Major Breakthrough

A few days ago, I got in touch with someone who had family in the second battalion KSLI during the Second Battle of Ypres.  He turned out to be one of the most helpful contacts I’ve ever made!  He sent me some documents related to John’s life (more census forms, army records, pay stubs, etc.) and what they revealed to me has actually yielded a bumper crop of confirmations.

First, one thing that always bothered me is that a Yeovil historian I worked with had told me that John’s father died in 1891.  Not only did I remember living at home with immediate family in my earliest memories, but I also had no memory of the death of John’s father; I only remembered his mother’s death.  Naturally this glaring omission from my memory had always bothered me.

I now have proof in the form of army pay stubs and census records that William Harris, John’s father, was alive and living on Foley Street in Hereford until some time between 1915 and 1918.

I also have proof now, from a 1911 census record, that John went by “Jack,” but I don’t consider that a “major” confirmation because it’s a common nickname.  I think I like it better though; Jack Harris sounds like a Somerset lad through and through whereas John Harris sounds a bit stuffy.

The army pay stubs rendered another clue: nowhere on any of them is the beneficiary listed as one Margaret Harris.  The John Harris that married Margaret in Leominster in 1911 must have been a different John; I feel vindicated because I had no memory whatsoever of her.

Finally, the biggest and most exciting confirmation of all is that I did indeed travel to India.  While I didn’t remember being in the army before the war, I did have brief flashes of India that I’d always wondered about.  I had assumed that they were either suggestion or from the life before.

It turns out I enlisted in the KSLI in 1902, and stayed active until 1910 and in reserve until the early part of 1914.  Not only was I probably at Secunderabad, but it’s also possible that I traveled to Egypt on the way to India (via the Suez canal) and probably made port somewhere like Alexandria for a time.  This is rather fascinating because in my most recent published book, a character recalls his early career taking him to Egypt.  It also explains why I don’t have many memories of Hereford from that period!

However, the service records were not very auspicious, to say the least.  They attest to a bored soldier between wars who had plenty of time to get into trouble.  In eight years, I never made it past private and had good conduct badges revoked and pay docked on several occasions.

I now think that what happened in September 1914 was that I re-enlisted hoping to prove myself in a war; perhaps I felt that I had disappointed my father by not working my way up to NCO, and I wanted him to see me succeed while he was still alive.  I had missed out on the Boer War; India in the Edwardian era was pretty cushy (the word “Cushy” actually comes from Hindi).  The poster of Lord Kitchener may have reminded me of a father who was still alive but in ill health and spurred me on to try my fortunes in war.  Maybe it was a bad idea, but I think I understand my motives quite a lot better now.

The epitaph “He did his duty” means so much more now.  It’s a final footnote to a life spent trying to prove myself.

That Tune Again!

A couple years ago I remarked on how I had heard the melody “Va Pensiero” come up often.

I hadn’t really noticed it much lately, until this evening when I was browsing a series of recordings by the band and bugles of the Third Battalion of the Light Infantry (the division formed by merging the KSLI with various other Light Infantry regiments in 1963).

This was one of the recordings:

Did that song have some significance to our regiment, I wonder?  Is that why it has stuck in my head for so long, haunting me as if it was a clue to something?

I need to look into this.

EDIT:  WHOA.  I was just showing this to my fiance and he asked what part of the Bible the plot of the opera “Nabucco” is adapted from and I replied that Nabucco was the Italian name for Nebuchadnezzar, who is mentioned in the Book of Daniel… then it hit me like a ton of bricks that I’d been having a lot of dreams and visions related to the Book of Daniel lately!  The threads come together in a bizarre way.

A Century Now…

It’s now been a century since the Battle of Bellewaerde Ridge.

I remember only a few hazy fragments that I believe happened on that day, of moving across darkened fields lit only by moonlight and the reddish glow of distant fires, of barbed wire and bear traps that snared the legs of our best men, and of a feeling of profound and sustained horror, like the feeling of shock you get when your car goes out of control but attenuated and stretched over several long, agonizing hours.  I remember hearing things buzz by my head, unsure if they were bullets or the large corpse flies that seemed so ubiquitous on the Ypres Salient.

I still don’t know if the wood I remember was Polygon Wood from earlier on in the spring, or Railway Wood during this particular battle; if it was Railway Wood then in all likelihood I was in Y Company which managed to take the German front line, though I have yet to confirm this.  My memories are far more visceral than exact; I just remember there were good men being killed and maimed all around me and I was somehow left standing.

I can’t say I’ve been much at ease knowing this anniversary was looming but I’ve been trying not to think about it.  Here in the quiet suburbs west of Portland, a whole century and several lives later, it seems far away but I have only to be reminded of what happened and it’s real again to me.  If I close my eyes I can still see the sun rising blood red on those shell-scarred fields the next morning.

Not sure what I’m going to do today, besides rest and try not to dwell too much on those memories.  It was another life altogether; the eyes I saw it through are closed forever and there is nothing but to accept that what’s done is done.

100 Years Ago Today

The 2nd Battalion King’s Shropshire Light Infantry – Billets in Dickebusch

The 27th Division bombarded the German trenches facing its left section between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., and later that evening the Battalion relieved the 4/R.B. in trenches 13-18 covering St. Eloi. 1 man killed and 4 wounded.

———

7466 Pte. Henry Ernest, Jones, the Son of R. and C. Jones; husband of Mrs. E. A. Jones, of 20, Park Rd., Cwmpark, Treorchy, Glam.  Born St. James, Hereford

Enlisted at Hereford into Special Reserve early September 1914 and would have been posted to 3rd K.S.L.I.  Landed in France on 18/02/15 and posted to 2/K.S.L.I.

