Just a few days before he wrote the following letter to his parents.
28 June 1916
My Darling Mother and Father,
I am writing this on the eve of my first action. Tomorrow, we go to the attack in the greatest battle the British army has ever fought. I cannot quite express my feelings on this night and I cannot tell if it is God’s will that I shall come through – but if I fall in battle then I have no regrets save for my loved ones I leave behind. It is a great cause and I came out willingly to serve my King and Country.
No one had such parents as you have been to me giving me such splendid opportunities and always thinking of my welfare at great self-sacrifice to yourselves.
This life abroad has taught me many things, chiefly the fine character of the British Race to put up with hardship with wonderful cheerfulness.
If I fall, do not let things be black for you. Be cheerful and you will be living life always to my memory.
I thank God for my brother and sisters who have all been very much to me.
Well I cannot write more now. You are all in my thoughts as I enter this first battle. May God go with me.
With my love to you all.
Always, your loving son,
Letter from Durham County Record Office
Born in 1886, son of the late Rev Daniel Heaton and Mrs Heaton, of Cressbrook, 46 Pembroke Crescent, Hove, Sussex, Eric was 20 when he died on 1 July 1916. Before he volunteered he was a pupil at Guildford Grammar School and expecting to study to become a member of the medical and dental profession.
He joined up in 1914 and was commissioned the following year, being posted to France in early 1916 where he joined the 16th Battalion Middlesex Regiment. He served with them on the Somme and the men of his platoon named one of their trenches, dug close to the village of Auchonvillers, after him.
Lt Eric Heaton’s battalion was one of the main units leading the attack towards Beaumont Hamel and Hawthorn Ridge – in perfect view of the enemy who were on higher ground. They were ordered to advance along a hundred yards of front line and immediately came under withering machine-gun fire. He was last seen falling into the grass with a leg wound. Posted as ‘missing’, for months his family hoped beyond hope that he was alive in a German hospital or prison camp, but his body was found when the battlefield around Beaumont-Hamel was cleared in the winter of 1916/17.
Many believe he may have been the leading soldier in the famous Battle of the Somme (1916) film by Malins.
He was buried on the battlefield, 200 yards from the New Beaumont Road and 50 yards from the Hawthorn crater. His body now lies in Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery No 1 in plot A89. Eric was the youngest of the three brothers who volunteered but was the only one to die in action.
Thousands of young men never returned home from the Somme, and those that did were never the same. Today, a hundred years later, you can commemorate their service and sacrifice. Eric’s letter, and other items to help you hold your own Remembrance event, are available in our Somme toolkit.