Hugh Steele was one of four brothers to fight in the First World War. Three survived, but Hugh was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Hugh was the third son of Francis and Harriet Steele who lived at Horn Farm in Exton during the war. He was born at Tixover in 1890 and worked there on a farm. He enlisted at the start of the war, on 19 August 1914 in Stamford, joining the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, a month before his 23rd birthday. After training, he left for France on 1 July 1915. He died exactly a year later on 1 July 1916, one of eight Rutlanders killed that day. His battalion was attacking Ovillers, a heavily fortified village in front of the centre of the British line. But the artillery barrage had failed to destroy the Germans' deep dugouts and barbed wire defences. By the time the whistles blew and the British soldiers moved forward, the Germans had brought up their machine guns and caused devastation in the slowly advancing mass of men. Hugh was 26 years old. Ken Plant, whose wife was related to Hugh told us: He was reported missing on 1 July 1916, but his body was never recovered and it was not until 24 April 1917 that he was officially recorded as having died at the start of the Battle of the Somme. A story passed down through his family was that on his last leave home he was waiting at Oakham railway station with his youngest sister when he turned to her and said: "I'll not be coming back Emma." Hugh has no known grave and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, pier 1C. But he is not remembered on any war memorial in Rutland and he does not feature in George Phillips' Rutland and the Great War, so is almost forgotten in his home county. Hugh's three brothers fared better. Two of them, George and Terence, had emigrated to Canada and signed on there. George had been born in Tixover in 1887 and enlisted in Valcartier, Quebec, in September 1914. He arrived back in England on 15 May 1915 and fought in France where he was wounded in the right arm by a bayonet and later gassed. He never fully recovered and stayed in England after the war, receiving a pension from the Canadian government. His son was to die in the Second World War, in the fighting following D Day. Terence Steele, the youngest of the four brothers, was born at Pickworth in 1894 and signed on at Kinston, Ontario, in November 1914. He came back to England with George in May 1915 and survived his period on the Western Front. Like George, he stayed in England after the war. The fourth brother, John, was born at Tixover in 1893 and served in India. Their cousin James Leonard Steele also died in the First World War and is buried in North Luffenham churchyard and their second cousin John Henry Steele was another family casualty.
See where all our Rutland soldiers died during the Battle of the Somme on our interactive map.
With many thanks to Ken Plant, as well as for the photographs of Hugh and his brothers. The three brothers pictured together are George (with the injury), Terence and John.
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