They refused to believe he was dead – the sad story of John Richard Pearse

Pam Bailey tells the sad story of her great-uncle John Richard Pearse, many of whose family refused to believe he had been killed in Flanders in the First World War.

John Richard was born in 1897 in Sykehouse to farm labourer Charles and his wife Ada. His mother died when he was only two, while giving birth to his sister Elsie. His father married again in 1900, to Minnie who was also from Sykehouse and judging by the way Minnie reacted when John was killed she must have loved him as though he was her own. Charles and Minnie gave John and Elsie four step brothers and sisters and they all grew up together in Sykehouse. By 1911 at the age of 13 John was already working as a farm servant. It was a hard life and who knows whether it was the prospect of a better one or to serve his country, but John enlisted in the army in July 1915 at the age of 19.

Elsie Pearse

Title: Elsie Pearse
Description: John Richard's mother by-nc

He served in the 22nd Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry as a private soldier and after his training would have been sent out to serve at the front. We don’t have any details of how long he was out there or how he got on – only that he was reported killed on the 16th August 1917. His stepmother and other members of the family refused to believe it, insisting instead that he was missing with loss of memory. This seemed to be confirmed when a friend said he’d seen John in Scarborough. They appealed for information in the papers and on the radio for information about John, so convinced were they that he could not be dead. Sadly they never saw him again and John is commemorated with many other fallen soldiers in Dochy Farm New British Cemetery in Flanders, Belgium.

John Richard Pearse's British War Medal Certificate

Title: John Richard Pearse's British War Medal Certificate
Description: Addressed to his family by-nc

Walter Rawson, as remembered by his family

Walter Rawson was born in 1892 in Prospect Place, Hyde Park in Doncaster. His father Thomas was a cabinet maker and he and wife Rose had eight children. Sadly only four of these survived and Walter and his three sisters grew up together in Prospect Place. Walter went into the brass founding industry when he left school, becoming a brass finisher.

Pam Bailey is Walter’s granddaughter and she knows he fought in the First World War, possibly in the Royal Field Artillery.  He survived the war and would never talk much about it, though he always had a bad chest and she believes it was due to his being gassed while on active service.

Walter got married to Elsie Pearse in 1920 in Sykehouse and they had two children, Lily and Peter. Walter had gone back into his trade as a brass finisher after the war, working for Woodhouse’s of Hexthorpe. During the Second World War he became a fire-fighter, as did his equally brave wife.  One of the fond memories the family has of Walter was of him always taking a Sunday morning walk before his lunch, often coming back and spontaneously whisking the family off for trips to the seaside.

Shell fuses

Title: Shell fuses
Description: Passed down through the family by-nc

Shell fuses

Title: Shell fuses
Description: Underside view by-nc

Walter died in 1956, of heart and lung disease at home in Abbott Street, still in Hexthorpe, where he had lived for many years. He was sadly missed by all his family.

Unique World War One bridge found in Doncaster!

The only known Mark 1 Inglis Bridge left in the world was found near Hatfield in Doncaster!

What is an Inglis bridge?

Getting troops, transport and supplies over rivers, streams and rough terrain had always been a major challenge for an army in war. It was the job of The Royal Engineers to do their best to build makeshift bridges with any materials that came to hand. Advances were often slowed and even halted because of the time taken to bridge these gaps.

Finally in 1916 Lieutenant Charles Edward Inglis of the Royal Engineers invented a brilliant and innovative design for a bridge that solved this problem. It also made life easier for the Royal Engineers and the fighting army that depended on them.

The Inglis Bridge was constructed of standardised steel components that could be assembled into modules 12 feet (3.66 metres) long. A bridge of any length could quickly be made by joining these modules together. This was the world’s first portable mass produced bridge. It was used in France, Italy and Palestine and there were 3 types made – Mark 1, 2 and 3.

Inglis bridge during the Second World War

Title: Inglis bridge during the Second World War
Description: Submitted by the Doncaster Royal Engineers Association by-nc

The Bridges in Action

Although the Royal Engineers now had a superb piece of kit in their armoury, building bridges was still a dangerous and demanding job for them to carry out.

