Harold Henry Lean was born in Gillingham, Kent, in the summer of 1890. The youngest of eight children, his parents were tailor Robert Lean and his wife Sarah. His siblings followed a variety of trades – coachman, painter, shoemaker – but Harold was keen to follow a more long-term career.
When he left school (and after his father’s death in 1901), he enlisted in the army, becoming a Gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery. Little remains of his service documents, but at the time of the 1911 census, he was firmly ensconced in the Artillery Barracks in Leeds.
The next record for Harold comes, sadly, in the form of a news report, detailing the inquest surrounding his death:
SUICIDE OF A SERGEANT AT TOPSHAM BARRACKS
Mr Hamilton Brown, Deputy Coroner for Exeter, held an inquest at Topsham Barracks last evening touching the death of Acting-Sergt. Harold Henry Lean, 26, of the [Royal Field Artillery], who died on Saturday as a result of a self-inflicted wound in the throat.
The evidence given by Bombardier JE Driscoll, of the [Royal Military Police], Trumpeter Sydney Russell, deceased’s batman, Bombardier Biddlescombe and Corporal J Williams signalling instructor was that Sergeant Lean, who had some time ago been ill, on Saturday morning was in his room with Russell, but did not speak all the morning.
Shortly after eleven o’clock he took his razor from a shelf in the corner of the room where he kept his shaving materials. Going to his bed he lay across it with his knees nearly touching the floor and drew the razor across his throat. Russell ran to him and caught him by the shoulders, but deceased pushed him away. Russell then called the assistance of Driscoll and Biddlescombe from an adjoining room.
Williams, who was a personal friend and worked with deceased as a signaller, said that deceased worried about the illness from which he had suffered, and two days previously said he thought he was going insane. He had never threatened to take his life.
Captain RW Statham, [Royal Army Medical Corps], said deceased joined that unit in October 1916, and a month later he reported sick. He was sent away to a military hospital, but was returned this year cured and reported for full duty. The illness had a tendency to create mental depression.
On Saturday morning had entered his name on the sick list, but did not attend the sick parade at 9am. At 11:10 when witness was called to him he found him dead. Witness described the wound, which was a very severe one.
The jury returned a verdict of “Suicide during temporary insanity”.Wester Times: Tuesday 15th May 1917
Serjeant Harold Henry Lean’s body was brought back to Kent from Devon. He was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham.