yeovil at War

Harold John Palmer

Killed in action on the Western Front

 

Harold John Palmer was born in early 1894 in Yeovil and baptised at Holy Trinity church on 15 March 1894 - at this time the family were living at 17 Summerhouse Terrace. He was the younger of the two sons of printer / compositor Walter Michael Palmer (1868-1959) and his first wife Blanch Edith Rochford née Rose (1868-1925). In the 1901 census the family were boarders at 120 Sherborne Road. In the 1911 census the family were listed at 9 Mill Road (Mill Lane?) and 17-year old Harold gave his occupation as a hatter's assistant. By 1917 the family were living in Woodland Grove.

It is not known when Harold enlisted, but he enlisted at Aldershot giving his home as Yeovil. He initially joined the Somerset Light Infantry (Service Number 21127) but was soon transferred to the 2/4th (Territorial) Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales's (Royal Berkshire Regiment). His new Service Number was 203159.

It is thought that Harold enlisted during late 1916, joining his new battalion in France during the late spring / early summer of 1917 after completing basic training in England.

The 2/4th Battalion had been fighting a series of actions known as the Operations on the Ancre that lasted from 10 January until March 1917 and Harold most likely joined them during this period amongst replacements for losses sustained by the battalion.

From 14 March to 5 April 1917 the 2/4th Battalion was involved in what became known as the 'German retreat to the Hindenburg Line'. During the Somme fighting the Germans constructed a formidable new defensive system some miles in their rear. From February 1917 they began to withdraw into it, giving up ground but in carrying out 'Operation Alberich' they made the ground as uninhabitable and difficult as possible. British patrols eventually detected the withdrawal and cautiously followed up and advanced, being brought to a standstill at the outer defences of the system. Following this period, the battalion settled down to the daily life of trench warfare. Harold must have been an exceptional soldier since by August 1917 he had been promoted to Corporal (or Sergeant, depending on the source).

The 2/4th Battalion made an attack on the German lines on 22 August 1917. Not returning from the attack, Harold was posted as missing. The Western Gazette, in its edition of 14 September 1917, reported "Anxiety is felt regarding Sergeant Harold Palmer of the Royal Berks Regiment, who, according to letters received by his parents, Mr and Mrs WM Palmer of Woodland Grove, is reported missing. Sergeant EW Clark, writing on the 25th ult., states:- “The Battalion made an attack on the German lines on August 22nd and after a great deal of hard fighting with advancing and retiring, the Battalion was relieved, and up to now Harold has not returned. He was last seen carrying out his duty, and as stragglers are still coming in we are very hopeful that many of the missing may yet return.” Still recently Mr and Mrs Palmer have received a letter from the Captain of their son’s Regiment, stating that he had hoped to have obtained some definite news. “The Company never sustained a greater loss,” he writes, “for he was undoubtedly one of our best sergeants. He did his work loyally and well and was always cheerful. I sincerely trust that even yet we may hear something definite concerning him, and I beg you to accept my heartfelt sympathy in these your days of anxiety.”

A year later Harold was declared dead and in its edition of 9 August 1918, the Western Gazette reported "The greatest sympathy is felt for Mr and Mrs WM Palmer, of Rockford, Woodland Grove, who on Saturday received notification from the Record Office, Warwick, that no further news having been received relative to their youngest son, Sergeant Harold John Palmer (Royal Berkshire Regiment) who was posted missing on August 22nd 1917, the Army Council were regretfully constrained to conclude he was dead, and that his death took place on August 22nd 1917, or since. Enclosed with the communication was a message of sympathy from the King and Queen, and an expression of the regret of the Army Council at Sergeant Palmer’s death in his country’s service. The late Sergeant Palmer was 24 years of age."

In fact Harold's body had been recovered and was interred in Tyne Cot cemetery, West Vlaanderen, Belgium, Grave III.D.24. and his name is recorded on the War Memorial in the Borough.

 

gallery

 

The record of Harold's baptism from the Holy Trinity register.

 


This photograph features in my book 'Yeovil From Old Photographs'.

This postcard, taken from Summerhouse Hill, dates to about 1905 and shows the row of houses in Summerhouse Terrace at centre. The Palmer family lived at No 17.

 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate commemorating Harold Palmer.

 

King George V, seen here, visited Tyne Cot Cemetery in 1922 during his visit to the cemeteries of the First World War.

 

Harold Palmer's CWGC headstone in Tyne Cot Cemetery.

 

Tyne Cot cemetery, West Vlaanderen, Belgium. 

Tyne Cot Cemetery is in an area known as the Ypres Salient. Broadly speaking, the Salient stretched from Langemarck in the north to the northern edge in Ploegsteert Wood in the south, but it varied in area and shape throughout the war. Tyne Cot Cemetery was greatly enlarged after the Armistice when remains were brought in from the battlefields of Passchendaele and Langemarck, and from a few small burial grounds. King George V visited Tyne Cot Cemetery in 1922 during his visit to the cemeteries of the First World War. At his suggestion, a Cross of Sacrifice, also called the Great Cross, was placed on the original large blockhouse. Two remaining German blockhouses can be seen today. There are now more than 11,900 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in Tyne Cot Cemetery. More than 8,370 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to more than 80 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials commemorate 20 casualties whose graves were destroyed by shell fire. There are also four German burials, three being unidentified.