One example was the task of bridging the Canal du Nord in Northern France on the 28th September 1918. The bridge was 108 feet long and was capable of carrying 51 tons. It took 200 sappers, (as men of the Royal Engineers are called), over 12 hours to construct the bridge – all the time under heavy shellfire. Inglis bridges were still used in World War Two, until the introduction of its more well-known successor, the Bailey Bridge.

The bridge as it was found near Hatfield, Doncaster

Title: The bridge as it was found near Hatfield, Doncaster
Description: Submitted by the Doncaster Royal Engineers Association by-nc

Our bridge is found

In 2015 a bridge over a main water drain was thought to be an Inglis bridge, maybe used in World War Two as part of R.A.F Sandtoft.

Contact with the Royal Engineers Museum in Chatham Kent set off an idea that it could be removed and transported to their Museum.

Imagine the excitement when the Royal Engineers Museum confirmed that it was not only an Inglis Bridge but a Mark 1 – and possibly the only one left in the world!

Permission had to be granted by the owner of the bridge, the Highways Agency and the Waterways Board to move the bridge. Then began the massive physical task of recovering and transporting the bridge to its new home.

Sappers of the Doncaster Royal Engineers Association, average age 63, spent a gruelling Sunday in September 2016 to clear all the heavy growth of foliage and trees from around the bridge.


Sappers from the Doncaster Royal Engineers Association

Title: Sappers from the Doncaster Royal Engineers Association
Description: By the Doncaster Royal Engineers Association by-nc

The bridge being lifted

Title: The bridge being lifted
Description: By the Doncaster Royal Engineers Association by-nc

Bare metal of the bridge

Title: Bare metal of the bridge
Description: By the Doncaster Royal Engineers Association by-nc


They returned in April 2017 and cleared 4 tons of road surface leaving only the bare metal of the original bridge.

The bridge was lifted and transported to Chetwynd Barracks, Chilwell; a huge task involving the bridge having to be cut into three pieces.

Sir Charles Edward Inglis

Title: Sir Charles Edward Inglis
Description: Submitted by the Doncaster Royal Engineers Association by-nc

The future of the bridge

Currently it is being refurbished by a group of Royal Engineers at Chetwynd Barracks with the hope of it ultimately having pride of place at the Royal Engineers Museum.

Sir Charles Edward Inglis would surely be proud to know that his revolutionary bridge design has not been forgotten.

 

 

 

 

 

Miner and Machine Gunner Willis Davison

Willis Davison was born in Gawber, (Barnsley), on the 1st January 1896, into a large family that had moved around Yorkshire a lot since his parents were married in 1883.

His father was a miner from Durham and his mother, Louisa, was from Maltby. She was to have 11 children, born in Darfield, Winterwell, Wath and Ardsley as well as Gawber, which shows how much the family moved around. This was not unusual for mining families trying to find the best opportunities and pay at different pits. Sadly by 1911 only six of the children were still living, a poignant illustration of how hard life was for working class families at that time.

Willis soon followed his father down the pit and by the age of 15 in 1911 he was already working underground as a rope boy. Coal was loaded into wagons or tubs underground and they were hauled by ropes attached to stationary engines. The rope boy had to transfer rope from one set of rails to another after a sett of tubs had finished its journey on the inclined plane.

There is a bit of mystery surrounding when Willis decided to join the army and fight in the First World War. His family have a photograph of him in uniform, with a military horse called Hampton, and they believe he served in France in 1915. However the only official record we can find shows that he enlisted on the 2nd of May 1916 as a private in the Machine Gun Corps (MGC).

Whether he had already been fighting at the front or was a newly enlisted soldier, it wasn’t long after he joined the MGC that he got married. Willis was living at 61, Doncaster Road in Denaby Main when he and his new wife Ada Gertrude were married in the nearby Parish Church on the 15th of October 1916. Ada’s father, who was also a miner, had died before he could see her married, and the witnesses to their wedding were Willis’ brother Stephen and his sister Minnie.

