Our Harry: Pioneer Henry Bullock

Introduction and Identification: Henry or Harry
The regular readers of the blog will know that I am on a project to research the lives of the WWI fallen of Great Wyrley; this is because, as it is the centenary of the conflict, their stories are worthy of telling and that the plaques on the memorial gates, that bare witness to their sacrifice, are in many cases wrong. The purpose is to present the Great Wyrley Parish Council with the amendments needed to the names on the plaques as soon as possible, in the hope that they will get them altered. Anyhow, having reached a temporary impasse on a couple of stories that I was working on, I thought I would tackle a different soldier than I had originally planned – this was thanks to a packet of documents passed to me by Ron Myatt, secretary of the Great Wyrley Local History Society, which were supplied to him by Bob Bullock, a relative of Harry Bullock, the subject of this piece.

Theodore Bason on the Wyrley Gates - can you spot the inconsistency? (2014)

Harry Bullock on the Wyrley Gates – remember, click on photos to enlarge. 2014

As stated already, there are a lot of errors on the name plaques – several already uncovered by these mini-biographies; generally therefore my first task is to check the sources to confirm the name. Harry is a name that always rings alarm bells, as it is often more a nickname for Harold or Henry than is used as an actual Christian name itself. My first port-of-call was, as usual, the 1928 Great Wyrley Methodist Church plaque – he was named on it, also as Harry Bullock.

The Smith boys on the Great Wyrley Methodist plaque. (1928). 2014.

Harry Bullock on the Great Wyrley Methodist plaque. (1928). 2014.

I then checked the Staffordshire Roll of Honour: this was compiled in February 1926 by the Staffordshire War Memorials Committee and contains all the Staffordshire war memorials and the names upon them. This roll has an H Bullock on it, but with the unusual rank of ‘Pioneer’ attached. No regiment was given.

As I delved deeper it became clear that his birth and baptism, his appearance on the census records and all through his war records (supplied via Bob Bullock, as it isn’t on-line via the usual websites), he was officially Henry Bullock; saying that, all personal references – his newspaper obituary, his ‘memoriam’ card and his own personal correspondence, he signed himself or was known as Harry.

So it seemed fitting to me that either Harry or Henry should be on the gates, but i did change my mind. The final source I checked was the original return for the compilation of the Great Wyrley Roll of Honour: these were slips completed by residents of the Great Wyrley parish, prior to September 1917, for serving men (and fallen men) to be added to the Great Wyrley Roll of Honour that was to be displayed in the parish. It was eventually unveiled on the corner of Bentons Lane/Walsall Rd in the February of 1918. Bullock was represented and the entry was clearly made out for ‘Harry’, which is the proof that I needed that, despite the fact that he was indeed born Henry, Harry was the more befitting name – he is on the gates as Harry at the request of the family.

The entry for the Great Wyrley Roll of Honour clearly made out for Harry Bullock (Staffordshire Record Office).

The entry for the Great Wyrley Roll of Honour clearly made out for Harry Bullock (Staffordshire Record Office).

Harry’s Early Life
Harry, as stated, was born Henry Bullock in the opening months of 1895; he was christened at St Mark’s Church, Great Wyrley, on 10 March of that year. His father was Thomas Bullock, his mother was Hannah Gray.

Thomas was born in Great Wyrley around 1850. His father, Thomas, was a miner originally from Much Wenlock, while his mother, Elizabeth, was from Cheslyn Hay. In 1851 the family was living in Dundalk Lane, now in Cheslyn Hay. By 1861, at the age of just 11 years, young Thomas himself would be a classed as a miner on the census. We know that by 1868 that the Bullocks were running the Star Inn on the Walsall Road in Great Wyrley, but Thomas senior died the following year leaving widow Elizabeth to operate the pub alone. In 1871, Thomas was still a miner and can be found living at the Star Inn with his mother.

The Star on the Walsall Rd - a beerhouse since the 1830s at least, it was ran by Elizabeth Bullick in 1871, Joseph's great grandmother. (Express and Star)

The Star on the Walsall Rd – a beerhouse since the 1830s, it was ran by Harry Bullock’s grandparents in 1868 and his father lived there before his marriage in 1875. (Express and Star)

In June 1875, Thomas married Hannah Gray at St Mark’s Church, Great Wyrley. Hannah, the daughter of a caster, was six years his junior and originally from Bilston. She had been in domestic service before finding herself in Great Wyrley. By 1881 the family are living on the Walsall Rd. The couple have had three children; Elizabeth (1876), Lucy (1877) and James (1879). Thomas remained a coal miner.

Over the next decade the mining family appear to remain in the same place, however, it grows; Elizabeth has moved to Upper Rushall St, Walsall, where she is working in a confectioner’s shop – the owner, Dutton, being a Wyrley man; Lucy is still at home; James is now at school along with new arrivals George (1881) and Florence (1886), which I would assume to be the Great Wyrley Board School that was on the Walsall Road, by the Swan Inn; Thomas (1889) and Ann (1891) completed the household. Thomas and Hannah also had a son in 1884, but William died before his second birthday.

