Photograph of Harry in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR3/17/110
(Clockwise from top) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal
Harry was born on the 19th October 1895 at 5 Combermere Street in Dukinfield, Cheshire. His father was called Joseph and his mother was Emma. He was their oldest child, and had 4 siblings: Joseph, Dorothy, Nellie and Mary Florence. Mary died in 1909, aged just 4. She is buried in Dukinfield Cemetery.
In 1901 the family lived at 7 Zetland Street, next to Combermere Street. Joseph worked as a postman. Ten years later he had retired and begun to receive a pension. Harry, Joseph and Dorothy all worked. The boys were little piecers in a cotton mill or mills, and Dorothy was a part time weaver, also in a mill. She went to school when she wasn't working. The family now lived at 5 Old Road, just a few hundred yards from their previous homes.
As well as his civilian job, on the 3rd February 1914 Harry joined the 9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a unit of the Territorial Force based in nearby Ashton-under-Lyne. Harry kept his civilian home and job and trained as a soldier during evenings and weekends. There would also be an annual training camp, lasting around 2 weeks. He was given the service number 1707 and assigned to G Company.
The First World War broke out that August and Harry was called into service. The 9th Battalion went into camp on Chesham Road in Bury on the 20th August. It then moved to Southampton and set sail for Egypt on the 9th September. The battalion arrived on the 25th. In Egypt they guarded the Suez Canal and trained to go to war.
In mid April 1915 Harry was found to be medically unfit for service. He was returned to the UK and discharged as 'no longer physically fit for war service' on the 3rd May. A week later his friends and comrades in the 9th Battalion landed in Gallipoli and were thrown into combat.
In the early days of the First World War there was a lot of pressure put on men to join the Army. Harry was one of many who were given white feathers by women. This happened to him on Stamford Street in Ashton. This was a symbol of cowardice and the woman was hoping to shame Harry into joining the Army. She had no way of knowing he had already been discharged. Later in the war a Silver War Badge would be issued to men in Harry's position, to show they had served, but at the time he had nothing.
As the Army grew short of men it lowered medical standards. Alternatively Harry could have recovered from whatever condition had led to his discharge. Either way, he was able to rejoin the Army. Conscription was introduced in January 1916, so we don't know whether he volunteered or was called up.
Although we don't know exactly when Harry rejoined the Army, he spent some time in the Manchester Regiment with the service number 39495. This number was issued in around May 1916. He did not serve overseas in a Manchester Regiment unit though, and was transferred to the King's (Liverpool Regiment). They gave him the service number 56382, which suggests he joined them in November or December 1916.
We believe Harry was posted to the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion of the King's. They took part in the Battle of Arras in April 1917, and then moved north to the Ypres area of Belgium. During the summer they took part in planning for an amphibious landing on the Belgian coast, named Operation Hush, but this was cancelled.
On the 31st July the British launched the Passchendaele Offensive. Harry and the 4th Battalion took part in a number of battles during this offensive, including the Battles of the Menin Road Ridge and of Polygon Wood during September.
Although the Passchendaele Offensive came to an end in early November, the area was still dangerous. Harry was severely wounded on the 19th November. He was taken to Number 10 Casualty Clearing Station but died the next day. He was 22 years old.
Joseph and Emma were informed of Harry's death by a form from the Army. They also received a letter from the Reverend Henry Sidney Stanton Clarke, a Chaplain at the 10th Casualty Clearing Station. He wrote:
Dear Mrs Oldfield,
I write to send you what particulars I can about the death of Pte H Oldfield which I am sorry to say took place at this hospital.
He was brought here on 19 Nov severely wounded in the left leg, right arm + also gas poisoning + he died at 12:15am on the 20th.
Everything that nursing and medical skill could provide was at his disposal but nothing could be done to save him.
I am sorry I cannot send any message from him, but I am sure he would have wished to send his love + a request that you should not worry about him. That is the double message the boys here always send.
I know this is a hard thing to ask but you will try + with God's help succeed.
May I assure you of my very deepest sympathy with you in your trouble.
I pray that God will give you strength + comfort; + rest + peace to him, who has given his all for the cause of right.
I enclose full particulars of his burial.
Harry was buried in Lijssenthoek British Soldier's Cemetery near Poperinghe, Belgium. His grave was originally given the registration P21. B8B and marked by a wooden cross. Later this was replaced with a stone headstone. This cemetery is now called Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery and Harry is one of 9877 men buried here. His modern grave reference is XXVII. B. 8A.
Harry's medals were sent to Joseph and Emma at their home at 6 Yorkshire Street in Ashton during October 1921. They framed them along with Harry's Next of Kin Memorial Plaque and Scroll, and cap badges from the Manchester Regiment and King's (Liverpool Regiment). They mixed up the ribbons on Harry's British War Medal and Allied Victory Medal.