Harold HENSHALL
Rank: Private
Number: 54622
Unit: 6th Battalion MACHINE GUN CORPS
Date of Death: 22 March 1918
Age: 31 (based on 1901 Census)
Cemetery: Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Harold was born in Poynton and was living there when he enlisted into the army. Although the village War Memorial records the name of Thomas Henshall, who was presumably a relative, there is no mention of Harold. He is, however, recorded on the Hazel Grove Memorial and, it must be assumed, he had close family living there. Certainly around the turn of the century, Harold had lived in Hazel Grove with his parents and two older siblings, Sarah and Jim. Their home was at 216 London Road and this is probably where James Henshall ran his drapery business. James is thought to have died on 1903.

When Harold joined the army, possibly in 1916, he was assigned to a Territorial Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers for training purposes. He was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps and was probably attached to one of its Companies which, at the beginning of March 1918, were amalgamated to form the 6th Battalion of the Corps.

A large scale German attack had been widely expected for some time and the British troops were as well prepared as possible. News that it was imminent was received by the Battalion during the night of the 20/21st . When under attack, the Battalion had a specific defensive role. Assuming it was at full strength (and the indications are that the 6th wasn't), then it would deploy all of its 64 heavy Vickers guns along the line held by the Division with their fields of fire carefully inter-locked. They would then pour fire into any advancing infantry. Used like this, machine guns were a devastating weapon, capable of firing off a belt of 250 bullets in 30 seconds.

The Battalion's War Diary, held at the National Archives at Kew, holds a very detailed account of the fighting on the 21st. The position of each gun and how its team handled themselves is described and it was, clearly, a most difficult day. The strength and ferocity of the German assault was certainly unexpected. By the end of the day, only nine guns were still operational but, during the evening, another 12 new ones were brought forward from the stores in the reserve areas. Perhaps unsurprisingly in view of the casualties, there is no diary entry for the 22nd so it is not possible to know under what circumstances Harold was killed. It is known that, by the morning of the 22nd, the Battalion had retreated from its original positions at Favreuil and was under attack near the village of Vaux. A further, even stronger, attack was made at about 9.30am and this succeeded in forcing another British retreat.

The Battalion was relieved from the fighting at 8.20pm. A later note in the War Diary records "As it was impossible to send orders to any surviving guns in front about the relief, (infantry) battalions were ordered to bring out any of our guns that were with them. None, however, came back." The same note records that the casualties over the two days were 14 men definitely known to have been killed and a further 199 were missing. There would also be some dead amongst this group, although most would have been taken prisoner. Almost certainly, Harold would have been buried, with dignity, by the advancing Germans once the fighting had quietened. However, they would have had little interest in trying to identify each British soldier and this will account for why Harold has no marked grave.

   
           
   
     
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