Percival William (WP on CWGC) HARPER
Rank: Lance Corporal
Number: 12368
Unit: 19th Battalion MANCHESTER REGIMENT
Date of Death: 1 July 1916
Age: 22
Cemetery: Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France

Percy's inscription on the Stockport War Memorial records him as P W Harper. Somewhere in the process the initials have become transposed as all official records of his birth and military service record his name as William Percival. It is an understandable error as he was generally as Percy.

His parents were Herbert Harper, a joiner by trade and Elizabeth Harper. The family lived at 138 Old Road, Heaton Norris and, before that, at 47 Gradwell Street, Stockport. The 1901 Census shows that he was one of six children - Harry (then 11), Frederick (10), Elsie (8), Percy (7), Ernest (5) and Walter (3).

When War was declared in August 1914, Percy was working as a clerk for Morgan & Crossley Ltd, Miles Platting , Manchester. In the October, he enlisted into the fourth of the "Pals Battalions" being formed by the Manchester Regiment and was assigned to No. 13 Platoon, "D" Company. Some details of the recruitment and training period can be found here. They went overseas on 7 November 1915, arriving at Le Havre the following day. They continued to train and receive instruction in trench warfare and took over a section of the front line, on their own account, for the first time on 8 January 1916.

Over the next few months, Percy spent tours of duty in the front line for two or three days, alternating with similar periods in reserve. Occasionally, the Battalion was withdrawn further into reserve, when the men would be engaged on road building or the movement of stores.

During the night of 30 June, battalions moved into the assault positions for an attack the next day that was to become known as the First Day of the Battle of the Somme. The 19th Manchesters were in the front line of the attack on the part of the battlefield that was to capture the village of Montauban. Their task was to capture an enemy stronghold called the "Glatz Redoubt", roughly halfway between the German front line and the village. Its capture was key to the success of the whole of 30th Division's attack on the village. They had spent days away from the front line training in every detail of the attack. At 5am, the men were given a breakfast of dry bread, cheese and water and were told to fill their water bottles. At 6.45, they were given the daily tot of rum.

For days, the enemy positions had been constantly shelled and this intensified in the final minutes before the whistles blew. Percy and his "Pals" left the protection of their trenches at 7.30am on a front some 300 yards wide. "A" and "C" Companies led the way, with "B" and "D" companies following about 100 yards behind. Almost immediately, the troops were subjected to fire from a machine gun on their left. This single gun would account for many hundreds of deaths and injuries that day.

They advanced slowly, keeping behind the British artillery barrage which was creeping forward in front of them and by 8.26am, they were starting to enter the Redoubt. With a few minutes, it had been captured. The Battalion now turned its attention to defence and the men started deepening the trenches and sandbagging the parapets. At 10.30am, half of "D" Company was sent to reinforce "C" in a captured German trench known as Nord Alley. They were constructing a strongpoint and came under very heavy fire suffering considerable casualties.

Other battalions now leap-frogged them to capture the village in one of the few successes along the 17 mile battle front that day. 61 members of the 4th Pals had been killed. Included in the roll call of the dead were two other local men, Raymond Grimshaw and Wilfred Larmour.

The Manchester City Battalions Book of Honour lists the original members of the Pals Battaliosn and it notes that, in the same platoon as Percy, there was a soldier called H H Harper, service number 12373. This man is Henry H Harper and is probably Percy's older brother shown on the Census as Harry. He served as a sergeant with the Manchesters and the Lincolnshires and is believed to have survived the war.

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