Today, Sunday 14th June, we remember Sempringham man Private Wilfred Hart Harris 1116, who died on this day from the effects of gas. He served with both the 10th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment and then the 2nd battalion Lincolnshire Regiment.
Wilfred was born in Millthorpe, nr Pointon Lincolnshire early in 1894 to Philip and Mary Elizabeth Harris. Philip was a farmer’s son born on the 11th October 1864 in Millthorpe, who married Mary Elizabeth Hart in 1886 in the Bourne area. She was born in Renhold Bedfordshire on the 25th August 1860 and had been working as a housemaid in Nottingham in 1881.
The couple settled in Dowsby after the marriage in 1886 where they were to start their family, Philip working initially as a general labourer before moving back to Millthorpe in 1894 befoe eventually taking over his father’s farm after his death in 1896 .
The couple were to go on and raise a family of eight children:-
• Harold Philip Harris, 1887, Dowsby
• Mabel Constance Harris, 1889, Dowsby
• George William Harris, 1890, Dowsby
• Cecil Charles Harris, 1891, Dowsby
• Wilfred Hart Harris, 1894, Millthorpe
• Laurence Henry Harris, 1895, Millthorpe
• Percy Harris, 1897, Millthorpe
• Gordon Harris, 1899, Millthorpe
Wilfed can be found on the 1901 census living with his family in Millthorpe before moving out to become Farm Waggoner working for the Michelson family in Millthorpe by 1911.
Wilfred’s full service records cannot be found and are thought to have been burnt during the Blitz when the London warehouse that housed the WW1 was subject to a fire that destroyed over 60% of all records. The following potted history of Wilfred’s Army service has been pieced together from other remaining records such as Pension, Discharge and Medals records.
On the 4th November 1914 Wilfred enlisted on the Army and was posted to the 10th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, ‘The Grimsby Chums’, ready for his training.
The Battalion had been raised in Grimsby by the Mayor and started recruiting on the 9th September 1914. The battalion was billeted in Grimsby, the HQ being the Drill Hall and equipped by contracts made by the raiser with private firms payment being made by Northern Command either direct or by an Officer’s impact account, the Battalion was finally taken over by the war office in July 1915.
The Battalion moved form Grimsby to Brocklesby Park on Initially the Battalion was Brigaded on the 28th December 1914 to the 115th Infantry Brigade.
Their training continued at Brocklesby Park through the first half of 1915 being inspected by the 115th OC Brigadier General Bowles on the 19th February.
On the 23rd April they took part in a route concentration march from the South Humber Defences to Barnetby-Le-Beck were it was inspected by Brigadier General Nugent.
Training continued and the next month saw the Battalion entrained on the 19th May bound for Cleethorpes from where it Marched through Cleethorpes and Grimsby, halting to be addressed by the Mayor. The march occupied from 6pm to 8.30pm at which time the Battalion entrained at Grimsby and returned to Brocklesby.
Their next posting was to Studley Royal Camp in Ripon on the 17th June where it joined the 101st Infantry Brigade, part of the 34th Division. The 101st Brigade consisted of the 10th Lincs, 15th and 16th Royal Scots and the 11th Battalion Suffolk Regiment.
They were kept on the move for the next couple of Months as next was Musketry Firing Parts 1 and 2 and General Musketry course at Strenshall Camp, York where 76% of the Battalion qualified.
After being taken over by the War Office in July the training continued and on the 23rd of August the Commanding Officer of the Battalion, Lt-Col G.E. Heneage was sent for 5 days with the British Expeditionary Force. The 28th of August the Battalion was on the move again, moving to Peckham Down on Salisbury Plain, Lt-Col Heneage re-joining them the next day on return from France.
Their new camping ground having been in constant use for a long period was in bad condition and by no means sanitary, the tents were old and in bad condition. After 14 days of these conditions the Battalion struck camp and moved to higher ground after several officers and a considerable number of men were made unwell due to the insanitary conditions. From the 17th September they undertook Brigade training.
After one month at Peckham Down they were on the move again, this time the location of the new camp was Sutton Veny near Warminster and this time they were billeted into the Hutments of No 5 camp.
