Nelson Battalion, Royal Naval Division, 13 November 1916
Synopsis of Civilian and Military Life
Harry Chalmers was born on 18 September 1895 at Dundee, to James Chalmers a Harbour Porter and his wife Betsey. The Jute industry clearly played an important part in the life of the family as from the 1901 Census they were living at 61 Watson Street, Dundee and three of the children aged between 14 – 18 were working within the Jute Mills. From this Census, Harry was the 7th of 8 children.
Before enlisting into the military he was a Clerk at Messrs F.S. Sandeman & Sons, Manhattan Works, Dundee (he is subsequently remembered on their war memorial).
On the 12 January 1915 Harry enlisted into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and into the Royal Naval Division. He was described at this time as follows :-
- Height – 5’6″
- Chest – Mean 36″
- Hair – Brown
- Eyes – Grey
- Religion – Presbyterian
- Occupation – Clerk
- Address – 24, Baldovan Terrace, Dundee.
On his enlistment as an Ordinary Seaman, he was posted to the Royal Naval Division Depot, Crystal Palace where he was promoted on 23 April 1915 to Leading Seaman and to Petty Officer on 15 September 1915 where he was attached to the 4th Battalion.
0n 23 February 1916 he moved from the 4th Battalion to the 3rd Reserve Battalion at Blandford Forum. On 10 May 1916 he moved to 2nd Hawke Battalion. He then went to Chelsea Barracks, London from 29 May to 17 June 1916 for what can be supposed for some form of course. Following this he went onto pre draft leave from 23 June to 29 June 1916.
On 25 July 1916 he became part of the Nelson Battalion as part of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division and transferred in the draft to France, at the time he was shown as having a very good character with superior ability.
He then spent some time at the Base Depot, Etaples before joining his Battalion along with around 150 Other Rank recruits on 28 August 1916, at this time the unit was in the area of Ablain-Saint-Nazaire, Pas de Calais, France.
Before his death, he was to spend some time with his unit in the following areas, Souchez, Lorette Spur, Verdrel, Magniecourt, Bethonsart, Acheux, Englebelmer, Auchonvillers, Mesnil and Hamel.
The Battle of The Ancre 13-18 November 1916
The Battle of The Ancre 13 – 18 November 1916 was the final phase of the Battles of the Somme. It had been planned for some time and was over a wide front and commenced in the fog and snow of the 13th November 1916 from the same front lines which had failed so badly on the 1st July 1916. Beaumont-Hamel was eventually captured in the attack but Serre was failed to be taken. The British suffered severe losses in the attack.
The Nelson Battalion on the Royal Naval Division was part of 63rd (Royal Naval) Division, which in itself was part of V Corps (Fanshawe) which also consisted of the 2nd, 3rd, 32nd, 37th and the 51st (Highland Division)
The Operational Order for the battle which was issued to the Nelson Battalion on the 25th October 1916 has the following part to it :-
Plan of Attack
“NELSON will be formed up in four waves immediately in rear of HAWKE under and close up to the Bank behind ROBERTS TRENCH left flank resting on LOUVERCY STREET. Each wave will consist of four platoons, one from each Company, and will be formed from right to left as follows :- A Company, C, D, & B. Waves will follow each other at distances of ten yards between first and second waves and forty yards between second and third and third and fourth. The leading wave will follow fourth wave of HAWKE at a distance of 150 yards. The initial obstacles in front of the NELSON’S and not in front of the HAWKE’S, will necessitate the NELSON’s moving off as fast as possible after the HAWKE’S. The distance of 150 yards is to be adjusted after we have passed our front line trench.”
“HOOD and HAWKE will capture the first objective i.e. Reserve Trench in Enemy’s Front System and will clean up all three lines. This objective will be captured at 0 hours 18′. SECOND OBJECTIVE at 0 hours 23′ DRAKE and NELSON will pass through HOOD and HAWKE and will capture the GREEN LINE. The first and second waves will advance straight through to this line and reorganise at once. The third wave will clear up the dug-outs in STATION ROAD and the fourth wave will clear up the DOTTED BLUE LINE, and the many dug-outs on the reverse slope of the hill.
There will be a halt at about 50 minutes on the GREEN LINE, during which there will be two pauses of 5 minutes in the 18 pirs (sic) barrage. At the end of the second pause an intense barrage will reopen and HOOD and HAWKE will pass through DRAKE and NELSON and capture the YELLOW LINE. There will be a halt of about half an hour on the YELLOW LINE, during which time DRAKE and NELSON will close up to within 150 yards of HOOD and HAWKE.
