Harold Ward

HAROLD EDWIN WARD - 11th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment

We do not know what Harold's occupation was when he enlisted, but his Grandfather was clearly engaged in the business being a farm engine driver in 1901 and a coal retailer in 1911, so it is possible that Harold was engaged in the agriculture or services sector. The Ward family moved to Low Street in Hoxne sometime before Harold's birth in 1899, prior to this the family had lived for several decades in Horham. The 1901 census lists Harold as an infant of two years and living with his Grandparents Abraham and Margaret also listed were their own children, Charles aged 21 and Gertrude aged 16. By 1911 Harold, still living his grandparents, and is listed as scholar, and this census indicates that Abraham and Margaret had sixteen children of whom twelve were surviving.

Harold's enlistment papers have not survived, it is nevertheless it likely that he registered under the National Registration Act 1915 (The Derby Scheme) which gave him, in theory at least, some advantage over waiting for the Military Service Act 1916 which introduced conscription. Harold's service number indicates that he could have enlisted in November 1915 (ie) comparing it to other recruits whose enlistment papers/information have survived. We only know he served in the 11th Battalion Suffolk Regiment only through the Commonwealth War Graves lists for 1914 to 1921.

Formed at Cambridge on the 25th September 1914, the 11th was known, at least locally, as 'The Cambridgeshire Kitcheners' or the 'Cambridge Suffolks'. The battalion formed one of the famous Pal Battalions although in the case of the 11th this appears to have nothing to do with the social class of the recruits, such as the Public Schools, Sportsmen or indeed local battalions such as the Accrington Pals but more to do with the fact that the Bury St Edmunds depot was overflowing with recruits as the emphasis on recruitment was centred on Cambridge and the Isle of Ely. After training in Ripon the Battalion, part of the 101st Brigade attached to the 34th Division landed at Boulogne on the 9th January 1916 and were quickly moved to the front where the Brigade suffered its first casualty, which surprisingly was not an 'other rank' but the commander of the 101 Brigade, General Fritton, who was shot by a sniper whilst taking a tour of the front line trenches and subsequently died from his wound.

The Battalion spent the following months were spent rotating in and out of the trenches, casualties were fortunately light. We do not know when Harold joined the Battalion in France but by using his service number, 22614, (the only method available) their are two examples of men who are serving at the front. The first, George Kidman from Girton was wounded at the front in May 1916 (service number 21893) and Albert Miller (service number 23301) was known to have joined the Battalion in June 1916. By this reckoning it would be reasonable to accept that Harold was part of a draft reaching the front in the late Spring to replace casualties and bring the Battalion up to strength for the 'big push'.

By mid June training was over and the battalion was sent to Becourt Wood where they worked on preparing assembly trenches for the attack, apart from being hard manual labour the Battalion also suffered the loss of two officers and nine other ranks wounded and three other ranks killed due to German artillery fire in the period running up to the 1st July.

The bombardment of the German lines commenced on the 24th June and would end shortly before the advance troops went over the top, initially the 29th June. On the 26th June the 11th received orders that the assault would take place on the 28th June and the Battalion was moved into the assault trenches on the night of the 27th. Persistent rain necessitated a delay of 48 hours so the assault would not begin until 1st July.

The task given to the 34th Division assault five to six lines of German defences plus two fortified villages and in doing so penetrate up to two miles from their own front line into the untouched countryside in the German rear, once this was achieved the British cavalry could be unleashed. By 7 am the Battalion was in position and, after the bombardment moved to the rear of the German lines and the explosion of an enormous mine to the front of the 101st Brigade position, the 11th prepared to follow the 10th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment (The Grimsby Chums) into no mans land. The German artillery quickly laid on a bombardment of the British frontline causing casualties and confusion, the infantry with their packs weighing some 66 pounds strove to make headway over the broken ground. The Germans, far from being destroyed, emerged from their dug outs and proceeded to decimate the advancing Suffolks. The casualties were horrendous, the 11th suffering 4 officers and 148 other ranks killed with 12 officers and 387 other ranks wounded, the diary also recorded 2 officers and 75 other ranks missing, some of whom managed to return to the Battalion when the opportunity arose.

None of the first day objectives were reached, there is evidence that some men of Suffolks managed to get into the German lines as did other elements of the 101st Brigade but the German defences were too strong. The remnants of the Battalion were withdrawn between the 3rd and 4th July and the job of rebuilding the 11th started. Between the 6 and 30 July new drafts arrived totalling 520 other ranks and 13 officers.

On the 31 July the Battalion were once more in the lines at village of Bazentin le Petit where they took over German trenches captured during a surprise attack on the 14 July. It was a miserable place, an officer of the Battalion recording:

'The remains of ruined villages, land on which there was not a vestige of grass or cultivation, trees torn up by the roots, human bodies, debris of all kinds and terrible smells that could not be avoided. One had to get accustomed to eating and sleeping in places that in ordinary circumstances one could not have faced. It was a very great test.'

On the 2nd August the Battalion received orders to mount an attack on the German intermediate line which was to be taken and consolidated. The attack was initially planned for 5 pm on the 3rd August but this was then cancelled, in any event German shelling hit the British frontline caused the deaths of Second Lieutenant V.K. Mason and four other ranks. Harold was one of these casualties as his death is recorded as the 3rd and he is buried at The Caterpillar Cemetery, Longueval. He was 18 years old at the time of his death.