Soon after the honeymoon Willis must have been fighting overseas.

IWM Q3995

Title: IWM Q3995
Description: A Vickers machine gun team from the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) wearing PH Type anti-gas helmets by-nc

The MGC had only been formed in October 1915 as it became clear how pivotal a role the relatively new machine guns could play in the sort of warfare the First World War had developed into. “The Long Long Trail – The British Army in the First World War” gives this quote about the regiment:

“No military pomp attended its birth or decease. It was not a famous regiment with glamour and whatnot, but a great fighting corps, born for war only and not for parades. From the moment of its formation it was kicking. It was with much sadness that I recall its disbandment in 1922; like old soldiers it simply faded away“. So said former machine gunner George Coppard, in his epic autobiography “With a machine gun to Cambrai”.

Unsung though it may be the MBC, and Willis Davison, was in the thick of the fighting right through his time with them, notably at The Somme in 1916 and the great German attack on Arras in 1918. A total of 170,500 officers and men served in the MGC, of which 62,049 were killed, wounded or missing. Willis definitely did not escape this horror without it having a profound effect on his health. The family believe he was gassed while on active service and certainly his award of the Silver War Badge in 1919 goes some way to confirming this. The War Badge was awarded to service personnel who had been honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness from military service, and his reason for discharge in December 1918 was “no longer fit to fight”.

Despite this Willis went back to work in the mines after the war. His son Willis Junior was born in 1919. In 1939 Willis lived on Wheatley Street, Denaby Main with Ada and daughter Edna.

Willis died in 1958.

Charles Massey Gamekeeper turned Soldier

Charles Massey was born in 1877 into a farming community in Harworth. His father was a farm labourer and they must have moved around the local area where the work was, as by the time he was 3 the family had moved to nearby Misson.  We don’t know much about Charles’ early life but he married his wife Ann in 1902. Ann was from Belton and their first three children were also born there. Twins were born in 1903, a boy and a girl, but sadly William the little boy, died at birth. That same year brought more sadness for Charles when both his mother and father died.

However the little girl, Hannah, soon had a baby sister when Sarah was born the next year.  Charles was doing well and by 1911 he had secured a good job as gamekeeper at Finningley Park Hall and they had a comfortable lodge in Austerfield that went with the job.  In 1912 they had another son, Charles, and though life was probably hard by modern day standards, the family had everything that most people in their situation aspired to; steady employment, a family environment and a roof over their head.

Everything was set to change when the First World War broke out.

Charles Massey with son Charlie

Title: Charles Massey with son Charlie
Description: Charlie wearing a dress by-nc

We know that Charles joined the army and that he was first assigned to the Royal Army Service Corps and later to the 1st Battalion of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Wiltshire Regiment. But we don’t know when he joined – nor whether he volunteered or was conscripted when it became compulsory in 1916. Either way it proved a devastating event for the family. Because their house was tied to the job, once Charles was no longer the gamekeeper the family had to move out. One can only imagine what a blow this was for them. We don’t know how easy it was for them to find somewhere to live, only that by November 1918 Ann was living at 23 Gladstone Road in Hexthorpe. This must have seemed like another world, close to the bustling town centre and a different atmosphere from the quiet farming area where she had grown up and lived her married life.

Then only a few days before the war was over she received the news every family dreaded – Charles was dead.  He had died of wounds on the 3rd November 1918.

The War Diary for the 1st Battalion shows they were fighting throughout October, pushing back the Germans from the Hindenburg line on the Somme. There were heavy casualties both from the attacks they were involved in and from bombardment from the enemy. We don’t know exactly when Charles sustained the wounds that eventually killed him but it must have been in October as the Diary records no casualties in the first few days of November.

Charles Massey's Memorial Plaque

Title: Charles Massey's Memorial Plaque
Description: Received by his family by-nc

The children would have been aged 15, 14 and 6 when Charles died, and it can’t have been easy for Ann. She received £19 from the Army in May 1918 and must have been forced to try to earn her own living. Perhaps that was why when offered a choice of a pension or a sewing machine (possibly from Charles’ former employers) the tradition in the family says that she chose the sewing machine.

