On the 7th October we remember Bourne man Harry Pearce who died on this day 1916 serving with the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, originally with the 24th (2nd Sportsman) Battalion, SPTE/2547.
Harry was born in Bourne on the 27th June 1884 to John Thomas Pearce, Postmaster Stationer and printer, and his wife Harriet nee March.
John Thomas Pearce was born in Bourne in 1852 and Married Harriet March, born in Swinstead in 1876. They were married in Swinstead on the 26th February 1876.
They settled in Bourne where each of their seven children were born.
- William Pearce, 1877, Bourne
- Evelyn Mary Pearce, 1879, Bourne
- Elizabeth Pearce, 1881, Bourne
- Thomas (Tom) Pearce, 1882, Bourne
- Harry Pearce, 1884, Bourne
- Edward March Pearce, 1887, Bourne
- Eliza Pearce, 1889, Bourne
In 1891 the family were living at the Post Office in the market place where John Thomas was the postmaster and also a printer and stationer. At this point in time the children Evelyn, Elizabeth, John, Harry and Edward are all at school and also in the house with the couple was 25 year old assistant housekeeper Charlotte Burrows who was Harriet’s Niece.
Ten years later in 1901 and the couple had moved to North Road (possibly no 45) on the south corner of Gladstone Street. John Thomas still working as the postmaster and also running a printers business employing people. Son William is a self employed Pianoforte Tuner and also in the household are Evelyn, Edward and Eliza. By this time Harry has moved way from home.
In 1905 John Thomas Pearce passed away at the age of 52.
In 1911 the family home is still at 45 North Street that we believe is also known as Marchmont, which would be a play on Harriet’s maiden name of March. Now we only find Harriet and daughter Eliza In the eight room house. Eliza is now working from home as a self employed Milliner.
We suspect that Harry has joined the Merchant Navy as he cannot be found in a quick search of the 1901 and 1911 census’ and also we have managed to track down an Admiralty document that indicates that he was in the Navy before the war.
There is one other document we can find where a Harry Pearce is arriving in San Francisco California on the 28th June 1908, as a second officer on a cargo ship called the Inveric. This Harry Pearce is English and of the correct age but other than that we cannot prove that this is the correct Harry Pearce.
The naval form found ADM-340-108-15 shows that Harry Pearce obtained his Board of Trade Certification as O.C. on the 11th December 1913, no 321 Bengal.
He is then employed on board the Ariadne Irene on her River Prove voyage between May and October 1914. This was classed as training on the Admiralty form.
Harry is then commissioned as a Sub-Lieutenant for the period of the war only on the 16th November 1914 in Portsmouth and placed on active service on the ship “Calyx”.
SS Calypso was taken up by the Admiralty in November 1914, she was renamed HMS Calyx and armed with 8 x 4.7inch and 2 x 3pounder guns. She served with the 10th Cruiser Squadron until 26.6.1915.
Harry was commissioned as Sub-Lieutenant on Calyx but some notes in the Admiralty form would indicate that something went wrong. Unfortunately the writing is very poor and the scan of the document not great but on the 15th December 1914 his commission was cancelled.
Harry then enlisted in the Army. As with 60% of all WW1 Army Service Records, Harry’s records cannot be found and are most likely part of the records that were destroyed in a warehouse fire in the London Blitz. As is the case with lots of our researched soldiers we have to rely on other records such as pension record and battalion Diaries to try and tell Harry’s war story.
The enlistment took place in London and Harry was destined to join the Royal Fusiliers (London Regiment) and his posting to the 24th (2nd Sportsman) Battalion receiving the Regimental number of SPTE/2547. The exact date is not known but using the information from the War Gratuity payment we can establish that Harry must have enlisted in the month following the 10th January 1915.
The 24th Battalion had been formed in London by Mrs Emma Cunliffe-Owen, a former sportswoman.
