Major H.B.C. Arthur, Royal Field Artillery – KIA 10th August 1916

H.B.C. Arthur

Title: H.B.C. Arthur
Description: Harry as a lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery by-nc

Henry Bartle Compton Arthur – known as Harry to his family – was born in Kensington on 14th October 1879. He was the youngest of seven children born to John Raynor Arthur and the Hon. Aileen Spring Rice.

Harry attended Wixenford School, Winchester College and New College, Oxford. He took his degree early due to the outbreak of the Second Boer War and was recommended for a commission in the Royal Field Artillery by the Vice-Chancellor of New College. He joined 46 Battery at Rawalpindi as a 2nd lieutenant in 1900.

Harry spent most of his pre-war Army career in India. He had a brief stint at home in 1907-08, when he was attached to the Royal Horse Artillery and probably attended Staff College at Camberley, and then returned to the subcontinent where he was promoted to captain in 1911.

While he was away, his mother (by then a widow) moved to Well House, Banstead. The house used to stand at the eastern end of the High Street, where Well House flats are now, behind the War Memorial. Harry never lived at Well House but he probably did stay there on at least two occasions and he regularly wrote to his mother and sister there. Many of his letters have survived and they have been painstakingly transcribed by his great-niece, Susan Lucy. They give a fascinating insight into the life of an artillery officer on the Western Front.

When war broke out, 5th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, were attached to the 3rd (Lahore) Division and they were sent to France in the autumn of 1914 with the Indian Expeditionary Force. Harry was the adjutant for 5th Brigade and he would have been heavily involved in planning their move to France. They arrived at Marseilles on 7th November 1914 and marched north to Artois.

Harry was soon promoted to major and given command of 64 Battery. Their six 18-pounder guns provided artillery support for the troops of the Lahore Division. The Battery was sited near the front line and they were shelled by the Germans several times. Harry spent much of his time in observation posts, often in abandoned houses, which were shelled regularly and had to be “changed from time to time on request of the Germans“.

We have built up a great sandbag arrangement and nothing but a direct hit would be likely to harm us… The first shell or two fall warmingly close & you retire to a dugout round the corner whilst the house has its dose, after which you emerge again.

They fought in defence of Givenchy (Dec 1914), took part in the hurricane bombardment at Neuve Chapelle (March 1915) and were rushed north for the 2nd Battle of Ypres (April 1915). Harry nearly missed his battery going into action as they were dispatched to Ypres while he was returning from leave but he cadged a lift in a motor car in time to join them. Afterwards, Harry wrote “I’m afraid I can’t say we were sorry when we came out of action… The peace after coming away is a great contrast…” and remarked that it had been “quite the warmest corner I’ve been in so far.” Harry was wounded for the first time a few days later, a head wound that affected his eye, at Festubert (May 1915) .

In a letter written on 10th May 1915, the day after the battery had been cutting wire on the first day of the Battle of Festubert, he described the place in which he was billeted in a letter home in May 1915:

My Dearest Mamma

            Here’s my letter block so why shan’t I write to you. This is a rummy place up here where I am waiting with nothing particular to do for the time – desolation – a street with a few farm cottages, old bricks strewn everywhere and tiles and a few odds and ends of equipment, a scratch cradle of old telephone lines repaired in every direction hung up against odd poles & festooned against houses – a great pile of trench work, some pollards cut about by shrapnel, a group of soldiers graves. Behind my chair an estaminet (pub) and behind them orchards, trenches, noman’s land – and the Germans. A lovely day for it all & I swear the only vile thing is the Bosch… What a glorious time of the year you must have been having at home & how much I wish I were back with [you]. I can’t believe that I was there 10 days ago or a fortnight.

The Lahore Division left for Mesopotamia at the end of 1915 but Harry’s brigade remained in France, serving with the Canadians in the Ypres Salient. Harry returned home on leave in May 1916, spending time with his dying mother, and was later wounded during heavy fighting at Ypres soon after his return.

They 5th Brigade were attached to the 4th Australian Division in July 1916 and went into rest billets. They missed the first few weeks of the Battle of the Somme, and Harry chafed at being stuck in the wagon lines while the great offensive was underway.

You will marvel when say that we are still resting. They must have forgotten us. We haven’t had an innings for quite a long time now.”

Pozieres was captured by the Australians on 23rd July. Harry was marching south as a further small advance was made on 3rd August, prompting a German counterattack on the 7th. Harry’s battery arrived at the head of Sausage Valley, a shallow valley south of La Boiselle that was the main communications route to Pozieres, on 9th August and they were in action immediately to repel a German attack. The next day, shells struck the Battery. One of Harry’s subalterns was hit and mortally wounded. Harry was tending to him as another shell found 64 Battery. Harry was killed. He was 36.

Harry was awarded the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the 1914 Star and was mentioned in Dispatches three times.

He is buried at Gordon Dump Cemetery at Ovillers and is commemorated on the Banstead War Memorial, the Garton Memorial in All Saints’ churchyard, on the wooden panels in the Lady Chapel in All Saints’ and in Winchester College’s War Cloister.

Harry was commemorated at All Saints’, Banstead, on 10th August 2016, the 100th anniversary of his death. A service of remembrance was held and a bell was tolled 100 times by a family who live on the site of Harry’s old family home.

With many thanks to Ernest Manicom for the transcripts of Harry’s lette
rs and to Winchester College Archives for supplying Harry’s photograph.

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