The 1890s saw much change: Albert was born in 1893, but died the same year; Harry was born in 1895 and seemingly a Mary followed in 1896 – although she was actually a grand-daughter that came to live with them – and finally Leonard was born in 1899, but his death in 1900 robbed Harry of a younger brother and left him as the last of the crop. On a happier note, by the end of 1896 the eldest child, Elizabeth, married Charles Edward Pritchard and by 1901 was living next door to her parents on the Walsall Road, Great Wyrley, having a son to boot. Indeed, Harry was just a little older than his cousin. 1900 saw the next eldest, Lucy, marry Alfred Knowles and move into a property next to the Star Inn on the Walsall Road. Thomas is still hewing coal in 1901, James has become a carter for a builder and George an edge-tool maker – possibly at Gilpin’s. Harry would have been at school, likely at Wyrley.

1901 census for the Bullocks and the Pritchards. (National Archives)

1901 census for the Bullocks and the Pritchards.
(National Archives)

A decade later and Harry, now an edge-tool striker, possibly at Gilpin’s, would still see his single cousin and his eldest sister living next door. Lucy would now be living the other side, now with her own brood.  James had married Minnie Smith back in 1903 and they were now living in Landywood – their only child, I believe Margaret, had died. George married Mary Ellen Smith in 1904 and by 1911 he was living on the Walsall Road, near the old school, with his family. Florence married Owen Whitehouse in 1907 and was living on Station Street, Cheslyn Hay. Thomas was still at home – the 22 year-old was a miner. Ann operated a dressmaking business from the house and Mary was at home as well. Thomas senior was still mining at 62. It must have been nice having family around, especially as mother Hannah died just weeks before the census was taken.

Harry on the 1911 census. (National Archives)

Harry on the 1911 census.
(National Archives)

And so the move towards the War continued. Harry, according to his service record, became a blacksmith prior to his attesting into the army in 1914, however, this could simply be a somewhat ostentatious way of saying he is still an edge-tool worker. Whichever, it is an important factor in the direction his military career takes.

The last we hear of Harry before the War is with regard to something that will make anyone with a Paddy Power app on their mobile laugh themselves silly. Gambling was not illegal in 1914, but keeping a house for it was – betting shops only came into being after the 1960 Gaming Act. On 21 July 1914, a group of blokes held a card game in Love Lane, Great Wyrley – and gambled. Someone informed the police and the group were dragged before the Magistrate and fined. Oswald and William Mears were deemed more guilty and fined more, whereas Harry, brother Thomas and cousins Robert Knowles and Charles Pritchard were fined a couple of shillings each. Within days the peace was over.

Harry and The Army
Harry was not a reservist or in the Territorials, but he did sign-up as a part of Kitchener’s Army. On 10 November, the fresh faced, grey eyed, brown haired lad took his 5′ 9″ inch frame to Walsall where he underwent a medical and was passed fit. The following day he was in Caterham, London, the home of the Grenadier Guards. The Grenadiers are the premier infantry regiment and Harry went into the newly formed 3rd Battalion, which were stationed at Wellington Barracks, next to Buckingham Palace.

3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, the unit into which Harry became a Pioneer. (blh)

3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, the unit into which Harry became a Pioneer. (Museum of London)

Towards the end of the year Harry was completing the initial part of his training and was hoping to return to London in a few weeks and he wrote to one of his sisters saying as much – the letter is now preserved with the Great Wyrley Local History Society. It is an interesting letter, which initially thanks her for a food parcel before talking about his leave arrangements: he tells her that ‘it will be next Thursday if they do not alter it, for there is a rumour out no more are going for the last lot that went only half have come back’. He also suggests that there would be uproar if they their leave is stopped. He talks of receiving a Red Cross parcel and gives best wishes for the new year to family and friends. One fascinating snippet within is when he talks about boxing – indicating it was either something he did before joining the army or while he was there: he mentions the fact that ‘Iron Ague’, by which he means William ‘Iron’ Hague, is in the room next door to him. Hague was the former British Heavyweight champion – although Harry claims ex-champion of the world. He signs the letter ‘brother Harry’, proof he himself used the familiar version of his name.

Harry's letter home in 1914 - a scanned copy. (Bob Bullock/Great Wyrley Local History Society)

Harry’s letter home in 1914 – a scanned copy.
(Bob Bullock/Great Wyrley Local History Society)

Harry and the Battalion trained until 26 July 1915 – and a war diary exists from this point on which has been put on-line (https://3rdgrenadierguardsww1.wordpress.com). Harry was up and parading at Chelsea Barracks at 4 am that day before heading to Southampton via Waterloo station. At 9.30 am Harry found himself on the Clyde steamboat ‘Queen Alexandra’ which, escorted by a destroyer, took Harry over to Le Havre. He disembarked the following day. After a train journey and a route march the Battalion found itself at Esquerdes, heading towards the Belgium border, on 1 August.

