The Military Army Blog

Family fears private’s body lay on Somme battlefield for a year after July 1 death

PRIVATE Harold Harlow, of the 1st/5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters[1], was 19 when he went missing, presumed killed, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916. “He had only joined up to go to Territorial camp on holiday,” his sister, Doris Mears, of Mickleover[2], told the Derby Telegraph on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme[3] in 1986. Harold was the son of Mary Elizabeth Harlow, of 66 Werburgh Street, Derby, and the late George Henry Harlow. His mother told her son at the time that, if war broke out, he would have to go and fight. She was right, of course, and Harold was one of the many young men who were never to return from that fighting. Harold was the great uncle of Sue Brown, of Littleover[4], whose husband, Stuart, has been researching his tragically short life. Stuart said: “Harold was one of thousands of soldiers who were reported missing or killed in action after July 1, 1916. It was not until June 1917 that a letter from the Territorial Force Records at Lichfield arrived at Werburgh Street stating that, as no further news had been received of Harold, it was concluded that his death took place on July 1, 1916.

“I believe that his body lay in the open on the battlefield for more than a year.” Sue and Stuart have a newspaper cutting from June 22, 1917, which tells the sad story of young Harold. “Mrs Harlow, of 66 Werburgh Street, has received official information from the War Office that her son, Private George Harold Harlow, Notts and Derby Regiment, who has been reported missing since July 1, 1916, is now reported killed,” it reads.

“He joined the local Territorials just prior to the war and was drafted to France in March 1916. He was only 19 years of age and was employed by Messrs Jackson, Davies and Co, boot manufacturers, of Abbey Street. He was a member of The League of Sympathy and played in their band, and was very much liked and respected by all who knew him.”

Stuart said that, in September 1921, Harold’s mother received a further letter advising her that, in accordance with the agreement of the French and Belgian authorities, all scattered graves and those in small cemeteries were to be exhumed in certain areas. “The body of 200393 Pte H Harlow Sherwood Foresters has been removed to Gommecourt New Wood Cemetery, nine-and-a-half miles north of Albert,” it said.

Stuart now knows more about what happened to the bodies of Harold and those who died around him. “When the battlefield was cleared in March 1917, he was buried with 80 other Sherwood Foresters just inside the British lines at the junction of Green Street and Robinson Street, possibly Bastion Cemetery which does not exist today,” he said.

“The two streets mentioned were trenches and not streets as we know them. In the early 1920s, a touring atlas was published to assist relatives in locating the area where their loved ones fell. The atlas was called The White Cross Touring Atlas of the Western Battlefields.

“The map, above, shows the northern part of the first day of the attack. The numbers in red on the map are, I believe, temporary cemeteries. 100 Bastion Cemetery was, I think, where my wife’s great uncle was initially buried before later being moved to his final resting place.

“I understand that there were many scattered graves and temporary cemeteries and, in the early 1920s, the remains were exhumed and reburied in concentrated cemeteries. An Army burial returns sheet dated 1919 shows a listing for Harold. According to the document, he was only identified by a disc he was wearing. It also shows where he was found and the new grave reference for his reburial at Gommecourt.

“We have visited Gommecourt New Wood Cemetery twice over the last 20 years and the graves, like all others, are kept in immaculate condition by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.”

References

  1. ^ 1st/5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters (www.derbytelegraph.co.uk)
  2. ^ Mickleover (www.derbytelegraph.co.uk)
  3. ^ Battle of the Somme (www.derbytelegraph.co.uk)
  4. ^ Littleover (www.derbytelegraph.co.uk)

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