorated on the Helles Memorial 13/8/1915. An original box of issue card top K/1474 British War 20599 Pte H Comer. Essex R, also a 1914 Xmas Tin with Princess Mary’s card and a typed leaflet. The property of Pte H Comer on obverse, Please acknowledge receipt of to-The Adjudant, 3rd Battn Norfolk Regt, Felixstowe, Suffolk. Estimate: 80-100”.
Immediately above Harold’s medal entry in the auction catalogue was the name William Dunman. Was this Eva’s brother, whose 1914-1915 Star, death plaque and a photograph of him in uniform were also on sale? The answer was yes.
1171 Private William John Hill Dunman from Godmanstone, Dorset had enlisted on 26 October 1914 and served in A Squadron 1st Dorset Yeomanry (Queen’s Own). In a cruel twist (sadly not uncommon in WW1) William was also killed in action at Gallipoli on 21 August 1915 aged 19. In 8 days, Eva had suffered the loss of her husband and brother. William like Harold is commemorated on the Helles Memorial, Turkey (Panel 17 and 18) and he is recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as the son of Ellen Dawe (formerly Dunman) and of the late Theophilus Bartlett Pope Dunman, of Puddletown, Dorset.
Despite having died in the same theatre as Harold, William was awarded the 1914-1915 Star, BWM and Victory Medal. To try and remedy discrepancies such as this, the Gallipoli Association launched a campaign in October 2014 to secure a review of medal awards to those who were lost when the Royal Edward went down in August 1915.
What about Eva?
As for Eva, it seems she collected Harold’s BWM in 1924 after marrying again as Eva Blanche Smith, Hill Crest, Dorchester Road, Weymouth, Dorset. Perhaps Eva kept the medals together for many years and eventually Harold’s medals came to be up for auction in 2009 in the same catalogue as her brothers trio? The question is, did the buyer know about the family connection and where are they now?
The Ryburgh Memorials
Harold is also remembered on the Think and Thank screen and Roll of Honour of those who served (alongside his brother Archie) St Andrew’s, the War Memorial and the commemorative panel above the stage in the Memorial Hall.
Note. Archie Comer was a German PoW during WW1 and married to Clara Pratt, sister of Gerald Pratt who is also named on the Roll of Honour.
If you have further information about Harold or can connect Ryburgh Remembers with a Comer relative, we would love to hear from you via e-mail SBRVAG@aol.com or Twitter @ryburghaction
Research compiled by Peter Trent, Steve Bushby and Steve Tipler, with grateful thanks to Jeff Day (Lawrences), Keith Edmonds (Gallipoli Association) and Sid Hart who is researching the 172-4 ex-Norfolk’s who volunteered to join the 1st Essex, and who lost their lives on that day in August 1915.