Charles was buried in Awoingt British Cemetery, France. The cemetery was used from the end of October 1918, after the village had been captured on the 9/10th October, until the end of December. There were several casualty clearing stations in the area and the cemetery was used mainly for those that died there, like poor Charles.

William Cole, a life to be discovered.

William Cole from Adwick was one of many local Doncaster men who joined up in the First World War. He joined the 12th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment as a private and went off to fight in France. We know nothing of William’s life before then, and nothing of his experiences in the army. All we know is that he died in the horrors of the first day of the first Battle of the Somme, 1st of July 1916, aged 27.

How wonderful it would be if someone somewhere has memories or reminders of William that could bring him to life again for a new generation.

Thomas Cooke, from miner to military medal winner.

Thomas Cooke was born in 1887, one of fourteen children born to George and Mary Anne Cooke. They were originally from Derbyshire but by the time Thomas was born they were living in Greasley, Nottinghamshire. George was a miner and it seems the family moved around the Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire coalfield in search of work where pits were hiring and paying decent wages. It was a hard life, five of the children died before they grew to adulthood, and the boys followed their father down the mines.

By 1911 Thomas was aged 23, single, living with his parents in Langley Mill and working at the mine with his father and younger brothers Walter and Alfred. His other four brothers had left home by this time, and all the family bar one eventually moved to Doncaster. Father got work there as did the brothers, all in the mines, mainly at Bentley Colliery. Sister Clara married a miner and they also moved to Doncaster. Thomas’ other sister Ellen married in 1895 and in 1923 she and her family emigrated to Australia.

Thomas’ life changed for ever when sometime in 1915, he decided to go and fight for his country.  He was living in Bentley and working at the local coal mine when he enlisted in Doncaster, joining the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI).  None of his brothers appear to have joined up, though they were all of enlistment age by 1914. When conscription was introduced in 1916 they would have been exempt due to working in the mines and so would not have been called up.

Thomas rose to the rank of Company Sergeant Major and was later transferred from the KOYLI to the London Regiment Royal Fusiliers. He proved himself to be a valiant soldier, winning the Military Cross, Military Medal and the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). His citation for the DCM which he won for his actions on the 26th January 1918 reads:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When all his company officers had become casualties he organised the remainder of his company and beat off a determined enemy counter-attack. When the troops on his left had been driven back and the enemy were actually behind him, he left his Lewis gunners to hold the line, and attacked the enemy in his rear. The enemy were all killed, and he then rallied the troops on his left and led them forward again to their original position. He set a splendid example of determination and courage throughout.”

How proud his family must have been of him and, given that despite being in the thick of the action and  fighting for nearly three years he was still safe, how relieved that he had survived this latest act of bravery.

His family must have been hopeful by now that Thomas led a charmed life, and expected him soon to be home, as by August 1918 the war looked to be almost over – as of course three months later it was. However on the 26th August Thomas was killed in action. What a desperately sad ending to the life of a brave son and brother, and what a blow it must have been to his family.

Thomas is buried in Bronfray Farm Military Cemetery, Bray-sur-Somme, Picardie, France.

The day after Thomas was killed, his nephew was born. He was named Thomas Albert after his uncle and the town near where he was killed. There have now been three generations named Thomas Albert, ensuring that Thomas’ memory lives on in his family.

Denaby soldier William Hodgetts gone but not forgotten

This is the story of William Edward Hodgetts, a soldier of the First World War who has never been forgotten by his family.  They love and treasure his memory and are keen to keep his story alive for future generations. Their present day knowledge of the man; his character, emotions and his tragic death has been passed down through the generations from the people who knew him well.

