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Harry Beetham

Harry BeethamLance-Sergeant Harry Beetham, 50006, Essex Regiment, 10th Battalion

Harry Beetham was born in Ossett on the 15th October 1892, the first child of local house painter, Joseph Beetham, and his London-born wife, Clara (nee Fossey) who married in Dewsbury district in late 1890. The couple had five children from their marriage, but sadly two had died before April 1911.

Harry was the only boy and he was baptised at South Ossett Christ Church on the 23rd November 1892, the son of Joseph and Clara of Victoria Buildings, South Ossett. In 1901 and also in 1911, Harry lived with his parents and siblings on Manor Road and on the latter date, when aged 18, he was working as a mill hand in the woollen trade.

On the 1st November 1908, Harry Beetham, of 5 Manor Road, Ossett enlisted for four years in the Territorial Force in the 1st/4th Battalion the King’s Own Light Yorkshire Infantry (KOYLI) Regiment. He claimed to be 17 years and 1 month old, but in fact he was barely 16 years of age. At the time of enlistment, he was a mill hand working for Messrs. Mitchells, probably at Hope Mill on nearby Spa Street, Ossett.

His army service number was 665, indicating that he was the 665th man to join this Territorial regiment. The physical criteria for joining the Territorials was the same as for the Regular Army, but the lower age limit was 17. At the end of his four-year engagement terms, on the 31st October 1912, Harry re-engaged (and admitted his true age of 22) for a further year, until October 1913. He did the same twice again until October 1914 and then October 1915. In the absence of him re-engaging again then, his Territorial service would terminate on the 31st October 1915.

The Territorials prime duty was to serve within, and provide defence for, the United Kingdom. They were not obliged to serve overseas, but instead were enlisted on the basis that in the event of war they could be called upon for full-time service or 'embodied'. Harry Beetham was therefore 'embodied' without delay, on the 5th August 1914, the day after Britain declared War on the Central Powers, and he served in the U.K. until the 12th April 1915. Harry Beetham had waived his right not to serve overseas and he embarked at Folkestone for France on the 13th April 1915.

His service was due to terminate on the 31st October 1915 and on 17th October, he was transferred from the field to a depot in readiness for his discharge to England on the 29th October. He was formally discharged at Wakefield two days later, having served with the 4th Battalion, KOYLI for seven years.

On the 6th January 1917, Harry Beetham, aged 24, a fireman of Manor Road, Ossett married 21 year-old Edith Ellis of Greenwood’s Yard, The Green, Ossett at South Ossett Christ Church. The couple lived at 38, East View, Horbury Road, Ossett. There were no children.

In May 1916 Harry re-joined the Army and was attached to the 10th Battalion, Essex Regiment in France. Still only in his mid 20s, he quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant. Harry Beetham's cousin Fred Beetham also served in the army during WW1 and also lost his life.

The 10th (Service) Battalion of the Essex Regiment was formed at Warley in September 1914 as part of K2 and came under orders of 53rd Brigade in the 18th (Eastern) Division. They moved to Shorncliffe and then Colchester, going on to Codford St Mary in May 1915. On the 26th July 1915, the Battalion landed at Boulogne, the division concentrating near Flesselles.

10th Battalion, Essex Regiment were involved in an a poorly coordinated and ultimately unsuccessful attack on Tombois Farm and the Knoll beyond, to the east of Epehy on the 21st September 1918. This was a heavily fortified area of the German Hindenburg line and the Knoll had defied repeated attacks in April 1917 with many casualties. Attacking with an exposed flank, the battalion hardly made it out of the start line; small parties made it to Tombois Farm, only to be mown down ruthlessly, and the attack was brought to a standstill before much ground was gained. 65 men and 1 officer from the 10th Essex were killed on 21st September 1918, including Lance-Sergeant Harry Beetham.

"On 21st September 1918, 53 Brigade, assisted by seven tanks, was detailed to take the Knoll. 54 Brigade was allocated the trenches lying across the top of Macquincourt Valley, between the Knoll and the farm, while 231 Brigade of the 74th Division was to attack the farm itself. Zero was 05:40 a.m. The 7th West Kents took Sart Farm, a nasty stronghold bristling with trench mortars and machine guns, while on its left, the 10th Essex passed through Tombois Farm. The Essex were then brought to a halt by a curtain of fire coming from the front and both flanks. Enemy machine guns on Gillemont Farm spur, Grafton Post and in Lark Trench poured an unremiitting fire into one company, while another was forced back from Egg Post." 1

The "Ossett Observer" 2 had this obituary for Harry Beetham:

"Intimation was received yesterday of the death in action on September 21st of Sergeant Harry Beetham, whose widow resides at the home of her parents, at 26, Horbury-road, Ossett. Sergeant Beetham, who was in the Essex Battalion, was in the local Territorials when war broke out, and went out to France in due course. Eventually on the expiration of his enlistment as a Territorial, he received his discharge, but after being at home nearly a year, he again joined the colours in May last year. Since then he had been most of the time in France. In civil life he worked as a firer at the mill of M. Oldroyd and Sons, Dewsbury."

Tombois Farm 1917/18

Above: The battleground at Tombois Farm and The Knoll where Lance-Sergeant Harry Beetham was killed on the 21st September 1918.

Harry Beetham was killed in action on the 21st September 1918, two weeks before his 26th birthday and six weeks before the Armistice. Harry’s medal card bears his KOYLI service number 665, and it records that he was awarded the British and Victory medals together with the 1914-15 Star in respect of his overseas service with the regiment before 31st December 1915. His service record with the 10th Essex Regiment has not survived.

Edith Beetham, the widow of Harry Beetham, of 38, East View, Horbury Road Ossett, was granted Administration of his estate on the 10th February 1919 at Wakefield. Harry’s effects were £26 17s 3d. It appears likely that Edith remarried after the War in either 1920 or 1923.

Lance-Sergeant Harry Beetham died on the 21st September 1918, aged 26 years, and is buried at grave reference I. B. 4. at Unicorn Cemetery, Vendhuile 3, Aisne, France. Vendhuile is a village about 19 kilometres north of St Quentin and 24 kilometres south-east of Peronne. Unicorn Cemetery is about 3 kilometres south-west of Vendhuile on the west side of the road to the villages of Lempire and Ronssoy.

Vendhuile (Vend'huile) was very nearly reached in the Battle of Cambrai 1917. It was taken by the 27th and 30th American Divisions at the end of September 1918, and cleared by the 12th and 18th Divisions on 30 September. After the fight, men of the 18th Division were buried by the 50th (Northumbrian) Division in Plot I, Row A, of Unicorn Cemetery (the name is taken from the Divisional mark of the 50th Division). The rest of the cemetery was formed after the Armistice when graves were brought in from the surrounding battlefields, isolated sites and from the other small cemeteries of 1917 and 1918.

Harry Beetham was originally buried in Lempire British Cemetery, which originally contained the graves of 118 soldiers from the United Kingdom, one from Australia, 15 American soldiers and 40 German prisoners. It was made by the 18th Division Burial Officer after the Division had cleared Lempire on the 19th September 1918. It was on the Eastern side of Lempire village.

The cemetery now contains 1,008 burials and commemorations of the First World War. 409 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to ten casualties known or believed to be buried among them. There are also special memorials to eight casualties buried in Lempire British Cemetery whose graves could not be found on concentration.

References:

1. "Epehy: Hindenburg Line" by K. W. Mitchinson, Bill Mitchinson, Pen & Sword Books Ltd (12 Jan 1998), ISBN-10: 0850526272

2. "Ossett Observer", 5th October 1918

3. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site