William James Harris (1898 – 1917) is the great uncle of my sister-in-law.

William was the oldest child of James Harris and Rose Harris née Dawson. He was born at Nyngan, central New South Wales.

William joined the Australian Imperial Force on 5 April 1916. He was a station hand, eighteen years and two months old. He was five feet six inches tall, had hazel eyes and brown hair. (Initially he gave his height as five feet three and half inches – perhaps it increased when he stood up straight.) He was not married and gave his next of kin as his father who was then living at Quakers Hill in Sydney.  His enlistment was recorded in the Evening News that day.

NAA: B2455, HARRIS W J Page 1 of 47 HARRIS William James : Service Number – 5580 : Place of Birth – Nyngan NSW : Place of Enlistment – Sydney NSW : Next of Kin – (Father) HARRIS James

William was assigned to the 15th reinforcements of the 17th Battalion.

In June 1916 William was farewelled in a function at the Quaker’s Hill School.

SOLDIERS’ FAREWELL. (1916, July 1). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), p. 11. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article86072592

On 9 September 1916 William embarked from Sydney on HMAT Euripides A14. After training in England he arrived in France in December 1916. He was wounded in May 1917 and was admitted to Rouen hospital. He rejoined his battalion in June.

On 20 September 1917 William was killed in action near Ypres, Belgium.

In October 1917 the Blacktown Shire Council extended their condolences to the father of William Harris. (“OF THE BOYS.”. (1917, October 20). The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), p. 12. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article86092675)

The unit diary records the action on 20 September 1917. The casualties were 9 officers and 299 other ranks. It was a successful attack which gained almost a mile: but at the cost of one man killed or wounded for every five yards/paces.

 

War diaries/AWM4/Class 23/Sub class 34/AWM4 23/34/26 – September 1917 page 2

The attack of German positions in front of Westhoek was part of the Battle of Menin Road.

12 September 1917 – View of a demolished German strongpost at the foot of Westhoek Ridge in the Ypres sector. Note the crater filled with water right foreground. Australian War Memorial image id E00908
27 September 1917 – A view of Westhoek Ridge, in the Ypres sector. Note the debris in the foreground, and the shell damaged trees. Australian War Memorial image id E00981

The War Diary of the 17th battalion includes the orders for 20 September and a detailed report of the battle. My captions include the orders relevant to William and other privates.

 

There were three objectives: a red line, followed by a blue line and thirdly a green line. The attack was to be in leap frog fashion. The 17th battalion was to go first.
The distance between waves was 70 yeards. Troops allotted to the attack were to wear a coloured diamond or stripe on the back of their helmets, for example, red for the 1st objective of the red line.

 

Dress will be battle order; water proof sheets will be carried rolled up on the back. Each man will carry 220 rounds S.A.A.,2 Rifle grenades, 4 sand bags, 1 Iron ration, 1 emergency ration, Balance of day’s rations, 2 full water bottles.

 

Greatcoats will be dumped in the Transport lines and will be done up in Section bundles and marked with the man’s name and section.

 

The words RETIRE and WITHDRAW are ABSOLUTELY FORBIDDEN. … All troops must keep close to the Barrage, and RUSH WITHOUT HESITATION every enemy position.

 

Detailed report of the day. 8.20 am 17th Battalion first wave passed jumping off point.

 

4.45 pm Fear casualties very heavy; fully 40%; … Stretchers badly wanted.

In June 1918 a package was returned to his father of William’s effects. This included his identity disc.

NAA: B2455, HARRIS W J Page 34 of 47

A pension of one pound per fortnight was grandted to William’s father in December 1917.

NAA: B2455, HARRIS W J Page 37 of 47
NAA: B2455, HARRIS W J Page 34 of 47 Letter on behalf of James Harris. He is said to be “an old man & has three children to keep, as his son was almost his support”

William is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres; he has no known grave. He is one of 4,417 men who died on that one day in Belgium. 1,067 are remembered on the Menin Gate memorial.

Also killed in action in the Battle of Menin Road was my husband’s great uncle Stanley Gilbart Edwards (1889 – 1917).