“Mrs. Cunliffe-Owen, on rallying some men-friends for not being in khaki, was challenged to raise a battalion of middle and upper class men up to the age of forty-five. She promptly went with them to a post-office and telegraphed to Lord Kitchener, ” Will you accept complete battalion of upper and middle class men, physically fit, able to shoot and ride, up to the age of forty-five ? ” The reply was, ” Lord Kitchener gratefully accepts complete battalion.””
It was not long before two Battalions had been raised.
The 24th Battalion formed in London on 11th September 1914 then moved to Horsham and then on to Clipstone Camp, Nottinghamshire to joined the 99th Brigade of the 33rd Division.
On the 1st September 1915 they were taken over by the War Office and moved to Tidworth, Wiltshire. It would not be until Nov 1915 they were mobilised for war.
The Battalion Diary tells the story of Harry’s and the Battalion’s first days in France:-
On the 8th November 1915 the Battalion took part in the review of the 33rd Division by H M The Queen, review in line of masses and march past by half Companies.
15th November 1915 – Tidworth
Departure of battalion for service overseas. Weather fine.
16th November 1915 – Harvre
Arrived at rest camp no 5
18th November 1915 – Havre
Proceeded by Rail to billets at Steenbecque, 17 hours journey, 39 men in a truck impossible for them all to lie down as they had packs with them
19th November 1915 – Steenbecque
23rd November 1915 – Busnes
Proceeded to Busnes by road
26th November 1915 – Fourquereuil
Arrived by road from Busnes
28th November 1915 – Annequin
Proceeded by road from Fourquereuil to billets at Annequin for instrcution in trench warfare under 5th Infantry Brigade. G of 99th Infantry Brigade informed CO personally that the Battalion would leave 99th Infantry Brigade and become part of the 5th Infantry Brigade.
On new years day the Battalion observed the day as a holiday while billeted at Fontes and undertook company football matches. The 2nd January was a Sunday and again observed as a holiday. The diary reports that the billets here were comfortable.
The battalion spent up until the 18th in these billets and their time was mixed between training, route marches, concerts and almost daily football and rugby matches. On the 18th January the Battalion was moved by road to Lillers and thence by rail to Bethune where they were billeted in the tobacco factory.
Their training continued whilst at these billets. The Battalion Diary gives a good account of what life was like for the Battalion under training but that as soon to end.
19th January 1916 – Bethune
General clearing of billets, inspection of gas helmets, rifles and equipment. Men billeted in tobacco factory, good billets, weather fine.
20th January 1916 – Bethune
Large party of men proceeded to Givenchy for work under Royal Engineers. Weather fair.
21st January 1916 – Bethune
Company training. Royal Artillery band gave a concert at theatre many of the men attended. Weather fair and mild.
22nd January 1916 – Bethune
Company training. Final divisional Boxing Competition in afternoon. Pte Patsey Coxeley ‘A’ Company won heavy weights. Weather fair some rain.
23rd January 1916 – Bethune
Sunday church parade. Weather fine and mild.
24th January 1916 – Bethune
Company training. The CO and company commanders went up to Festubert to make recognisance of trenches prior to the Battalion taking them over. Weather fine and mild, wind NE.
25th January 1916 – Bethune
Company training. Weather fine.
26th January 1916 – C2 Sub Sec Trenches
Battalion proceeded to take over n.2.c section trenches from 23rd Royal Fusiliers. Front approximately Rue de Bois to Quinque Rue. Relief commenced at 7.30pm, B & D Companies in front line, A Company in support C Company in reserve. Weather fine.
27th January 1916 – C2 Sub Sec Trenches
A large amount of work was done in repairing the breast work of these trenches. The enemy was very quiet and showed no activity except for dome sniping and firing of rifle grenades. A patrol under Lt Chandler reconnoitred the enemy’s wire and found it good and intact. Patrols sent out to right and left flanks. Reported 2nd Ox and Bucks Light Infantry on our right and a battalion of Royal Welsh Fusiliers on our left who formed part of the 38th Division. At about 5pm the enemy fired a rifle grenade into left front line trenches killing 3 men and wounding 2. A patrol from D Company reconnoitring enemy wire were fired on and the corporal in charge was missing on their return. The weather was fine and mild wind SW.
