Ostcliffe Harold Beaufort was born in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, the second son of John William Beaufort and Lucy Ann Beaufort [née Ostcliffe] on 20th October 1893. At the time of his birth his father was Managing Director of Messrs Elliott & Fry1 of Baker Street, London which was a Victorian photographic studio.
Following an education at Solihull Grammar, Harold then attended Wellington College where he distinguished himself with his artistic abilities. After graduating from Birmingham University, during which time he also served in the Officers Training Corps [OTC], he became a photographer within his father’s business.
At the outbreak of war he sought to join up at the earliest opportunity and was duly commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1/6th Battalion, The Prince of Wales’s (North Staffordshire Regiment) on 26th August 1914. This was a Battalion of the Territorial Force based in Wolverhampton and by mid-August they were in the Luton area moving to near Bishops Stortford in November to prepare for embarkation overseas. On 4th March 1915, having left Southampton in two troop ships, the Battalion arrived in Le Havre and then proceeded to join the BEF in the Ypres salient taking their first casualties around WULVERGHEM in early April.
They then spent most of the spring and summer months alternating between time spent in the trenches, where they sustained casualties on an almost daily basis, and either in bivouacs or the nearby rest camp known as ALDERSHOT.
Harold received minor injuries in August 1915 and following a recovery was appointed Brigade Grenade Officer and on 12th October wrote to his brother Percival:
We attack tomorrow afternoon, hold the new trenches all night and get relieved the next night. If I see these three days through all will be well and leave will be granted.
At 12 noon on 13th October 1915 British artillery launched a barrage on the enemy positions at FOSSE 8, BIG WILLIE and HOHENZOLLERN REDOUBT, their machine gun emplacements and communication trenches. This action was followed up at around 1.00pm with a gas smoke attack on all hostile positions.
At 2pm Infantry of 137 Bde advanced against BIG WILLIE – DUMP TRENCH & FOSSE 8. A & B Coys 6 N Staffs Regt forming 3rd line, C & D Coys in fourth line. Enemies machine gun rifle fire very heavy on advancing infantry who were unable to proceed. Line established in old fire trench. Two bombing parties were found by this battalion, one gaining 30 yards of BIG WILLIE TRENCH but had to retire through heavy casualties & were relieved by 1/5 S Staffs Regt. Enemy kept up a heavy fire on our trenches with their artillery and machine guns making the work of bringing in our wounded a difficult one.2
It was about 2.20 pm on the afternoon of Wednesday 13th October 1915 during the attack on the HOHENZOLLERN REDOUBT that Second-Lieutenant Ostcliffe Harold Beaufort, 1/6th Battalion, The Prince of Wales’s (North Staffordshire Regiment), was killed in action aged 21, just seven days short of his birthday.
Shortly after his death his Commanding Officer told his father:
He was a very good and reliable officer, never sparing himself and doing everything to the best of his ability.
A brother officer wrote the following to Ostcliffe’s father:
He, Beaufort, was killed in the trenches 2½ miles NE of Bethune, 6 miles south of La Bassée. As you know, he was Brigade Grenade Officer, and he was in charge of the bombing party, whose job it was to turn the Germans out of a trench known as ‘Big Willie’ which runs south from the Hohenzollern Redoubt.
He and his party were in part of ‘Big Willie’, which our division held and he commenced bombing it simultaneously with the charge. They made good headway, but the attack was driven back. Harold commenced to go back along a communication trench to issue further orders to the NCO’s in charge of the Brigade store, when a high explosive shrapnel shell burst close beside him. The brass nose cap and time fuse, a piece of metal about the size of a cricket ball, hit him in the right breast and came out of the left shoulder blade killing him instantaneously.
He was buried in the rear of the trenches, along with four other brave officers who fell. The time was about 2.20pm, Wednesday 13th October 1915.
The arrangements for the supply of bombs and grenades was excellent, but Harold had not reckoned with the attack failing. His orders were for the Brigade Store to be transferred to ‘Big Willie’ when the German front line was taken. It was not taken, and Harold was afraid that all the bombs would be brought up, as in the excitement it was very difficult for everyone to know what had happened, and probably his store keeper would imagine we had succeeded. If the bombs had been sent up it is very likely that a German grenade would have dropped on them and detonated the lot. To save this loss, which could not have been replaced under at least an hour, Harold went back and met his death.
He had done a very good work; in front of his men throwing bombs and encouraging the others, and without a doubt was the means of keeping the bombers together. Only three of his party got out safely, and they cannot say anything good enough about him; they say he was marvellous.
Enclosed is a rough map of the trenches. Harold was at ‘A’ bombing to the left. The battalion were in the trench marked ‘B’ and they charged across the open to ‘Big Willie’. I was at ‘C’ with the machine guns covering Harold’s party. We two were isolated from the battalion during the attack, so I don’t think there is another officer who could tell you more than I can, except NC Joseph, who was the battalion bombing officer, and he lies now at the Bournbrook Hospital with a broken jaw and a bullet in each leg. We have heard from him, and he writes it will be about ten weeks before he is able to speak, but he could write you and give fuller particulars as he was with Harold all the time.
By 4pm Thursday 14th Oct the Hohenzollern Redoubt and ‘Big Willie’ were entirely in our hands, at the cost of about 170 officers and 4,000 men.
His grave was subsequently ‘lost’ in the melee of war and so Harold is commemorated on The Loos Memorial, Dud Corner Cemetery, in France.
The Prince of Wales’s (North Staffordshire Regiment) Regiment is perpetuated today in the 3rd Battalion, Mercian Regiment.