Harold Herman Simpson was born in 1881 in the village of Langley near to Macclesfield in Cheshire. His father Samuel and mother Eliza, nee Wain, were both born in nearby Sutton and were employed in the silk industry. On the 1891 census Harold appears as a scholar aged nine years. By 1901 he was living at 71, Hall Terrace, Sutton, and was aged 19 and a silk printer.
He came to Biddulph looking for employment which he found at the Robert Heath’s works. He settled and in 1906 married Louisa Berry at St. Lawrence Church in Biddulph. By 1911 the couple were living in the Mill Hayes area along with their two daughters; Annie (two years) and Mary (11 months).
With the outbreak of war he enlisted at Biddulph in September 1914, joining the ‘Biddulph Company’ which had been initiated by Richard Harding. Young sportsmen were encouraged to join. Although at 33 years he was not ‘young’ he was described in a local newspaper report as “a well-known left-handed hitter of the Knypersley Cricket Club’s senior eleven.” His service records have not been found and other sources suggest that he may have initially joined the 2/5th battalion North Staffordshire Regiment, a second line unit, and he may have served in Ireland.
He transferred to the 8th battalion North Staffordshire Regiment, a battalion that trained at Weston-super-Mare and Salisbury Plain. The battalion was attached to the 19th Western Division and was ordered to war. Embarking on July 17th 1915 the division crossed to France and then moved forward to their assembly area at St. Omer.
On the Western Front Harold and his mates were ordered to dig in and defend their lines until late September when they saw action in a supporting and diversionary role in the Battle of Loos. The following year the 19th Division prepared for action in the Big Push; the Battle of the Somme was looming. Biddulph men Harry Bailey, Joseph Evenson, Jonathan Barlow and Jack Moss all served with Harold in the 8th North Staffords; sharing a joke and local news. No doubt this was a comfort, as the Chronicle reports tell us. Harold gained promotion to the rank of Lance Sergeant.
They were not used in the opening of battle, however, three days later they endured enemy machine gun and rifle fire and the battalion made a successful attack at La Bosisselle. This terrible battle continued with no respite into November 1916. By November 18th and 19th, Harold and the lads had advanced to Grandcourt. The winter weather and deteriorating ground conditions were made unbelievably harsh by constant shelling. A snow blizzard met the infantry as they attacked and the North Staffords entered enemy trenches fighting valiantly in hand to hand combat.
This was to be a sad time for the 8th Battalion for on November 18th and 19th 1916 almost seventy gallant Staffordshire men were to fall at Grandcourt including, at the age of thirty five, Lance Sergeant Harold Simpson. He fell on the battlefield along with two of his pals from Biddulph; Arthur Lacey and Harry Bailey. This was the closing day of the battle and the survivors withdrew to Battery Valley. At first Harold was reported missing and a long agonising wait at home for Louisa ensued. It was not until March 1918 that he was officially confirmed as dead.
Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel March 23rd 1918
Sergeant Harold Simpson
Well known Knypersley Cricketer Killed in Action
“After a long period of suspense to his wife and family and a large circle of friends in the Potteries area, official intimation has been received by Mrs. Simpson, Mill Hayes, Knypersley, that her husband, Sergeant Harold Simpson, North Staffs Regiment was killed in action on November 18th 1916. It was on this date that Sergeant Simpson was first reported as missing, and the present belated official news but confirms the fears that have all along been held, that one more gallant Biddulph soldier had made the great sacrifice for King and country.
Prior to joining the Army, Sergeant Simpson was employed at Messrs. R.Heath & Sons, Black Bull works as a checkweigh-man. He was one of that loyal and enthusiastic body of volunteers from the Black Bull works organised under Captain R.S.Harding for enlisting with the 5th North Staffs Regiment in September 1914. After a period of training at Butterton Hall and elsewhere, Sergeant Simpson was drafted to Ireland at the time of the Irish Rebellion and served on the Regimental Police until he left for France in 1916. As an N.C.O. Sergeant Simpson gained the respect and esteem of his officers by conspicuous ability and devotion to duty, and his loss is deeply regretted also by the men of his company.
This regret will also extend to many friends and admirers in North Staffs League cricket circles, deceased being well known as one of the most brilliant batsmen in the league. He was a popular member of the Knypersley Cricket Club and such were his hitting propensities that he earned for himself the title of the ‘Knypersley Jessop’ and delighted many a Saturday afternoon crowd by the brilliance of his free and forceful batting. However big the score against them, Knypersley was never beaten while ‘Harold’ was at the wickets. A left- hander, with a fast delivery, Sergeant Simpson was also a dangerous bowler, and his numerous fine batting performances were supplemented by the many excellent feats with the ball. His death will indeed be a serious loss to North Staffordshire Cricket.”
Harold was never recovered from the battlefield and has no known grave. He is now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme. Harold is also remembered on the Biddulph memorials.
Through miles of mud we travelled, and by sick valleys
The Valley of Death at last – most evil alleys,
To Grandcourt trenches reserve – and the hell’s name it did deserve.
Rain there was – tired and weak I was, glad for an end.
Mike Turnock & Kathleen Walton.