Gunner Harry Hanson Furniss, 74875, Royal Garrison Artillery, 296th Siege Battery
Harry Hanson Furniss was born in Ryhill near Wakefield in 1891, the second child and only son of four children born to coal miner Burton Furniss and his wife Martha (nee Garside), who married in the Dewsbury in 1883. The couple had six children from their marriage, but sadly two children died before April 1911. Whilst Harry was born in Ryhill his parents and siblings were all born in Ossett.
In 1901 the family were living on Teal Street, Ossett, next door to the Little Bull public house. In 1911, Burton and Martha and their four children have moved the short distance to a three-roomed house at 10, South Parade, Ossett. Burton is working as a hewer at the local pit where Harry, now aged 20, is also working as a colliery surface worker.
Harry Hanson Furniss married Susannah Colley on the 4th December 1915 and the couple lived at 6, Hope Street, Manor Road, Ossett . A child, Lilly Furniss, was born to the couple on the 23rd November 1916.
On the 11th December 1915, a week after his marriage, Harry enlisted and joined the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was 25 years of age, 5’ 6¾" tall, weighed 146lbs with a chest measurement of 37”. He was an Assurance Collector by trade. Harry Furniss served 'at home' until the 3rd September 1916 when he embarked for France and on the 9th September he joined the O.C. 3 Siege Battery.
He was posted to the 3rd Army pool on the 17th February 1917 and to the 153 Siege Battery on the 2nd April 1917. On the 19th April 1917, he was admitted to hospital and on the 25th April 1917, he was invalided to England with renal colic. He received treatment at Birkenhead Military Hospital until the 29th May 1917, when he was discharged, but he had further treatment at Ripon Command Depot South Camp for the same complaint between the 7th and 27th June 1917.
He returned to France on the 10th September 1917 and the S.M. Field Ambulance, France reported that Harry was killed in action on 21st March 1918 of a shell wound.
Harry’s effects were not specified, but they were forwarded to his widow Susannah in February 1921, to her address at 26, Park Street, Park Square Ossett. This was her address in May 1919 when she was required to notify the army authorities of her deceased husband’s closest relatives. Their daughter, Lilly Furniss was living with her mother and Harry’s parents, Burton and Martha Furniss were now living at 10, South Terrace, Ossett with their surviving children, Mary E (30) Ethel (25) and Sarah Ann (21). Harry's widow Susannah Furniss went on to remarry a man called Albert Fidler in the Sheffield area in 1920.
Siege Batteries of the Royal Garrison Artillery were equipped with heavy howitzers, sending large calibre high explosive shells in high trajectory, plunging fire. The usual armaments were 6 inch, 8 inch and 9.2 inch howitzers, although some had huge railway or road-mounted 12 inch howitzers. As British artillery tactics developed, the Siege Batteries were most often employed in destroying or neutralising the enemy artillery, as well as putting destructive fire down on strongpoints, dumps, store, roads and railways behind enemy lines.
296th Siege Battery was equipped with 4 x 6" Howitzers and they joined 14th Heavy Artillery Group on the 21st December 1917.
No War Diary exists beyond February 1918 for the 296th Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery, but given the location of Gunner Furniss's grave at Marteville, near St. Quentin in the Aisne area, it is likely that this is the location that his unit was based when the German Spring offensive 'Operation Michael' started on the 21st March 1918 with a huge artillery barrage on British positions.
"At St. Quentin, the artillery bombardment began at 04:40 on the 21st March when an intensive German barrage opened on British positions south west of St Quentin for a depth of 4–6 km (2.5–3.7 mi). At 04:35 a heavy German barrage began along a 40 mi (64 km) front. Trench mortars, mustard gas, chlorine gas, tear gas and smoke canisters were concentrated on the forward trenches, while heavy artillery bombarded rear areas to destroy Allied artillery and supply lines. Over 3,500,000 shells were fired in five hours, hitting targets over an area of 150 sq mi (390 km2) in the biggest barrage of the war." 1
The "Ossett Observer" 2 had this obituary for Gunner Harry Furniss:
"Yesterday morning a telegram was received from army headquarters, stating that Gunner Harry H. Furniss (27), of the R.G.A., whose wife and child reside at Park-square, Ossett was killed in action on the 21st ult. A letter was also received from the major of the battalion stating that the deceased was hit by a shell and died without gaining consciousness. The writer added that any Englishman might be proud in the way he met his death, as he was attending to the wounded at the time. His end was universally mourned by the battery. It is about two years since the deceased went into the army, and the second time that he has visited the Western front. In May last year he was invalided from the front, suffering from fever and pneumonia, but returned in September. For a couple of months he had been acting as a doctor's orderly. In civilian life the deceased was an insurance agent, and previously had worked at the Old Roundwood Collieries."
Above: 6" Howitzer in action during WW1, as used by 296th Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery. The 6inch (152mm) 26 cwt (1320kg) Howitzer was developed in 1915, to replace earlier British models of the same calibre, and it soon became the standard British medium howitzer: 3,633 had been manufactured by the end of the war. Range was between 8.7km and 10.4km, depending on the size of shell.
Harry Hanson Furniss was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals.
Gunner Harry Furniss was killed in action on the 21st March 1918, aged 27 years. He is buried at grave reference A. 5. with four others and is remembered by special memorial at the Marteville Communal Cemetery, Attilly,3 Aisne, France. Marteville is situated 8 kilometres west of St Quentin. The British Plot is on the northern side of the Communal Cemetery.
The village of Attilly was occupied in April 1917, and British burials were made in the Communal Cemetery by fighting units in April and May, 1917, and January, March, September and October 1918, and by the enemy in March 1918.
There are now over 70, 1914-18 war casualties commemorated in this site. Of these, a small number are unidentified and some graves in Row A, identified as a whole but not individually, are marked by headstones bearing the additional words: "Buried near this spot". One grave, destroyed by shell fire, is represented by a special memorial.
2. "Ossett Observer", 6th April 1918