Wetherby War Memorial - The Great War 1914 - 1918

Sergeant Harry Westerman

Introduction
Gunter, R B N
Durrant, C M
Weston, C G
Kelly, K G
Armitage, G J
Durrant, H M L
Hargreaves, J P
March, G
Dukes, W
Fowler, R
Westerman, H
Kirk, J C
Wiggins, T A
Telford, G
Harper, J W
Alexander, H W
Mason, T F
Wilkinson, W
Brown, C
Adkin, J
Barton, F
Hobman, A
Webster, A E
March, E A
Miller, G
Hannan, E
Utley, G
Walker, F
Bygrave, E W
Chapman, E
Varley, N W
Bowen, F J
Byrom, F
Backhouse, S
Dalby, M
Crossland, A
Crossley, J S
Dean, R
Frost, A E
Hodgson, F H
Holt, J
Hood, W H
Hill, W
Kitchen, T
Linfoot, E
Metcalfe, J C
Marsden, J
Pawson, W
Precious, G
Scutt, T G
Shields,P
Wiggins, J
Walker, E
Wood, A
Young, T
Pratt, W
Taylor, H
Dawson, G W
Lister, J
Binge, T
Atack, G
Durham, E F
Precious, G R
Wheelhouse Smith, W
Backhouse, H
Swann, J W
Burnsides, G A
Coles, W
Kelly, H W
Miles, J G
Tapsell, K
Acknowledgements
Dardanelles

200384
1st/5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment
Died Tuesday 9th October 1917, age 30

Cemetery : Tyne Cot Cemetery, Zonnebeke, West Vlaanderen Belgium
Grave Reference or Panel Number : XXI.H.17

Husband of Alice Westerman, of 14, Bank Street, Wetherby.

Harry was born at Leeds in 1888 to parents Walter and Emily Westerman and is listed in the 1891 Census as residing at 43, Angel Street, Central Leeds. Walter's occupation is given as a 'Circular Sawyer.'

In the 1890's, the Westerman family purchased Wetherby Mill which had been formerly owned by Messrs. North, Corn Millers, the Westerman's converting the premises into a Saw Mill. Harry was originally employed in the family business as a 'Wood Sawyers Apprentice.'  Married in 1914 to Alice (nee Bowman), the newly weds originally resided in Saint Jame's Steet before moving to 19 Horsefair, Wetherby. Harry, before being called to the Colours, had changed his vocation and was employed by John Smiths Brewery, Tadcaster.

Enlistment

Enlisting in the 1/5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, as a Special Reservist for the duration of 4 years, Harry was active in the recruitment of local men into the ranks of the battalion at Wetherby prior to the War, himself, attesting for service at York on the 18th August 1914 and allocated as Private 1816.
On medical examination, Harry is described as 5 foot 2 and 3/4 inches, physical development 'Good.'

Mobilization and Training

On August 10th, 1914, the 1/5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment as it was now designated, concentrated at Selby. The battalion formed part of the 1st West Riding Brigade, of the 1st West Riding (Territorial) Division.The brigade contained also the following battalions:

1/6th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment.

1/7th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (Leeds Rifles).

1/8th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (Leeds Rifles).

The remaining months of the year were spent in training at Strensall and Fulford Barracks, York. This intensive programme no doubt consisted of route marches and musketry drill and the practising of the art of fieldcraft. During this period, Harry was selected for promotion, attaining the rank of Corporal on the 24th September.
The first few months of 1915 were spent with the Brigade allocated to coastal defence duties in Lincolnshire. On the 10th March, Harry was one again selected for promotion and on this occasion was appointed to the rank of Lance Sergeant (unpaid). Preparing for service overseas, the Brigade moved to Gainsborough on April 9th where it concentrated in Division. Concentration completed, the Division entrained on the 14th April, destination Folkestone. Here, the 1/5th West Yorkshire Territorials embarked on the S.S. Invicta with advance parties arriving at Boulogne late on the night of 14th April.

