Researched and written by Anne Wright
Pte H A Pook
1st Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, attd. 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers
Killed in action, 3.5.1917
On 8 June 1917 the Surrey Herald carried a plea from a desperate father, Mr J D Pook, seeking information about his son Harold Alfred who had been reported missing after ‘an engagement in France’ on 3 May. Mr Pook hoped to hear news of his son as the Herald was ‘…..so widely read both at home and at the Front.’ Harold was killed in the brutal Arras Offensive but his story had begun twenty years earlier; his birth was registered in the Chertsey District in the first quarter of 1897. He was the eldest child of James Doddridge, a bricklayer, who went on to become a builder’s foreman, and Florence (nee Humphreys) who had married the year before. Three more children followed – George, Phoebe and Freda. In 1901 their home was at Gladstone Villa in Oakdale Road, Weybridge and by 1911 they had moved to Sunnymead in New Haw. Harold was educated at St James’ School (Baker Street) before becoming a plumber’s mate.
He enlisted in Addlestone, when is not known, and was initially posted to the Royal Sussex Regiment (4/5324) before his connection to the 1st Battalion, Royal Fusiliers and eventually being attached to the 4th Battalion in early April 1917. In the two months before he joined them Harold’s final unit were based in and around Arras, either in the trenches or occupied in working parties. They received 87 reinforcements to the ranks on 4 April; it is likely that Harold was one of them. He was just in time to be engulfed in the Arras Offensive which began five days later. This was a major operation intended to break through the German lines and end the stalemate on the Western Front.
The 4th Royal Fusiliers left their assembly trenches at 7 am on 9 April. They reached the last trench of the old German front line but then came under heavy shell and shrapnel fire which increased as they descended a slope. They were then forced to stop for a few minutes to allow the creeping barrage to move on, however, the right flank had been caught by the barrage and had ‘suffered considerably’. The enemy trenches were captured as the wire had been well cut by the artillery. The day had cost the battalion 2 officers killed, 4 wounded, 37 other ranks killed, 126 wounded and 30 reported missing. Harold’s unit held their position during the next day and moved to an assembly position on 11 April to continue the advance.
At 6.45 pm on 13 April they moved forward once again. They had to endure three enemy barrages and came under heavy machine gun fire on both flanks. The unit made it to a sunken road where they were held up by severe rifle fire; only three officers remained with the companies. The battalion had left their assembly point just one and a quarter hours earlier; 3 officers were dead, 2 wounded, 12 other ranks were dead, 40 wounded and 34 missing. They were ordered to withdraw. Harold and his comrades spent the rest of the month in billets in Arras or Duisans carrying out training, parades and inducting reinforcements. Their respite was brief.
On 1 May the 4th Royal Fusiliers went into trenches east of Monchy-le-Preux. Two days later they attacked once again. At 3.45 am on the 3rd their supporting barrage lifted and advanced in waves of 100 yards with the battalion following at a distance of 75 yards. Not long after starting they were hit by heavy machine gun fire from the right flank and there were heavy casualties as the German front line had been left untouched by the advancing barrage. Upcoming support had been decimated crossing no man’s land and the unit did not have enough strength to complete their mission despite repeated attempts to hold on as their right flank was rolled up by the enemy. The leading companies reached the line 100 yards east of the Bois des Aubepives and dug in. They faced two counter attacks the second of which came from three directions. The two leading waves of the unit were feared to have been cut off, yet the remainder of the battalion held its ground until nightfall with just one officer left. They then retired to their original position.
The 3 May 1917 cost the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers the following casualties: 4 officers killed, 4 wounded, 3 reported missing, 30 other ranks killed, 156 wounded, 99 missing and three suffering with shell shock. Harold was reported missing, presumed dead. It is not surprising that the army could give little information to Harold’s anxious parents considering the events of that day. The 4ths had been attacking a major defensive part of the Hindenburg Line which resulted in fierce, bloody, attritional combat. The Arras Offensive came to an end three days later; no breakthrough had been made.
Harold’s body was not recovered. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial (Bay 9) with almost 35,000 other casualties. He is also remembered at St Paul’s Church and Victory Park in Addlestone and on the Memorial to the Fallen of St James’ School in Weybridge. Harold’s father died in 1935 and his mother in 1952.
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