William was born in 1893, into a large family where he was the oldest of nine surviving children. They lived in Edlington Street in Denaby Main, where the only work available locally was at Cadeby Colliery. Everyone called him Bill, though he liked to refer to himself as Will. As soon as he was able he got work at the pit to help support the family. He was a bright lad and a very devout Christian, attending the local Methodist Chapel regularly, organising the Boy’s Brigade and arranging outings for the youngsters to enjoy. He and his charges were proud of their distinctive uniforms and were often seen marching with the Methodist band to mark important dates in the Christian calendar.

Bill and his father

Title: Bill and his father
Description: Submitted by Dennis Hodgetts and Lilian Bell by-nc

Hodgetts' Bible

Title: Hodgetts' Bible
Description: Submitted by Dennis Hodgetts and Lilian Bell by-nc

He became a lay preacher, and carried his small black leather bound Bible around with him everywhere, even when he went to work. A red Prayer Book was another treasured possession.

He fell in love with the local schoolteacher, Elsie, and the family was delighted when he announced their engagement.  However, when war was declared both he and his father were among the first to respond, enlisting in Conisbrough.  Arthur was 21, his father, also called William, aged 44. Arthur was attached to the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, firstly with the 5th, then later with the 9th Battalion. He was shipped out to France in June 1915. William senior joined the 7th Yorks and Lancs Regiment.

Arthur was a good correspondent, always enquiring after Elsie and the family, but never mentioning what he must have been experiencing at the Front. He had one known spell of leave, around Christmas, when he attended Chapel and enjoyed seeing family and of course his beloved fiancée.

Hodgetts' letter home

Title: Hodgetts' letter home
Description: Submitted by Dennis Hodgetts and Lilian Bell by-nc

Bill managed to survive life at war until the 3rd Battle of Ypres – otherwise known as Passchendaele – which began in July 1917.  Then at the beginning of October his luck ran out.  As his best friend returned to their trench after a particularly horrific wave of enemy fire, it was Bill’s turn to go “over the top”.  Just before he climbed out he turned to his friend, gave him his Bible and said, “Please promise if I don’t come back that Mother gets this.”

Later a soldier reported that he had seen Bill badly wounded making his way to the Red Cross Station. But after that he was never seen again.

It was thought that being badly injured he must have fallen into a deep, flooded shell hole and drowned.

After the war Bill’s father and brother Harold travelled out to the Battle Grounds in response to a request for volunteers to help bury the dead. They hoped to find Bill’s remains while carrying out this grim task but sadly his body was never found.

Modern visit to Tyne Cot

Title: Modern visit to Tyne Cot
Description: Submitted by Dennis Hodgetts and Lilian Bell by-nc

The family never really got over his loss and his fiancée Elsie never married, instead devoting her life to teaching.

The Bible did come back to his Mother, and that, along with the red Prayer Book, is a treasured keepsake within the family.

Many decades later, in the year 2000, family members were able to go to Ypres and lay a wreath at the foot of a large stone plaque bearing his name in Tyne Cot Cemetery.

May Bill and his comrades rest in peace.

Harry Shaw, from Brodsworth Colliery to soldier in France

Harry Shaw was born in 1893 in Birstall, Leeds.  He was one of ten children, six boys and four girls, and most of them followed their father into the weaving industry. There was little alternative to mill work other than mining, and Harry took up that option like his older brother Walter. When the First World War broke out he was living at 12 Cranbrook Rd in Wheatley, Doncaster and working at Brodsworth Colliery.

Despite being in what was a reserved occupation, he volunteered for the army when the call to arms came, as did three of his brothers. He enlisted in June 1915 and joined the Royal Engineers. His army records show him as a small man, 5ft 3”, and despite being only 22, with “artificial teeth in upper jaw”. He did his army training in Doncaster then embarked for France from Southampton in June 1916. Brother Fred had enlisted around the same time as Harry and they both found themselves in the 231st Company working together in France.

