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Researching William Harris 8th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment 1917 - 1918


Richard Inns

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I know that William Harris, regimental number 41344, served in the 8th Batallion Lincolnshire regiment in France during 1917 and 1918. He was killed on 25th August 1918 at Bapaume.

His initial service was in 12 Training Reserve Battalion, service number 6264, aged 22. So he was conscripted some time from September 1916 on.

Military records for him are pretty scarce and I am trying to findhis date of entering the training reserve and then the 8th Battalion.

Any ideas please?

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Hi @Richard Inns and welcome to the forum :)

Soldiers Died in the Great War, an HMSO publication from the early 1920's, shows him as formerly 110109 in the Army Service Corps. Those "formerly" entries are normally the first unit served with. As the war went on, all of the support arms were subject to regular weeding in an attempt to find men for the infantry - which could involve them being initially transferred to a Trainining Reserve Battalion to be held for a draft to go overseas.

The units and service numbers shown on his Medal Index Card are meant to show only units served with overseas. The Training Reserve were a UK only organisation so wouldn't normally feature. However I suspect that while serving with the Training Reserve he was selected as part of a general draft to go out to France & Flanders. He would have arrived at an Infantry Base Depot on the French coast for additional training and while there he would have been allocated to a Battalion and issued with a new service Regimental Service number. The process of allocation might take a day or weeks - during which time he was still technically part of his Battalion of the Training Reserve and hence why it shows up.

The first way to narrow down when he might have enlisted starts with identifying the amount of his War Gratuity. This can be found on his entry in the Army Register of Soldiers Effects - thats only on Ancestry. Clever people on the forum can then work out a likely month when he would have been mobilised - with one proviso. Minimum payment was £3, which reflects less than 12 months service.

Another approach is to do a search of nearby service numbers, to see if records survive for men who would have been conscripted at the same time. But be warned - the Army Service Corps may well have used the service number 110109 multiple times but with a different prefix. As well as trying it from the Army Service Corps numbers end it could also be worthwhile working back from the Lincolnshire number - the draft he was in may have included a number of other former A.S.C. men. For example 41353 Harry Edward Kemp, who was killed in action with the 2/5th Battalion on the 26th September 1917, aged 1917, was formerly 125768 A.S.C. according to his entry on Soldiers Died in the Great War. (Unfortunately doesn't look like Harry has surviving serving records).

One other thing you may want to check is Williams' entry on the service medal roll - unfortunately another document only available on Ancestry. If the clerk completing it followed the instructions on the form, it should show all the units he served with overseas. With Harry Edward Kemp having died in September 1917 serving with the 2/5th Battalion, and William Harris losing his life in August 1918 serving with the 8th Battalion, it is likely William was transferred. Soldiers didn't routinely transfer Battalions but there is a likely explanation. Following significant losses in the German Spring Offensive of 1918, the 2/5th Battalion was reduced to a cadre, with surplus men transferred to other units. Hopefully the service medal roll will reflect this.

That's a start - others may well be able to add more.

Cheers,
Peter

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There are pension index records for him but whilst they show addresses and recipients they do not detail anything further on service.  The gratuity calculation is what we need for date of mobilisation id venture.

However, his BWM and VM roll is of note.  Courtesy of Ancestry below.   His first posting from the TRB was to the 2/5 Lincs.  I’m not sure if that would have been from the depot in France but I suspect so.

too add -  work on the men near him on this roll is likely to determine his arrival in France if a service record for one of them can be found. 

C5B84401-1E90-4CA0-9F2E-A43C7A7A8444.jpeg.46adb0963ccaf047cb34faf71d31d09f.jpeg

Edited by AndrewSid
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Dear Peter,

What a magnificent response, thank you very much indeed. You have answered in one the issue at the heart of my problem.

That issue is that when his son was born, in January 1917, he was shown on the birth certificate as Army service Corps. Not knowing what you have now told me I could not make any sense of it. Now it all makes perfect sense and you have given me on top the leads that should complete the picture.

So very grateful, thank you.

Andrew, your response too is extremely helpful. So very many thanks to you as well.

Richard

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@Richard Inns -- The transcription of William's entry in the 'Soldiers Died in the Great War database' shows that he enlisted at Herne Bay, Kent. As the entry also shows that he was 'Formerly 110109 R.A.S.C.' I believe that Herne Bay was when he attested and placed into the RASC.

(image courtesy of Find My Past)

Harris 1.jpg

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A further look at the roll seems to show he was part of a draft of 102 men who were numbered and sent to the 2/5 Bn.  These men came from 12/13/14 or 43 TRB.

All the men are not listed and there are gaps in the numbers as these men likely joined other units after wounding or sickness and will be recorded with that regiment.  However, given the number of men you can look at a service record should/may turn up that gives you transfer to France dates.  I will try and look when I have time.

His move to the 8th will require some research as this could because he was wounded or sick or, looking at the history of the 2/5, been part of that Battalion being wound up as Peter has already stated:

https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-british-infantry-regiments-of-1914-1918/lincolnshire-regiment/

At some point reading both war diaries (free from the NA)  would be worthwhile and will tell his story and perhaps indicate his move to the 8th and of course show what the Bn was doing when he was killed -  noting it may well not have any details of his death.

