Yesterday [January 15th] a Luton soldier who died in Edinburgh Military Hospital from wounds received at the front was laid to rest in the Luton Church Cemetery. It was probably the first time in the history of the town that a private soldier fatally wounded on a foreign battlefield has found his resting place in his native town, and a very large amount of public interest accordingly centred round the sad ceremony, to which full military honours were given.
The deceased was Pte Harry Gray (3/7398), whose home was at 2 Beech Road, Luton. He had served 12 years, nearly the whole period on foreign service with the Royal Regiment of Artillery, Royal Garrison Artillery (attestation on December 2nd, 1901). On the expiration of his time he became attached to the 1st Beds Special Reserve* about 12 months ago.
He was called up on August 8th, and about the middle of September was fighting in the retreat towards Paris. On October 17th his rifle was smashed in his hands by a German shell, but he escaped unhurt. The following day, however, he received the wound which terminated fatally.
In addition to an operation at Boulogne, he underwent three operations in the Edinburgh Military Hospital, declining on each occasion the use of anaesthetics.
After making an apparent recovery he was sent to a convalescent home, but grave symptoms developed and he was sent back to the hospital, where he passed away on Sunday [January 10th, 1915] in the presence of his mother Ellen and sister.
In the ordinary course he would have been given a military funeral in the Northern capital, but the relatives desired to have the body laid to rest at Luton and this was done yesterday afternoon [January 15th].
The 23rd Battalion, County of London Regiment, undertook to provide military honours for the deceased and provided a firing party, trumpeters and bearers, while about 200 members of the battalion marched in procession. As the band of the battalion recently returned from Luton to St Albans and could not conveniently attend, the band of the 5th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment gave their co-operation.
Efforts were made to secure a gun carriage for the conveyance of the coffin but, as the artillery which were recently in the neighbourhood have now moved farther away, this was found to be impossible and the coffin, covered with a Union Jack, was borne "on a car of the usual character".
The family mourners were the father and mother of the deceased (Mr and Mrs Walter Gray), three brothers and sisters and a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law.
The procession, with the band playing the "Dead March", left Beech Road just before three o'clock. By that time a very large assembly of the public had taken place in Dunstable Road, and all along the route through the centre of the town people had gathered in large numbers to witness the passing of a hero to his last resting place.
At the military headquarters at the Gas Company's office the guard turned out with fixed bayonets. Through the centre of the town the "Dead March" was repeated, and it was again played as the procession was approaching the cemetery gates, the whole of the route from Beech Road being covered at slow march.
Inside the gates the path was lined on both sides by the East Anglian Divisional Engineer recruits from Napier Road.
The Rev E. G. Jaquet, of the Parish Church, officiated at the interment, and as the coffin was lowered into the earth the firing party presented arms. Three volleys were fired over the grave, and then they stood with fixed bayonets while the "Last Post" was sounded.
The military escort left the cemetery to the bright strains of a quick march.
The funeral arrangements were carried out by Messrs T. and E. Neville.
Two days earlier The Luton News said 30-year-old Pte Gray had survived for three months with a German bullet in his head. The house surgeon at the Deaconess Hospital, Edinburgh, said he had borne his sufferings with heroic fortitude.
* CWGC records him being with the 2nd Battalion, Beds Regt.
[ Pte Gray is included on the Luton Roll of Honour under the name Harry Gray Payne. He originally enlisted in the Royal Garrison Artillery under the name Harry Gray. His brothers L-Sgt Albert Payne and Cpl Nathan Payne both lost their lives at Gallipoli on August 15th, 1915, and are also included on the Luton Roll of Honour.]
[Sources: Beds and Herts Saturday Telegraph, January 16th, 1915, and Luton News, January 14th, 1915]