Operations on the Western Front

After an initial period of trench familiarisation in the Laventie Sector, the Division was re-designated as the 49th (West Riding) Division on the 12th May, 1915. The following day, Harry was confirmed to the rank of Lance Sergeant and alloted the pay and privileges of one serving as such.
Serving in the Ypres Salient for the remainder of 1915, the battalion moved south in 1916 to take part in the Allied offensive on the Somme in which it was involved in many costly actions in the Thiepval area. Following the actions of the 49th Division on the 1st July, the first day of the offensive, Harry was promoted to the rank of Acting Sergeant on the 2nd July, and then, on the 8th, to the rank of Sergeant.

Posted: Instructor, 33rd I.B.D. Etaples

Most likely due to his experience in combat situations, Harry was posted to the 33rd Infantry Base Detail located at Etaples, south of Boulogne on the 25th August, and on the following day was attached to Number 1 Training Camp as an Instructor. Here, new recruits and wounded soldiers returning to the front were trained in all aspects of warfare, such as bayonet and musketry drill, the use of grenades, gas warfare etc. The camp consisted of a series of large hutted barracks, hospital facilities and a large area of beach and dunes allocated for parade and exercise purposes and known as the notorious 'Bull Ring.'

Return to the Front

From February till July 1917, the Division were posted back to the Laventie Sector. It was during this period, that Harry, after a short posting back to the 33rd I.B.D. on the 25th February 1917, rejoined the battalion on the 3rd March. On the 14th July, the Brigade, in Division, were transferred to positions on the Belgium coast at Nieuport. The period spent occupying the trenches in this Sector proved most trying for the Division as a whole as it was subjected to heavy attacks by "Yellow" (more commonly known as 'Mustard Gas') and "Blue Cross" (an asphyxiant gas). The barrage that fell on the 22nd July being one of the most intense the Division had witnessed. "B" Company of the 1/5th West Yorkshires suffered high casualties on this date, even though the Company were located in Divisional Reserve at the time of the attack.
Harry fell victim to the effects of gas during this month, but it is unclear as to on what date and which Company he was serving with at the time.

Gassed!

Harry was evacuated to the 91st Field Ambulance of the 32nd Division and rudimentary first aid was administered. Symptoms of the gas included vomiting, a painful burning sensation to the eyes and a reddish patchy burning of the skin. Ultimately, in some cases, this developed into broncho-pneumonia that often proved fatal. Evacuated down the casualty clearing chain, Harry was eventually admitted to the Number 2 Canadian General Hospital located at Le Treport, west of Abbeville on the 31st July. After a period of convalescence, Harry was then posted once again to the 33rd I.B.D. at Etaples on the 15th August but this time, in the capacity of a wounded soldier returning to the Front. On the 28th August, Harry rejoined the 1/5th whilst it was located at Ghyvelde, Belgium.

Home leave

On the 12th September after over 2 years serving on the Western Front, Harry was granted home leave. One can imagine the joy and the sadness of this home coming. No doubt Harry visited families of Wetherby men serving with the battalion bringing news from the Front of those that had survived so far in the War, and of those that had made the ultimate sacrifice.
Unbeknown to Harry, on this last leave a child was conceived, a child that he would never see.
Returning to the Front on the 22nd September, the 49th Division were located in the Teteghem - Uxem area, south-west of Dunkerque training in attack procedures. Later in the month, the Division started its long journey to the Ypres Salient to take part in continuing operations. An attack was imminent.

