Unsurprisingly, I’ve come across quite a few Royal Marines from Portsmouth who were killed in the Great War – 113 so far, in fact. And I’m only up to the letter H. Of those I have information for 101 of them. And the statistics are striking – only 13 joined up after the war had started. And incredible 37 had actually enlisted in the Nineteenth Century! All this adds up to suggest that many Royal Marines were long serving, experienced men. There was also a strong likelihood that if a man was serving for a long time in the Royal Marines, sooner or later he might settle near the Barracks in Portsmouth.
Jonathan Heaton was born on 6 March 1876. He enlisted in the Royal Marine Artillery on 15 September 1896, when he was 20. In 1901 he married his wife Jane in Portsmouth. In 1914 they were living at 83 Adair Road in Eastney, very close to the Royal Marine Barracks in Portsmouth.
The Royal Marines in 1914 were formed of a number of distinct corps. Of the combatant arms, the Royal Marine Light Infantry and the Royal Marine Artillery were most prominent in the Great War. The Royal Marine Artillery actually formed two Artillery Brigades to serve on the Western Front in October 1914. These Brigades actually supported the Army, and not just the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division as I first suspected. One was an anti-aircraft unit, whilst the other manned heavy howitzer guns.
The RMA Howitzer Brigade was only really an administrative headquarters, as each of the guns were so large, they were deployed individually along the front. The RMA actually operated a unique weapon – the 15 inch breech loading Siege Howitzer. It had a maximum range of over 10,000 yards, and fired a 1,400lb shell. The Brigade operated 12 of the Howitzers in total.
Sergeant Heaton was killed on 24 September 1917, and is buried in Gwalia Cemetery in Belgium. Late September 1917 saw the closing stages of the battle of the Menin Road, during the third battle of Ypres – better known to history as Passchendaele. Gwalia is actually back from the front line, near Poperinghe, which suggests that Heaton was probably wounded and taken to the rear before he died.
On 11 December 1917 Jonathan Heaton was awarded a posthumous Military Medal. The London Gazette has no information about how his MM was won, but as it was posthumous we can reasonably assume that it was won in the action in which he was killed.
- Artillery Evolutions: Expanding Field Artillery for World War I (xbradtc.wordpress.com)
- Portsmouth’s WW1 sailors – some initial observations (dalyhistory.wordpress.com)