Andy

 

Edited by AndrewSid
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Ive had time. Courtesy of Ancestry. 41382 is in the same group of men.  Dates very clearly laid out below with regard to transfer to the 2/5.  To note he originated from 43 TRB not the 12th.  2/5 war diary records received 130 OR draft replacements on the 3rd of June 1917 which ties in with the below.  ideally another service record to reinforce the below would be good, but his date to France is looking firmer.   Separately their depot time seems to have been quite long. 

0659D19E-DEB0-486E-AF77-41EB26299668.jpeg.dad6117444d7594c95c305f52c213444.jpeg

Edited by AndrewSid
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Andy,

 

You have been most kind. According to the 8th Battalion war diary they were involved on 25th August 1918 in an attack through mist and a heavy artillery/gas shell barrage. He was first reported missing then declared dead. He is remembered at the Vis en Artois war but the indications are that his body was never found. Given that the 2/5 moved to France in February 1915 as I now see that would fit with an emerging pattern.

Richard

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Andy,

Once again thank you very much. Certainly a much clearer picture has now emerged that I am very grateful for. Still a lot of leads to follow up I am happy to say.

 

Richard

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4 hours ago, PRC said:

identifying the amount of his War Gratuity.

image.jpeg.018e4cd7ef50df1520bd7b0277fa10d2.jpeg

Over to Peter's clever friends to work it out!! (Courtesy Ancestry)

George

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He was initially reported as wounded on the September 30th 1918 casualty list that was published on 08th of October.  That was changed on the 25 November 1918 list published on the 03 Dec 1918 list to wounded and missing.  His status was obviously unclear for a period of time.  This matches with the fact the pension was not commenced until early 1919.  

 

.  40FB9670-7BA0-4986-AD63-CCBD8C9E7B79.jpeg.7d2b1dd12dba4564b157db20ee0eb471.jpeg

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With regard to when he joined the 8th Bn  I believe the below extract from the 2/5 diary likely explains it.  Although long long trail states the men went to the 1/5 this is only true for those left at the very end (45 ORs) when the Bn was already a training Cadre force.  490 Other Ranks  left the Battalion for the depot and re-allocation likely across other battalions in the regiment on the 8th of May 1918.  The 8th received small and regular numbers of replacements throughout May.

 

60CDFBB0-4D4E-4B26-B49D-D3C6D3C6E730.jpeg.0dbd95170ba3408446330334a0ddd4b4.jpeg

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29 minutes ago, AndrewSid said:

This matches with the fact the pension was not commenced until early 1919.  

Separation allowance, the amount paid for a wife and children, remained in payment for 28 weeks, in part to allow his status to become clear - had he been taken prisoner for example. For those men missing in action there would normally have been a decision made on their fate before the 28 weeks were up - although from time to time it wasn't and widows had to turn to local committee's to tied them over.

In the casualty list the reference to Whitstable means thats where the address of the next of kin on his army records was recorded as living.

524989731_CasualtyFormActiveServiceMayessourcedGWFthreadcrop.jpg.c86b473b22a965933a0df245689a9e6b.jpg

According to the Long, Long Trail 63 (RN) Infantry Base Depot was indeed at Calais.

@Richard Inns - early on it was identified that the Royal Navy had a suffeit of men for the tasks required of them,, and so a Division, the Royal Naval Division, was offered to the Army. It would see action at Gallipoli before moving to France and being renumbered the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division, setting up it's own Depot in line with the practice with other Divisions. By the time William Harris transited through it, it was part of a wider pool of Depots supplying troops where needed, so doesn't mean he had any Royal Navy connection. Later in 1917 many of the Infantry Base Depots were amalgamated and renamed, reflecting the reality that there was no longer a direct link between a Depot and a specific Division. https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/other-aspects-of-order-of-battle/infantry-base-depots-in-france-1914-1918/

Cheers,
Peter

Edited by PRC
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Firstly many thanks to all, it is extraordinary what has arisen. One of the many things I have learned through this forum is that my search skills on Ancestry could do with some serious improvement. Still with help like that I have received!

If I may respond first to George, Both the military number and the date of death correspond precisely with the data from the war cemetary so this is certainly the right guy.

If I then apply the £5 for first year of service with 10s for each month thereafter a sum of £18 10s corresponds to 39 months of service. From a date of death in August 1918 that takes us back to May 1915. However his daughters birth certificate from June 1915 lists his occupation as 'Journeyman Baker'. The certificate was completed with data from his wife.

His role in the Army Service Corps given in the January 1917 birth certificate of his son, again given by his wife, is as Private (Baker). So maybe those two entries might not be incompatible. It certainly gives a date of entry into service much earlier than I had assumed.

This then in turn fits in with the data from Peter that shows him joining the 2/5 in June 1917 after a short spell in the Training Battalion.

Andy - just to check that I have understood correctly your deductions form the 2/5 diary, he would only have transfered to the 8th in May 1918, three months before his death? Additionally the data from the casualty list is certainly very helpful in pinning down the circumstances of his death.

