Private 16939 Thomas William Harris

Harris Thomas William 96 352x600

Killed in Action on Monday, 22nd October 1917, age 20.
Commemorated on Panel 54 to 60 and 163A of Tyne Cot Memorial, Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.

18th Bn., Lancashire Fusiliers. 104th Brigade of 35th Division.

Son of Mr William and Mrs Phoebe Harris, of 72 Leabrook Road, Ocker Hill, Tipton, Staffs.
Born: Tipton, Enlisted: Darlaston, Resident: Unknown.

First landed France & Flanders, post 31st December 1915.
Medal entitlement: British War Medal, Victory Medal.
Soldier's Papers at National Archives did not survive.

Commemorated on the Tipton Library, and St. Mark's memorials.
Commemorated here because he appears on a Tipton memorial.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/838645/

Genealogical Data

1901 Census
2 Uttley Street, Sheffield, Yorks.
Living in the household of her brother-in-law and sister Robert and Jane Atkins was:
Phoebe Harris (28, born Staffordshire), and her 2 children: Thomas W. (3, born Staffordshire), and Joseph (10 months, born Staffordshire).

1911 Census
23 St James Street, Wednesbury, Staffs.
William Harris (36, Bricklayer, born Sedgley), his wife Phoebe (38, born West Bromwich), and their 6 surviving children of 7: Thomas W. (14, General Labourer in Moulding Shop, born Ocker Hill), Phoebe (13, School, born Ocker Hill), Joseph (11, School, born Ocker Hill), Albert (9, born Ocker Hill), Jonah (6, born Ocker Hill), and Charlotte (3, born Ocker Hill).

Personal Data

The 18th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers was initially a Bantam Battalion for men less than the 5 feet 3 inches required for other infantry Battalions. By the end of 1916 the quality of Bantam replacements became sub-standard; in common with the other Bantam Battalions, replacements from then on were average conscripts. As Thomas Harris enlisted in 1915, it can be assumed that he was less than 5 feet 3 inches tall.

This man is commemorated as T Harris on the Tipton Library Memorial. This was a sign-writer error as the 'Staffordshire Roll of Honour' shows TW Harris.

After Thomas's death, his outstanding army pay and allowances amounted to £6/16/3d (6 pounds, 16 shillings and 3 pence); this was paid to his father, William, in March 1918. His War Gratuity was £13/0/0d (13 pounds exactly), this was also paid to his father in January 1920. The value of the War Gratuity suggests that Thomas had enlisted in January 1915.

Action resulting in his death

The Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) had started on 31 July 1917 and almost immediately had become a slow hard slog through mud as the front line gradually moved forward in a series of advances over the coming weeks. The Fusiliers had been resting in the early part of October and many new replacement troops joined from Britain during this time. On the 16th, they moved back into the front line south of the Houthulst Forest, to the north of the Belgian town of Ypres.

At 2am on the 22nd, they formed up for an attack with the 17th Battalion on the left, the 18th on the right and the 20th in reserve. They advanced at "zero hour" - 5.35am. As the 18th attacked, the men lost direction and some of them found themselves on the left of the 17th Battalion, leaving gaps in the planned attack line. At the same time, the Division on the right failed to make significant progress and this meant the attack line was broken up even further, allowing the Germans to pour fire onto the attacking Fusiliers from their flanks.

By 6.15am, "X" Company of the 18th had moved back to the right, but this delay meant some huts and pillboxes in the middle of the Forest were not put out of action and the enemy were able to fire from them throughout the day. The men of "X" Company now found they were virtually surrounded and had to withdraw back to the Forest edge. The remainder of the 18th had by now secured its objectives.

The Fusiliers were shelled throughout day and subsequent night. At sometime during this action, Thomas was killed and his body was never identified. He has no known grave and he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

Newspaper Cuttings

Tipton Herald 13 February 1915
Tipton Roll of Honour: Ocker Hill.
W Harris of 27 Leabrook Rd had joined the Bantams - this includes the 18th Lancashire Fusiliers, so him.

Birmingham Daily Post 21st May 1917
LANCS. FUS.- Harris, 16939, T.W., (Tipton).

Tipton Herald 12 January 1918
Hailing from Ocker Hill, Gunner TW Harris joined the colours in November 1914, and has seen much of warfare, having been three times wounded. He had only been at the front about a month after a short leave when he was killed in action. When he joined up, this hero was only 17 years of age. Mrs Harris, his mother, has received several letters from officers in which tributes are paid to his work and worth in the Army. "Your son," writes his Lieutenant "was a good and brave soldier whose love for home and friends was only exceeded by his devotion and love for his country, for which he has so nobly laid down his life." The deceased was formerly a pupil at St. Mark's School, Ocker Hill.