Harry Morris was born in Bolton, Lancashire on 28th May 1891 to Bertha Morris [née Hargreaves] and Nathaniel Morris a Hotel Proprietor, being their only child.
Harry was educated firstly at Kilgrimol School for Boys in St Anne’s, Lancashire and finally at Wellington College where he was a school prefect. On finishing his schooling he became a trainee civil engineer and was in the midst of a four year apprenticeship with CJ Lomax at the outbreak of the war.
On 8th September 1914 he enlisted as Private 5358 H Morris with 20th (Service) Battalion (3rd Public Schools), The Royal Fusiliers, in Manchester with the intention of becoming an officer the following year. He was duly commissioned as a Second-Lieutenant in the 2/5th Battalion, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment based in Bolton, Lancashire on 2nd April 1915 and two months later on 21st June he married his sweetheart, Elsie Trickett.
Elsie was the daughter of the late Sir H W Trickett, J.P., the ‘slipper king’. A self-made man, at the beginning of the century he employed over 1000 workers who produced in excess of 72,000 pairs of slippers per week. Knighted in 1909 by King Edward VII he was five times mayor of Rawtenstall and a Justice of the Peace; he died in 1913.
Harry and his Battalion moved to Ashford in Kent in September 1915 where he remained for over twelve months. By June 1916 he had achieved his temporary captaincy and the following month the Battalion moved to Aldershot before moving to a new base in Blackdown, West Sussex in October. Here they prepared themselves for France.
At 5.00am on the morning of 8th February 1917 Harry left Blackdown with a party of 37 officers and 988 other ranks for France, disembarking at Le Havre the next day. After they had fully assembled both horses and other equipment they entered the line in the FLEURBAIX Sector on 20th February. A week later they took over the right sector of II ANZAC, north of Le Tilleloy where they sustained their first casualties. By 1st April the Battalion strength had reduced to 34 officers and 930 other ranks.
On 2nd June 1917 the order of battle was changed and together with its sister battalion, 2/4th Loyal North Lancs, it was detached from 170 Infantry Brigade to form the 57th Division [Detached] and placed under the temporary command of the 3rd Australian Division. The purpose behind this move was to be able to hold the pivot, or right flank, of the 2nd Army attack on MESSINES RIDGE scheduled for the 7th June 1917.
At 3.10am on the morning of 7th June 1917 the Battalion was in PLOEGSTEERT WOOD. The battle began with the detonation of a series of mines beneath German lines, which created 19 craters and devastated the enemy front line. This was followed up by a creeping barrage 700 yards deep, covering the advancing British troops as they secured the ridge, with support from aircraft, cavalry and tanks. The effectiveness of the mines, barrages and bombardments was improved by technical advances in artillery survey, flash-spotting and centralised control of artillery pieces from HQ.
The Battalion War Diary1 stated:-
Heavy barrage put down by our own guns and enemy retaliated with all types of shell. Mines blown which shook the whole countryside which had been dug under the German lines. Over a million pounds of explosive were used, and the tremors were felt as far away as London but battn sustained no casualties through falling debris or collapse trenches. 15 mins after zero hour there was 15mins of continual rifle fire from the battn.
The offensive at Messines forced the Germans to move reserves from the Arras and Aisne fronts to Flanders, thus relieving pressure on the French army.
On 11th June 1917 Harry and his Battalion were relieved by the 3rd Canterbury Battalion, N.Z.E.F., and returned to billets in ARMENTIERES. This battle marked the first time that the Australians and New Zealanders had fought alongside each other in a major engagement on the Western Front.
The strength of the 2/5th now stood at 32 officers and 756 other ranks.
In July 1917 Harry led a couple of trench raiding parties with the “purpose of killing or capturing the enemy for identification.” Both were unsuccessful and no casualties were sustained. For the next couple of months their time was spent in training or in/out of the trenches.