2582 Lance Corporal Soulsby – B Company
2749 Pte Coles – B Company
2426 Pte Marshall – B Company
2547 Pte Pearce – B Company
3390 Pte Field – B Company
2693 Corporal Robertson – D Company
The Battalion remained in the trenches until the 30th January when they were marched to Le Touret and were billeted as Brigade Reserve.
Private Harry Pearce was wounded on his first day in the trenches.
Harry was reported as wounded on the British Army Daily List of 6th February 1916 serving with 24th Bn Royal Fusiliers. These list were compiled in the field and sometime a man could appear on a wounded list up to 6 weeks after receiving the wound, especially after a big action such as the Somme battles.
The normal route for wounded men would be to attend to be attended by a first aid post. Then a field Ambulance (usually stretcher bearers) would take those that required more than first aid, back to a Advance Dressing Station. From here the most serious cases were then taken back to a Casualty Clearing Station which was like a filed hospital. Those requiring further treatment would be loaded on an Ambulance train and taken back to a base hospital. At any stage during this is the man was fixed up he would be sent back up the line to return to his own Battalion.
Once reaching a base hospital the man would receive any mid term treatment and those deemed not to recover quickly were then sent back home on hospital ships to be treated in General Hospitals back in Britain.
As there are no records for Harry describing what happened to him and we know that he remained on the strength of the Battalion until 3rd March, we have to assume that his wound was that bad that he ended up firstly in a hospital in Britain.
We do not have any records for Harry to say how long he was in hospital but normal procedure was that after convalescing a soldier was released from hospital and if that soldier was not fully fit for return to action they were sent to an Infantry Command Depot. These were convalescent camps where they would receive rehabilitative training in order to become fit to be sent back to the front.
Harry arrived back in France on the 8th July 1916. He would have arrived at a base camp somewhere near Calais usually and then would be assigned to a Battalion that was most in need of men. It was quite usual for men to join another Regiment in total at this point but for Harry he was posted to the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers who on the 8th were busy and having a tough time in the trenches at Ovillers, this was after all the first week of the Battle of the Somme.
By the time Harry arrived with his new Battalion in the filed, they had moved to Bus les Artois.
15th July 1916 – Bus Les Artois
A draft of 292 men arrived at Belle Eglise and at 4am.
8.30am – Drums played draft into billets. The men had breakfasts.
11.15am – Draft paraded and were inspected by the Brigadier general Boyd who gave them a very inspiring speech. The men were allotted to their various companies and marched to their billets.
6.0pm – A concert given by the Divisional Concert Party was held at the YMCA Hut, in Bus Les Artois.
After divine service on the 16th (Sunday), the next day the Battalion continued their training with bombing practice, bayonet fighting, drill etc on the training grounds and in the afternoon they attended lectures. Another draft of 167 men arrived on this day the 17th July 1916.
Training continued and eventually the Battalion would take over trenches on the 20th July at White City and Elles Square. For Harry, who had initially arrived in France in November 1915, this was only to be his second day in trenches. This tour would last for 4 days and would only cost the Battalion 1 casualty.
The Battalion then moved back into the thick of the Somme for their next tour at La Boiselle. In August they would be involved in the capture and defence of Ration Trench before being praised for their work in the successful operations north of Pozieres.
After the Somme the battalion was moved up to Arras in August.
The next report we have for Harry was that on the daily lists for 13th September 1916, remember that lists could be behind real time, he was once again wounded.
The Battalion had been quite busy in the trenches in late August and early September with various reports of casualties in the Battalion Diary. It is difficult without official records to say exactly what happened to Harry and when .
If this report is correct, we can only assume that this time the wound was not that great and that he would return to the Battalion at some time between then and 7th October.
On the 1st October the Battalion were back in the Somme and in trenches west of Goudecourt. They were still in the same trenches on the 5th October when they received word that the planned offensive that should have taken place this day would be postponed by 48 hours.
They remained I the trenches right up to the new zero hour for the offensive, at that point being in the trenches for 7 continuous days.
