Date of Death:14/09/1914
Memorial:La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre Memorial
Panel Ref:12 A
Harry Turner was born in Royton in 1883, his parents being John & Betty. He was the sixth of seven children - Harriet, Aurelia, Herbert, Sarah, Annie & Emily being the others. When Harry was only two years old his father died at the age of only 38. Through his childhood the family lived at various places throughout Royton - King Street, Byron Street & Rochdale Road. As a young man Harry worked, like most others, as a piecer in one of the local mills but then, judging by his service number, in 1903 he joined the Lancashire Fusiliers. There's a fair chance he spent his time with the 2nd Battalion at Tidworth in Wiltshire but if he was with the 1st Battalion would have seen service in Malta, Egypt & India. While he was in the army his mother passed away in 1907 and upon Harry's return to Royton & civilian life he lodged, along with sister Aurelia, with the Bennett family at 102 Rochdale Road. He did not return to work in the mills but got a job as a coal carter.
At the outbreak of war, with Harry living on Water Street in Heyside and working for coal merchant John Clayton, as a reservist he was immediately called back to the army. He would have made his way first to the Lancashire Fusiliers' Wellington Barracks at Bury before heading for the 2nd Battalion who were stationed in Dover.
The 2nd LF landed at Boulogne on August 20th and were hurried up to the front. On August 26th the battalion was involved in the British stand at Le Cateau. Eventually it was established that they suffered losses of 272 killed, wounded and missing. In the confusion of the battle and the retreat there had been around about 130 further men missing but these all eventually rejoined the unit.
Edward Roe, a private in the 1st East Lancashire Regiment recorded in his diary that on August 27th:
"Next morning we pick up some fifty men of the Lancashire Fusiliers. All bear traces of the previous day's fighting and seem thoroughly 'done up'. Some have rifles and no equipment, others part of their equipment and no rifles. German cavalry are pressing on our rear and every available man has to fall in. We form a line in rear and flanks of the convoy. The convoy is saved as a French or Belgian Cavalry Regiment holds them back"
The days following Le Cateau were ones of steady retreat. Marching often in blazing heat. A young officer of the battalion wrote, on or around September 2nd:
"I hardly get any time to write up as up to date we are on duty all night and march all day. Two hours' sleep a day is our usual portion.....the weather has been awfully hot - almost too hot. Food we get in plenty but in uneven quantities sometimes, hardly anything at all sometimes, and then suddenly enough for about four people is hurled at one, and of course one feels bound to try and eat it"
The 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers ceased their retreat on September 5th, after many days of marching and sleep deprivation. That was the end of the British Army's grand retreat from Mons, now it was time to turn on their tracks and do battle again.
Harry's battalion were to be pitched into the Battle of the Aisne on September 13th. The Germans had a great advantage in that their positions. The point of the river where the battle was fought is about one hundred feet wide, 12 to 15 feet deep.Low-lying ground extends a mile on each side, rising abruptly to a line of steep cliffs three to four hundred feet high, then gently leveling to a plateau. The Germans settled on the higher northern side two miles beyond the crest, behind deep cover.The land across which the British had to advance offered no concealment and the Germans facing them had the luxury of a wide field of fire.
A German captain afterwards related the advance of the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers:
"Stretched out across the broad expanse of meadows between us and the river was a long line of dots wide apart,and looking through glasses one saw that these dots were infantry advancing, widely extended. English infantry, too,unmistakably. A field battery on our left had spotted them,and we watched their shrapnel bursting over the advancing line. Soon a second line of dots emerged from the willows along the river bank, at least ten paces apart, and began to advance. More of our batteries came into action; but it was noticed that a shell, however well aimed, seldom killed more than one man, the lines being so well and widely extended. The front line had taken cover when the shelling began, running behind any hedges or buildings near by, but this second line kept steadily on, while a third and fourth line now appeared from the river bank, each keeping about two hundred yards distance from the line in front. Our guns now fired like mad, but it did not stop the movement : a fifth and sixth line came on, all with the same wide intervals between and the same distance apart.It was magnificently done. . .. We watched the tactical excellence of this attack with such interest that we had forgotten that we were... damnably exposed."
