Pte Harry Bradford (1880 – 1918)

Harry Bradford was born at Holly Mount in the Platt Brickfields on 4 May 1880. He was one of seven children of a tile maker from Horsmonden named Owen and his wife, Philadelphia (née Brand or Moore.) By 1891, Harry’s family had moved to Black Horse Lane in Borough Green (modern-day Crouch Lane), with Harry and his siblings all attending Platt School. He followed his father into the tile-making business when he was old enough and, in the 1901 census, lived on Godstone Road (now Maidstone Road) in Platt; however, by 1911, he had left home and lived with his elder brother George and his family in Erith. Both brothers worked as brickmakers, and by 1914, Harry lived at Anchorbay Farm, working in the brickworks there. On the eve of the war breaking out, on 1 August 1914, Harry married Sarah Coshall at Christ Church in Erith, with a daughter born almost two years later at 60 Arthur Street on 9 April 1916.

Harry’s journey into the Army began on 24 June 1916 when he was conscripted. He was subsequently called up for service on 18 October and assigned to the 7th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment. A medical examination conducted at Woolwich revealed that Harry was 5’ 6” tall, weighed 140 lbs, and had a robust physical development. Despite a slight hernia, his overall health was deemed fit for service, and he was medically classified as B1, meaning he could march five miles, see to shoot with glasses and hear well. The following day, Harry travelled to Guildford, where he joined the 100th Provisional Battalion, The London Regiment – a unit formed in June 1915 from home service personnel that would eventually become the 29th Battalion, The London Regiment on 1 January 1917.

Harry spent much of 1917 based in England and eventually posted to France later that year on 21 December. On arrival, he joined the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers at the Infantry Base Depot in Etaples; however, within a week, he was transferred to the 6th Battalion, Welsh Regiment, which was a pioneer battalion forming part of the 1st Division that had moved to billets in Boesinghe (north of Ypres) during December. Harry arrived with his new unit on 18 January 1918, along with a draft of 49 other men, also classified B1.

On 11 February, Harry’s battalion was relocated to ‘Turco Huts’, an area east of the canal near Pilckem. Here, they were tasked with a variety of responsibilities crucial to the war effort. These included road and trench-board track maintenance, construction and erection of camouflage screening, constructing new pill-boxes, and adapting old German ones in the battle zone. They also played a significant role in digging trenches and constructing breastworks under the direction of a company of Royal Engineers.

In early March, Harry moved to Béthune, where his battalion billeted in the orphanage and ordered to construct a new army line northeast of the town that ran in front of the dock and astride the canal. On completion, the battalion moved to Beuvry and began wiring along the front line at night and fixing pontoon bridges across the canal by day. All along the front, the Germans were known to be preparing for a big ‘spring offensive’, and on 18 March, two companies from the battalion were caught in the preliminary artillery bombardment at the cost of several casualties. Six days later, Harry’s unit moved southeast of Béthune to Sailly Labourse, where they resumed digging trenches and wiring the front lines.

Towards the end of August, the Pioneers were sent to Arras, where they received orders to participate in operations commencing at the start of September in the St. Quentin region. By then, the Germans had begun their retreat, and the Allies had pushed forward in pursuit. The Pioneers provided invaluable support to the attacking infantry and were occasionally called upon to engage the enemy. However, all companies worked to repair forward roads and tracks, working as far forward as possible during the day without direct observation.

By the start of November, Harry was billeted northeast of Bohain at La Vallée-Mulâtre, where, in addition to salvaging war material, he was also tasked with burying the dead. Following the Armistice, the battalion received news that they would be moving into Germany and acting as an advance guard to the Division – reaching the Ardennes on 27 November and eventually crossing into Germany on 16 December. Two days after Christmas, Harry found himself admitted to hospital suffering from pneumonia. He was sent to No.3 Australian Casualty Clearing Station situated in the town of Euskirchen at the Deaf and Dumb Institution and died there on 29 December. He was 38 years old and is buried in Cologne Cemetery South.