Harry Shaw in his uniform

Title: Harry Shaw in his uniform
Description: Submitted by his family by-nc

Harry’s mining background made him ideal for the sort of work his company was engaged in in France. This consisted of all kinds of support work, including bridge building, road repairs and of course mining under the German lines. This was all dangerous work, with the records showing plenty of instances of sappers being killed and wounded by shelling and shrapnel, plus the company did take part in raids where several men were killed. Despite all this Harry’s hospitalization from 19th October 1917 to 19th March 1918 wasn’t from a wound sustained working or fighting – but from a kick in the testicles while playing football! The resulting serious medical condition, called orchitis, meant he got the “Blighty one” most soldiers longed for, and he was sent to hospital in Manchester.

By March 19th he was classed as Grade 2 and sent for “gradual physical exercise”, finally being fit for service in May and sent to Thetford then Aldershot for training. During this period he got two days confined to barracks and forfeited one day’s pay for overstaying leave by 22 hours. Could this have been because he had just got married? We know he married Emily Millicent Jackson sometime in September but not the exact date. It must have been a happy but also sad occasion, with the family surely still reeling from the recent deaths of brothers Fred and Harold. Young Harold was only 17 when he was killed in April and Fred had died of cancer in hospital just over a month before.

Emily Jackson's portrait and her in munitions uniform

Title: Emily Jackson's portrait and her in munitions uniform
Description: Submitted by Steve Shaw by-nc

The honeymoon was soon over as on the 8th September 1918 he was back in France and then sent on active service in Belgium. He joined the 61st Field Company at Busselboom, which was employed at Divisional HQ erecting buildings and making a dry weather mule track from Dickebusch through Ridge Wood. While working on this track on the 25th September 100 German raiders attacked no. 3 section, resulting in several men, including their officer, being wounded or taken prisoner. We can’t say for certain whether Harry took part in this action but it does underline the danger they were in despite working on what would appear at first sight to be a comparatively safe job behind the lines.

In October the Company moved up to Messines Ridge building bridges. After months of hard and dangerous work it must have been a wonderful moment on the 20th October 1918 when the 61st moved to billets in Tourcoing.  There, as noted in the Company records:

“The inhabitants gave the troops a most rousing reception which produced a most lasting impression on all ranks. The civilians had flags hanging out of nearly every house and deemed it an honour to be allowed to shake hands. In the billets the inhabitants could not do enough for the troops and then the Company felt that they had had a certain degree of recompense for all the dreary and monotonous years spent on service. The reaction and attitude of the inhabitants put new life into the men”

Royal Engineers repairing a bridge

Title: Royal Engineers repairing a bridge
Description: IWM (Q 9319) by-nc

They later moved on to Evregnies building bridges, then 4 ½ miles away in Espierres where they were employed on “repairing village.” All of this shows a different side to the war that is often depicted solely as men fighting in trenches.

Finally in December Harry was sent home and demobbed on 21st December 1918 as a miner. He was awarded the Victory and British medals.

After demobilisation Harry returned to work as a miner at Brodsworth pit. He continued his hard and dangerous work at the pit until 12th December 1949. That day, while at work, a roof fell in on him and he suffered a fractured pelvis. Harry never recovered from his injuries and died on the 24th December 1949.

Harold Shaw, the story of a boy soldier in the First World War.

Harold Shaw was born in 1900 in Farnley, Leeds.  He was one of ten children, six boys and four girls, and most of them followed their father into the weaving industry. Harold may have gone on to do the same, but at the time of the last census before the First World War he was only 10 and still at school. By the age of 13 he may well have been expected to earn his keep as his older brothers and sisters had done, taking up jobs as piecers, working around the spinning mules in the mill.

Though he was only 15 years old Harold joined up in the first wave of patriotism at the start of the war in 1914, before any of his older brothers. At that time no formal checks were made as to a volunteer’s age so if a young man looked as old he said he was he would be accepted. He was stationed in England after his initial training right up until January 1917 however, so one suspects his commanding officers were dubious about his real age. Perhaps by January 1917 he looked as though he was 19, which was the real age at which soldiers could legally be sent abroad to fight, and so he was sent to Southampton and disembarked at Le Havre on the 8th January.

