Harold’s birth was registered in 1895 as William Harold Minshall but it appears that he was usually known as Harold or Harry. Born in Brook Street, Brown Lees, by 1911 he was the only surviving child of the four born to his parents Joseph and Ann Selina, née Brookes. In 1911 he was working as a Plate Sweeper at the ironworks.
An article in the Chronicle stated that before his enlistment on November 1st 1914 he had worked at Victoria Pit, Biddulph Valley Works. Harold enlisted at Biddulph and was another local soldier to join the 1/5th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment, number 3787. He commenced his basic training at Butterton Hall Camp before transferring to the Harpenden area for more intensive training. The battalion went to France on July 28th 1915 landing at Le Havre and attached to the 137th Brigade 46th North Midlands Division.
The 46th Division served in the Ypres and Hooge area until October when they were ordered to the Loos area of the Western Front. The Battle of Loos was being fought in an area near the mining town of Lens. On the afternoon of October 13th battalions of the 137th Brigade 46 Division were to retake, at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, the trenches of Big Willie and Fosse Alley. From the outset it was disastrous, exposed to machine gun fire and shelling from the redoubt many of Harold’s pals soon fell. This was indeed a black day for Biddulph and North Staffordshire.
Harold survived, but sadly eight of his brave Biddulph pals were lost that day. The division was soon to be withdrawn from the Loos battlefield to recover and refit. Then in mid-December orders were issued and the 46th Division were to entrain for a long and slow journey south through France. Their destination was Marseilles docks. Most probably their Christmas dinner would be taken in a French Railway truck; at least it was warm and dry away from the shelling.
At Marseilles the soldiers boarded a troopship and our Biddulph lads were to sail through a pleasant Mediterranean sea to Egypt; they’d had a rough time recently and deserved this change. They arrived on January 13th 1916 and within a few days their orders were changed and the division were to return to France.
With the journey in reverse the 1/5th North Staffords went back to the mud and trenches of Flanders. In June 1916 the division prepared for the Battle of the Somme; the troops were used in a diversionary attack at Gommercourt. In this action Harold was wounded twice in a bayonet charge and a pal from Biddulph, John Bowers, fell in battle. More brave Biddulph men were to fall before the battle ended in late November 1916.
About Spring of 1917 Harold then transferred battalions moving to the 9th North Staffords, a unit that had in April 1915 converted from army troops to pioneers. His new regimental number was 40629. Harold’s new battalion was attached to the 37th Division. As divisional pioneers, most of their work was carried out under shell fire and many times under machine gun and rifle fire and often caught the attention of enemy snipers. The pioneers would have to continue their work repairing or making defences, trenches, roads and trolley ways, building machine gun dug-outs or laying wire in No Man’s Land.
Harold, being a miner, would have been ideal for this work as were many other Staffordshire miners in the battalion. Only during sudden attacks did the pioneers down tools and take up their rifles or Lewis guns in support of their infantry, which they did on many occasions. Harold and his pals, one of whom could have been Harry Stockton of Biddulph, now served in ‘D’ Company. An account tells of a Sergeant Carmichael of the 9th North Stafford Pioneers: whilst working in the front line he placed a steel helmet over a grenade thrown by the enemy at his men. He stood on the helmet when the grenade exploded. It saved the work party but broke the ankle of Sergeant Carmichael who was later awarded the Victoria Cross for this gallant action.
Without service records to hand various detailed accounts in the Biddulph Chronicle have given substance to the story. The Chronicle - January 13th 1917: Brown Lees: “News of Brown Lees Soldier” – “Mr and Mrs Minshull 30, Brooke St, Brown Lees, have received news from their son, Pte Harry Minshull, N.S.Regiment, BEF, France, in which he informs his parents that he has fully recovered from his wounds received in a bayonet charge, July 1st, 1916, and that he is now at duty again. This was the third bayonet charge that Pte. Minshull had been engaged in, the two previous charges he came through without a scar. Pte. Minshull enlisted November 1st 1914, joining the North Staffs Regiment, then stationed at Butterton Hall. From here the regiment went to Harpenden, staying here about 4 months, when Pte Minshull, with others, volunteered for active service, and was sent to France July, 1915”.
“Pte Minshull has seen heavy fighting, having been in many engagements, the first being October 13th 1915 when the North Staffords had their baptism of fighting, many North Staffordshire men, including some of Pte Minshull’s mates from his own locality paid the supreme sacrifice. Mr & Mrs Minshull have had a trying time, due to the fact that none of their letters sent to their son have been received by him, neither have his parents received any letters from him for four months. Pte Minshull is expecting a few days leave, when he will be welcomed home by his parents and the Brown Lees Soldiers Committee”.
The Arras offensive in the spring of 1917 was the next action for the division. They fought at Scarpe and at the capture of Monchy Le Preux and Arleux with the pioneers continuing their work throughout. Harold suffered from septic poisoning and was invalided home not returning to France until June 1917. In July the division were ordered to Belgium and the Ypres salient where unbelievable conditions faced the pioneers who tried to carry out their duties in the morass of mud in the Pilkem Ridge and Menin Road Ridge areas.
In early August Harold was seriously wounded whilst carrying out his duties in the salient. It would appear that he was taken over the border to the French town of Bailleul. At that time it was a safe refuge from enemy shelling and where the army had various Casualty Clearing Stations. Sadly on August 10th 1917, Private Harold W. Minshall, at the age of twenty two, died of his wounds. He was buried in the nearby Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension. According to Harold’s medal card, after the war his mother applied for his medals.
The Chronicle reported his death in an article on September 1st 1917.
Death of Private H. Minshall, Brown Lees
“He had taken part in some sanguinary engagements, and fought in the Battle of the Somme, being twice wounded. After a few months he was transferred to the 9th Bn NSR when septic poisoning set in and he was invalided home. During this visit the Brown Lees Welcoming Committee entertained him, and he was presented with a framed address in oak at a public meeting. Pte Minshall returned to France in June 1917, and according to the official notification, died from wounds received in action.
Though only 22 years of age, he was a ‘typical British Tommy’ and his jovial and affable dispensation, no less than the enthusiasm when on duty, had attracted many friends to him in that land of bloodshed and death, who, like the friends he had left at home, mourned his loss with genuine and profound sorrow”.
On September 29th 1917 the Chronicle printed a letter sent to the parents of Private Minshall by Lieutenant H. Meadow, “I have just heard that your son, who was wounded some time ago, has died from the effect of his wounds. Although I knew the seriousness of his wound, I had hoped he would recover in time, but it was not to be. I was very grieved at the news, as your son was in the platoon I commanded in the 9th North Staffords at the time, and although he had not been with us long he had proved himself to be a very good soldier and a willing worker. He was well liked by his chums, and thought much of by his officers, who wish me to convey their sympathy with you. Perhaps it will be some consolation to you to know that the work he was engaged on contributed much to the success of subsequent military operations and in doing the work he was doing along with his company, he helped to save the lives of a great many others“.
Harold (Harry) is remembered on the Brown Lees Memorial as well as on the Biddulph and St. Lawrence Memorials, where a W appears as a second Christian name. He is also commemorated on the memorial in Bailleul Communal Cemetery extension in France.
Michael Turnock and Elaine Bryan.