Henry Lamont Simpson (1897-1918)

Henry Lamont Simpson

Written by Adrian Allan (1943-2022)

Occupations: Scholar and War Poet

Henry Lamont Simpson was born on 5 June 1897, the eldest of the four children of Henry Colbeck Simpson [b. 1865] and his wife, Margaret Jane Quirk [b.1864], of 29 Howard Place, Carlisle. He was baptised at Christ Church, Botchergate, Carlisle, where his parents had married the previous September. Henry’s father, Henry Colbeck Simpson was born at Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1864, the son of Henry Simpson (1832 – 73) and his wife, Jane Colbeck (1834 – 1926) who had married at Benton, Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1862. Henry Colbeck Simpson is recorded as a tailor’s apprentice, living at Holmes, Yorkshire, in the census of 1851; still at Holmes, in the 1861 census he was described as a tailor and cutter.

Henry Colbeck Simpson followed in the footsteps of his father as a tailor, coming to Carlisle in about 1886. A Directory entry for 1884 records Broomfield and Co. as woollen drapers, occupying the corner property of 51 Bank Street and 60 Lowther Street, Carlisle, but by 1893, the date of the next Directory, the property (then numbered 51 Bank Street and 66 Lowther Street) is recorded as that of Broomfield and Simpson, tailors and woollen drapers.  In Kelly’s Directory of 1897, the property is registered in the sole name of Henry C Simpson, ‘tailor etc.’ Confusingly, there was a renumbering of properties in Lowther Street in the early 20th century; the corner premises of Henry C Simpson appear as 51 Bank Street and 45 Lowther Street at least from 1907 onwards, to the present day. In September 1920, Henry Colbeck Simpson acquired the freehold of the premises from the trustees of William Clark (d. 1918), of the firm of Messrs. Clark Bros. and Co., Ltd., nurserymen and seedsmen, of Carlisle.

As a bachelor, Henry Colbeck Simpson initially (at least by 1891) lived with his widowed mother and his younger sister, at 14 Victoria Place, moving to 29 Howard Place, Warwick Road, by 1894. Though at the time the Census of 1901 was taken he was visiting Woodhorn Manor, Northumberland (then occupied by his contemporary, Robert Gray and his wife, Helen [1901 census on Ancestry]), the rest of his young family was settled at The Old Grove, Crosby on Eden,  a substantial property which was recorded as having ten rooms;  given that Henry Lamont Simpson’s siblings are recorded as being born at Crosby on Eden, it is likely that Old Grove had been acquired by 1899.

Henry Lamont Simpson had three younger siblings : Norman (born on 8 July 1899, married A M Truss in 1947, and died at Tonbridge, Kent, in 1978); Desmond (born on 14 February 1901, married Mary Miller in 1926, and died on 26 January 1964); and Mary Doreen (born on 18 June 1907 and died in infancy, on 14 February 1916, her death and that of her eldest brother, Henry Lamont, being recorded on the family gravestone, which takes the form of a Celtic cross, in Crosby on Eden churchyard). 

Henry Lamont Simpson entered Carlisle Grammar School, aged eleven years, in September 1908. Amongst those other pupils who entered at the same time was Harold Leeming Sheehan [1900 – 88; ODNB], one of the sons of Dr Patrick Sheehan, of Warwick Road, who was later to enjoy a distinguished career as a medical pioneer, holding the George Holt Chair of Pathology at the University of Liverpool, 1946 – 65, and giving his name to the condition of Sheehan’s Syndrome.  Norman and Desmond Simpson joined their elder brother at the Grammar School in the Autumn Term 1912 and the Autumn Term 1913 respectively. Of all three brothers, it was Henry who had the most distinguished all-round career at the Grammar School, the School’s Memorial Register 1264 – 1924 (1924) recording that he was a County Council Minor Scholar, 1908; Charles Howard Scholar, 1909; and Foundation Scholar, 1912. Drawing on the records of the school held by its successor, Trinity School, Linda Scott and Sarah Lee note that he was awarded a maths prize in 1909 and a junior classics prize in 1911; by 1913, he was a prefect and librarian, taking prizes in reading, French and maths; in 1914 he was awarded the School Medal for Sports, the same year being house captain;  he was very active in dramatic productions, playing the lead in ‘Ivanhoe’ and appearing in a comedy’ ‘French as he is spoke’;  active in the debating society, it was recorded that he was one of the best speakers, his speeches being ‘generally a pleasure to listen to, both on account of his original ideas, the excellent way he delivers them and a delightful vein of humour ...’ ;  in his final year, 1915, he was editor of the Carliol , the school’s magazine, and school captain.

