William Charles Harris

William(known as Buck) 1921

William was born 23 February 1896 and baptised on 3 May 1896 at St. Mary’s Church, Saxlingham Nethergate. His parents were William and Emma Harris (nee Flint). They both came from Saxlingham Nethergate and he was a labourer and later a teamster on a farm. They married on 14 November 1894 in St. Mary’s Church. They had seven children.

Agnes May born 3 February 1895

William Charles born 23 February 1896

Winifred E born 1896

Robert J born 1900

Elizabeth born 1902

John born 1905

Rosa born 1909.

In 1901 the family were living on Pitts Hill, Saxlingham. In 1911 William was living at home and aged 15  was working as a blacksmith.

On 21 September 1914 he joined 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment, Service number 15391. He was 5 feet 6 inches tall with a fresh complexion, grey eyes and fair hair. He had been working as a blacksmith for three years.

The 9th Battalion trained in Shoreham and Aldershot, and on 30 August 1915 went on active service in France. At the end of September they were involved in attacks on German trenches near La Bassee Canal and suffered heavy losses. In the History of the Norfolk Regiment it is said that the battalion had the misfortune to be sent into a big battle almost immediately after it had arrived and before it had become accustomed to its conditions. The battalion was involved in numerous battles with varying success. In some they had heavy losses of men.

 The conditions in which they had to live and work during the Winter of 1916-1917 were particularly bad. Their colonel, Colonel Prior, wrote that the trenches were filled with cold liquid mud in which the men had to stand on sentry duty. Their arms and legs became completely numb. When they came off duty in the morning they had to return to dark, muddy dugouts ‘sodden with wet, caked with mud, and exhausted with cold and exposure, and sleep, if they could, just as they were. And that went on night after night for the whole tour of duty, varied only by sudden death in the shape of a hostile shell, a patrol into the unknown dangers of ‘No Man’s Land’, or a hostile attack’ (History of Norfolk Regiment, page 263)

William was taken ill with jaundice and admitted to the 1st Canadian Hospital, Etaples on 24 March 1917. He was sent back to England on 30 March 1917 and admitted to the Military Hospital, Trent Bridge, Nottingham on 31 March 1917. This hospital had been created in the Pavilion at the Cricket Ground at Trent Bridge. It was one of the few hospitals to have electricity. He left hospital on 16 May and was on leave until 25 May 1917. He was posted back to France 15June 1917.

Trent Bridge Military Hospital Nottingham

The poor living conditions, the close proximity of the men and the poor sanitation caused many men to suffer from jaundice. It is known to be a disease of conflict.

 The battalion was involved in the First Battle of Cambrai on 20 November 1917. This was successful with many Germans killed and taken prisoner.  During the following days the battalion was involved in consolidating its new position and wiring the area. On 30 November the Germans mounted a counter attack and on that day William received a gunshot wound to his left thigh.

He was admitted to 2nd Stationary Hospital in Abbeville on 1 December 1917. On 7 December 1917 a telegram was sent to his parents saying that he was dangerously wounded but they were not allowed to visit him.

His condition improved and he was transferred to Clandon Bank Park Hospital, Clandon, Guildford on 5 March 1918. This hospital was in a large private house some of which had been converted into a hospital in 1914. It had 100 beds and an operating theatre. It took soldiers from the Front.

Clandon Park Hospital

 He survived the wound but at some stage part of his leg was amputated. He was in the hospital until June 1918.

He was given leave on 8 June 1918 before being admitted to Queen Mary Hospital, Roehampton which specialised in such injuries. He was fitted with an artificial leg.

Ward in Queen Mary Hospital, Roehampton

The hospital also had courses to enable those who had lost a limb to work. Having lost a leg William would no longer have been able to work as a blacksmith. He became a boot maker and shoe repairer having a workshop in his garden. The hospital ran cordwainer courses and so it is assumed that this was where he was retrained and learnt his trade. Boot making was considered a suitable occupation for a person without a leg as it could be done sitting down.

Courses at Queen Mary Hospital, including bootmaking

In 1923 he married Winifred Edith Mary Catchpole, born 9 February 1895. They lived in the Street in Saxlingham next to his mother and some of his siblings. He was known as William Harris Junior. They had three sons.

Herbert W.C. born in 1924,

Frederick T. E. born in 1925

Leslie N born in 1928.

William liked cricket and supported the local cricket team. He is in a photograph standing next to the Cricket Team which won the Soames Cup in 1921.

Saxlingham Cricket Team 1921, after winning the Soames Cup. William is standing with a stick first from left

He worked as a boot repairer and lived at Stone Cottages, The Street, Saxlingham Nethergate. He had a workshop at the back of the cottage. He was known as Buck Harris.

In 1939 he was living at the above address with his wife and his three children. Herbert was working at the Flour Mill, probably Duffield’s Mill in Saxlingham Thorpe and the other two boys were still at school.

William died in 1965.



England & Wales, Birth, marriage, death index 1837-2005

UK Census Collection

British Army Medal Roll Index cards, 1914-1920

1939 Register- www.findmypast.co.uk

Norfolk Electoral Rolls-Southern Division Saxlingham Nethergate and Thorpe,  (Absent Voters Lists 1918-1920), 1927

British Army Service Records

Norfolk, Church of England Diocesan Baptismal Records, Saxlingham Nethergate.

Norfolk Regiment Casualty record.  Regimental Museum, Norwich

The History of the Norfolk Regiment- F. Loraine Petre. Published by Jarrolds.

Photograph Queen Mary Hospital, Roehampton. www.historicengland.org.uk

Cricket Photograph by kind permission of Edna Carr. (Her uncles are in the photograph. Tom English, 3rd from left, George Baker 3rd from right and her father, James Baker 5th from right)

Clandon Park Hospital photograph  www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk

Trent Bridge Military Hospital photograph – Trent Bridge remembers the Great War- www.trentbridge.co.uk

Leaflet : The Future of our disabled sailors and soldiers- a description of the training and instruction classes at Queen Mary’s Convalescent Auxiliary Hospitals, Roehampton.  Warwick Digital Collections, http://cdm21047.contentdm.ocl.org

If anyone has any photographs or information about this person please contact me. Email jan@janmfox.co.uk