Their Divisional Training started on the 5th November, one year after Wilfred had joined the Battalion. The initial plan for Kitchener’s New Army was that it would be ready for war in the middle of 1916 but circumstances of the war dictated that this should be brought forward.
On the 10th November the Battalion was to undertake their Part III Musketry training using 30 old rifles that were issued to them, closely followed by Part IV training with 35 new rifles that had then been issued.
The 13th December was the first day of mobilisation for the Battalion and the communicated destination for their commencement into the war was going to be Egypt.
The next day the divisional training was an attack on “Enemy Trenches” by the 34th Division with general Paget and a mission of Japanese officers present. There was approval at then conduct of all ranks in the most adverse weather conditions and also the manner in which they carried out their work.
Chrsitmas day came and the only comment in the Battalion Diary wa sthat it was 3rd day of mobilisation before embarkation. Boxing day brought the news that service in Egypt had been withdrawn, their sun helmets had been withdrawn and they were all issued with warmer clothing to the vast disappointment of all ranks.
On the 9th January the Battalion was finally deployed and arrived in France although it would be another month before they saw their first trenches near Erquinghem on the outskirts of Armentiers. On the 2nd February A+B Companies went into the trenches for 2 days for instruction, A company were attached to the 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters and B Company the 1st Battalion East Lancashire regiment. B Company had the Battalion’s first man wounded during his tour. They changed over and C and D companies started their instruction being attached to the 1st Worcesters and 1st Northants respectively. This time it was C company that had one man wounded.
Lord Kitchener inspected the 101st Brigade at Steenbecque on the 11th February, the Battalion marching their from their billets in Morbecque.
The first Battalion deaths would come on their first official tour of the trenches, in the Bois Grenier sector, on the 29th February 1916 where the diary reports that 4 men were killed including 1 N.C.O and 5 men wounded.
The Battalion would go on to see action in 1916 at The Battle of Albert, The Battle of Bazentin Ridge and The Battle of Pozieres Ridge.
It was actions on the first day of the Battle of the Somme 1st July 1916 that went down in history for all the Pals Battalions and the Grimsby Chums was no exception.
The previous month they had been at Bresle where the diary says that they were carrying out a series of tactical services. Towards the end of the month they resumed the regular tour of the trenches around Albert and the war diary has one thing to note that is of interest to our own local memorials research and we retell the story of the first day of the Battle of the Somme from a 10th Battalion point of view. The Battle commenced with six days of artillery bombardment for the enemy positions.
29th June 1916 – Albert
This was the fifth day of the artillery bombardment of the German trenches which commenced on the 24th. Lieut W.D. Wroe of C company was killed by shell fire on this day. He was the first officer of the Battalion to be killed since the battalion went on active service in January
30th June 1916 – Albert
German retaliatory fire heavier on this day than any other since the commencement of our bombardment.
1st July 1916 – Becourt
7.30am – At this hour the 101st Infantry Brigade, 34th Division delivered an assault on the German position south of La Boiselle. The 15th Royal Scots being the right assaulting battalion and the 10th Lincolnshire Regiment. The left assaulting battalion, the 18th Royal Scots right supporting battalion, the 11th Suffolks left supporting battalion.
The position of the German front line trenches assaulted by the 10th Lincolns was known as The Bloater + lay between the La Boiselle salient + the redoubt known as Heligoland. The formation of the 10th Lincolns was as follows A company on the right B in the centre C on the left. D company less 1 platoon was employed as a carrying company + advanced in far of the 103rd Brigade which was in reserve. Two minutes before the attack was timed to take place a mine was exploded near the south west corner of the La Boiselle salient forming an immense crater about 100 yds in diameter.
