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Harold Wakeling Apthorpe

Harold Wakeling Apthorpe [P75/28/14]
Harold Wakeling Apthorpe [P75/28/14]

Harold Wakeling Apthorpe was born at Keysoe, in July 1892, the son of Charles Green and Abigail Apthorpe. The family moved to Harlington in 1894 and he attended school here, later going to Bedford Modern School. He entered SaltleyCollege, Birmingham, and passed out with distinction. He served in two schools in Birmingham and became Head Master of Cople School around 1912. He enlisted in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment on the outbreak of war and went to France in early 1915 with the 1st/8th Battalion, a Territorial Army unit, in other words made up of men who had had some army training, at weekends and in Summer holidays.

the war memorial in Cople church February 2008
The war memorial in Cople church February 2008

Apthorpe was promoted to Corporal and took part in the terrible first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916, when the British Army lost more men killed and wounded in one day than any other day in its history - 19,240 killed and 35,493 wounded, total casualties of 54,733. 1st/8th Royal Warwicks were part of 143rd Brigade, 48th (South Midland) Division, a formation which did not go into action until 23rd July, but 1st/8th had the misfortune to be attached to 11th Brigade of 4th Division, a regular army unit, for the "Big Push". The 4th Division attacked the German line just north of the village of Beaumont Hamel, with 1st/8th Royal Warwicks in the first wave on the left of the Division, attacking an area called the Heidenkopf, known to the British as the Quadrilateral Redoubt, with 1st/6th Royal Warwicks (also of 48th Division) in support, 1st Rifle Brigade on their right flank and 15th West Yorkshire Regiment of 31st Division on their left flank attacking towards the south end of the village of Serre. The Warwicks broke into the Heidenkopf, with a company of the Rifle Brigade. However, the West Yorkshires attack failed, getting no further than no man's land. meaning the Germans in Serre could fire into the flank of the Heidenkopf. Some men managed, however, to get as far as Munich Trench, effectively the German fourth line of defence, and Apthorpe was said to be amongst them. Some men got even further than this, to a small wood called Pendant Copse, well behind the German lines, a very fine feat in the circumstances. By the end of the morning, however (the attack had begun at 7.30am) 4th Division had been pushed back to the Heidenkopf but even this had to be abandoned 24 hours later as untenable. 4th Division's attack had failed, though no one could doubt its determination.

Henry Apthorpe was said to have been killed in Munich Trench. As the ground was not held his body was never found. He is now commemorated, like 72,091 other British and South African soldiers of the Battle of the Somme with no known grave, on the huge Thiepval Memorial which dominates the countryside for miles around. He was just 23 years old. Strangely he is not commemorated on the Cople war memorial but he is on that for Harlington.

Thiepval Memorial
Thiepval Memorial