Harold SYMES
Rank: Private
Number: 220003
Unit: 5th Battalion BERKSHIRE REGIMENT
Date of Death: 21 September 1918
Age: 24
Cemetery: Vis-en-Artois Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Thomas Symes and Frances Jackson had married at All Saints’ Church, Heaton Norris in the early 1890s. Harold was their eldest son and was born about 1894. When the census was taken in 1901, he now had three younger brothers – William (then 5), Leonard (3) and Herbert (3 months). The family was living at 49 Grimshaw Street and, by 1914, had moved to 177 Hall Street, where Thomas practiced his trade as a French polisher.

Nothing is known of Harold’s early life but when the War came, he was not an early volunteer for the army. He originally joined the local 6th (Territorial) Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment and was given the service number of 3870. This was probably in mid to late 1916. Territorial soldiers were given new six-digit numbers at the beginning of 1917 and Harold’s was 266460. This is the only Cheshire number appearing on his medal entitlement records at the National Archives dating his going on active service to after early 1917.

At some point, he was transferred to the Berkshire Regiment. The reason for this is unknown but men were often moved if they had been away from their unit for a considerable period, perhaps recovering from wounds or illness. When they were fit enough to return to duty, the new battalion would have been in greater need of replacements. Whatever the reason, Harold’s Berkshire number is one associated with the Regiment’s 4th Battalion, indicating that he had another later transfer to 5th Battalion.

The British Army had been attacking since the beginning of August 1918. The defeats and retreats of the spring were now behind them. The fighting remained hard as the Germans fought a valiant retreat but the pressure on them was constant. On 18 September, Harold and his mates had attacked near the village of Epehy. Although not a major success, it was clear that the German Army was weakening and this encouraged the Allied commanders to press home further strong assaults.

The next morning, these further attacks were made, with the Berkshires capturing Room and Poplar Trenches by 10pm, in spite of unexpected strong opposition in this sector. They were relieved from the front line during the 10th, but formed up again at 11pm on the 21st. Harold attacked for the last time at midnight. By 2am, the objectives had been secured, but he was dead. His body was never recovered and identified.

After the War, Mr & Mrs Symes were known to be living at 41 Offerton Lane.

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