On leaving their trenches, the 10th Lincolns who advanced in 4 waves on a 3 platoon frontage at a distance of 100 yds between the first and second waves and 150 yards between the others, with a platoon of D company as a clearing platoon 50 yards in rear of the 4th wave + accompanied by 101/3 trench mortar battery were immediately exposed to a heavy shell fire, shrapnel and H.E. and the most intense enfilade machine gun fire from La Boiselle and Heligoland Redoubt. Advancing with the utmost steadiness and courage, not to be surpassed by any troops in the world, yet the distance they were away from the German trench (800 yds) + the intensity of the machine gun fire did not allow of the possibility of reaching and penetrating the enemy’s line. Some far men were able to enter the German Trench from New Crater + bombing their way up blocked it + helped to protect the right flank of the 102nd Brigade which attacked on our left, others consolidated + held positions in the New Crater a like object. One officer 2/lt Hendik with three men made his way on the right by way of the 21st Divisional front + consolidating a strong point in the German trench helped to protect the left flank of the 21st Division. It is doubtful if the troops have been subjected to a more intense machine gun fire than was experienced in this assault, a fire which made it impossible either to relieve or reinforce units during daylight.
4th July 1916
The 34th Division was relieved by the 19th Division in the early hours of the morning of July 4th, moving for the night to Albert + subsequently on the 5th July to Henecourt. The Battalion went into action with a total of 20 officers (of whom 4 were killed, 10 wounded and 1 missing) and 822 other ranks of whom 66 were killed, 259 wounded and 162 missing.
The rank and names of the officers taken into action are as follows:-
-Lt Col E K Cordeaux – – in command
-Major E H Kendrick – – 2nd in command
-Major W A Vignoles – Wounded
-Capt T Baker – Killed
-Hon. Major G L Bennett – Adjutant
-Capt C H Bellamy – Wounded
-Capt J F Worthington – Wounded
-Lieut H L Dent –
-Lieut R G Green – Wounded
-Lieut E Inman Missing
-Lieut R P Eason Wounded, died of wounds 1/7/16
-Lieut B G Anderson Wounded
-Lieut J K Murphy Wounded
-2nd Lieut L Cummins Killed
-2nd Lieut H W Bannister Wounded
-2nd Lieut H L Baines Killed
-2nd Lieut C H Jolin Wounded
-2nd Lieut R G Ingle Killed
-2nd Lieut J H Turnbull Wounded
-2nd Lieut J R Moore –
-2nd Lieut A Hartshorn –
The Commanding officer of the Battalion received the attached letter marked appendix 1 from Brigadier General R S Gore CMG Commanding 101st Infantry Brigade, the original of which is attached to this diary and a copy to the duplicate.
Owing to continuous machine gun and rifle fire just difficulty was experienced in recovering the wounded many of whom lay out in No Man’s Land for over 30 hours but through the constant executions of all ranks during the night of the 1st + 2nd and 2nd + 3rd July as far as could be ascertained all wounded belonging to the battalion had been brought in before leaving the fighting area. Any attempt to do this during daylight was immediately met with heavy machine gun + rifle fire from the enemy’s trenches and all our wounded where seen to move were at once fired upon by the German snipers.
4th July 1916 – Becourt
The 101st Brigade was relived this day the 10th Lincolns proceeding to billets in Albert for the night.
5th July 1916 – Albert
Moved to canvas camp at 8am in Long Valley near Albert
6th July 1916 – Albert
Moved to hutted camp at Henencourt Wood
7th July – 30th July 1916 – Henencourt.
During this period the Battalion received drafts of men from various units, Northampton Regt, North Staffs, South Staffs, Middlesex, Oxford L.I, Worcesters, Leicesters and a few Lincolns. A large proportion of these men were third line territorials + had in many cases only received about three months training. Training was carried out on the manoeuvre area near Bresle + the battalion was also occupied in wood fighting. Specialist training was carried on during the whole of this period.
Wilfred had survived the Battle of the Somme, we are not sure if he was wounded as there are no records available that shows him being wounded or appearing on any lists for Casualty Stations or Hospitals. The make up of the Battalion was now changed forever and the original ethos of the Chums and all Pals battalions was changed forever.
For Wilfred and the Battalion the war continued as can be seen in the list of battles they were involved in:-
31st July 1916 – Battle of Pozieres Ridge
15th September 1916 – Battle of Fleurs-Courcelette. Famous for being the first Battle that the British Army deployed their new weapon, the tank.
