First World War Project
Thomas Henry HARRIS (of Luddenham)
b. 9th October 1890
Private, Service Number 613097
Thomas Henry Harris was born to his namesake, Thomas Henry Harris (senior), and Emma (née Back). Like his father, Thomas was an agricultural worker. His father married twice, firstly to Emma in 1880 and secondly to Geneieve (née Cornford) in 1903. After Thomas Harris (senior) died, Geneieve (Genevieve) Harris married Walter J Revell in 1913 and set up her family home in 11, Russell Place, Oare.
The marriages to Emma and Geneieve, led Thomas (Jr) to be one of ten children, one of whom was his step sibling - James Cornford, who enlisted with The Buffs (10197) on 15th January 1912, achieved the rank of Sergeant, served in France from 2nd November 1914, was injured several times but survived to leave active service in 1919.
Thomas's family had a long association with Boughton under Blean and only latterly with Luddenham, working as agricultural labourers for Mr Stevens, Luddenham Court. The inclusion of Thomas' name in the Roll of Honour at Luddenham also reflects the residence of his step-mother, Geneieve (Revell). From 1913, when Geneieve married Walter J. Revell of Oare, she remained as Thomas' sole beneficiary.
As sole legatee, Geneieve received Thomas' effects that included £9 War Gratuity amounted to £19 9s. 1d. Unusually, there are two entries for Thomas in the Register of Effects. [See Appendix 2]
Medal records shows qualifying periods of service in 19th London Regiment as:-
No. 7151: 1st September 1916 - 24th March 1917
No. 613097: 23rd May 1917 - 18th December 1917
There is no explanation given for this apparent break in service. We might speculate he suffered serious illness or Injury from which he was not expected to recover? The rules governing War Gratuities allows for breaks made necessary by transfer into Reserves, absence without leave, courts martial or other criminal activity that meant the soldier was not serving overseas. We have not been able to explain the break.
Thomas died in No26 General Hospital, Étaples. He probably died as a consequence of serious gassing in Bourlon Wood (Battle of Cambrai). The protocols governing the handling of injured soldiers gives a most likely injury some days before his death on 18th December. The War Diary is not particularly helpful in this regard. He may well have been injured in the period of conflict late in November/early December. For this reason, we have transcribed the War Diary to cover a period of conflict that takes in fighting in BOURLON WOOD.
Military Experience of Thomas Henry Harris
His War Gratuity sum places Thomas's initial enlistment at the very end of 1915 or very early 1916. The War Gratuity records themselves give his active service from nine months later, on 1st September 1916. This may be consistent with a lengthy training period with 4th Battalion, The Buffs, before joining the London Regiment and disembarking into France and onwards to the Front. It was not unusual for men training with one formation to be allocated to another from the Depot in France that was in greater need.
Picking up his story in 1916, the 19th London Regiment was active during the Battle of Vimy Ridge (May 1916), The Battle of the Somme, (Battles of Flers-Courcelette, High Wood, Transloy Ridges, the capture of Eacourt L'Abbaye and Attacks on the Butte De Warlencourt.)
The following year, the 19th London Regiment participated in the Battle of Messines (7th June) and Battles of Ypres - Pilckem Ridge (31 July) and subsequent Battles of Ypres (18th August & 8th September).
Circumstances of the death of Thomas Henry Harris
Thomas Harris died in the period of The Battle of Cambrai. On 28th November, the 19th (County of London) Battalion (St. Pancras) took over the hard-fought (and ill-considered) attack on Burlon Wood and two days later faced heavy bombardment and widespread casualties from gas-shells ahead of a huge German counterattack that began on 30th November.
From 13th November, the War Diary records the Battalion making its way urgently from "Oppy Left: Red Line" by train to Divisional Reserve for refitting and cleaning up at Marœuil, 17km west of Oppy. Ten days later the Battalion began its route march via Etrun, Barly, Achiet, and finally to Rocquigny on 26th October. Through November, the Battalion was moved up to reinforce the over-stretched forces that had made good ground in the Battle of Cambrai - the decision to press on with the successful attack left Allied forces vulnerable to a mass counter-attack that cost many lives.
"27th November: Battalion moved partly by route march, partly by lorry to Hindenberg support line near Havrincourt. Party under Major FAIR proceeded to reinforcement camp at ENGLEBELMER. Weather very bad.
28th November: Reconnaissance of BOURLON by C.O. and other officers. Lieutenant CAREY wounded.
Battalion moved to BOURLON WOOD in support. No casualties while moving in. No trenches in position taken over. Companies in depth A,C,B,D. 18th Battalion being unconnected with Division on their right called upon 19th to replace their reserve company. "D" Company was sent forward under Lieut. McNICOL with Company HQ in No.2 Tank on road outside the CHALET.
During the night the wood was bombarded with 7.7s, 4.2s and 5.9s. At 11.30pm enemy put over gas shells, mainly of the "tear" variety.