By early evening of 24th October 1917 they had arrived north-east of POLECAPPELLE in midst of driving rain with mud all over the place. From there they were moved to the front ahead of an attack two days hence. To reach the starting line they had traversed narrow boardwalks made of wood planking which wound between the numerous shell-holes. Those men who slipped off the duckboards often drowned in the mud under the weight of their own equipment.
At 3.40am on the morning of Friday 26th October 1917 the Battalion had formed up on the ‘tape line’ without many casualties considering the appalling weather conditions. Two hours later at 5.40am the Battalion advanced on a 500 yard front in normal attack formation.
The going was almost impossible due to the ground conditions, however the men moved forward slowly & surely. The leading waves had not gone more than 50yds before they came under intense M.G. barrage which caused a great number of casualties, evidently the M.G. positions had been missed by our barrage. All Coy officers of the Btn became casualties during the early stages of the attack, but the Sergt’s and Junior NCO’s carried on the advance in a most determined manner. It is estimated that small groups of men reached and held shell holes about 500yds in advance of our […] line, and it was only due to very heavy casualties and the very thin line that was being held that it was decided to withdraw to our original position and consolidate there.
The enemy seemed to anticipate the attack and pushed small groups of men very close to our lines under cover of darkness. These groups missed our barrage & surprised the leading wave causing heavy casualties in the initial stages of the attack.
The enemy’s sniping was most efficient, it is most essential that all ranks are dressed alike as anybody assuming command, (ie) by pointing, shouting or directing was immediately sniped.
The heavy casualties were mostly due to heavy MG fire. The ground which had to be advanced over was dreadful. It speaks well of the men that they got along at all, it was almost impassable. It was found almost impossible to fire due to the mud which had collected on the rifles when the men fell in & out of shell holes waist deep in water. As it was almost impossible to fire a L.G. or rifle the bayonet came well to the fore. In the magnificent wielding of which the men of the battalion excelled themselves. The leading feature of the attack was the fact that the NCO’s so splendidly lead their men on after all officers became casualties early on in the advance.
At some point during the fighting Captain Harry Morris, 2/5th Battalion, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment was killed in action having sustained numerous bullet wounds to his legs and head. He was 26 years old and left a young widow, Elsie, who received notification of her husband’s death on 31st October 1917.
The Battalion was relieved in the early hours of the following day by 2/8th (Irish) Battalion, The King's (Liverpool Regiment) having lost 6 officers killed and 9 wounded; 42 other ranks killed, 144 wounded and 87 missing.
Harry’s body was initially laid to rest by the Germans in their military cemetery at Langemarck. However, on 11th January 1937 an exhumation party from the Imperial War Graves Commission carefully removed his remains and they were taken to Bedford House Cemetery, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen in Belgium and re-buried with full military honours in enclosure No.6. This enclosure was made in the 1930’s from graves that were discovered on the various battlefields of the Ypres salient. Items found on Harry’s body during the exhumation process, a disc and gold ring, were finally returned to his family twenty years after his death.
Not long after his death Elsie received the following letter from a brother officer, which left no shadow of a doubt that her husband was killed in Flanders. She had previously received a letter from another officer raising doubts about his demise. The writer said:
I have again made careful enquiries with regard to Harry, and am sorry to say they bear out what I had already learned. I saw two of his officers who became casualties later and two Corporals, who are in Harry’s Company and were near him during the advance. About two hours after the advance started, Harry was shot through both legs under machine-gun fire. One of the Corporals went to him and dressed his wounds, gave him a morphia tablet, and also a drink of water. The Corporal had to leave him to continue the advance, leaving Harry to be picked up by the stretcher bearers. Unfortunately, when they had left, Harry got another bullet through the head, which killed him. I only wish I could see you to describe the conditions which prevailed. Both Corporals tell me that if it had been humanly possible to carry Harry back, they would have done so.
Harry’s name appears on the family headstones in the churchyard at St Anne’s-on-Sea Parish Church, one of 113 names in its’ memorial chapel, and one of 175 names on the town war memorial in Ashton Gardens, St Anne’s–on-Sea.
The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment is perpetuated today in The 2nd Battalion, Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (King’s Lancashire and Border).