The march to the Salient

On the 30th September, the 1/5th West Yorks. took part in a Divisional practice attack involving the 1/6th, 1/7th & the 1/8th Battalions of the West Yorks., 146th Infantry Brigade. This was performed with the 148th Infantry Brigade on the right flank, with the 147th Infantry Brigade in Reserve. This practice was deemed successful and took place under the watchful gaze of the Divisional Commander, Brigadier General Goring - Jones.
On this same date, Operational Order Number 73 was issued to the 146th Infantry Brigade detailing the movement of men to billets located at Ste. Marie Cappel located near Cassel. The 1/5th West Yorks. in conjunction with the 1/6th West Yorks. and the 464th Company Army Service Corps., would move from St. Martin, near St. Omer to Ste. Marie Cappel via Clairmarais, Haut Schonbrouck, Platte Beurze and Staple. The other constituent units of the Brigade would move via different routes. 
On the 1st October, the battalion were located in billets at Ste. Marie Cappel, the 'accommodation' being described in the battalion War Diary as "very good." 
On the 2nd October, Operational Order Number 74 was issued detailing further movements. The Brigade were to move to the Watou Number 2 area west of Poperinge, however, the 1/5th and the 1/6th Battalions of the West Yorks were to move to billets near St. Janster-Biezen, south-east of Watou, via the Steenvoorde road junction and Rattekot Inn. The 1/5th War Diary describes the location and condition of these 'billets' on the 3rd October as "in farms and under canvas in a very scattered area. The billets were very poor and in some cases were not very clean." 
On the 5th, the battalion were ordered to move at an hours notice via Poperinge to Vlamertinghe and at the latter place were billeted in hutted accommodation no doubt a relief to the men after the conditions endured at St. Janster-Biezen.

The move to the Front: Final preparations

On the 6th October, once again at an hours notice, the 1/5th West Yorks. were ordered to the old German Reserve Line Trenches east of Wieltje, relieving the 2nd Wellington New Zealand Regiment of the 2nd New Zealand Brigade. The trenches are described by the War Diary as "very much knocked about" and great difficulty was encountered in finding accommodation for all ranks in these trenches due to the conditions.
Occupying these trenches, the battalion endured some desultory shelling on the 7th, but no casualties were sustained.
On the 8th, final preparations for the impending attack were made, and at 5 p.m. in pouring rain, the battalion, 20 Officers and 642 Other Ranks, marched off to take up positions in shell-holes near 'Calgary Grange.' Great difficulty was encountered by the battalion as it made it's way to this position via 'Number 6 Track.' The night was very dark impeding visibility and the muddy conditions made progress very difficult. The positions were finally reached at midnight, the battalion being in position for the attack at 1.20 a.m. To aid in this assembly, tapes had been laid on the evening of the 8th by Second Lieutenant S.M. Claney, Battalion Intelligence Officer, and Private Clarkson, Battalion Scout.
"Zero" Hour was set for 5.20 a.m.

Objectives of the attack

The 1/5th, 1/7th & the 1/8th Battalions of the West Yorkshire Regiment, 146th Infantry Brigade, 49th Division, were ordered to attack the lower slopes of the Passchendaele Ridge in conjunction with an attack on the right flank by 148th Infantry Brigade of the Division. On the left flank, operations were to be mounted by the 48th (South Midland) Division, and on the right, the 66th Division. The 1/6th Battalion, 146th Infantry Brigade, West Yorkshire Regiment were to remain in Divisional Reserve at
'Calgary Grange.'
The 1/5th West Yorks. frontage for the attack measured 280 yards, the centre of the battalion being at a point of about 500 yards, east-north-east of 'Calgary Grange.'
The battalion was ordered to take two objectives:
1st Objective. A line about halfway between the German Trenches known as 'Peter Pan' and 'Wolf Copse,' this line running in a roughly north-west and south-east direction (marked on map as the 'Red Line').
2nd Objective. A line running roughly north-west and south-east about 100 yards north-east of the road running north-west and south-east (marked on map as the 'Blue Line').

Formation for the advance

The Companies of the 1/5th West Yorkshire's would attack in two waves. The first wave consisting of "A" and "C" Companies ("A" on the left and "C" on the right, commanded by Captain Dudley Wallace M.C. and Captain Barnet Bland respectively) would take the first objective (the 'Red Line'). The second wave consisting of "B" and "D" Companies ("B" on the left and "D" on the right, commanded by Second Lieutenant Harry Irish and Lieutenant Thomas Hardwick respectively) would then 'leapfrog' through the first wave and take the second objective (the 'Blue Line').
Companies would advance in the formation of lines of sections on to their objectives.
As regards equipment carried by the attacking force, 146th Infantry Brigade Instructions Number 1 dated 5th October state:
"The troops must go as light as possible, especially the front wave of the assault on each objective."
As regards the second wave assault troops the Instructions state:
"Some Divisions have run short of S.A.A. (Small Arms Ammunition)
during the fighting. All troops except the first wave for the assault on each objective should carry an extra bandolier."