At 2 hours 15′ barrage pauses for 5 minutes, on re-opening of intense barrage at 2 hours 20′ DRAKE and NELSON will advance against the DOTTED YELLOW LINE, where a halt of five minutes will be made, during which HOOD and HAWKE will pass through DRAKE and NELSON and will advance on the DOTTED BROWN LINE. Immediately the DOTTED BROWN LINE is captured the whole brigade less HOOD will advance and consolidate the BLUE LINE. Battle Patrols will be sent forward from this line.”
(The Nelson Battalion commenced their attack at ‘Z’ hour, 6 a.m.)
Although the initial part of the attack seemed to go well with the first few trenches being captured, the Hawke and Nelson Battalions seemed to suffer severe casualties from a Redoubt (enemy fortified position) on their flank which appears to have caused the majority of the deaths and injuries which was to include the Commanding Officer and the Adjudant who were part of the Headquarters Company who came up in support.
The following is a review of the first day from the book The Royal Naval Division (1923) by Jerrold Douglas :-
“The Nelson Battalion fared but little better. While the garrison of the strong point were engaged with the Hawke Battalion, the first two waves of the Nelson, whose objective lay beyond, succeeded in forcing their way through the mist and smoke without very severe loss, but even they fell far behind the barrage, and lost at least half their very slender effectives in assaulting Station Road with bombs and bayonets, virtually without any assistance from the artillery. But the third and fourth waves of the battalion, who should have followed them, suffered the same fate as the Hawke, and fell almost to a man in the front and second line trenches, either because the officers leading their waves felt it their duty to attempt the impossible and storm the redoubt, or because, in endeavouring to follow their first waves who had passed to the far side of it, they were observed by the garrison, then less actively engaged. Probably the latter is the true explanation. General Shute, in his report on the battle, attributed the failure of the attack at this point to the mist, which he thinks must have concealed the whereabouts of the redoubt, and prevented its being mopped up. The whereabouts of the redoubt was all too plain, however, to the advancing infantry, and in the light of what is now known the more probable reason why it was never successfully attacked is because no officers and men got within bomb or bayonet range alive, while the artillery barrage missed it altogether. The almost conclusive proof is to be found in the disastrous losses of the Hawke Battalion.”
The Battalion War Diary reads :- On the 15th November the Battalion withdrew to the front line of the enemy trenches they had captured, their casualties were shown as Officers – 10 – killed, 9 wounded. Other Ranks – 24 killed, 195 wounded and 120 missing. Harry Chalmers being one of those missing.
It is likely that Harry was killed in this attack, his body was eventually traced and identified and he was buried at Ancre British Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel, France.
The recipient of his Dependent’s Pension was his father James who was shown as his next of kin and residing at 24 Baldovan Terrace, Dundee.
Harry Chalmers was born on 18 September 1895 at Dundee. The following family information is taken from the 1901 Census.
His family is shown as follows :-
- Father – James Chalmers, born c.1854 at Strathmartine, Dundee – Harbour Porter.
- Mother – Betsey Chalmers, born c.1857 at Dundee.
- Sister – Jane, born c.1883 at Dundee – Powerloom Jute Weaver.
- Brother – John, born c.1885 at Dundee – Apprentice Mill Mechanic.
- Brother – Robert, born c.1887 at Dundee – Jute Factory Worker.
- Brother – George, born c.1890 at Dundee.
- Sister – Lizzie, born c.1892 at Dundee.
- Sister – Mary, born c.1894 at Dundee.
- Sister – Williamina, born c.1900 at Dundee.
The following addresses have been ascertained for Harry Chalmers :-
- 1901 – 61 Watson Street, Dundee.
- 1915- 24 Baldovan Terrace, Dundee.
Harry Chalmers is honoured and remembered on the following memorials :-
- Wallacetown Parish Church Memorial, Crescent Street, Dundee.
- Manhattan Works War Memorial, Dundee – now at The McManus Museum, Dundee.
- His name is also recorded in the book – Dundee Roll of Honour.
Links to Additional Information
- Find a Grave website – Harry Chalmers
- A Street Near You website – Harry Chalmers
- Lives of the First World War – Harry Chalmers
- Imperial War Museum Memorials – Wallacetown Parish Church Memorial, Dundee
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Harry Chalmers
- Imperial War Museum Memorials – Manhattan Works Memorial, Dundee
- Imperial War Museum – (Film) – Battle of the Ancre and Advance of the Tanks.
- Archive.org – The Royal Naval Division (1923) by Jerrold Douglas
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
- Naval Medal Rolls.
- Royal Navy & Royal Marines War Graves Roll.
- Royal Naval Division Casualties of the Great War.
- War Diary – Royal Naval Division – Nelson Battalion.
- The National Archive – Record Card – Harry Chalmers.
- 1901 Census.
- Book – The Royal Naval Division (1923) by Jerrold Douglas.
- Pension Card.
- No Groups at this time.
- Vincent Stuart.
- Neil Bright. (Photos)