9th April 1917 – First Battle of the Scarpe (Battle of Arras)
23th April 1917 – Second Battle of the Scarpe (Battle of Arras)
28th April 1917 – Battle of Arleux
During July Wilfred was awarded 10 days leave from the 17th July. Afterward it was back to the hard fighting and the Arras area with the battle at Hargicourt before moving on to the Ypres Salient where the Battle of Paschendaele was well underway.
The Battalions first fighting on the salient was in October, arriving on the 9th October the Battalion, was involved on the attack on Poelkapelle and Paschendaele. The first wave of this battle on the 12th had not involved the Battalion but they later relieved the 4th Division west of Poelkepelle on the 13th October staying in the trenches until the 17th.
Eventually being relieved on the 23rd October the 34th Division suffered 1797 casualties during its time in Ypres, another 880 being evacuated sick. A memorial to the 34th Division is positioned off the Beekstraat, north of Langemark.
On the same day as Wilfred’s Division was being relieved, the 23rd October 1917, Wilfred’s brother, who was serving with the 6th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment was killed in action at Loos.
During 1918 the Battalion was to return to the Somme and were in situ at St Quentin where they carried out defensive battles to halt the German Spring Offensive and Operation Michael.
Wilfred can be found being given another 10 day leave between the 19th of March and the 2nd April 1918 before the Battalion was moved back towards the Belgian border being based at Erquinghem on the 9th April when the Enemy launched Operation Georgette as part of the Spring Offensive. The 34th Division was holding the line with the 101st Brigade including the 10th Lincolns in reserve. The Brigade did suffer a very high number of casualties from the intense artillery bombardment, especially from gas shells.
Over the two days the division was in such a precarious position that they received the order to withdraw across the Lys north of Armentieres and then eventually to fall back to a new defensive line north of Steenwerck.
The Battalion were then moved back to Bailleul and held a resistance of two days before the town fell to the enemy, Operation Georgette now seeing successes and eventually forcing the 34th Division back to take up reserve positions on the Ravelsberg Ridge.
On the 16th April the depleted 34th division was holding positions on the Ravelsberg Ridge but eventually the old brigades started to be reinforced with new and the 102 and 103 were able to withdraw leaving the 101st and the 10th Lincs holding a reserve line between Hille and Sint-Jans-Cappel.
The battalion diaries report 361 casualties during April.
This was to be the final actions for the 10th Lincolnshire Regiment and they were moved to Poperinghe and on the 18th may they were reduced to a training cadre with men being transferred to other battalions.
Wilfred was one of the men being transferred and by the 5th June he was back at the Base near Boulogne awaiting his next posting.
This posting came on the 3rd July when he was posted to the 2nd battalion Lincolnshire Regiment and he proceeded to Calais arriving at the 2nd Battalion’s base on the 20th July, three days later being posted to B Company 2nd Battalion.
Within a week or so Wilfred was then attached to the 175th Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers. Usually men for infantry Battalions could be attached to guard a tunnelling company. The 175th were to be used to build bridges in the Allied push out of the Somme later in 1918 in the final hundred days.
On the 20th August Wilfred re- joined the 2nd Battalion but it was to be a short service as we can see from the Battalion Diaries.
20th August 1918 – nr Auchonvillers
The disposition of the Battalion shows that B company and thus Wilfred were holding the left outpost on high ground along the Beaucourt- Serre Road in Q.6.d
6pm – The enemy held posts along the Battalion front about 300 yards away, and on right flank, where there was a strong Machine Gun post in Luminous Avenue to cover Beaucourt (Position of this post was in Q.12.b.9.4, about 150 yards from our right post.)
Orders received for 62nd Infantry Brigade to take part at dawn on the following ady in an attack on the enemy’s positions in conjunction with Brigade and Divisions on the flanks. The total frontage of the attack was to be about 9 miles.