The Battle of Poelcappelle (Sixth phase of the Third battle of Ypres)
Tuesday, 9th October, 1917; The death of Sergeant Harry Westerman

At 5.20 a.m., "Zero" hour, the artillery promptly opened their barrage, timed to lift at the rate of 100 yards every 6 minutes. On the commencement of this 'Creeping Barrage,' the 1/5th West Yorks advanced from its assembly position to the attack although great difficulty was encountered in keeping up with the latter due to the nature of the terrain. After a period of heavy rain the ground had become extremely wet and difficult to negotiate due to previous shell-fire, some craters containing water upto the depth of about 2 or 3 feet.
On reaching the first objective, the barrage now 'rested' for 75 minutes and to add to this, smoke shells were fired to show that the limit of the first objective had been reached.
The advancing companies of the 1/5th West Yorks. now encountered its first obstacle, a small stream adjoining a marsh about 200 yards wide. This stream, known as the 'Stroombeek' had, by now due to the heavy rainfall, become swollen to capacity. To add to this, the enemy now opened up a heavy barrage on this position as the men struggled to cross the stream, however, few casualties were sustained by this barrage which also fell behind the assembly positions previously held by the battalion at the north-east end of
'Calgary Grange.'
The 'Stroombeek' now crossed, the attacking formations now came under machine-gun and sniper fire. At this point in the attack, heavy casualties were sustained from machine-guns firing from concrete "pill-boxes" located at 'Bellevue' and on the 'Yetta Slopes.' Enemy snipers were also very active, firing from selected positions in shell-holes and also from the safety of these concrete fortifications. The enemy was able to maintain, and fire through the British barrage of what the War Diary of the 1/5th West Yorkshire's describes the latter as
"extremely thin throughout the attack."
As a consequence of this concentrated machine-gun and sniper fire, the men of the battalion on the left of the attack 'bunched up' and became 'mixed' with companies of the 1/7th West Yorkshire's. The latter, on crossing the 'Stroombeek' and due to the nature of the terrain, had lost slight direction and beared off towards 'Peter Pan.' In spite of this somewhat confused situation, the First Objective (the 'Red Line'), was captured and secured by 6.40 a.m.
As regards the enemy defending this position, of those that tried to flee, they were shot down, those that remained, were killed, the War Diary recording that
"No prisoners were taken by the Battalion."
These men were identified as belonging to the 5th Jager Regiment.
The advance now continued with "B" and "D" Companies towards the Second Objective (the 'Blue Line). Also advancing with the latter were some men of "A" and "C" Companies who had become 'mixed up' with this phase of the assault towards the
'Bellevue Spur.'
Now, the volume of machine-gun fire being directed on the attacking troops had become even more intense causing the advance to stall. This fire was primarily directed from the numerous concrete "pill-boxes" located at 'Bellevue.' Attempts were made to silence this fire by trying to rush these positions, unfortunately, without success. The War Diary of the 1/5th West Yorks. records however, one of these gallant acts to try to storm one of these positions, no doubt, one of many attempts that unfortunately are not recorded.
Second Lieutenant John Parker of "D" Company and Corporal Frederick Tomlinson of "C" Company attacked one of these positions with a party of men. This force also contained some men of the 148th Brigade who had, no doubt due to the volume of fire, drifted to the left of their attack. Led by Second Lieutenant Parker, this small force got to within 40 yards of these positions but were held up by wire entanglements and brushwood. A flank manoeuvre was then attempted but was stopped by machine-gun fire forcing Parker and the the few men accompanying him to take up a defensive position where they halted. For this act, Second Lieutenant Parker was awarded the Military Cross, and Corporal Tomlinson a Bar to his Military Medal.
In attempting to assist the forward companies in the attack towards the Second Objective, Captain Dudley Wallace M.C. "A" Company and Lieutenant Sidney Birbeck also of "A" Company were killed.
Communication with the forward companies by runners at this stage of the attack was proving to be very difficult. Being so close to the enemy, any movement was observed by enemy snipers located in positions on the high ground.
At 8.00 am., Battalion Headquarters had moved to a position in the British Front Line about 300 yards, east-north-east of 'Calgary Grange.'At about 8.15 a.m., a message was finally received from the front written by Lieutenant Thomas Hardwick commanding "D" Company stating that reinforcements were required to continue the attack. Acting on receipt of this, Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Bousfield led the Headquarters Staff forward to provide assistance. In this attempt to advance, Lieut-Col. Bousfield was wounded and any further movement by Headquarters and associated staff proved impossible due to machine-gun and shell fire.
As the attack continued throughout the morning, the battle became a series of isolated actions, each group of men holding what positions they had captured and consolidated. 
On receiving information that Lieut-Col. Bousfield was wounded on the attempt to move forward, Major Donald Mackay went forward from the 'Old German Line,' near Wieltje to take command of the batallion, accompanied by Lieutenant John Harford, they finally reached the location of Battalion Headquarters at about 3.30 p.m. in the afternoon. In the maelstrom of machine-gun and shell fire that swept the battlefield, Major Mackay was killed at about 4.30 p.m., command now devolving on Captain Bernard Ernest Ablitt.
As night fell, the men occupied the 'positions' won during the day, some men just sheltering in mere shell holes filled with water. The remnants of the battalion, scattered and in isolated parties, occupied positions located from the south edge of 'Wolf Farm' consisting of a line of detached
'forts,' 
to the eastern edge of 'Wolf Copse.' The latter position also consisted of a detached post located about 150 yards south-east of the southern corner of 'Wolf Copse.' To assist these forward posts, a support line was also established about 200 yards behind and located on the limit of the First Objective.
Late on the night of the 10th, the battalion was relieved by the 4th Battalion, New Zealand Rifles of the 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Returning to 'Old German Line' position east of Wieltje small parties began 'drifting' back between the hours of 3 a.m and 11 a.m. on the morning of the 11th.