At 7.15pm our artillery started the bombardment that was planned to last all the way up to Zero hour.
7th October 1916 – Trenches West of Guedecourt.
Zero at 1.45pm 8th Royal Fusiliers and 9th Royal Fusiliers attacking, 7th Sussex in support, 11th Middlesex in reserve. 37th Brigade attacking on our right, – 35th Brigade in Divisional support.
A, B & D Companies took up their positions in the advanced trench in front of Gird Support overnight, with C Company in Gird Support Trench as the supporting company. D= Right company, B = Centre Company and A left company.
Companies went over in two lines – also the supporting company – which rushed over from Gird Support to the advanced trench immediately the attacking companies went forward. Contrary to expectations, very heavy machine gun fire was encountered immediately the first line reached the top of the ridge, also very heavy shelling. The three front companies and 2 platoons of the supporting company were practically decimated by the fire. B Company apparently swung out to the right to get in touch with A Company and were enfiladed by two machine guns. The first objective was not reached by any company. Enemy were observed to take in some of our wounded of B & D Companies. A body of Germans also commenced to advance on our left, but were driven back by our machine gun fire which was immediately opened up on them. Some stragglers crawled back at dusk, and we continued to hold our original front line, with these men and the two remaining platoons of C Company.
The artillery barrage had been a creeping one, and apparently had missed the first German trench, which was nearer than it had appeared. Our barrage, remained for some time behind our second objective, until it was known that the attack had failed. A similar result occurred from the attack on our left and right.
Up to the time of going over the top, our casualties had been officers 8, other ranks 109 and 20 sick, so the Battalion was rather weak on going over. In the attack were
Killed, 4 officers and 21 other ranks
Wounded, 1 officer and 131 other ranks
Missing, 4 officers and 161 other ranks.
This was a total casualties of 9 officers and 313 other ranks.
In a personal note to the commanding officer the GOC 36th Infantry Brigade said:- “will you please thank all ranks of your Battalion for the magnificent gallantry they displayed yesterday. They advanced steadily under very heavy fire which only the very best troops could have faced. Although unfortunately unsuccessful your gallant conduct has added to the fine reputation which you have already won for yourselves”
The Battalion was relieved by the 11th Middlesex regiment (2 companies), the other 2 companies of the 11th Mx relieving the 8th Royal Fusiliers on our left. The 7th Sussex moved up in support.
Private Harry Pearce was reported as one of the missing during this action of the 7th October 1916.
The International Red Cross received a request for information;
Harry Pearce Private No 2547, Royal Fusiliers, “A” Company, 2nd Platoon. Disparu depuis 7 Oct 1916 en France.
REP: Mrs Lizzie Burrows, 14 Colosseum Terrace, Regents Park, London.
Response: Rien – Negatif envoye, 27.11.16
Thus Mrs Lizzie Burrows requested of them details as to if Harry Pearce was found as a prisoner of war. The answer was negative thus Harry is now certainly presumed dead. Lizzie is the Aunt of Harry Pearce.
Harry was later reported as dead,’ previously reported missing’ on the British army daily lists of 3rd December 1916. It would not be until the 11th July 1917, that the war office casualty lists for newspapers would report that Pte Harry Pearce of the 9th Royal Fusiliers, previously missing, was now reported dead.
On the 28th October 1917, Harry’s estate was settled by Probate in favour of William Pearce, Printer. This gives Harry’s address as Marchmont, North Road, Bourne, the Pearce Family home.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
In memory of Private Harry Pearce, SP/2547, 9th Bn., Royal Fusiliers Regiment who died on 7 October 1916 Age 32. Son of John Thomas and Harriet Pearce, of 45, North Rd., Bourne, Lincs. Remembered with honour, Thiepval Memorial
Harry Pearce is also commemorated on the Bourne War memorial, Memorial Gardens, South Street Bourne, the Roll of Honour in Bourne Abbey Church and Bourne Baptist Chapel Roll of Honour now held by the Royal British Legion.
Private Harry Pearce was awarded the British Medal, The Victory Medal and also the 1915 Star for his services to his Country.