In 1915, Henry was awarded an Exhibition in Classics at Pembroke College, Cambridge, an award which he decided to defer taking up in favour of joining up to serve in the armed forces, what was to be known as the Great War having broken out in August 1914. His choice of Pembroke College may have  been made in the knowledge that a number of former pupils of Carlisle Grammar School had studied at the College, besides which the College could count two former bishops of Carlisle (Bishop Edward Story, Bishop successively of Carlisle and Chichester [d.1503; ODNB], and Bishop Roger Leyburn, Master of Pembroke College and Bishop of Carlisle [d.1508]) as former Fellows, and two former headmasters, the most recent being Samuel Crosthwaite (1890 – 94), as graduates, the Cumbrian connection being also emphasised in the closed scholarships to the College which were attached to St Bees School.  

Possibly it was on visiting Pembroke College that, at Cambridge on 10 December 1915, aged eighteen and a half years, Henry completed a Short Service form of attestation, whereby he committed himself to serving one day with the Colours and the remainder of the period in the Army Reserve until called up; the form recorded his height as 5 feet 6 inches. A later reference refers to him as having transferred to the Officers’ Training Corps at Newmarket, not far distant from Cambridge.  On 10 May 1916, he was appointed to the 8th Lancashire Fusiliers, and on 12 September made a Lance Corporal. It was no doubt that  during his  periods of training that he dated  several of his poems in Moods and Tenses : Liverpool, April 1916, and Colchester, August and December 1916.  On 26 June 1917, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and posted to the 8th Lancashire Fusiliers.

The 8th battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers, which had previously served in Gallipoli and then, from early January 1916, in Egypt, taking part in the British victory over joint Turkish Ottoman, German and Austrian forces at the battle of Romani in August 1916, marking the end of the defence of the Suez Canal.  The battalion embarked from Alexandria on the voyage to Marseilles, France, over the period 22 February – 2 March 1917. In its operations on the Flanders coast in June 1917, to support the main thrust of the third battle of Ypres in Belgium which is now more commonly referred to as the battle of Passchendaele, launched on 31 July, the Allied Command planned an assault on the Belgian coast. This was  a three-phase operation, the main amphibious assault would be supplied by XV Corps infantry unit advancing from Nieuport and the Yser bridgehead. Postponed several times, the operation was finally abandoned in October 1917. However, as the War Diary of the 1/8 Lancashire Fusiliers records, on 6 September, in an attack on Borry Farm and Beck House and Iberian, former farm buildings which were German strongpoints, the heavy casualties included the wounding of 2nd Lieutenant Simpson; the diary adds that the objectives of the attack ‘were lost after several enemy counter –attacks’. Ironically, the next day, ‘the Unit was relieved by the 6th Manchester Regiment and on relief proceeded to Toronto Camp [at Brandhoek]’. Henry was evacuated to Southampton before being treated for his wounds at a military hospital in Hursley Park, near Winchester; two of his poems in Moods and Tenses are dated Hursley, September and October 1917.

At some point, Henry Simpson returned to the front (two of his poems in Moods and Tenses being dated France, 13 and 16 June 1918), this time in the 1st battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers, whose 1918 Annual reported that ‘On the 29th [August] the Intelligence Officer, 2/Lieut. H L Simpson was killed while reconnoitring  “No Man’s Land”’. That day, his Colonel wrote a moving letter to Henry’s father : ‘I very much regret to tell you that your son was killed by a sniper about eight o’clock this morning. I cannot tell you how sorry I am to lose him. He was my intelligence officer and was extremely keen on his work and did exceedingly well. Apart from his work he was loved by officers and men alike, and as a member of our mess was a favourite. He was at the time doing a personal reconnaissance with one of his men, and, as far as I can gather, was surprised by some of the enemy and shot by a sniper. He was a brave boy and the type of fellow whom we can ill spare. Will you please accept the sincerest sympathy of my officers and myself in your great loss. You will have two consolations which we share with you and yours. The one is that your son was killed instantaneously , the other is that he is one of those many brave fellows who have given their all in this great struggle for right. We here grieve his loss but are proud that he was one of us – a Lancashire Fusilier’. A dominating note of Henry Lamont Simpson’s poetry  was his love of, and faith in, his friends :    

‘There are three things of worth
(Let me say this much before all ends) –
Loveliness, and mirth,
These, and friends.’

‘God, take my life to-day
Before the leaves of loveliness are shed,
And mirth is hid away
And friends are dead.’

Killed in action at Strazeele, near Hazebrouk, northern France, Henry Simpson is commemorated on the memorial in Vis-en-Artois’s British Cemetery at Haucourt, a small village in the north of France, in the department of Pas-de-Calais, which is cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. On 11 November 1918, just two and a half months after Henry’s death, the Armistice which ended the War was signed by a German delegation. 