Immediately on arriving he must have begun to regret it. A six mile route march to camp in wet and windy conditions up a steep hill the whole way was his introduction to life abroad. At 4.30 the next morning they marched into Le Havre itself and got a train to Frevent – described in the battalion’s War Diary as “a very bad journey”. The train was about eight hours late, the supply of hot water badly organised and the majority of the men had nothing hot to drink during the whole journey. On arrival another gruelling march took them to Bonnieres where they must have been very thankful indeed to finally arrive. However it was no picnic as they were billeted in farm buildings which though dry had “very little straw for the men to sleep on” and the Diary makes frequent references to the freezing conditions during their stay, where they undertook various duties including four days trench training. They marched out of Bonnieres on the 22nd; 27 officers and 902 men plus the battalion mascot, Prince – who sadly was run over and killed by a lorry during the march. The men marched well at this point, though by the afternoon of the next day they nearly all had sore feet and chilblains. One adjutant had to be left behind with bronchitis and two officers were sent to hospital.

British soldiers in Bonnieres

Title: British soldiers in Bonnieres
Description: IWM (Q 51230) by-nc

The rest of the month was spent in the St Leger area and Mailly Wood, where it was very cold for the men, who were housed in Nissan huts and tents. It was reported that working parties engaged in cable-laying found the ground rock solid from a severe frost. There was also the background of war going on most of the time with guns in action all around. So Harold was having a tough time of it before he even got to the trenches – then to cap it all on the 28th the rations failed to arrive and the men had to rely on their “iron rations”.

Then on the 1st February they marched to Couin and their first experience of action on the front line began at Lyndhurst Camp on the 15th when they relieved the 2nd Battalion King’s Own Light Infantry in the line. Here their first comrade was killed, carrying rations up the line, and the next few days saw a heavy barrage and more casualties. On the 17th the icy cold turned to a thaw and the horrors of mud in the trenches became their reality. The War Diary reports “men lose gumboots and stick in trench”. By the next day the trenches were in “a terrible condition. Many boots lost. 3 killed, 7 wounded.” They were relieved from this hell on the 20th, but for the rest of the month and into the middle of April the battalion was involved in heavy fighting in the disastrous attempt to follow up the German retreat and break through the Hindenburg line. A brief time back in camp for training and the chance to enjoy some organised games lasted until the 1st May when the battalion was back in action and took part in fierce fighting again. At last, having survived months in the line, Harold and the rest of his battalion were sent off to the coast for two months, which included time spent training in the sand dunes. One can only imagine the effect of all this on a teenage boy and I think this story of his first few weeks in France and Belgium illustrates in graphic form the hardships and terrors he went through during the whole of his time there.

The following months saw more stints in the trenches and despite being moved up into the front line before Ypres in November they saw little action and on the 20th November they were relieved and moved to Divisional Reserve at Dickebusch. Harold probably knew what to expect in this area as his brothers Harry and Thomas had both spent time there in the preceding months – but both had left by the end of September. He was there for the whole of January and what a contrast it must have been to his January experiences the year before. The camp was well established and probably fairly comfortable, with days spent in either training or recreation, the battalion winning the Brigade football match on the 10th February. The months following were described as “quiet” and though their camp was shelled on the 10th April and there were some casualties, Harold wasn’t among them. The luck that had been with him for over a year still held out.

Tyne Cot War Memorial

Title: Tyne Cot War Memorial
Description: Submitted by Stephen Shaw by-nc

Then on the 11th April came orders to move into the line immediately, to join a defensive flank near Wytschaete. The Germans attacked after a heavy barrage on the 16th but again Harold survived and the next few days were uneventful as they rested and waited in what was known as Siege Farm. Then on the 25th suddenly at 2.30 am the enemy barrage opened up again and the Germans attacked at 6am. By 7.30 the battalion had to withdraw under this onslaught – but Harold wasn’t with them. Sometime during that hour and a half he was killed. His body was never found. He was still only 17 years old.

Harold Shaw is commemorated alongside his other fallen comrades who have no known grave on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Flanders, Belgium.