Casualties

The War Diary of the 1/5th West Yorkshire Regiment lists the losses to the battalion as:
4 Officers killed.
8 Officers wounded.
2 Officers wounded and missing.
In Other Ranks:
48 killed.
182 wounded.
12 wounded and missing.
44 missing.
In comparison, Soldiers Died In The Great War CD-Rom lists the casualties to the battalion as:
7 Officers killed.
99 Other Ranks killed.

Harry had gone into action serving with "C" Company in the first wave of the attack and there is no evidence at present as to where and how he fell in the action.
Unlike most of his comrades who were killed, Harry's body was recovered and identified to be given a named burial at Tyne Cot Cemetery. On the 19th February 1918, Alice received the few possessions that Harry had left behind in his personal kit. This included a pocket book, a flash lamp, a razor, and a Platoon Roll Book.
As regards the child conceived on Harry's last home leave to Wetherby, May Westerman was born in May 1918. One more child from Wetherby had lost their father in the War.

Tyne Cot Cemetery

The cemetery was constructed around the site of a large German "pill-box" from early October 1917 to the end of March 1918 and originally contained 343 graves. The cemetery was enlarged after the Armistice when remains were concentrated here from the battlefields of Passchendaele and Langemarck and numerous small burial grounds. The cemetery now contains the remains of 11, 956 Commonwealth servicemen of which 8,369 of the burials are unidentified. Special memorials are also located in the cemetery to casualties known or believed to be buried here or those whose graves were destroyed by shell fire.

Poelcappellemap.jpg
Message Map Number 13. Operational Orders 1/5th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment WO/95/2794
WestermanH1.JPG
Courtesy of Pierre Vandervelden