Harold Arthur PERCIVAL M.M.
Rank: Private
Number: 200625
Unit: D Company, 11th Battalion SHERWOOD FORESTERS
Date of Death: 5 November 1918
Age: 36
Cemetery: Le Cateau Military Cemetery, Nord, France

Harold was born locally, the youngest son of William and Charlotte of Hazel Street, Hazel Grove. The family worshipped at the local Congregational Church and Harold had furthered his education by attending its Sunday School. At some point, he moved to Belper and, from about 1906, worked there for the English Sewing Cotton Ltd. He also married Sarah Jane who, after the War, was known to be living at Nether Laurie, Belper Lane.

He enlisted into the army in the town, joining the local Regiment in 1914. His service number indicates he was originally posted to the Regiment's 4th (Reserve) Battalion and he spent two years in the UK and a further year in Ireland on garrison duty with one of its "second line" Territorial Battalions. Towards the end of 1917, the 11th Battalion was detached from the fighting in Belgium and France and was one of a number of units sent to Italy where they faced the Austro-Hungarians. It was at this time that Harold was sent overseas, no doubt as one of draft of re-enforcements to bring the Battalion up to strength. He will have seen action at the Battles of Asiago and the Veneto. Less than a month before his death, Harold and his mates retuned to France for the final offensives of the War.

Although Harold is recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as serving with "D" Company, there is no specific mention of this company being in action during November 1918 and he may have been attached to one of the other three. In the early hours of 4 November, the Battalion moved off from Pommereuil to Malgarni, where they dug in to new positions. At "zero hour", at 5.45am, "A", "B" and "C" Companies advanced. There was some fighting but by the end of the day, there had been a successful advance and the men secured for the night along the road between Landrecies and Maroilles.

A further advance started at 6.15 on the 5th, with "A" Company acting as the vanguard. It encountered heavy machine gun and rifle fire but captured the first objective at Old Mill des Pres. "A" Company and half of "B" now pushed on to Maroilles and prevented the Germans blowing up the bridge.

Later, Harold's officer wrote to his wife telling her what had happened. His name is not known but his mention that he had only known Harold for three days means he was, probably, one of the eight newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenants who joined the Battalion on 3 November. Harold was his servant, or batman as it would now be called. John Eaton, in his book, "Hazel Grove to Armageddon" recalls the letter:

".....About noon, he and I found ourselves alone towards the centre of the town, with six Huns holding a bridge over which we had to advance. Your husband went back and got two more men and together we rushed forward. The Huns were taken by surprise and, after firing a machine gun at us for a few minutes, cleared off. The bridge was fully mined and but for the rapid advance would have been blown up. .......When we got to the bridge I ordered two men to cover our advance while your husband and I crossed the bridge. Here your husband shot two Huns and I shot one, reducing their number to three. We went on another 50 yards and then quite suddenly a machine gun fired at us from less than 15 yards. Four bullets struck your husband in the thigh and stomach and he fell. I threw myself down flat and the machine gun continued to fire at us. But by some miracle missed me. About five minutes later the machine gun and Huns cleared off. I then said to your husband "I'm going to chance it and have a look at you" but he replied "Don't be foolish. Keep still or they will get you as well". When I got to him the machine gun started to fire again and again I missed the bullets.

He insisted that we must wait until things quietened down ere he was moved but I was able to get him to a small hollow in the ground where no bullets could get him. I then got hold of some men and advanced again but not before I personally directed the stretcher bearers to your husband. That was the last I saw of him. On the stretcher, he became unconscious...."

Harold lived long enough to be evacuated to a field hospital some miles behind the lines. There military surgeons will have done all they could for him, but without success. His bravery was quickly acknowledged by the award of the Military Medal. Normally such awards would take several weeks to approve and might not be officially published for months. However, the Battalion's War Diary entry for 29 November confirms that the award was to be made, although it did not appear in the London Gazette until December 1919. Regimental records show the award was made for "For actions on 5.11.1918 when he and Private Stallebrass rushed forward to prevent the blowing of a bridge at Maroilles under heavy Machine Gun fire."   Albert Stallebrass also received the Military Medal. The records add significant detail to his and Harold's bravery "For gallantry on 5.11.1918 during an attack on Maroilles, an enemy Machine Gun which was in a farm building was holding up the advance guard. Under very heavy Machine Gun Fire this man worked his Lewis Gun section onto a flank and brought effective fire to bear on the enemy position. He afterwards charged the enemy and drove him out thus allowing the offensive to proceed. Throughout the whole operation this man displayed marked courage and ability. This action was completed with the aid of Private H. Percival, who also received the same award."

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