29th November: BOURLON WOOD: This gas bombardment lasted until 2.15am. When the bombardment slackened until 6.0am when a heavy bombardment was put up round the WOOD and on the BAPAUME-CAMBRAI road. S.O.S. was put up on the left of the Wood and our artillery opened fire. Shelling slackened about 8.0am. During the morning hostile planes flew low over the wood, which was followed by shelling of the wood.
3.0pm to 6.0pm: Heavy bombardment of gas shells and H.E. Officer Commanding "B" Company reported that the gas was not apparently "tear" gas but of a different kind. Men were sick and their eyes were affected. 2nd Lieut KEMP & Lieut FORD went to the Aid Post gassed at 7.0pm. Heavy shelling of the wood began at the same time.
11.30pm: Further bombardment.
30th November: 3.15am: Shelling ceased. Men were arriving gassed at the aid post and through the night and were sent down.
9.0pm: Medical Officer visited all Companies and reported 50% gassed badly and should be evacuated at once. Capt. BAKER, Lt. SINCLAIR, Lt. F.W.H.SMITH and 2nd Lt J.M. MORRISON passed through the aid-post gassed, "B" Company being left without any officers.
30th November: In the early afternoon Capt. WELCH, and Lt. GILCHRIST also passed through, "C" Company being also left without any officer. C.O. visited all Companies and found only 10 N.C.O.s and men all badly gassed in "C" Company trenches and about 30 N.C.O.s and men in the same condition in "B" Company's trenches. These were ordered to report to Lt. AXFORD and join "A" Company at once (Lt. AXFORD being recalled from "D" Company for this purpose.)
6.0pm: Medical Officer had to retire gassed, followed by 2nd Lt. BUTLER and Lt. BARCLAY. During the whole of this period, intermittent hostile shelling of the wood continued.
1st December 1918: BOURLON WOOD: Remainder of "D" Company who were in support to 18th Battalion, came back under Lt. McNICOL with 2nd Lt. BATTE and joined the remainder of the Battalion in "A" Company's trench, Lt. McNICOL assuming command of the joint company. Intermittent shelling all day.
2nd December: During the night the battalion was withdrawn to HINDENBURG support line which was reached about 4.0am next morning; strength 6 officers, 61 O.R. carrying 6 Lewis Guns. It was impossible to evacuate remainder of Lewis guns and equipment etc of casualties. Further evacuations.
3rd December: HINDENBURG SUPPORT LINE: After some rest, re-organisation began, but further cases of men gassed had to be evacuated.
Battalion moved back to transport lines, South of HERMIES about midnight. Party from reenforcement camp rejoined.
4th December: HERMIES: Quiet day. Re-organisation of battalion continued. Some more cases sent to hospital.
9.0pm: Battalion moved again by night to billets at BERTHINCOURT. 2nd Lts. WILSON, CLARK, HARPER and CUNNINGHAM joined battalion.
5th December: BERTHINCOURT: Re-organisation continued. Lt. Col. STOKES D.S.O., M.C., Lt. McNICOL, Lt. AXFORD went to hospital suffering from gas poisoning. Major C.H. FAIR D.S.O. assumed command.
6th-9th December: Re-organisation continued. Two companies formed, one under command of Capt. Ford, the other under Capt. Street. Battalion bathed at Ruyaulcourt.
10th December: 2pm: Tactical company, under Capt. Street formed and went up line attached to 17th Lancs. Re-inforcement camp at Englebelmer closed and all details joined battalion at BERTHINCOURT.
11th December: BERTHINCOURT: H.Q. etc moved into new billets near transport lines.
12th-13th December: Training of specialist carried on with. Bombs dropped by hostile planes quite close, no damage, no casualties.
14th December: 2pm: New draft of 41 men joined from 3/20thand posted to 19th London & sent up line to Captain Street/Sheet.
15th December: 2pm: Tactical company from line relieved and arrived at BERTHINCOURT about mid-night.
16th December: 2pm: Whole battalion moved off early and entrained at VELU. Detrained at AVELUY and marched to BRUCE HUTS. Huts in very bad repair. No accommodation for officers, no beds, tables or chairs.
17th - 18th December: AVELUY (BRUCE HUTS): Battalion engaged in clearing up and refitting. Heavy fall of snow.
By this time, Thomas Henry Harris had died of his wounds at Étaples. Quite possibly he was one of those most badly affected by intense gas-shelling at the opening of the German counter-attack at the end of November. Those gas-shells were more than simple 'lachrymosal' shells that caused weeping of eyes and mucus membranes - a 'new' gas shell was suffered on 29th November. Through the next few days, casualties from gassing were severe. An indication of the severity of conditions suffered by Thomas and his comrades, some Lewis guns had to be abandoned as the 1/19th Battalion's depleted forces were relieved back to the Support Line. There were simply not enough survivors to maintain good order and recovery of equipment. Even by 3rd/4th December, more soldiers were being moved further behind the Lines for urgent medical treatment.
Alternatively, Thomas may have been one of those injured during the reconnoitring of Bourlon Wood.
Thomas Henry Harris was posthumously awarded the British War and Victory Medals. [See Appendix 1]