This story is the result of an investigation of documents held by Surrey History Centre. The file (SHC ref. CC7/4/4, nos. 1-50) contains correspondence and insurance claims on behalf of Surrey County Council Education Department employees who had been killed in action during the Great War. The cases date from 1915 to 1918.
Name: Harold Arthur Allin
Occupation: Assistant Teacher, New Malden East Council School
Birth Place: Northam, North Devon (1892)
Residence: New Malden
Date of Death: Killed-in-Action 23rd October 1917
Age: 26 years
Location: Near Poelcappelle
Rank: Second Lieutenant
Regiment: 17th (Service) Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers (1st South East Lancashire Regiment)
Harold was the son of Nathan, a carpenter, and Emily Allin, of Leonard House, Northam, Devon. They had two children, Harold and Elizabeth. Harold was unmarried.
Prior to coming to Surrey, Harold had worked for the Devon Education Committee. In the 1911 census he is recorded as boarding in Sidmouth, describing his occupation as teacher. He was later remembered in the Bideford Gazette as “a brilliant musician, composer and organiser of concerts”.
It is not known when he moved to Surrey and took up the role of Assistant Teacher at New Malden East Council School.
When war came, Harold initially joined the 15th County of London (Prince of Wales’ Own Civil Service Rifles) reaching the rank of Corporal. In April 1916, he was with the battalion when it went to Ireland to provide security following the Easter Rebellion. From here, the battalion was then sent to France onboard the H.T. Connaught, landing at Havre on 23rd June 1916.
During the following months they fought in the trenches, carrying out numerous raids and fighting patrols. The Bideford Gazette describes Harold taking part in many bombing raids and coming ‘safely through many “tight corners”’.
Harold appears to have left the battalion in November 1916 to take up a commission with the Lancashire Fusiliers. He became a Temporary Lieutenant on 15th February 1917, joining the 17th (Service) Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers which had been in France since early 1916. The 17th Battalion had originally been a ‘Bantam Battalion’, composed of men below the regulation height of five feet three inches. During 1916 it had fought at The Battle of Bazentin Ridge and was involved in fighting for Arrow Head Copse, Maltz Horn Farm, and Falfemont Farm. By the time Harold joined in early 1917, it had ceased to be a Bantam Battalion.
There is no record of Harold arriving at the battalion, but throughout 1917 it was acting aggressively, with numerous raids and fighting patrols being mentioned in its war diary. The Bideford Gazette describes Harold as being the ‘first to volunteer for any “hot work”, spending much of his time in “No-man’s land”’.
In October 1917, Harold and his comrades made their way north to the area of the Houthulst Forest, near Ypres, where the Battle of Passchendaele had been raging since July. On the 17th of October, they replaced the Grenadier Guards on the front-line.
On the night of 20th October, the battalion received orders for an ‘immediate attack’, and made its way to the area of Egypt House, a major pillbox, near Poelcappelle. During the day of the 21st they laid low in shell holes ‘trying to avoid the attention of numerous enemy aeroplanes flying low over the Front line’. Their objectives were trenches to the north, around Marechal Farm. At 5:30 a.m. on the morning of the 22nd October they went forward, achieving their objectives by 6:45 a.m., but in doing so they had advanced well ahead of their neighbouring battalions.
The 23rd Manchesters had failed to keep up, exposing the right flank of the battalion. The war diary reports an ‘uneasiness’ within the Lancashires about their situation. They began consolidating their positions, all the time ‘under continual sniping and machine gun fire’. At 4:31 p.m. a counter-attack by the Germans was repulsed, and again the following day. By this time, however, the battalion had established itself in its new positions. It had to endure not only enemy fire, but also heavy rain. There was little cover, and shell holes began to fill with water.
The regimental history describes the men being ‘released from their ordeal’ on the night of the 23rd. During this attack, the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers had lost four officers killed and thirty-two other ranks. Harold was one of those killed.
A letter from 2nd Lieutenant William Watt to Harold’s family, dated 27th October 1917, provides details of his death:
‘It is with deep regret that I have to convey to you the sad news of the death in action of your son 2/Lieut. H. A. Allin who was killed by a sniper on the morning of 23rd inst. after we had made an attack. He suffered no pain whatever as his death was instantaneous.
I was beside him when he fell and I can assure you that he died doing his duty to the very last.
We had consolidated our position but were being sniped at from various enemy positions in front of us. Your son detected a sniper quite near at hand and there and then ordered his men to open fire on the enemy and it was while giving this order that the sad affair happened.
Lieu. Allin was beloved by all ranks in this battalion and while his brother officers have lost a true and sincere friend his men have lost a leader whom they respected and loved.
My sincere sympathy goes out to you and all the relatives of my brave and noble friend’.
Harold’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel F.J.F. Cross D.S.O., is quoted in the Bideford Gazette:
‘Mere expression of sympathy can be but little comfort in such a loss, but I think you would like to know how gallantly he died. He led his men over in the first wave of a great attack, reached and held all that he had been ordered to, but on the evening of the second day, whilst holding gallantly, under the most awful conditions, to the captured ground, he was shot by a sniper’s bullet and died instantly. He was one of my best young officers and has always done splendid work for the battalion. He was a great favourite with both his fellow officers, and with his men…’
After his death, Harold’s family pursued an insurance claim with Surrey County Council, who had taken out an insurance policy on behalf of Harold. As part of this process, local enquiries were made into the circumstances of the family. Harold’s family, who were still living in Northam, were described as ‘most respectable and have a small business as a working carpenter… Mr and Mrs Allin are careful and are very respected in the neighbourhood’. His family would have eventually received approximately £100.
Harold’s body was never recovered, and he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, and also on the Northam War memorial – http://www.devonheritage.org/Places/Northam/Northam1914WarMemorial.htm
He is entitled to the British War Medal and Victory Medal.
Surrey History Centre ref. CC7/4/4/file 33
Major-General J.C. Latter, The History of the Lancashire Fusiliers 1914-1918 (Aldershot, Gale & Polden Ltd., 1949).
Regimental War Diary – 17th (Service) Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers
The Lancashire Fusiliers Annual, 1917
Supplement to the London Gazette, 15 February 1917. p. 1638
Northam and West Ho! Remembered, http://northamremembered.org/people/allin-harold-arthur
Bideford Gazette, 6th November 1917 – ‘Lieut. Harold Allin Northam’
Commonwealth War Graves Commission – https://www.cwgc.org/
Ancestry website – https://www.ancestry.co.uk/