Harry Earl was born around 1892 to Alfred and Emma Earl in the hamlet of Raby, in Cheshire. He was the older brother of my great-grandfather, Edwin Earl, and resided with his family in Neston. This short piece details what information I have been able to gather concerning Harry during the First World War. While an incomplete narrative, this piece sheds light on his experiences as part of the Liverpool Pals, up to and including his wounding at some point in early August 1916, near Givenchy in France.
Beyond this there exists little to no information concerning Harry during the last 2 years of the war, apart from the fact he was, at some point, transferred to the South Wales Borderers Regiment. To which Battalion, however, I do not know.
If more information becomes available then this account will be updated accordingly.
By 1914 and the outbreak of the First World War, at the age of 22, Harry enlisted in the British Army and joined the King’s Liverpool Regiment. Joining the 18th Battalion, Harry would most likely have enlisted at some point during the first week of September at St George’s Hall in Liverpool. By 31st August Liverpool had raised almost 1,100 men, enough for a battalion, and a week later had over 3,000, enough for three (17th, 18th, and 19th – or 1st, 2nd, and 3rd ‘Pals’). The 20th Battalion, or 4th Pals, was raised between mid-October and mid-November.
The 17th Battalion were billeted in an abandoned watch factory in Prescot, while the 18th Battalion was alotted the Hooton Park racecourse as the venue for their training, arriving there on 23rd September 1914. The 19th Battalion had to stay in their own homes (or other homes near to) Sefton Park where they would train while a permanent training camp in the grounds of Knowlsey Park was constructed. The 20th Battalion were billeted at Knotty Ash Tournament Hall.
At Hooton Race Course, the 18th Battalion occupied the stables beneath the old grandstand and drilled on the polo field in the centre of the track. They became known as “Trotter’s Greyhounds”, named after their commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Trotter who was keen on running as the primary form of training for his men and had the Battalion run cross-country each morning, leading them to “always (win) any inter-battalion running competitions” (Maddocks, 1991, p.39).
The 20th May 1916 edition of the Birkenhead News states that Harry, having fallen ill, was unable to travel to France with his Battalion who had left at the end of 1915. He was thus transferred to the 21st Reserve Battalion of the King’s, who had remained in England.
1st July, 1916: The Somme
It is possible that at some point between the publishing of the above article in the Birkenhead News and the commencement of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 that Harry re-joined the King’s 18th. If so, he would have been involved in the opening of the battle, as his Battalion went over the top in the first wave at 7:30am on 1st July.
As part of the 30th Division’s 21st Brigade, the King’s 18th were on the extreme right of the British line, next to the French army. Their objectives were clear: capture the trenches and fortifications of the ‘Glatz Redoubt’, a fortified German position described by Maddocks (1991, p.78) as “a warren of trenches, saps and hedgerows“, and allow the 90th Brigade (also a part of the 30th Division) to push forwards and capture the commune of Montauban.
The first wave of the King’s 18th crossed 500 yards of No Man’s Land to reach the German ‘Silesia Trench’ with little complication. Unlike in the Northern sectors of the battlefield, where British artillery batteries struggled to cut the German barbed wire, the superior French batteries in the south faired much better, allowing the men of the 30th Division to push forwards to the first line of trenches relatively unhindered. The German forces occupying the Silesia Trench, of the 6th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, were by now in full retreat towards their support line, which was subsequently cleared by bombing parties.
At this point, the Germans situated in reserve and rear areas began to rally, and machine guns were brought to bear on the 3rd and 4th waves of the King’s 18th making their way across open ground. In turn, as the foremost waves pushed onwards, they were to come under fire from enfilading machine gun fire positioned in the ‘Alt Trench’, a line protected by both bombing parties and snipers. The machine gun fire in particular proved devastating, accounting for a large portion of the King’s casualties on 1st July, before it was eventually silenced by a tenacious bombing part led by a Lieutenant H.C. Watkins.
With the machine gun accounted for, the King’s were able to push deeper into Alt Trench and clear it of German defenders, before the Glatz Redoubt itself was captured just over an hour after the commencement of the attack, at 8:35am. As planned, men of the 90th Brigade followed and 90 minutes later the commune of Montauban was in British hands.
By the end of the first day on the Somme, the King’s 18th Battalion had captured its initial objectives, fairing better than forces in the North who, apart from a small salient near La Boiselle (incidentally where Harry’s Brother Edwin was fighting later that same day), had failed to break through. Despite success, the King’s 18th suffered over 500 casualties from their assault on the Glatz Redoubt. As a result of these grievous losses, the Battalion returned to their initial assembly trenches the following day, and on the 4th were relieved by 9th Division’s South African Brigade.
August 1916: Givenchy
After fierce fighting at Guillemont, the 17th, 19th, and 20th Liverpool Pals were greatly depleted and did not return to the line until 26th August, while the 18th, having acted only as carrying parties during this period, were moved to the frontline earlier.
On 11th August 1916 the 18th Battalion were deemed fit for action and re-entered the line near Givenchy, North of the main Somme battlefield. Despite being deployed in an area away from the main area of fighting, the static nature of warfare here, and the relative closeness of British and German lines, had resulted in mining and counter-mining activities since 1915, as well as regular artillery actions and the use of both rifle grenades and trench mortars. In turn, trench raids and night patrols were regularly carried out to acquire information on enemy forces in the area as well as to “keep up the ‘offensive spirit'” (Maddocks, 1991, p.127).
On 19th August, news of Harry was featured in a local newspaper, detailing that he had recently been wounded.
The Birkenhead News, 19/08/1916
It is likely that Harry’s wounding, as reported in the 19th August 1916 edition of The Birkenhead News, took place while his Battalion were stationed in Givenchy, possibly during a trench raid. Harry, as a stretcher bearer, was out in No Man’s Land bandaging an injured comrade when he himself was wounded. Struck in the head by shrapnel, Harry’s life was saved by his steel helmet, and he and his fellow Kingsman spent the next 14 hours sheltering from artillery fire in a shell hole before finding their way back to the British first line and safety.
EXCITING EXPERIENCES OF A NESTON SOLDIER.
“Pte. Harry Earl, of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, who was recently wounded, has had some exciting experiences. He was acting as a stretcher bearer to his company, and was just about to bandage a wounded comrade when he got hit himself. The two of them manager to get under cover in a shell hole, and bandage each other up, but the bombardment was so intense that they stayed where they were until dark, with shells bursting all around them all day. When they ventured out at night, after being in the shell
hole for 14 hours, they had the greatest difficulty in finding their first line trench, but eventually got away safely, and had their wounds attended to. Pte. Earl was struck on the back of the head with a piece of shrapnel. He was wearing a steel helmet at the time, which in all probability saved his life. He is making good progress in a hospital at Derby.
A portrait of Pte. Earl appeared in our columns a few weeks ago, in connection with the news of his being wounded.”
The Birkenhead News, 23/09/1916
Beyond this information, records relating to Harry have been difficult to locate. As mentioned above, at some point following the Somme, perhaps once he had recovered from his head wound, he was transferred to a Battalion of the South Wales Borderers Regiment and, like his brother, survived the First World War.
If any new information is acquired then this account will be updated accordingly.