The success of the initial attack in the 21st Divisional Sector and the possibility of carrying out further phases depend to a great extent on the capture of Beaucourt. This village was on the right flank of the outpost line held by the battalion, and its capture within half an hour of the battle enabled the remaining Battalions in the Brigade (1st Lincs, 12/13th Northumberland Fusiliers) to advance and reach their objectives.
9pm – Enemy made a determined but unsuccessful raid on the left picquet of “B ” Company. Enemy strength estimated at 50. The enemy attempted to rush both flanks, but was met by the steady fire from the post. A party sent out on the left flank under 2/Lieut A Fairmann caused the enemy at once to withdraw.
21st August 1918 – Luminous Avenue
12:.15am – The enemy opened up an intensive gas bombardment of the area occupied by the 2 support companies, A and D Companies and the communications leading to the front line. This lasted until 12.15am and considerably interfered with these two companies, while they were preparing to move forward. Several severe gas casualties were sustained, but the remainder of the men, although all were suffering from the effects of gas shelling, remained at duty.
2am- Battalion headquarters and “A” and “D” companies moved forward to positions of assembly ready for the assault. Battalion HQ moved to Luminous Avenue Q.12.b.4.7. A company formed up on a line running north east from Luminous Avenue with their right at Q.12.b.8.6. D company formed up on a line running south west from Luminous Avenue in prolongation of A Company. Both companies were on a frontage of 100 yards with 2 platoons in leading wave and 2 platoons in second wave, 25 yards between platoons. Each platoon had 2 sections in front with L.G. Section on flank immediately behind. A bombing party of C company formed up in Luminous Avenue between A and D companies.
The morning was ideal for the forming up, as a thick mist head all movement, and the smoke barrage arranged was consequently cancelled. The enemy post at Q.12.b.9.4. Apparently heard the men forming up and opened fire, but orders were given for a trench mortar to fire a few rounds at the post and no further hindrance was caused.
5.35am – the company is completed the form in up by 5:35 am.
5.45am – zero hour for the attack on Beaucourt was 5:45 am at which our 12 Stokes guns open the barrage on enemy post at Kew.188.8.131.52 and selected targets behind. This fire was well directed and kept the enemy from firing back as well as driving him into his deep dugouts. Stokes motor barrage lifted as the troops advanced, Final stop in at 5:53 am.
At 5:45 am a hurricane bombardment of light colour of the guns was put down for eight minutes onto Beaucourt ruins.
At zero hour exactly, A and D Companies, under cover of this bombardment, moved forward to the assault. The bombing party of the company and the 2nd Lieut R sharpe rushed the enemy post at Q.12.b.9.4., capturing eight prisoners and their machine gun. This allowed A&E companies to move forward without a check. So eager were the men that they were able to keep close up to the fast moving barrage.
A company advanced keeping Luminous Avenue on the right and met little opposition and to reaching the railway road where a machine-gun on the left flank proved troublesome; A Lewis Gun section was sent out so that flank can the enemy retired. A company then move forward to the railway which was then consolidated.
D company advanced, keeping aluminous Avenue on their left. The leading wave – the head and reach railway road with but little opposition; the two platoons following behind encountered the enemy coming out of the numerous the dugouts. These were bombed and many taken prisoner. A party of the enemy was seen on the right flank in Railway Road, and these, after being fired on by Lewis Guns, surrendered. The left leading platoon of the company lost direction on getting to railway road and proceeded to crossroads in Beaucourt at Q.7.d.3.8. This platoon as it turned out was most useful in guarding the left flank.
There was a short delay in the ruins of Beaucourt, while dugouts and small parties of the enemy were cleared up, and the two platoons then continued the advance to the railway. I then ordered A company to consolidate the line of the railway and D company to form a support line along railway road, paying attention into each case to the left flank. The total number of prisoners captured by the two companies was three officers and 90 other ranks, who belonged to the 68 RI regiment 16 R Division.
10am – by this time the mist cleared and considerable trouble was caused from machine-gun fire from Logging Support., South of the River Ancre, and throughout the afternoon the position was heavily shelled.
At 3:30 pm 12/13th Northumberland Fusiliers push trolls across to the south side of the River Ancre but made little progress owing to machine-gun fire from Thiepval Ridge.
