1st Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), attached to the 2nd Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment).
Born 1885 Died Friday 1 September 1916. Aged 31.
Youngest child of Sarah Wood (née Gower) of The Frith, Aldington and of the late Benjamin Wood.
Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France. Pier & Face 5D, and on the Great War memorial plaque in the former Wesleyan chapel, Mersham also in The Buffs Book of Life in the Warriors Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral.
Harry was born in Mersham in 1885, probably at Chequertree, where his mother had been Housekeeper for her father Benjamin Gower for many years. The first census on which Harry was recorded was that of 1891, when his grandfather, 69 year old Mersham native Benjamin Gower, was recorded as being the head of the house, and employed as an Agricultural Labourer at Handen Farm, Bank Road, Aldington.
By the time of the 1901 census the family was recorded as residing in The Frith, Aldington but devoid of a specific address. Benjamin Gower was again recorded as being the head of the house, and Harry as being employed as an Agricultural Labourer. The next entry on the 1901 census was that of the Lancaster family, from 1 Rock Cottages, and includes 12 year old John Lancaster. Several Aldington residents who had known Harry Wood & John Lancaster have, without prompting made, very similar comments to the compiler about these two young men having been best friends for many years prior to their deaths during the Great War.
Harry maternal grandfather Benjamin Gower, born, Mersham, Sunday 28 July 1822, died in 1910, and was laid to rest at Smeeth on Saturday 30 July 1910. In the 1911 census, Harry’s mother, 63 year old Bilsington, Kent native Sarah Wood was now recorded as being the head of the house at Aldington Frith, and a widow. Harry and his elder brother John were both recorded as being employed as Farm Labourers.
Harry enlisted in the army in Ashford on Saturday 11 December 1915, ‘For the Duration of the War with the Colours, and in the Army Reserve’. At the time of enlisting, Harry stated that he was 29 years and 351 days old, that he was employed as a Farm Labourer, resided at Aldington Frith and named his mother, Sarah, of the same address as his next-of-kin. Initially placed on the Army Reserve, Harry was mobilised on Wednesday 1 March 1916 and he reported for duty at the Regimental Depot of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) at Canterbury where he was attested to serve as a Private in the regiment.
On Thursday 2 March 1916, Harry was posted to serve in the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the regiment at The Citadel, Western Heights, Dover, Kent. From there he was posted to serve on the Western Front with the British Expeditionary Force in the 1st Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), and sailed from the port of Southampton, Hampshire the same day, Thursday 28 June 1916, arriving at Rouen, Seine-Maritime, France the following day. From the 6 Infantry Base Depot at Rouen he was posted to serve attached to the 2nd Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), which he joined in the field on Sunday 9 July 1916.
The 2nd Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), in the 91st Brigade, 7th Division, had taken part in the Battle of the Somme from the time that it commenced. On the first day it participated in the attack on the village of Mametz and the high ground along the Montauban to Mametz road. On the evening of Tuesday 4 July, the battalion was relieved in the front line and went to bivouacs at Minden Post, located between the villages of Carnoy and Mametz, having suffered 307 casualties in Mametz. By the time that Harry Wood and John Lancaster joined the battalion “In the Field” on Sunday 9 July 1916, the 2nd Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), had already suffered a significant number of casualties, and was quartered about the Somme commune of Buire-Courcelles which is approximately 14 miles northeast of Saint-Quentin.
On Friday 1 September 1916 the 2nd Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) to which Harry was attached, was made up of 24 officers & 735 other ranks, and located at the junction of York Alley and Longueval Alley to the east of the Somme village of Longueval. At 0500 Tunbridge Wells native & resident, Second Lieutenant Frank Gerald Craven Weare of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), who had been attached to the 2nd Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) from Wednesday 28 June 1916, led two Platoons of “C” Company on a bombing attack on the edge of Delville Wood, Longueval. After making ground as far as Hop Alley, they were held up by enemy machine gun & rifle fire. At the point which the bombing parties reached the trench system was a trench in name only, having been completely obliterated by shelling.
German artillery continually shelled Delville Wood, Diagonal Trench & York Alley from 0940 hours until 2000 hours, at times putting up three barrages between the battalion front line and its H.Q.
Due to the fact that no telephone connection existed past the battalion H.Q. a number of orderlies and runners became casualties throughout the day.
Part of the battalion War Diary on the day that Harry fell, records; “All the Coys did good work in burying bodies, cleaning up the ground and forming stores of Bombs, S.A.A. and rations at their headquarters. Delville Wood was held by groups of 6 men; with intervals between these groups, everyone has room to move laterally to avoid hostile shelling and prevents the tendency to overcrowd.”
Another part of the War Diary entry for the day, records; “B” Company under 2 Lt Lloyd relieved “D” Company under T/Captain V.C. Harvey at 8 p.m. N. Staffords, 24th Division on our left along N. Edge of Delville Wood, the Divisional boundary between us being N.E. corner of the wood & and is at present occupied by the enemy. Enemy fairly quiet during the night – hostile artillery appears to fire in strong bursts sometimes lasting from half to three hours, and then remaining silent for two or three hours. Our aeroplanes have undoubtedly given the enemy’s infantry a curious feeling of insecurity owing to their good work in spotting for our guns; often engaging targets themselves with automatic rifles.”
Harry was numbered among the 28 fatalities suffered by the 2nd Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) on Friday 1 September 1916, of whom at least 13 have no known grave and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial of the missing of the Somme. The other soldiers are at rest in various Somme war cemeteries.
In addition to those who died, 74 were wounded and 11 posted as missing. Among those who were wounded on the day that Harry fell was Second Lieutenant Frank Gerald Craven Weare, who the compiler was aware of having served in The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), and had the real pleasure of meeting and speaking to at some length about his time in the Great War. Retired Director & Brickworks Manager, Lieutenant-Colonel (Retd) Frank Gerald Craven Weare, M.C. died in the City of London on Tuesday 6 July 1971, at which time his home address was at 8 Manor Close, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent.
On Wednesday 27 August 1919, Harry’s mother completed a copy of Army Form W.5080 in order for her to be sent a bronze memorial plaque (aka Dead Man’s Penny) and accompanying certificate, in memory of him. The form was witnessed by the Rector of Aldington the Reverend William Eastgate Middleton Nunn, M.A. village Rector from 1898. Prior to his move to Aldington, the Reverend William Nunn had been the Rector of Stansted, Kent from 1873.
On Saturday 2 July 2016 following the dedication and unveiling of the Aldington, Bonnington & Hurst civic war memorial, the compiler of these brief commemorations, when entering the village hall was asked by a gentleman if he had a photograph of Harry. The reason why the compiler had been asked the question, was because the gentleman had acquired Harry’s British War Medal and his Allied Victory Medal. The compiler has often wondered if the enquirer has ever been successful in his quest for a photograph.