For some reason (my own fault I am sure) I have not been able to locate anything on his pension, other than that both his wife and an "unofficial wife" claimed for payment. No doubt gumming up the works significantly and, potentially, causing a non-payment.

Once again the help everybody on the Forum has given is so welcome, I really do appreciate it.

Richard

William Harris unmarried wife pension.JPG

William Harris - wife's pension.JPG

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Richard,

With regard to when he transferred to the 8th battalion it’s unlikely we will ever know for certain.  My understanding of why men transferred battalions is that if a man was wounded or sick he could find himself back at the depot  if/when fit and sent where needed ie to another battalion. Of course many men after recovery were sent to completely new regiments after sickness/wounding as well. Many of those medically downgraded ended up in the Labour Corps. 
 

I cant find him as wounded on any casualty lists prior to the engagement in which he lost his life.

The fact that the 2/5 transferred so many men in May 1918  (490) back to the depot, in my view, makes this time the most likely he moved battalions.  Others may disagree and as i said we will never likely know for sure. 
 

The birth in Jan 1917 with the very useful information that he was in the ASC is noteworthy.  Given the 3 to 4 months infantry training required and that he likely arrived in France in May 1917 suggests that  his transfer to the infantry was imminent.  

I think we just need another set of expert eyes on his pension gratuity and tying that to entry into service. 
 

 

 

Edited by AndrewSid
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Andy,

Many thanks for the clarification. Unfortunately I have been unable to find any pension record for William on Ancestry. Nor have I for his wife Maude, even under her name when she re-married of Wilson. I even tried under his 'unofficial' wife's name. Clearly you are right, this is something just to hope that some kindly pair of expert eyes can pick out.

So far as I can see the bakeries were mobile and in the field. So he must have been in France with the ASC but it doesn't show up on his medal card.  I wonder if that means only front line service counted?

Richard

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@Richard Inns There was an enquiry made on the 20th November 1918 to the British Red Cross as to the whereabouts of William. The image below (courtesy of Find My Past) shows that William was in 'X Platoon' of 'C company' of the 8th Battalion.

Harris 2.jpg

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3 minutes ago, Richard Inns said:

So far as I can see the bakeries were mobile and in the field. So he must have been in France with the ASC but it doesn't show up on his medal card. 

There were significant numbers of men stationed in the UK at any one time, with most in large camps requiring the services of an ASC bakery. These would have been semi-permanent facilities. The absence of ASC on his Medal Index Card would tend to make me think that none of his service with the ASC was likely to have been overseas, particularly as the records clerk was pedantic enough to include details of a Training Reserve unit that never left the UK :)

Bear in mind that as the war went on the physical standards required for service in the infantry were regularly lowered, and the Travelling Medical Boards that scoured the camps in the UK and the base area's in France were well practised at ignoring some medical conditions or downplaying their significance. I've certainly come across instances where a TMB have found a man fit for frontline service and the MO of the unit they are then posted to have recommended they be discharged as no longer physically fit for war service full stop!

Obviously without surviving service records it's difficult to know if it applies in this case, but I suspect if he'd been in the higher categories of fitness he would have been weeded out earlier than the first half of 1917.

Cheers,
Peter

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Allan

That really helps, thank you. 'C' Company were at Hedge Trench, near Buquoy on the 21st under heavy shelling. On the 22nd they moved up to Ablainzevelle. No casualties reported that day but it seems very like this is where he went missing.

The really heavy fighting took place on 23rd to 25th but clearly he got hit before that.

Richard

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Peter,

Thank you.

Talk about the fortunes of war! One minute baking bread, safe in England, the next minute given a rifle and shipped off to infantry training and the front line.

His son had an equally bizzare set of experiences in WW2. Seems to run in the family.

Richard

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Richard,

With the exception of his date of enlistment/mobilisation I think you have a pretty clear narrative and timeline of events now.  Considering there is no service record I’d say you have as good a picture as you might expect.  Establishing his Company and platoon is very fortunate for example.

You may find the story below of interest for background:

 

Edited by AndrewSid
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I just wanted now to thank all of you who has helped me by means of this site.. I have been able to create far more than I thought could be possible of this story.

I have been fortunate as well in the quality of the 2-5 Lincolnshire war diary.. To add to the description of the September 1917 battle there is a twelve page description of a March 1918 defensive action at Ecoust where there were 450 casualties. There was then in April another similar action at Bailleul with similar losses. After the similar or greater casualties at Polygon Wood, and the loss of so many officers, it is perhapse hardly surprising that the Battalion was disbanded and merged with the 4th Lancaster into that unit dubbed 'Major Holmes Battalion' before they were transfered to the 8th Lincolnshire.

That William Harris managed to survive this series of terrible losses seems almost miraculous. His luck of course ran out at Bucquoy when, on the day it appears he went missing in action and was later declared dead casualties in the war diary are simply shown as '?'.

With all of your support I have gone from little more than an inscription on the memorial at Vis en Artois to an impactfull description of one man's war.

Thank you

Richard

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