Tracing the life of Harry Stockton has proved difficult. There were two births registered in Congleton of a Harry Stockton – one in 1890 and the other in 1891. From his marriage entry in the St. Lawrence marriage register we know that his father was named James who by 1918, when Harry married, was deceased. We also know from the 1901 census that his grandparents were David and Sarah Stockton who lived in Barlow Street, Congleton at that time. By searching earlier census returns, it would seem that Harry’s father, James, had joined the 4th Battalion Cheshire Regiment at the age of 18 in 1891 and in 1901 was a soldier on board a vessel in Hampshire. It seems probable that James married in 1891, possibly to Elizabeth Packwood at St. Stephen’s in Congleton, and for whatever reason, Harry and his younger brother, Jack, lived with their grandparents in 1901. By 1911, Harry and another brother, Peter, lived at Ridgeway, Norton, with their aunt and uncle, Robert and Sarah Corbishley. Sarah was probably James’s sister as a Sarah Stockton had married a Robert Corbishley at Congleton in 1896.
In this census, Harry was aged 19 and described as a miner. A report of his death in the Sentinel stated that he had been employed by Messrs. Robert Heath & Sons before enlisting. His brothers also joined the colours. Peter became a gunner in the RFA, James enlisted in the Worcester Regiment and Jack joined the North Staffordshire Regiment.
On January 24th 1918, at St. Lawrence, he married Mary Bowyer. He gave his age as 27, his occupation as ‘soldier’ and his address as 27, New Buildings.
Harry enlisted at Biddulph in September 1914 joining the 9th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment, an infantry battalion who trained at South Downs, Hasting as part of the 22nd Division. However in April 1915 the battalion converted to divisional pioneers to the 37th Division and continued their training at Windmill Hill, Salisbury Plain.
A pioneer battalion consisted of partly skilled tradesmen and the rest of the soldiers able to use a pick and shovel. As Harry had previously worked in an iron works this would have been no problem. Others in the battalion were Staffordshire miners. The pioneers earned an extra 2d a day more than the infantry – not much but enough to buy a few extra fags. On June 25th 1915, King George V came to inspect the 37th Division at Sidbury Hill in readiness for their embarking for war. The medal card of Harry shows he crossed the channel, arriving at Le Havre on July 29th 1915, and soon moved to their assembly at Tilques.
In Flanders the pioneers’ tasks included building roads for field guns and tracks for the infantry; and there were always trenches to be dug. The year 1916 found the pioneers preparing for the forthcoming Battle of the Somme; the division were in action in the Ancre sector. Here Harry and his mates came under heavy enemy shell fire during their work and casualties mounted. They were not only trained as Pioneers, but also, when required, to down tools and take up their rifles and Lewis guns – as they did whilst following the 13th Rifle Brigade into an attack. Having already connected the many shell holes to form a trench, the 9th North Staffords were then ordered to attack the enemy, and in doing so took about forty German prisoners.
To give a flavour of the pioneers work the following is an extract from the 9th Battalion Pioneers War Diary of 1916. “Work carried out included new trenches in Becourt Wood and Pozieres areas, at Gordon Dump, and on a new road up Sausage Valley leading to the front line. To Bresle , Fricourt Wood.....”
In the Arras Offensive of April 1917 the 37th Division were ordered into action in the Battle of Scarpe where they captured Monchy le Preux. On a rare occasion, a parade was attended by the North Stafford pioneers and the General Officer Commanding the 37th Division recognised the work carried out by Harry and all his pioneer mates in the Arras area in May. By July, the battlefield of the Ypres Salient was their lot and about this time another Biddulph man, Harold Minshall, joined the 9th Battalion. Both served in ‘D’ company and in the field Harry received his stripe. The pioneers continued to work throughout the Third Battle of Ypres until November. They bravely worked with the infantry in many actions, including those at Pilkem Ridge, Menin Road Ridge, Polygon Wood and finally Passchendaele.
The brave work of the pioneers was also recognised in the field by the COs of many other battalions that they worked with as shown in the battalion’s history where letters, siting their bravery whilst working continually with shells falling round them, can be found. Winter turned into the spring of 1918 and brought the division to the old Somme battlefield. Once again they were in action – from March in the Battle of Ancre and the enemy advance. They worked under a barrage of shrapnel and high explosive shells with gas shells making matters even more dangerous.
Without service records to confirm this, it is believed that soon after this action Lance Corporal Harry Stockton was wounded and gassed. He was taken to a Base hospital at Rouen but at the age of 26 sadly died on May 22nd 1918. He is now at rest in the St. Sever Extension Cemetery at Rouen. He is remembered on the Biddulph and Brindley Ford memorials.
On June 15th 1918 the Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel reported on the deaths of “Brothers Stockton and Bowyer”. “Official news has reached Mrs. Stockton, 37, New Buildings, Black Bull, that her husband, Lance Corporal Harry Stockton, North Staffs Regiment, died of gas poisoning on May 22nd. He enlisted in September 1914, prior to which he was employed by Messrs. R. Heath & Sons. He was 26 years of age. A brother, Gunner Peter Stockton, RFA aged 19, was killed in action on July 30th 1917, another brother, Private James Stockton, Worcester Regiment, has been discharged through wounds, and a third brother, Private Jack Stockton, North Staffs Regiment, is serving in India.”
Michael Turnock and Elaine Heathcote.
Private Jack Stockton
Private James Stockton
Gunner P. Stockton