Lieutenant Colonel Harold Lewis

Researched and written by Anne Wright

Lt-Col H Lewis
37th Lancers (Baluch Horse), attd. 20th Battalion, Manchester Regiment
Killed in action, 1.7.1916
Age, 35

Harold Lewis was of Jewish descent through his London based great-grandmother Elizabeth Levy (1784-1859) , his grandfather, Charles, was a son of her first marriage; his original surname is not known but he adopted Lewis as his family name. He and his son Ernest (1837-1926), Harold’s father were both married in the Anglican faith. Ernest Lewis enjoyed two careers, one as an army officer and one as a businessman. He was a founding director of the Army & Navy Stores of Victoria Street, London and remained with the business for over forty years. He married Maria Jane Dickins (1847-1903) in 1866; they had seven children, one daughter and six sons. Harold Lewis, born on 31 July 1880 in Upper Norwood, Croydon was their sixth child.

The Lewis parents and children were in separate households in Norwood in 1881; the children were with a servant and another family at 30, St. Aubyn Road whilst the parents resided at Pendennis, Beulah Hill. Ten years later the family home was at Oakfield, Station Road, Walton-on-Thames and in 1901 Ernest and Maria lived at Darley Dene in Addlestone. None of their children were with them at this date. By 1911 Ernest was a widower and had moved to his final home, the Red House, West Road, Guildford. Harold had begun his military career when he graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant from the Royal Military College (precursor of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst) on 23 January 1899. The following year on 11 April he was attached to the Indian Staff Corps and on 25 January 1902 promoted to Lieutenant. Six years later on 25 January 1908 he was a Captain with the 37th Lancers (Baluch Horse). From 1910 to 1912 he served at the Staff College at Quetta (India, now in Pakistan). He was probably accompanied by his wife. Harold had married Eleanor Mary Ryley at St. James’ Church, Weybridge on 25 January 1906. She was the daughter of Col. Frank and Mrs Laura Ryley of Buriton, Dorchester Road and had been born in India in 1876.

By the end of 1914 Harold was attached to the Adjutant General and Quartermaster General’s staff but from 5 November 1915 he was in France serving as a Major with the 1st Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment. He remained with them until 6 March 1916; they had had a terrible time in the Battle of Loos in September 1915 but this later period was relatively quiet; they were in and out of the trenches close to Bethune and to Bray-sur-Somme. Harold did take over command of the battalion on two occasions which was pertinent experience for his role as Commanding Officer of the 20th Manchesters. Between March and the end of June this battalion was often in the front line at Fricourt and in billets at Morlancourt in the intervening periods. On 1 July they took part in the opening day of the Battle of the Somme which was to become according to the historian, Mark Adkin, ‘the bloodiest single day of the war for the British army.’

The 20th Manchesters attacked between Fricourt on their left and Mametz on their right. Both villages had been become virtual fortresses under the Germans. The Manchesters’ objective was to reach the German trenches to the south of Mametz Wood by the end of the day. They launched their attack at 2.30 pm with A and B Companies taking the lead and D Company in support. Harold was with D Company. As they advanced they were hit by heavy machine gun fire from Fricourt; the rear of B Company and two platoons of D Company suffered many casualties. By 2.45 pm Harold was dead; Adjutant Captain F. Bryant assumed command. At the beginning of the day the battalion had 20 Officers and 670 Other Ranks by 5 July 10 Officers were dead, 5 wounded, 110 Other Ranks killed, 171 wounded and 29 missing. Mametz was taken but the British remained 750 yards short of their day’s objective on 1 July. An officer who served with Harold wrote of him:

He combined all the elements of a gentleman with the instincts of a soldier, and everyone in the Battalion, from the last joined private to the senior officers, loved him. He died as he would have wished – in the thick of it.
(Surrey Advertiser, Monday, 17 July, 1916)

He is buried in Danzig Alley British Cemetery (VI I I) 8 km east of Albert. Harold had been twice mentioned in Despatches. His widow, Eleanor, did not remarry. Between 1919 and 1921 she lived with her father-in-law in Guildford. They had both suffered much loss. Eleanor had not only lost her husband but also her brother Captain Herbert Ryley who had been killed in 1914 and her father-in-law had not only lost Harold but also his youngest son Wing-Commander Donald Lewis who was shot down in April 1916 as well as his son-in-law Captain Godfrey Hawes, R.A.M.C who was drowned when his medical ship hit a mine in April 1917. Eleanor later moved to Fareham and she died in the Blighmont Nursing Home in Southampton on the 12 September 1951.

Sources:

British India Office Ecclesiastical Returns – Births & Baptisms, www.findmypast.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
The London Gazette (London, England), 1825-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, 1973-1995, www.ancestry.co.uk
Lieut-Col Harold Lewis, Surrey Advertiser, Monday, 17 July 1916, www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk
Ward, Robert Wealth and Notoriety – the extraordinary families of William Levy and Charles Lewis of London, 2013

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