Died of Wounds
Regiment: Leicestershire Regiment
Battalion: 1st/5th Battalion
Service Number: 4750/241749
Date of Death: 21st June 1917
Age when killed: 38
Cemetery: Loos British Cemetery (XIX A 20)
Born: Hoby 1879
Parents: William & Eliza Harris, The Elms Cottage, Hoby
William was born about 1879 at The Elms Cottage Hoby; his parents were William and Eliza Harris. According to census records in 1891 William, aged 11 was a farm labourer and in 1901 he was working for the Midland Railway. However by 1911 we believe that William had joined the army and was stationed with 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment at Aldershot.
William was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal which indicates that he did not serve overseas in 1914 or 1915. At the outbreak of war some of the regular army was kept in the United Kingdom to train the vast number of volunteers and William may well have been one of these soldiers. At the time of his death he was serving with the 1/5th Battalion Leicestershires. William’s Commonwealth War Graves Commission record says he died of wounds on 21st June 1917. William’s injuries were not however sustained in battle. William and twenty two comrades were killed by gas in what today would be called a friendly fire incident. The regimental diary for 21st June 1917 reads: Accidental gassing of C comp by R E, cylinders of gas fell in one line. Causalities: 3 officers, 91 O. R. of whom 22 died.
This account of the accident was written by Captain J. D. Hills, M.C., Croix de Guerre:
………… at dusk on the 21st we received a message, and at once warned all ranks, that the Special Brigade Royal Engineers were going to carry out a gas bombardment of the mine buildings of Fosse 3. Projectors would be fired by a Company operating with the Canadian Corps, from whose front the buildings could be best attacked. The wind was satisfactory, and the buildings were at least 150 yards away from our nearest trenches, so there seemed no need of any special precautions.
“C” Company occupying Boot and Brick trenches, heard the familiar explosion as the projectors went off, and waited to hear them fall in the buildings. Instead they fell in our trenches, several hundred of them; in a few seconds, and before any warning could be shouted the trenches were full of phosgene, the deadliest of all gasses. Officers and men worked hard to rouse those resting, and in particular, 2nd Lieutenant Banwell taking no heed for his own safety, went everywhere, rousing, rescuing and helping the badly gassed. But it was too late, and all through the night and next morning casualties were being carried out to Lievin and down the line …….. …… “C” Company was wiped out and temporarily ceased to exist. Twenty four died from the poison, and in all sixty-two others of the Company went to Hospital.
William is buried in the Loos British Cemetery along with his comrades.