Private Harold Percy Birtchnall

Date of Birth c. 1900
Age at Death 18
Date of Death 20 October 1918
Service Number 78804
Military Service 1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment
Merton Address 80 Seaforth Avenue, New Malden
Local Memorial Morden Cemetery

Additional Information

Born in Merton in 1900, Harold was the son of shop keeper, William Birtchnall and his wife, Alice. The couple also had two older sons, William and Leonard. Two further sons and a daughter tragically died in infancy. Harold’s three surviving sisters, Ivy, Celia and Queenie were born between 1906 and 1909.

During his early childhood, Harold and his family lived at 77 Merton High Street, where his father worked as a wine and beer merchant. By 1911 the family had moved to 43 Kirkley Road, Merton, and Willian snr was running a grocery and off license.

Following the outbreak of war, Harold enlisted and became a Private in the 1st Battalion, Devonshire Regiment. He was not yet 18, so must have lied about his age in order to join up. The 1st Battalion included men from the Regular Army, in addition to new recruits and was in almost constant action throughout the war. The men were initially sent to France on 21 August and joined the Lines of Communication Defence Troops, part of the British Expeditionary Force. During the first year of the war the 1st Battalion took part in several key offensives including the Battle of Le Cateau, the Battle of the Marne and the Battle of the Aisne. During 1915, the men were transferred to Flanders, where they fought at the battles of Messines and Ypres. They were also amongst the British troops involved in the capture of Hill 60, a strategically important and heavily contested site. This offensive saw the first use of poison gas against Allied troops.

During 1916, the battalion were transferred to the 95th Brigade and took over a section of front line near Vimy Ridge. During July the men became part of reinforcements at the Somme, where they fought in bloody battles such as Guillemont, Flers-Courcelette and Le Transloy.

In March 1917, the 1st Battalion was moved again, in preparation for the Battle of Arras. After almost constant service, Harold and his unit were then allowed a brief period of rest, before returning to Flanders where they saw action at the Third Battle of Ypres.

In 1918 the men were transferred to Italy, where they were positioned along the River Piave. Between April and August they were recalled to France, to combat a major German advance. After a two week rest, the 1st Battalion was sent back to the Somme, where the men saw continuous action until late October. They fought at the Battle of the Hindenburg Line and also the Final Advance in Picardy.

It was during this period that Harold was killed, aged just 18. He died in action on 20 October, less than a month before the Armistice and is buried at Bethencourt, Departement du Nord, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France. He is also commemorated at St. Mary’s Church, Merton. His name appears alongside that of his older brother William, a Lance-Corporal in the 2nd Battalion, Middlesex) Regiment, who died of wounds in September 1917, aged 20.


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