Harry Ernest Field was born to George Henry and Amelia Elizabeth Field (née Gibson) during the first quarter of 1888 in Leeds. George had been born in Nottinghamshire in 1859 and was a plumber by trade. He married Amelia Elizabeth Gibson (b. 1851 in Leeds) on 25th November 1883 at St. Clements’ Church in Sheepscar, Leeds. The Church has since been demolished, probably to make way for the Sheepscar interchange.
Harry was baptised the same day as his sister, Anne ‘Annie’ Gibson Giddins Field (later Atkinson), on 28th March 1890 at St. Paul’s Church in Shadwell. He and his sister both first appear in the census records in 1891 with their older brother Thomas ‘Tom’ Lindley Ainsworth Field, along with their parents. I was initially unable to find their 1891 census record because, for reasons unknown, their surname was given as ‘Gibson’ rather than ‘Field’, and George Henry was recorded as ‘Frederick’. It may seem like this is a completely different family, but the Head of Household’s (George/Frederick) occupation and place and age match with other records. The first names, ages, and places of birth of his wife and his children also match. I do not know if this was a genuine mistake or a deliberate attempt to mislead people.
He next appears on the 1901 census at the age of 13 and is already working, with his occupation being listed as ‘Errand Boy’. The 1901 census is the first census to feature his youngest sibling, Francis ‘Frank’ Morgan Field age 7, whom I have written about previously. By the 1911 census Harry is listed as a ‘Cabinet Maker’. He is 23, single and has had no children. Though there is a misconception that most people married very young in the past, this is not the case. Men seem to have tended to marry in their late 20s or 30s, women in their early to mid-20s or later. Men would have wanted to get themselves established in a trade, or at least a steady occupation, before marrying as falling on hard times could still mean falling into poverty and ending up in the workhouse. As such, he was probably still in the same occupation at the outbreak of war in August 1914.
Unlike his brother, Harry most probably didn’t join the army in 1914 or 1915 as his medal records show no 1915 Star, the medal that was given to those who served overseas in 1915. He was 26 when war was declared, whereas Frank was 20. The idea of war seemed to appeal most to younger men and often boys who still had a sense of invincibility and immortality. These younger men were also less likely to have families to support or be fully immersed in a career. As Harry and anyone who personally knew him are long gone, we can only guess at his thoughts on the war.
Unlike with his brother Frank, Harry’s service timeline is unclear. This is due to a few factors. The first being that his service records were probably destroyed in bombing during the Second World War. This means that it is unknown when he joined the army and when his unit were posted to France. Frank’s service records were also probably destroyed; however, he was commissioned in 1916 and he had initially joined the Leeds Rifles, which make him easier to track. Harry remained a private for the duration of his service and is therefore not specifically mentioned in any battalion war diaries. This also means that he was not mentioned in the supplements to the London Gazette, which reported commissions, promotions, and deaths of officers. Harry had also not joined a battalion associated with a certain town or city, such as the Leeds Rifles and the Leeds Pals, so there is less information about the general experience of men in his unit. In addition, there is no way of knowing if he joined voluntarily or was conscripted. Unfortunately, lack of records and the complete absence of family stories mean there is not much that we can know for certain about him.
What we do know follows. Harry would have joined at the close of 1915 or likely later. He ended up in the 10th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers with the service number 40279, though he had previously been in the 15th Battalion. According to his military death record he had also been in the Royal Army Service Corps, formerly the Army Service Corps, with the service number 4289. He was killed on 12 October 1918 during an attack on the town of Neuvilly, where he is buried in Neuvilly Communal Cemetery Extension. He was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal and his next of kin was his mother Amelia.
Regarding the day of his death, there was more detail than I expected in the battalion war diary. The amount of information included in a war diary can vary greatly based on the protocols of the unit concerned and the individuals who recorded the information. Consequently, I have more information about the day that Harry died (12th October 1918) than the day that his brother died.
By 12th October 1918, 10th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers had been in France for over three years having taken part in many battles including The Battle of the Somme, The Battle of Arras, The Battle of Passchendaele, The Battle of Amiens, and The Battle of Cambrai. 833 members of the battalion had died since the start of the war according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
On 12th October 1918 the battalion had orders to attack the town of Neuvilly from the south in support of the Duke of Wellington’s West Yorkshire Regiment (The Dukes) and the Manchester Regiment. The attack began at 05:00 with an artillery barrage. The Dukes seem to have been late in arriving and did not get themselves across to the north side of the river fast enough and, as such, some of their platoons and A & C companies of the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers were caught by the enemy artillery barrage. In addition, there were still machine guns and sniper posts on the south side of the river, which should have been cleared prior to the 10th battalion getting there. The officer commanding A company was wounded at 05:48 whilst clearing these posts in house to house fighting, and a replacement had to be sent from battalion HQ. The rear platoons of The Dukes still hadn’t crossed when their forward platoons came under fire at the railway line, north of the river. During the delay, A and C company of the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers had ‘dug in’ on the south side of the river. B company crossed the river at 06:00 following the Manchester Regiment, which D company was attached to, and had taken 30 prisoners by 08:00.
