5 May 2010

Harry Hall - For King & Country


I've been looking at numbers issued to men of the 5th Battalion, King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, and I thought it would make an interesting and illustrative case study to focus on one of the men I found yesterday.

Harry Hall's badly damaged service record survives in the WO 363 (burnt documents) series. The first page is so badly burned that the number is missing and only the year - 1916 - can be seen. The attestation paper though is the Enrolment Paper, introduced after the Military Service Act was passed in 1916.

Harry Hall was 27 years and three months old, a farmer by trade and living at the Boat House, St Michael's on Wyre in Lancashire. In answer to the question, "Have you ever served in any branch of His majesty's Forces..." the answer is given, "Yes, 1/5th King's Own Royal Lancs Regt. Served 5 years including 1 yr 245 days embodied service."

Burnt page two of his papers reveals that Harry was at Home between the 11th August 1916 and the 19th March 1917 and then with the BEF in France between the 20th March and the 12th May 1917.

Page three fills in a little more information and we see that Harry was immediately "promoted" lance-corporal (and the word "promoted" rather than "appointed" is used) on the 11th August 1916, the day he joined. He was also awarded a bounty of fifteen pounds, this allowed under Army Order 209 of 1916. The Army Order runs to four pages and was applicable to men who were retained in the Service or recalled to the Colours under the provisions of the Military Service Act, 1916 (Session 2), and also to soldiers who voluntarily undertook to continue to serve, or who re-enlisted or re-engaged.

We also discover on burnt page three that Harry was posted to the 8th KORL on the 9th April 1917 and that just over a month later, on the 12th May, he was killed in action whilst serving with this battalion.

It is only on page four of Harry's service record that we see his number for the first time - 1238 - and the 2/5th King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives his number as 240102 which is the new six digit number issued to Harry when the Territorial Force was re-numbered in 1917.

Harry's medical history sheet, page five of his burnt service record, state that he was enrolled on the 11th August 1916 and that his number was 1238, later 240102. We already have this information from previous pages but of course it doesn't show the whole picture. Harry did join up in August 1916 but the four-digit number is the number he was issued with when he originally joined the 5th Battalion back in 1911.

Pages six to ten of Harry's service record are either blank or repeat previous pages. Page 11 is Harry's discharge "in consequence of the termination of his engagement". This took place on the 5th April 1916. Harry's complexion at the time is described as fresh, his hair dark brown, and his eyes, blue. As to his military character - those parts that can be read - he is described as Very Good and "Total abstainer. Thoroughly reliable. Whilst a soldier performed his duties in an efficient [manner] to the complete satisfaction of [his commanding] officer."

Page 12 of Harry's service record gives some more dates:

Home 5.8.14 to 13.2.15
Ex Force France 14.2.16 [This is incorrect, is should be 14.2.15] to 30.3.16
Home 31.3.16 to 5.4.16

The dates 5th August 1914 to 5th April 1916 are the embodied service - 1 Yr and 245 days - which Harry stated on his 1916 enrollment paper (see third paragraph, above).

It is only on page 13 that we finally see Harry's original enlistment date (although we could have worked this out - in theory - from his date of discharge). The date is given as 6th April 1911.

In Summary then, Harry joined the 5th KORL on the 6th April 1911 and was given the number 1238. He joined up for a period of four years which meant that he was still a serving member of the Territorial Force when Britain went to war on the 4th August 1914. He was embodied the following day and, under section 87 (1) of the Army Act, was also required to serve one extra year. Thus, by 5th April 1916, Harry had served his four plus one years with the 5th KORL and was discharged on the termination of his engagement.

His freedom from Army life was however, short-lived, and just four months later he re-engaged and claimed his cash bounty in so doing. It is interesting that on his 1916 enrollment form, Harry states that his preferred branch of the army was the Royal Garrison Artillery. It's possible, that after a year in France with the PBI, Harry felt that the RGA might offer him better prospects of survival. The military authorities though, were having none of that and he was sent straight back to his old battalion and - this is the point - given back his old number.

Harry's story is of course, not unique. There were thousands of time-expired men who found themselves back in the army as a result of the Military Services Act of 1916; either re-engaging voluntarily, or being conscripted.

To finish Harry's story - and his service record can be accessed via Ancestry's FREE TRIAL - The Commonwealth War Graves Commission states that he was the son of Mr and Mrs T Hall of The Boat House, St. Michael's, Garstang, Preston, and at the time of his death he was 28 years old. Harry Hall has no known grave and is one of nearly 35,000 men commemorated on the Arras Memorial in France. Next Wednesday marks the 93rd anniversary of his death.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.

Machine-gunners at Arras courtesy the Imperial War Museum.

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