A relative of Harold, Pauline Stephenson, kindly provided me with the following details:
“ The family have been in the Horncastle area for generations as farmers and Harold’s grandfather and father (both called James) owned land in Hagworthingham. His uncle George Westerby was one of the principal landowners in Tetford. His parents were William Henry Westerby and Jane Langley. Harold was the eldest of six children. Harold was killed in the morning attack on the Schwaben Redoubt on the 3 September 1916”.
After enlisting, Harold found himself drafted into the 8th (Leeds Rifles) Battalion of the West Yorkshire regiment. A pre-war territorial battalion, the 8th West Yorks was formed in 1908 as part of a double battalion with the 7th West Yorks. During the Great War the 8th fought as part of the 49th and 62nd Divisions on the Somme, Marne and in the battle of the Hindenburg line. The 2/8th also served on the Western front and were amalgamated with the 1/8th in January 1918.
The strategy for 1916 was settled in December 1915, General Joffre of the French Army having called a conference at Chantilly. 1916 witnessed two of the most costly military operations in history. The French were engaged at Verdun whilst, a little later in the year, the British attacked along the Somme. On the 1st July the attack was made against the German second army and by nightfall Britain’s Army had recorded her most bloodiest day.
Despite these losses, Haig continued in a series of lesser attacks, almost breaking the German line on the 13th – 14th July. The day Harold died the battalion history records that the 1/8th was to take part in an attack on Thiepval. By 5.00am on that day the battalion was ready. At that hour the artillery barrage began and fell accurately on the German line. As the barrage lifted the men went steadily forward but by 5.03am the enemy opened up.
Although the first wave of Yorkshire men suffered little from it, the second wave, on leaving their start point, were badly caught in the zone of fire. The first wave managed to reach the enemy’s front line and for a little while it seemed the attack would succeed. However, at 7.04am the 1/8th West Yorks reported that they were being counter-attacked and they were driven out of the German line. By 7.40am the division was being relieved and the attack had faltered. The casualties for the day were heavy, the 1/8th loosing 9 Officers and 294 other ranks, one of who was Harold.