By 08:30 33 men had been through the Regimental Aid Post. B company was clearing the village, but A and C companies were under heavy machine gun fire and still unable to cross the river. At about 09:00, B company came under machine gun fire and were unable to finish clearing the village. D company was later given orders to clear a factory north east of the railway.
By 12:00, 3 officers and 45 other ranks had been through the Regimental Aid Post. At 12:50 A and C companies were ordered to pass through the village with B company from north to south as enemy forces had re-entered the village via the railway. At 15:00 the enemy launched a strong counter attack following a heavy artillery barrage and forced the Manchester Regiment off the ridge they had been holding. At this point B company was passing through the village as ordered with A and C companies to the north waiting to follow. Half of D company was advancing on the factory, mentioned above, and the other half were near a quarry. The counter attack was stopped, and the enemy forces took many casualties, however they succeeded in retaking the village. A, B, C, and D companies were positioned in the quarry and prevented the enemy from crossing the river.
At 17:00 orders were received from the Manchester Regiment to hold the quarry and bank north of the river. A and C companies began to clear the houses south of the river again to make sure no enemy had managed to get across. They encountered no enemy forces in that area but came under heavy fire from positions north of the river. The companies of the 10th Battalion the Lancashire Fusiliers were relieved by the Sherwood Foresters (Nottingham and Derbyshire Regiment) and the 7th Lincolnshire Regiment during the night.
‘The Battalion went into the line with 20 off. + 558 O.R and came out with 16 off. + 364 O.R.’
In total there were 4 officers and 134 other ranks wounded, 15 other ranks missing, and 33 other ranks killed. The battalion had taken 2 officers and 47 other ranks prisoner.
Of the 33 recorded as killed, 19 are buried in the Neuvilly Communal Cemetery Extension as recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, including Private Harry Ernest Field aged 30. This cemetery contains 95 casualties from the First World War and 1 from the Second World War. The 95 casualties from the First World War were all killed between 10th and 27th October 1918. This includes 2 from the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), 11 from the Dorsetshire Regiment, 2 from the Durham Light Infantry, 4 from the East Yorkshire Regiment, 1 from the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 20 from the Lancashire Fusiliers, 2 from the Leicestershire Regiment, 1 from the Lincolnshire Regiment, 2 from the Machine Gun Corps (Infantry), 38 from the Manchester Regiment, 1 from the Middlesex Regiment, 1 from the Royal Engineers, 2 from the Royal Artillery, 7 from the Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment), and 1 from the West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own).
The names of the Lancashire Fusiliers casualties are as follows:
5th Battalion –
- Second Lieutenant Robert Sebastian Stott MC aged 21
10th Battalion –
- Lance Corporal W. E. Pile aged 34
- Private H. J. Box aged 24
- Private H. Carr
- Private H. Daniels
- Private G. Dellar aged 33
- Private T. Ellis aged 25
- Private Harry Ernest Field aged 30
- Private F. J. Filkins aged 30
- Private James Francis Finnigan aged 34
- Private Thomas Bentley Hand aged 29
- Private Albert Hart aged 34
- Private C H Howard
- Private J H Jenkins
- Private William Johnson aged 21
- Private C Kenny
- Private T Lawton aged 20
- Private Frank Lester VC aged 22*
- Private H B Warhusrt
- Private A Warner
*Private Frank Lester was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 12th October 1918. It was presented to his mother by King George V. There were also two Military Crosses, one Distinguished Conduct Medal, and three Military Medals awarded to members of the 10th battalion for actions on that day.
Harry’s effects of £17 and 10 shillings were sent back to his mother, who would have also received his medals. It is often seen as particularly tragic if someone died this close to the end of the war, but, in reality, the effect it had on his family and friends would have been very similar if he had died in October 1914. I can only hope that they got the news quickly and didn’t have suffer through an experience like the family of Wilfred Owen (18th March 1893 – 4th November 1918), receiving a telegram whilst the church bells rang to celebrate Armistice.
On the first anniversary of his death, his family put a notice in the Yorkshire Evening Post:
‘In proud and loving memory of Harry Ernest Field, 10th Batt. Lancashire Fusiliers, killed in action Oct 12, 1918 – interred at Neuvilly Communal Cemetery, near La Cateau.
-From Mother, Sister, and Brother.’
‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.’