Private Harry THOMPSON


Regiment/Service:
Cambridgeshire Regiment
(Formerly: Royal Army Service Corps (M.T.))
Unit:
1st Battalion
Service Number:
36743
(Formerly: M/288173 Royal Army
  Service Corps (M.T.))
Date of Death:
29 March 1918 - Died of wounds   
Age:
19
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Reference:
Fontaine-les-Cappy Churchyard
Extension Memorial 2.

Personal History:
Harry was born in the March quarter 1899, the son of Robert (Labourer) and Jane (née Perks) Thompson. In 1901 (Census RG 13/3271) they were living at the home of Jane's father, John Perks, at 30 Macclesfield Old Road, Burbage, Buxton.
Ten years later (1911 Census RG 14/21238) they were at the same address, still with John Perks, and Harry now had a younger brother, John Robert. In reporting his death on the 10th August 1918, 'The Buxton Advertiser' stated that before his enlistment Harry had been "apprenticed to motor engineering" at 'Pyle Brothers'.

Military History:
Harry enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corps (R.A.S.C.) at Buxton, before, sometime later, transferring to the Cambridgeshire Regiment. There appears to be no record at The National Archive of his Medal Index Card. However, there is a record card for "Private 36743 Harry Thompson" of the Suffolk Regiment which is undoubtedly Harry - see below.

'The Buxton Advertiser' gave his enlistment date as about August 1917. Harry's Service papers have not survived and without them it is not possible to say what his War service postings were, nor when he transferred between Battalions.

All units formed by the Cambridgeshire Regiment were of the Territorial Force. Not surprisingly, at the start of the Great War the 1/1st Battalion was in Cambridge, part of the East Midland Brigade in the East Anglian Division. It moved on mobilisation to Romford but soon moved on to Long Melford, then in September 1914 to Stowlangtoft and on to Bury St Edmunds in November. On the 15th February 1915 the Battalion left the Division and landed at Le Havre, where it came under the command of the 82nd Brigade in 27th Division.

[N.B. In February 1916, after a period as a Training Battalion, Harry future unit transferred to 118th Brigade in 39th Division, and on the 9th May 1918 transferred again to the 35th Brigade in the12th Division and absorbed more than 400 men from 7th Suffolk Regiment. Even though Harry died 6 weeks before this transfer of men, it may be that his Medal Index Card was inadvertently given the wrong Regiment.]

On the 21st March 1918 The First Battle of the Somme began, as the German's launched the Spring Offensive. The 39th Division were in action during The Battle of St Quentin, 21st - 23rd March; The First Battle of Bapaume, 24th - 25th March, and The Battle of Rosières, 26th - 27th March. The Battalion War Diary provides details of the 1st Battalions actions during the opening days of the Battle:

"At 5.45 a.m. on March 21st the Battalion was in camp at MOISLAINS when the order was received "Prepare to Move". After standing all day the order to move to LONGAVESNES was received at 4.15 p.m. and the Battalion marched out at 5.00 p.m. ... All ranks were in fighting order with overcoats, Officers wearing the same uniform as the men."
During fighting on the 22nd, a day when the Battalion lost 23 men killed in action, the War Diary reported: "Numerous casualties were attended to at R.A.P. but the problem of getting them away caused some anxiety as the Field Ambulance at LONGAVESNES had been compelled to move by heavy shelling, and the nearest known Ambulance was at TEMPLEUX-LA-FOSSE."

During the course of the next few hours heavy pressure on the front lines caused the 117 Brigade troops to slowly withdraw.
At 9.00 a.m. the following morning (23rd) a verbal order was given for "a rearguard action to be fought by the Sherwoods and Cambridgeshires to cover the withdrawal of the Division." Later in the day the 1st Battalion marched to St Denis and after a short break, continued its withdrawal towards St. Quentin.

At 12 noon on the 25th March the Battalion received notice that the enemy had crossed the canal at La Chapelette and taken La Maisonette Ridge. The Battalion engaged the enemy at 9.00 p.m. that night in BIACHES, but after an hour they were ordered to withdraw to HERBECOURT and by 4.30 a.m. on the 26th had taken up a line close to the village.

"At 7.45 a.m. the right flank of the new line gave way ...... The enemy attack was accompanied by intense machine gun fire but little artillery. ...... The enemy continued to press heavily ... during the whole of the day the Battalion fought rearguard actions until they finally arrived at the next selected position."

The CWGC Records show that the Battalion lost a further 18 men during these two days of action.

Harry died of his wounds on the 29th March and is most likely that he received those wounds in on of the
actions described in the War Diary. He is commemorated in Hangard Communal Cemetery Extension,
though is not buried there. The original extension to the communal cemetery was made by the Canadian
Corps in August 1918. It was greatly increased after the Armistice when graves were brought in, mainly
from the battlefields of Hangard and Hangard Wood and other smaller cemeteries.

"Other special memorials commemorate nine casualties buried in Fontaine-les-Cappy Churchyard
Extension .... whose graves could not be found on concentration." The Memorial to Harry we see today
commemorates his burial somewhere in the Churchyard at Fontaine-les- Cappy.

Sources:
· "The Buxton Advertiser" - 10 & 17 August 1918
· I am grateful to Glen, via The Great War Forum, for the War Diary extracts
· I am also grateful to 'British War Graves' for the photo of Harry's grave

Link to CWGC Record
Pt Harry Thompson's grave
poppy
Fontaine-les-Cappy Church
Fontaine-les-Cappy Church
Pt Harry Thompson