Thomas Harris was born in Chelmsford, one of nineteen children. He worked at Crompton’s for nine years, married in January 1917 and joined the army. He was killed in action in October 1918. His family home was in South Primrose Hill. A brother also lost his life in the war.
HARRIS, THOMAS, Lance Corporal,
11th (Service) Battalion, Essex Regiment (formerly of the South Staffordshire Regiment)
There it was reinforced by a draft of 133 men from the North Staffordshire Regiment. The battalion then marched eastwards to the front Bellenglise on 4th October 1918. Two days later it was sent to trenches at the neighbouring village, Magny-la-Fosse, and entrenched the following day in a nearby valley to the rear of the 71st Brigade. On 10th October 1918 the battalion bivouacked around Jonnecourt Farm and on the following day orders came to move north-eastward and take up assembly positions east of Bohain, before taking over the front line late in that evening.
On the journey up to Bohain the battalion had passed a location near Brancoucourt which provided an example of the difficulty in using cavalry. A post-war history of Thomas’ battalion revealed the event:
“A well-known regiment [probably the 19th Hussars] had evidently been in action and had been held up by barbed wire entanglements, where the enemy had shot them down at his convenience. A couple of machine guns might have done the whole business. The ground was strewn with dozens of splendid horses’.
The history then covered the events of the next day, the 12th October 1918:
“The [11th] Essex took part in the fighting on October 12th, when the objective was an enemy trench along the ridge. At 4.45 p.m. the barrage lifted after a quarter of an hour’s duration and B and D companies went forward against a post held by 8th Regiment, 5th Division (German), which included men who were serving at the outbreak of the war. D Company (left) and a platoon of B Company got to the enemy’s outposts lying in front of the wire. The latter was, however undamaged, and the hostile machine guns, which were estimated to number over a score, opened up with intensity. There was only one gap in the wire, through which the left platoon of B Company attempted to rush, but suffered heavily, as they were covered by a machine gun. On the right flank the right platoon of B Company also suffered severely fire and, later, with the remnants of the left platoons, was compelled to withdraw to the original line. D Company had maintained themselves in the position they had secured, but they were later ordered to withdraw to high ground in the rear and dig in, having advanced on the left to a depth from 100 to 400 yards. 2nd Lieut. D. W. Wiley and 13 other ranks were killed and one officer and 47 other ranks wounded, in addition to half a dozen missing.”
Thomas was among those killed in action and today lies at Busigny Communal Cemetery Extension, Busigny, Nord, France (grave: IV. A. 13). 2nd Lieut. Donald William Wiley was also buried in the same cemetery.
Thomas was born in Chelmsford on 6th January 1894, the son of the leather dreser James Harris and Mary Elizabeth Harris (nee Adkins). He was baptised at St Mary’s Church (today’s Cathedral), Chelmsford on 1st April 1894. At the time his father was a leather dresser of Primrose Terrace.
His father had been born in 1851; his mother, in 1852, both in Birmingham, Warwickshire. They had married on 9th April 1871 at Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, in Warwickshire. At the time his father was 20 years old, worked as a leather dresser and lived in Darwin Street. His mother was a year younger and also lived in Darwin Street.
Thomas’ eldest siblings, born before the family arrived in Chelmsford around 1880 included Joseph Harris (born in 1872 in Birmingham, died in 1851), John Thomas Harris (born in 1875 in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, died in 1906), Charles Harris (born in 1877 in Chesterfield, died in 1933), and Betsy Harris (born in 1880 in Birmingham, died in 1882).
His siblings born in Chelmsford included Eliza Harris (born in 1882), George Harris (1883-1936), Alfred Harris (1884-1915), Amelia Harris (1886-1965), Albert Harris (1877-1899), Eva Harris (1888-1890), Walter Harris (1890-1891), William Harris (1891-1927) and Harriet Harris (born in 1892). In all James and Mary had 17 children, of whom nine were to die by 1911.
The 1881 and 1891 censuses had listed the family at 18 Primrose Terrace, South Primrose Hill, Chelmsford.
The 1901 census found Thomas, aged seven, living with his parents, seven siblings and an infant boarder at 26 South Primrose Hill, (the same property as in 1891 and today’s number 73). Thomas’ father was a leather dresser. Of his siblings, John was an
electrical machine minder, Charles was a bricklayer’s labourer, George was a coach merchant’s labourer, and Alfred was a brickmaker’s labourer.
A decade later Thomas was a 17 year-old office clerk for an electrical engineer’s (Crompton & Co.of Writtle Road, Chelmsford) when recorded by the 1911 census. He was resident at 40 South Primrose Hill, still the same house as in1901 but renumbered, and accompanied his parents, five siblings and an 18 year-old boarder, Joseph Berry. Thomas’ father was a retired leather dresser; his brother Charles was a bricklayer’s labourer; brother George, a general labourer; sister Amelia, a laundress; brother William, a foundry labourer at the ball-bearing factory Hoffmanns; and sister Harriet, a packer in a factory. Joseph Berry was a machine hand at Hoffmann’s.
Thomas’ mother died in 1915, aged 62; his father died in 1916, aged 64. His brother Alfred Harris died from wounds in December 1915.
Aged 23, Thomas married Kate Emma Burton on 20th January 1917 at Chelmsford Cathedral. At the time he was a clerk, living at 52 South Primrose Hill (the same property as in 1901, but renumbered). His 20 year-old bride was the daughter of the moulder James Alfred Burton, and lived at 45 Townfield Street, Chelmsford.
Thomas lived and enlisted at Chelmsford and saw service as Private 235065 in the South Staffordshire Regiment, before transferring to the 11th (Service) Battalion of the Essex Regiment, where he served as Lance Corporal 42580. The latter battalion, which had landed in France in August 1915, was at Vraignes, north-west of St. Quentin in France, on 1st October 1918.
On 15th November 1918 the Essex County Chronicle published the following family announcement:
“Harris. - In loving memory of Lc.-Cpl. T. Harris, Essex Regt., who was killed in action Oct. 12th, 1918. We loved him in life, let
us not forget him in death. From his sorrowing sisters and brothers, 52 South Primrose Hill, Chelmsford.”
The same edition also reported:
“Lc/-Cpl. T. Harris, Essex Regt., of 52 South Primrose Hill, Chelmsford, was killed in action on October 12th.”
A week later the Essex County Chronicle published the another family announcement:
“Harris. - In ever-loving memory of my dear husband, L.-Cpl. T. Harris, who was killed in action, October 12th, 1918.
We little thought when he left home, He would no more return: That be so soon in death would sleep, And leave us here to mourn, His loving ways and pleasant face No one can fill the vacant place.
From his deeply sorrowing Wife - 45 Townfield Street, Chelmsford.”
The same edition reported:
“Lc.-Cpl. T. Harris, Essex Regt., of 45 Townfield Street, Chelmsford, was killed in action on October 12th, 1918. He was 25 years of age, and for 9 years was at Crompton’s.”
Thomas is commemorated on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford. He was entitled to the Victory and British War medals. The 1918 register of electors listed Thomas’ parents-in-law at 45 Townfield Street, Chelmsford.
Thomas’ widow died in 1961, aged 74.
Thomas along with brother Alfred was one of the ‘South Primrose Hill Boys’. Their brother William Harris served in the Royal Field Artillery during the war in India. Another brother, Geprge Harris, was taken prisoner during the war and suffered ‘terrible hardships’ that led to his early death after much suffering in 1936. Their nephew, Joseph Charles O’Shea died during the Second World War.