At 8:45 pm the company were able to get in touch with 1st E. Yorks at R.8.A.45.35.
At 3 am on August 22 A + D companies were relieved by one company Northumberland Fusiliers (12/13th) and March to Acheux.
This was necessary I went to the large number of men who had been gassed.
2pm – the two companies holding the outpost line, B and C companies, were ordered to assemble and moved to the line reached by the 1st Lincolnshire Regiment in their advance. C company move forward on the right and B company on the left, both companies moving in artillery formation. On reaching the valley in R.1.B and D, the two companies passed through the 1st Lincolnshire Regiment and advanced to the sunk road in R.3.C.
This action continued non stop for the 2nd Battalion until the 26th, 4 days later, when they were relived and placed in Brigade Reserve. However for Wilfred Harris the damage had been done on the 21st.
The Battalion Diary for August reports that the casualties were:-
Killed, 1 Officer and 32 Ranks
Wounded, 2 officers and 132 Ranks
Missing, 1 Officer and 5 Ranks.
A large note in the margin states that this did not include men gassed.
The normal procedure for a wounded man would mean being taken to a Aid and Bearer (First aid) post close to the front line to be assessed by a medical officer. From here the route would be by stretcher bearers of the Field Ambulance back to an advanced dressing station to get further treatment before being evacuated to a casualty clearing station. At the casualty clearing station, typically a few miles behind the lines, he would once again be assessed and then arrangements made to place him on an ambulance train to take him back to the Base Hospital. At any stage he could be patched up and sent back to the line if he was still physically fighting fit.
For Wilfred he was taken to the 11th Field Ambulance and then moved down the line reaching the 34th Casualty Clearing Station at Fienvillers being admitted on the 30th August with the effects of Gas Mist.
After initial treatment he was then moved by 10th Ambulance train and arrived at the 7th Stationary Hospital at Boulogne on the 7th September 1918.
In total Wilfred would stay a total of 2 months in hospital, exactly where for the full period is unknown. Once discharged he reported to number 2 Infantry Command Depot, a military convalescent camp. Once there he was found to be an unsuitable case for a command depot as he was diagnosed with organic heart disease and proceeded on leave under act 1056/18 with instructions to report direct to the 3rd Battalion on expiration of the same. This meant in effect he was struck off strength of the depot on the 16th November 1918 and posted to the 3rd Battalion on the 24th November 1918.
On the 8th December 1918 Wilfred was discharged from Army service, being no longer physically fit or war service
The official Army Medical Report on a Soldier Boarded Prior to Discharge or Transfer reports that Wilfred was suffering from severe V.D.H. (Valvular Disease of the Heart) due to mustard gas poisoning in August 1918. No previous history of rheumatic fever. The patient complains of angina like pains in left shoulder and arm. There is a long list of medical terminology in the report written in very bad handwriting.
The medical officer’s verdict was a 70% disablement for 12 months. It also recommended that he should be discharged as permanently unfit.
This was signed by the medical officer Captain Chas Hannigan in Cork. The papers were stamped at Dublin on 8th December 1918.
After a service lasting four and a half years with two and a half years in France, having been present at all of the major battles that the 10th Battalion and then the 2nd went through, Private Wilfred Hart Harris was discharged from the Army on the 8th December 1918 and was awarded the silver war badge number B58015.
However unfortunately that is not the end of Wilfred’s story.
Grantham Journal Saturday 21st June 1919
HARRIS – In ever-loving memory of Wilfred Hart, the dearly beloved son of Mr. and Mrs. P. Harris, of Pointon, who died on June 14th, 1919, from the effects of gas poisoning received in France on August 21st, 1918.
We cannot yet realise his death,
It seems a hateful dream:
He died for all of us at home-
A sacrifice supreme.
Mr. and Mrs. Harris wish to thank all kind friends for sympathy shown to them in their sad bereavement and for flowers sent.
Wilfred is buried in a private grave in Sempringham Parish Church, Lincolnshire, a grave that also commemorated his brother killed at Loos.