Lance Corporal 21 Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps (Yeoman Rifles)
Military Service Number R/19404
Born 1 April 1892 at 4 Queen’s Terrace, Scarborough, North Yorkshire
Killed in Action 3 August 1917
Commemorated on the Menin Gate, Ypres
HARRY’S FAMILY: Harry’s mother was Eva Eliza Mitchell, a housekeeper. No father is named on his birth certificate. Eva’s father, James, was a grocer/carrier from Farnham, Surrey. Her mother, Eliza, came from Wiltshire. Eva had a brother, Sydney, and two sisters, Florence and Sarah. Florence was a servant, still unmarried in 1911 at the age of 39, while Sarah married Charles Pope, a plumber from Farnham. His father, Henry, had been a coachman all his life, most notably to the Royal Academy painter James Clarke Hook of Silver Beck, Churt, for over 20 years, a job his son William took over from him.
Eva’s brother Sydney Mitchell married in Farnham and had 10 children. The eldest was also called Harry, born on 5 April 1892 in Aldershot. One cannot help wondering if their grandfather, James, ever knew he had two grandsons called Harry, born within 4 days and 260 miles of each other.
Two of Sydney Mitchell’s 4 sons (Eva’s nephews) served in the navy. In April 1919 Harry was on HMS Fearless while Arthur served on HMS Inconstant. Frederick, born in 1905, was too young to join up.
Sydney’s second son was Private Philip George J Mitchell. Born in the last quarter of 1898, Philip Mitchell was also too young to join up. This did not stop him attesting in June 1915 when he was 16. He joined the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment claiming to be a 19 year old gardener. On 1 January 1916 he transferred to the Machine Gun Corps and his ‘Statement of the Services’ states ‘Entered in error’ which may suggest that his true age had been discovered. On 28 January whilst at the machine gun training centre in Grantham, Philip received 7 days Field Punishment No. 2 for ‘insubordination’. This was similar to Field Punishment No. 1, described below, ‘except the man was shackled but not fixed to anything.’
Pte Philip Mitchell joined the British Expeditionary Force in France on 18 March 1916, sailing from Folkestone to Boulogne with 57 Coy of the MGC, serving with the 19th Division, 57th Brigade. (By coincidence, this is the same Division and Brigade in which Captain George B Bird, of 10th Bn Royal Warwickshire Regiment, was also serving. He is remembered on the memorial in Scalby Churchyard along with Lance Corporal Harry Mitchell, Private Philip Mitchell’s cousin.)
Pte Philip Mitchell was awarded 21 days Field Punishment No. 1 on 12 September 1916 for ‘neglect of duty when on guard’. This painful punishment ‘consisted of the convicted man being shackled in irons and secured to a fixed object, often a gun wheel or similar. He could only be thus fixed for up to 2 hours in 24, and not for more than 3 days in 4, or for more than 21 days in his sentence. This punishment was often known as ‘crucifixion’ and due to its humiliating nature was viewed by many Tommies as unfair. (http://www.1914-1918.net/crime.htm)
Like his cousin Harry from Scarborough, Philip survived the battles of The Somme in 1916 but was killed in action on 11 January 1917, aged just over 18 years. He is buried at Hebuterne Military Cemetery.
HARRY’s LIFE By 1901, Harry’s mother Eva Mitchell had moved to Hertfordshire where she was Lady’s Maid to Mrs Rose Johnston of Gilston whose husband, Reginald, was a Director of the Bank of England. The 1901 Census shows her son, 9 year old Harry living in the parish of St Laurence, Scalby with Mary Ann Boddy (53). Mrs Boddy also gave a home to Herbert Barker (16), William Shaw (6), Annie Guthbert (4) and Ida Ambler (3).
The Boddy family would have been well-known in Scalby, where Mary Ann’s father William was a road mender and her brother John G Boddy (a long-serving parish councillor) and his son John F Boddy were blacksmiths on Yew Court Terrace. (Their smithy has since been converted into a small end-terrace bungalow.) At one time Scalby had three smithies, where Robert and James Boddy were also blacksmiths.
In the 1911 Census, Harry Mitchell had moved to York where he was a shop assistant for grocer and tea dealer John Palliser at 7 and 8 Foss Bridge, Walmgate. His mother Eva was still Lady’s Maid for the Johnston family.
Harry enlisted into the army at Sheffield during 1916 and subsequently joined the 21st Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps (Yeoman Rifles). This Battalion had been raised in September 1915 by the Northern Command recruiting volunteers from the farming communities of Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland. They trained at Duncombe Park, Helmsley, home of Lt Col Charles Duncombe, Lord Feversham.
The Battalion went to France in May 1916, coming under the command of 124 Brigade in the 41st Division. In September, they took part in the battle of Flers-Courcelette, part of the Somme offensive, in which tanks were used for the first time. By coincidence, on 15 September 1916 during this battle, Lt Lawrence Rowntree (also remembered on the Scalby war memorial) was a gunner in one of the six tanks that attached the sugar factory at Courcelette and Lt Col Duncombe was killed in action.
In June 1917, the Battalion took part in the Battle of Messines, south of Ypres. This started on 7 June with the detonation of 19 mines under the German lines. It was during the next offensive, the Third Battle of Ypres, that Harry Mitchell was killed in action, on 3 August 1917.
The Yeoman Rifles were temporarily attached to the 123rd Brigade at the time. They launched their attack on 31 July with the Yeoman Rifles in support. From 1st to 3rd August they occupied a German trench known as Imperfect Trench near Klein Zillebeke. The unit war diary states that the trench was in a terrible condition, they were constantly bombarded and spent the first two nights recovering bodies belonging to battalions of the 123rd Brigade from No Man’s Land. Harry was serving alongside Mary Ann Boddy’s nephew, Rifleman Austin Boddy, who had joined the Yeoman Rifles in Scarborough in October 1915. Austin’s son Robin has said that his father was standing beside Harry on 3 August when a shell exploded nearby. Austin received a shrapnel wound to his right thigh and hand and received treatment at the 32nd Stationary Hospital, Wimereux, but Harry wasn’t so lucky and was blown to pieces by the shell.
Harry Mitchell is remembered on the Menin Gate in Ypres where the last post is sounded every evening and people gather to pay their respects and lay wreaths. His death was not reported in the Scarborough Mercury.
Mary Ann Boddy had not forgotten Harry. Her headstone in St Laurence’s Churchyard reads, “In loving memory of William Boddy, died Jan 17th 1893 aged 72. In life respected. Mary Boddy, widow of the above died Jan 10th 1900 in her 80th year. At rest. Jane Agnes Righton, died May 6th 1921 aged 47. Peace perfect peace. Harry Mitchell killed in action in Flanders Aug 3rd 1917 aged 25 years. Dearly loved and sadly missed. Also Mary Ann Boddy, daughter of the above, died Dec 28th 1932 aged 84 years. Thy will be done.”