The Clyde steamer that transported Bullock and his Battalion to France ( http://the-lothians.blogspot.co.uk)

The Clyde steamer that transported Bullock and his Battalion to France
( http://the-lothians.blogspot.co.uk)

Harry spent around a month acclimatising to the front. They started to move into the trenches and by late September found themselves in the Loos region. They acted as reserve at the opening of the battle on 24 September and on the 27 September they attacked Hill 70 and suffered a number of casualties, after which they occupied the ‘chalk pits’ until relieved a few days later. They were back in the line on 8 October, when they faced a massive counter-attack and were pushed back – although they regrouped and recovered all the lost ground. With this the battle at Loos would be over for the Guards, although it wouldn’t be for many Great Wyrley and Cheslyn boys.

Harry saw the year out, like his battalion, in and out of the line around the same region. The Battalion toasted Christmas with a pint of beer at a Christmas pudding each, which they worked-off the following morning with a march to Merville.

On 1 January the Battalion moved to Laventie, where the ‘enemy gave the impression of being more active’. February opened with training at Merville but closed with snow storms in Poperinghe. The Battalion spent time at Calais in early March, where a number of men were killed when a grenade exploded prematurely during training. Harry may have competed in the one of the many inter-Battalion competitions that were arranged. By the end of the month Harry was in Ypres. April saw Harry get his steel helmet, replacing his cloth cap. June opened with two weeks training at Volkeringhove, where Harry helped dig a scale representation of the German trenches at Koln Farm and then do a mock-assault; it closed with Harry in and out of the line in Ypres.

Harry Bullock (Cannock Library)

Harry Bullock
(Cannock Library)

1 July is the British Army’s “day that will live in infamy”, as it was the start of the Battle of the Somme. Harry was still in Ypres at this time, being shelled as the Guards Brigade offered diversionary assistance to the Somme offensive. By the end of July the Battalion would be moved to the Somme region, spending several weeks training.

They were to join battle on 15 September – it would become known as the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. Harry would be one of the first to see the ‘tank’ in action – one wonders what he thought of them. At 6.19 am the Battalion went over the top and its most celebrated individual was killed immediately – Raymond Asquith, the Prime Minister’s son. The Battalion lost its commanding officer and had suffered 413 casualties – no wonder it was relieved the following day. A week later the battle ended with limited success. The Battalion had over 300 men drafted into it by the end of September. Harry spent the rest of the year in and out of the line, with Christmas being a day of revetment construction.

1917 started in the same way as 1916 finished, in and out of the line around the Albert area. New box respirator gas-masks were issued in the February and on 28 February the Battalion acted as machine gun support to an ‘minor’ operation by the 29th Division. In May, Harry and the Battalion found themselves in familiar territory – the Ypres salient – and on 31 July he was lined up to attack Pilkem at the opening of the 3rd Battle of Ypres. The Guard’s Division attacked to the north and achieved considerable success. A few days later they were taken out the line and rested at Eton Camp – where Harry and the lads were bombed by German aircraft with 40 being wounded.

The Guards' objectives at Pilkem, where they achieved considerable success. (FC Grimwage)

The Guards’ objectives at Pilkem, where they achieved considerable success. (FC Grimwade)

Harry returned to the usual rotation of trench life, training and fatigues. On 16 October the Battalion moved into Prenton Camp – the war diary simply stating it was very dirty and muddy. Whether this had anything to do with what followed we will never know, but on 21 October Harry reported sick and was sent to the 3rd Field Ambulance (this is a unit, not an ambulance as we think of it today). Pleurisy was diagnosed and he moved further back to the 13th Casualty Clearing Station on 25 October – the anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade and Agincourt. He died of pneumonia on the 28 October. He was buried in the Arneke Cemetery, initially with a private marker and later with a Commonwealth War Grave Commission stone.

The private stone that originally marked Harry's grave. (GWLHS/Bob Bullock)

The private stone that originally marked Harry’s grave. (GWLHS/Bob Bullock)

The grave marker above was erected by his father. It has PNR H Bullock, which means at some stage Harry was turned from a basic Private into a Pioneer. A Pioneer was a fighting soldier, but also could provide basic engineering/construction (including tool-making) skills to support the unit – and Harry was of course a blacksmith and edge-tool maker. They were often the first into the fray, it was no easy ride.

Harry would be awarded the 1915 Star, War and Victory medals. His father would receive over £28 in compensation and through effects left. It was clear that Harry was a smoker, as his cigarette case and match box holder were returned to Thomas. He is now remembered to us on the gates at Wyrley not as Henry, but perhaps more fittingly as our Harry.

The poem left to Harry from his family. (Cannock Library)

The poem left to Harry from his family.
(Cannock Library)

In Memory of Harry Bullock and dedicated to Bob.

As ever, my thanks to:-
Gt Wyrley Methodist Church
Walsall Local History Centre
Ron and Gary from the Great Wyrley Local History Society
Cannock Library
Staffordshire Record Office
National Archives
Express & Star
Museum of London
The person behind https://3rdgrenadierguardsww1.wordpress.com
FC Grimwade

and of course, Bob Bullock