In Remembrance of Horace Acomb

Great Southern Spain Railway Company personnel at Lorca Station  (photo by Gustavo Gillman)
Great Southern Spain Railway Company personnel at Lorca Station (photo by Gustavo Gillman)

It is a sobering thought to reflect upon during this month of Remembrance, that over 700,000 British military personnel were killed during the First World War, between 1914 and 1918. One of these young men, lost forever on the bloody battlefields of Flanders, was a 23 year old Yorkshireman named Horace Acomb, who grew up in York and later came to live and work in Murcia, where he was closely involved in the management of an economically vital railway line that ran between Murcia and Granada.

Horace Acomb was born into a loving, tightly knit working class family that lived at 5, South Parade, in York. He had an elder brother, Alfred and an elder sister, Elsie and their father, Wilfrid, worked as a locomotive engine driver for the North-Eastern Railway Company. Railways were clearly in the family’s blood, because Alfred became an electrical apprentice at the North-Eastern Railways and Horace Acomb secured a white-collar job as a clerk at the same railway company. Horace was clearly a talented young man and it was presumably a source of considerable family pride when the Acomb’s younger son became a member of the General Manager’s prestigious North-Eastern Railways Parliamentary & Statistical Section. 

1916 German map of Horace's sector of the Front (photo by Milgesch)
1916 German map of Horace’s sector of the Front (photo by Milgesch)

Further international advancement in the railway industry awaited Horace Acomb when he joined the Great Southern Spain Railway Company as Secretary to the General Manager, in the years just before the outbreak of the First World War. The Great Southern Spain Railway Company was a British financed organisation which set about constructing a rail line connecting Murcia with Granada. Work began in 1885 and by 1886, the company had secured capital of £1,250,000 in order to finance a massive railway building programme. The construction of a branch line between Lorca and Aguilas port (completed in 1890) became a major part of the Great Southern Spain’s long term economic plans. Aguilas was really a company port, which allowed iron ore and other minerals, along with esparto grass, to be shipped from the Murcian hinterland to all parts of the world. Horace Acomb was based in the company’s main Aguilas offices and he lived nearby in the port, as did the company’s famous British engineer, Gustavo Gillman. 

Horace Acomb memorial stone (photo by WMR- 72917)
Horace Acomb memorial stone (photo by WMR- 72917)

When war broke out in 1914, Horace was seized by the strong desire to interrupt his promising Murcian railway management career in order to fight for his country. He travelled back to England to enlist and he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Yorkshire Regiment in June 1915. By summer 1916, Horace was attached to the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment and commanded a platoon of men operating in a sector of the Western Front between Hulluch and the Quarries (near Arras). At this time, the Devonshire battalion’s main objective was to pin down German forces and prevent them from being used to fight British soldiers involved in the Somme offensive. Horace was engaged in continual trench warfare and on August 21st 1916, while based at Hulluch, he was caught up in a massive German mine detonation which killed him (and sixteen other Devonshire men) instantly.

Vermelles-British-War cemetery-Horace Acomb (photo by Chris Weekes)
Vermelles-British-War cemetery-Horace Acomb (photo by Chris Weekes)

Horace Acomb was never able to return to his home and career in Aguilas. Instead, his remains were interred at the British War Cemetery at Vermelles, near Lens, in northern France, where his gravestone can still be seen today. Horace never married and everything he had was left to his older brother and sister. His death was obviously a traumatic event for the Acomb family and within four months, Horace’s grieving father, Wilfrid, had also passed away. Horace Acomb’s death was one example amongst millions, of a promising life cut short by the savage demands of twentieth century warfare.

‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.’

(from the poem ‘For the Fallen’ by Robert Laurence Binyon, 1869-1943).