Photograph of Harold in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: Acc3370
(L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal
Harold was born in around March 1897 in Bradford, Manchester. He was baptised on the 24th March. His father was called James Cheetham and his mother was Hannah. He had an older sister named Ada and 3 younger siblings: James, Elizabeth and Elinor. Three other children had died by 1911, we don't know their names.
When Harold was born the family lived at 3 Lytton Street in Bradford and James worked as a cap, or hat, maker. They were still there in 1901 but by the 1911 Census they had moved to 6 Rowsley Street in nearby Beswick. James now worked as a labourer for the Manchester Corporation. He was based at a tin working factory. Harold had also found work; he was an errand boy in a cotton mill. We believe Hannah died between January and March 1912, aged 40.
When the First World War broke out in August 1914 Harold was still a textile worker and he still lived at 6 Rowsley Street. He left his job to join the 4th City Battalion on the 19th December. This unit was made up of men from the Manchester area who wanted to serve in the Army together. It became the 19th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and Harold was assigned to XIII Platoon in D Company. He was given the service number 12547. When he enlisted Harold was 5 feet 4 1/2 inches tall and weighed 112 pounds.
The 19th Battalion trained at Heaton Park in Manchester until April 1915 when it moved to Belton Park near Grantham in Lincolnshire. During his time at Belton Park Harold found himself in trouble. He was supposed to return to the 19th Battalion at 12 noon on the 6th July, but he did not report until 8:45 pm. As punishment he was confined to barracks for 5 days, and lost 2 days pay.
Harold and the 19th Battalion moved to Larkhill in Wiltshire during September, and then sailed to France aboard the SS Queen Alexandra on the 7th November 1915.
In January 1916 the battalion took their place at the front near Carnoy. They were based here, serving in the front line trenches and working in the rear areas, until May. They then moved to the Maricourt area to begin training to take part in what would become known as the Somme Offensive.
On the 24th June Harold wrote a letter home:
Just a line to let you know I am still in the best of health hoping you are all the same. I have not yet heard from you since your second issue of papers but still living in hopes. I have had very little chance of writing to you just lately as we have been kept very busy. I have heard a rumour that they were going to stop you from sending letters or parcels out here for a bit, but I don't think this is true. Well anyway I shall write to you as often as I can.
The weather here is splendid at present and everything is going on alright. I have heard another rumour that our leave as been stopped again, but I am still living in hopes of being with you before next Christmas for good with a bit of good luck.
I suppose all at home are going on well and that father is still backing all the winners or more like losers. We have copied the daylight saving out here now, so you see we are not going to be left out.[British Summer Time had been introduced that year, with the clocks changing for the first time on the 21st May]
The other day our fellows nearly went mad, they gave us a nice long train ride, but we had the pleasure of having to do a 25 mile march after, which went down rotten, what with lugging old humpty about which we have nicknamed for our packs and the boiling hot weather fetching it out of us.
The Russians seem to be doing well now, but it won't be long now before the Huns are swiped of the face of the earth. [The Russian Brusilov Offensive had begun in what is now the Ukraine on the 4th June. It was extremely costly in lives, but highly successful].
We are going back again into the trenches in a day or two after having ten days out this time.
Well I think this is all at present so I will now close. With best of love to all at home from your loving son and brother, Harold.
The British offensive began on the 1st July 1916. Harold and the 19th Battalion attacked a German position called the Glatz Redoubt that protected the village of Montauban. They successfully captured the position and held it until they were relieved on the 3rd.
Between the 7th and 9th July the 19th Battalion was back in the front line. They supported the 2nd Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment as they attacked Trones Wood. After this fighting they were withdrawn to the area around the village of Morlancourt, where they trained and received reinforcements.
On the 23rd the 19th Battalion took part in an attack on the village of Guillemont. D Company advanced from Trones Wood towards the German lines. There were two rows of barbed wire emplacements between them and the German trenches. The Company cut through the first row and attempted to get through the second. During this time they were under constant fire from German rifles, machine guns and grenades. They took so many casualties that they were forced to fall back.
At the end of the day over 500 men, well over half the battalion, had been killed, wounded or were missing. Harold was one of the missing. James was informed of this on the 23rd August.
James must have written to another member of Harold's unit, because on the 11th September Sergeant 12538 William B. Sharpes wrote back to him. He told James that 'I am very sorry to say I cannot give you any further news than already received. On the date mentioned we were attacking a very strong position of the enemies' against tremendous odds and while partaking in this we were rather badly handled by the Boche for he a great number of machine guns hidden which caused us to have a good number of casualties.'
There was some reason for hope though. As William said: 'only this week we heard from one of our Section who is in Germany having taken prisoner in the battle'. He also promised to write again if he heard anything of Harold. William would later join the Tank Corps. He survived the war.
The Army did its best to find missing soldiers, but as time passed and they discovered the names of the men of the 19th Battalion who had been captured on the 23rd July it became less and less likely that Harold could have survived.
On the 5th June 1917 James was informed that the Army now believed Harold had been killed, aged 19, on the 23rd July 1916. His body was never found so along with 72,202 other soldiers he is now listed on the Thiepval Memorial in France. Harold is on Pier 13 Face A or Pier 14 Face C.
Harold's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in June 2005.