K. in A. 09/03/15 aged 31 Buried in Voormezeele Enclosure, No. 3. (I.A.I).

Info. from 1914-15 Star Medal Roll, M.I.C., Soldiers Died & C.W.G.C.

A Major Twist

It seems that, reading through the back posts on that facebook blog I mentioned yesterday, I may have come across a piece of information that changes everything.

For the last 2 1/2 years I’ve assumed that my identity during WWI was one John Harris, and that’s still the theory I have the most evidence for.  However, in a list of soldiers arrived in France around the same time as John, there was another entry:

6660 Pte. Albert, Harris, Posted to 2/K.S.L.I. (Wounded)

Some of you may recall that I found a headstone requisition from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website that listed John’s brother Albert as the next of kin.  Here, we have an Albert Harris that arrived in France with John, but was later wounded.

What I don’t know yet is if this is my Albert, because if it is, it opens up the distinct possibility that I was not John Harris, but Albert Harris, his brother.  This might explain why I recall standing at John’s grave.  If I discover that John’s brother did indeed serve in the KSLI Second Battalion and did indeed get a blighty one and survive the war at home, then this answers so many questions like my lingering suspicion that I lived a peaceful civilian life in England during the interwar years and perhaps even into the 1950s or 60s.  I have not had any confirmed memories of this era, but when I see films made or set in England during this period, or objects in use from those times, it feels so right.

However, if I was Albert, that would pretty much destroy any chance that I was Philip K. Dick and strangely, I’d be fine with that.  I’ve already proven that I can play the same games he could and it would let me off the hook about coming clean.  It would become nothing more than an amusing anecdote about the time I thought I was Philip K. Dick in a previous life and I turned out to be a wounded Tommy who died of old age around the time Phil was writing “Man in the High Castle.”

On the other hand, isn’t it weird that Albert’s service number is 6660?  I can’t help but think there might be some significance there given the weird synchronicities that have come up in this project.  666 in the Bible is, as far as I can tell, a code in Gematria to designate the name “Nero Caesar.”  Just the way I feel about that makes me think perhaps I was right about being Phil after all.

Nothing’s done yet.  Unless I can prove that Albert lived long enough to have visited John’s grave when the tree next to it had grown to a mature size, I still have more reason to believe I was John and everything that followed.

An Excellent Discovery- 2 KSLI Troop Movements!

I’ve discovered a blog that posts the troop movements of the KSLI every day on the 100th anniversary, so now I have no excuse not to have at least one post per day.

Some things I’ve discovered:

*I would have been posted to the battalion around 13 February, 1915 after only about a week in France.

*The names of the men who arrived in France around the same time I did (most or all of whom were posted to the Second Battalion).

*I would have been billeted in Flanders from relatively early on, at various locations.

*I spent a good bit of time around St. Eloi, more than I had realized.

Today’s post had the following information:

100 years ago today-7th March 1915

The 2nd Battalion King’s Shropshire Light Infantry – trenches 13 to 18 covering St. Eloi.

Two men killed and three offices and 9 other ranks wounded before being relieved by 4th R.B. On relief the Battalion marched to billets at Dickebusch.

——————

8983 Pte. Joseph, Pritchard,

Born Crewe, Ches
Resided Manchester, Lancs.

Enlisted Chester about late May to early June 1908

Landed in France on 21/12/14 with 2/K.S.L.I.

K. in A. 07/03/15

Buried in Voormezeel Enclosure No. 3 (I.A.3).

Info. from 1914-15 Star Medal Roll, Soldiers Died & C.W.G.C.

~~~

13806 Pte. William, Bamber, the Son of Abraham Bamber; husband of Agnes Bamber, of 15, st Clement St., Furthergate, Blackburn.

Born Great Harwood, Blackburn, Lancs.

Enlisted Blackburn, Lancs. between 10th & 28th September 1914

Landed in France on 18/02/15 and posted to 2/K.S.L.I.

K. in A. 07/03/15 aged 36.

His name is on the Menin Gate Memorial.

Info. from Victory/British Medal Roll, Soldiers Died & C.W.G.C.

May have been related to 13816 Pte. Edward Bamber.

——–

Wounded :-

Captain W.J. Brooke, of Haughton Cottage, Shifnal, Shrops.?

Lt. Geoffrey, Holman, of Wynerstay, Putney Hill, Surrey.

2nd Lt. Anthony Cyprian Prosper, Biddle-Cope, of London

Side Project

One of the many side projects I’ve got going is to build a catalog of all the known or likely soldiers of the 2 KSLI killed on the Western Front using data from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

I’m starting with the most challenging, the Menin Gate.  Unlike many monuments and cemeteries, the Menin Gate does not give a battalion number so I have to use a bit of logic.  Any casualty listed within the date range of the Second Battle of Ypres is included in my list.  The 2nd battalion was the only KSLI battalion on the Salient during those dates as far as I can tell so it’s mostly a matter of tediously noting down the dates and sorting out the 2nd Battalion from other battalions on the Salient at earlier or later dates.

I’ll also take down names and dates from 2 KSLI casualties buried on the Ypres Salient.  From this I should get a solid figure for exactly how many the battalion lost during that battle.

If time allows, I’ll add in the known losses from the Salonika campaign as well.

I don’t think anyone has ever done this before.  I may see about making this work available for whoever wants it because it could be of interest to researchers.  There is very little data on the movements, losses, and actions of the 27th division in general and absolutely no divisional history, which I feel is a tremendous shame given what they had to put up with in Flanders.

It’s funny, two years ago, I couldn’t have cared less about the finer points of military history…  How things change!