Together with those other old Carliols – 89 in total – who died in the War, he is commemorated on the Great War Memorial of Carlisle Grammar School whose successor, Trinity School, takes pride in honouring their service. Of those thirty-three pupils who entered the Grammar School with Henry Simpson, in the Autumn Term of 1908, no fewer than twenty-two served in the War (twelve as officers), two (including Henry) being killed. Henry’s brother, Norman, served as Cadet in the Mercantile Marine in the War, and later in the Merchant Navy in the Second World War. Additionally, exceptionally, his name is also recorded on the website of Pembroke College, Cambridge, recording the College’s dead of World War One. A year after Henry Simpson’s death, the East Cumberland News published a full-length review of H L Simpson, Moods and Tenses (Erskine Macdonald Ltd., London, 1919),  the volume of the poetry of ‘Carlisle’s Lost Poet’ which his old English master, Henry C Duffin, had arranged to have published, observing ‘If Rupert Brooke, whom the war also cut off, might have lived, as some of us think, to become a definite addition to the roll of England’s great poets, Harry Simpson might have lived at least to be ranged among those bearing him company.’  In a remarkable, recent tribute to his memory and literary legacy, in November 2014 ‘Remembrance Day’, a choral and orchestral piece of classical music, based on his poetry, composed by Michael Finnissy [b.1946], Emeritus Professor of Composition at the Department of Music at the University of Southampton and Composer in Residence at St John’s College, Cambridge,  was given its premiere at the university. 

In the aftermath of Henry Simpson’s death, the War Office opened a file which provides some additional information. In September 1918, arrangements were made to send his father some of his son’s possessions, a pocket wallet containing letters and photographs, a cheque book, an ‘advance book’ and ‘A.B. 439’, also a case of compasses and a silver wrist watch which was broken. As late as July 1920, the War Office was able to write to his father informing him that ‘included in a consignment of effects belonging to deceased British officers and men which have been returned to this country by the German Government through diplomatic channels was an envelope and identity disc in the name of the late Second Lieutenant H L Simpson, Lancashire Fusiliers’, adding that ‘no information is forthcoming regarding the circumstances of their recovery’; the envelope and disc were forwarded to his father. Regrettably, the War Office proved somewhat slow in arranging the payment of £88.11s.3d. due to the estate of Henry, prompting a letter to the War Office from  William Theodore Carr [1866 – 1931], Coalition Liberal MP for Carlisle, also chairman of Carr’s Biscuits,  in October 1919, and the final payment of this sum to his father, as next-of-kin.  

In December 1946, the Cumberland News published a photograph and an obituary of Henry’s father, Henry Colbeck Simpson, who had died on 17 December at the home of his son, Desmond, at Fair Oaks, Houghton Road, aged 82 years.  ‘One of the oldest traders in Carlisle’, Mr Simpson had come to Carlisle ‘about 60 years ago’, starting business in Bank Street as a gentleman’s outfitter. Joined by his son Desmond, the business was latterly described in the local directories as Henry C Simpson & Son tailors, outfitters, hosiers and hatters. ‘A keen croquet player’, Mr Simpson ‘participated for a number of years in tournaments held at Edenside and at Rydal. In his younger days  he played golf at Dalston, when there was a golf course there. Mr Simpson was a Past master and Chaplain of the Bective Lodge of Freemasons’.  Desmond Simpson continued in the business until his own death in 1964, being succeeded by his eldest son, Henry Coates Simpson, also a former pupil of Carlisle Grammar School. As a child, Mr Henry Coates Simpson’s daughter, Mrs Barbara Threlfall, recalls the workforce of the tailors’ and gentleman’s outfitters’ business, comprising her father, two shop assistants, and a seamstress who, as well as sewing suits, undertook alterations. She believes that  early business involved operating as military tailors for the local Army camp near Carlisle. When the business finally closed in 1970, the property was acquired by Cumbrian Newspapers, which made use of the ground floor as a city centre  office until 2016.  


  • G B Routledge, ed., Carlisle Grammar School Memorial Register, 1264 – 1924 (Carlisle, 1924).
  • H L Simpson, Moods and Tenses (Erskine Macdonald Ltd., London, 1919).
  • Linda Hodgson and Sarah Lee, The Stars of Night (P3 Publications, Carlisle, 2014)
  • Website of Pembroke College, Cambridge, http://www.pem.cam.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Pembroke-College-Cambridge-the-dead-of-the-war-of-1914-1918-2.pdf 
  • Website of BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-29975817 
  • The National Archives :  WO 374/62546
  • Carlisle Archive Centre, Reference Collection : folders of notes and photocopies concerning Henry Lamont Simpson and other former pupils of Carlisle Grammar School who died in the First World War, deposited by Linda Hodgson.
  • East Cumberland News, 9 August 1919.
  • The Cumberland News, 7 September 1918 and 21 December 1946.   
  • Information kindly provided by Mrs Barbara Threlfall, granddaughter of Henry Lamont Simpson’s younger brother, Desmond; by Linda Hodgson (now Linda Wedderburn), Head of History, Trinity School, Carlisle;  and by Miss Jayne Ringrose, Honorary Archivist, Pembroke College, Cambridge. 
  • Likeness - Photograph held by Carlisle Library.