The battalion reached the village of Ste.Marguerite after suffering only 1 killed and 2 wounded.They passed through the back gardens of the houses there and then entered a wood to the east of the village. After they had advanced about 3/4 of a mile the Germans opened fire, due to the failing daylight and the thickness of the wood it was decided that the battalion should deploy out in the open. Part of B Company charged the Germans across a turnip field but were stopped by rifle and machine gun fire and had to seek cover behind a bank. All but three of the men in the attack were hit.
A & D Companies had come under heavy fire as soon as they left the wood but pressed on for a further 200 yards before also seeking shelter behind a bank. They found it was impossible to carry on from that point. Despite a company of the Inniskilling Fusiliers coming up to aid the Lancastrians and supporting fire from the 2nd Essex Regiment the battalion got no further. They had gotten further than any other British battalion that day but not without loss, Harry Turner's death being one.
After dark they were relieved by the 2nd Manchesters - which included John Gavin.There is some uncertainty as to exactly when Harry Turner was killed.The CWGC has fourteen men from the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers listed as being killed on September 13th and eighteen men on September 14th. The unit was no longer in action during the 14th so perhaps Harry and the other seventeen men were killed after nightfall or purely there was a mistake registering their deaths. They were killed in action which rules out them dying of wounds the next day.
Shortly afterward the action one of the battalion's officers wrote:
"on reflection, it is somewhat astonishing, after our experience of trench warfare, to think of a very weak battalion advancing over the open to attack German trenches, without artillery preparation of any sort, but it was done by a weak battalion of well-trained soldiers, with high traditions behind them"
The men listed for September 13th are:
BARLOW JOHN 28 Private 9851 (SERVED AS HOLDEN).from Burnley
BIRTLES ROBERT Private 806 from Manchester
DUTTON THOMAS 28 Lance Corporal 784 from Stoke-on-Trent
GRATRIX WILLIAM 36 Private 9912 from Bowden, Cheshire
GREGORY FREDERICK Corporal 1652 from Manchester
HATCHER JOHN Private 703 from London
HOLLAND WILLIAM 27 Private 9728 from Wigan
JONES WILLIAM Private 9906 from Liverpool
MARSDEN GEORGE 30 Private 9364 from Nelson
McEVOY JAMES 30 Serjeant 45 born Oldham, enlisted Manchester
PATTERSON GEORGE 30 Drummer 86 born Liverpool,enlisted Blackburn
REID ROBERT 30 Private 9994 from Wigan
STUART CECIL 27 Lieutenant
WOODS LEONARD Private 1199 from Prestwich
& along with Harry on the 14th:
BABINGTON ERNEST 39 Private 9501 born Crewe,lived in Bury
BRENNEN THOMAS Private 9109 from Bacup
BURSTOW FREDERICK Private 1388 from Horsham
CHETTLE LEONARD Private 238 from Nottingham
CRAWFORD ALBERT 23 Private 1908 born Clapham,lived in Hampshire
GARTH JACOB 26 Private 646 from Bolton
HILTON WILLIAM 30 Private 9521 from Leigh
JONES RICHARD Lance Corporal 2108 from New Brighton
MALE JOHN 38 Private 627 born Hull,enlisted Manchester.Boer War veteran
MAYO LOUIS Private 1882 from Kingston-on-Thams
PRIOR GEORGE Private 9566 from Wigan
ROCK MICHAEL 27 Private 765 from Bolton
ROCKEY HUGH Private 739 from Burslem
SHEAD ALFRED Private 1225 from London
SLOUGH EDGAR Corporal 2289 from Luton
SMITH GEORGE Private 1019 from Bolton
WALKER JOSEPH Private 1948 from Liverpool
On the Royton War Memorial there is a Harold Turner. The name there was originally thought to be that of Harry but it now seems perhaps more likely that it is this Harold Turner. Either way one of the two was left off, whether their name wasn't put forward or there was a mix up is not known.