On this Day 24th April 1915

Harold Morris Enlists

Harold Morris was the third of the four sons of Richard and Charlotte Morris of 5 Boswedden Road, St Just. He is one of the forgotten men of World War One, those who survived and whose names appear on no war memorials.

According to his enlistment papers Harold Morris was born 2/4/1897 and he signed up on 24/4/1915, which would have made him 18 when he enlisted though civil registration records give his date of birth as June Quarter 1898. He was recruited into the Royal Naval Division which suggests that he had a prior affiliation to the navy as sailors not needed on ships were deployed to the RND. Over the course of the war, the men of the RND won quite a reputation as a fighting force, serving in many of the significant campaigns.

Harold's next of kin is given as his father, Richard, originally of 5 Boswedden Road but subsequently of 12 Grand St, Penzance.

On 18 June 1915 he was drafted to the 2nd Reserve of Hood Battalion at Blandford and was deployed more or less immediately to the Gallipoli campaign. By September he was hospitalised with dysentery at West Mudros on Lemnos in the Eastern Aegean. His family were informed. Mudros was the base for supplies and medical services and is about 50 miles from Gallipoli.

Harold's admission to hospital on Lemnos with dysentery is typical of the experience of men who fought at Gallipoli. RND losses at Gallipoli, are estimated at 330 officers and 7200 men. So great were the losses to Benbow and Collingwood that they were abolished and the survivors merged with other units.

Realising that Gallipoli was a failure the troops were withdrawn in January 1916 and Hood became one of 4 battalions of the 189th Brigade of the 63rd Division (along with Nelson, Drake and Hawke) the rest of the RND forming the 188th brigade. Harold's service record contains the following dated 13/6/1916, BEF.D.O.26. Enb.HMT.Ionian, Mudros, 16.5.16.Disemb.Marseilles,22.5.16”He was being shipped aboard the troopship Ionian from the failed and disastrous Gallipoli campaign to France where he would see service on the battlefields of the Somme. In October Hood Battalion were deployed on the Ancre and on 13 November, together with Hawke Battalion, the formed part of the first wave of the British assault on the German 1st Army. By the end of the day Hawke Battalion had virtually ceased to exist but Harold Morris had survived.

Harold Morris would have been present throughout the action on the Ancre, at which time he would have been no more than 18 years of age.

The Naval Division was no place for a wilting violet. Their next action was Arras April 1917 where the Canadians took Vimy Ridge. After 2 weeks of indecisive fighting the RND were ordered to take Gavrelle which they did in an attack on 23 April 1917. The RND held Gavrelle in the face of heavy counter attacks over the next two days, involving intense bombardment and heavy street fighting during which they took 479 prisoners. Gavrelle cost the RND 3000 casualties and barely any of the original reservists who formed the division were left alive. One of the few survivors was Harold Morris, who was sent on UK leave after Gavrelle.

The division was rebuilt and on 24 September 1917 was redeployed to Ypres where Passchendaele had got under way on 31 July 1917. Hood battalion and the 189th division joined the attack on 4 November and in the days that followed took less than 1km of territory for the loss of 2000 casualties, many of whom were never found. Passchendaele was finally ended by it's architect, Field Marshall Haig, on 10 November and the RND were withdrawn from the line the same day. Shortly after this Harold Morris had his promotion confirmed.

After Passchendaele the RND was transferred into Byng's 3rd Army and by the end of 1917 was near Cambrai on the ridge which would later be known as Welsh Ridge. Welsh Ridge was a bulge in the British line and the Germans decided the 'straighten it out''. The RND happened to be the custodians of the bulge when this straightening was attempted and after two days on the defensive, on New Years Day 1918, Hood battalion had to be withdrawn because of the severity of their losses. Once again Harold Morris survived and in February again had a promotion confirmed, still in Hood Battalion.

The RND were again in the path of an enemy offensive when the Germans launched the Kaiserschlacht on 21 March 1918. They were still in the Cambrai area and were subjected to prolonged gas attack but despite losing 2500 casualties remained in the front line. The German attack took the 'bulge' which had been so expensively defended just a few months before and the division found themselves back at the Ancre. The British gave up territory through March and April 1918 and towards the end of this retreat Harold Morris was wounded and taken prisoner. For him the war was now over while for the Hoods there lay ahead the 2nd Battle of the Somme, the 2nd Battle of Arras, the Battles of the Hindenburg Line, the Canal du Nord and the retaking of Cambrai on October 8th 1918. Their final action was the Grande Honnelle crossing and by November 11 1918 they were at Sant Ghislain, just west on Mons, the place where it all started back in 1914.

Harold was held as a POW in Langensalza POW Camp, a place where food was in short supply, conditions very tough and, just after the Armistice, the scene of an atrocity when a number of prisoners were shot and killed by guards. Once again, Harold survived and was repatriated via Hull on 3 January 1919. He was eventually demobilised on 12 March 1919.

That Harold Morris survived all of this is little short of a miracle. He returned to civilian life and in 1926 he married Gladys Edward in Penzance. Harold lived to a ripe old age, dying in March quarter 1983 in Penzance aged 84. His name appears on the Roll of Honour of the Bolitho Club in St Just.

This profile was prepared as part of the Trench Project at Levant Mine, St Just, in 2016. 

 





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