Name of Researcher / Enw’r ymchwylydd: Peter Redfern Metcalfe
Name of Memorial / Enw’r gofeb: Flint Town
Name / Enw: Bithell, Harold
Regiment/Catrawd: 9th (Service) Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers
Service Rank and Number / Rheng gwasanaeth a rhif: Private No 13452
Military Cemetery/Memorial / Fynwent milwrol: Thiepval Memorial, Somme
Ref No Grave or Memorial / Rhif cyfeirnod bedd: Pier and Face 4A
Country of Cemetery or Memorial / Gwlad y fynwent neu gofeb: France
Medals Awarded / Medalau a ddyfarnwyd: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal and Military Medal
Date of Death: 20th November 1916
Date and Circumstances of Death / Dyddiad ac amgylchiadau marwolaeth:
Killed by a shell at the battle of Ancre, France on 20th November 1916
Harold Bithell was born in Flint in 1890 and baptised 22nd January, 1890 at St Mary’s Parish Church, Flint. He was the sixth of nine children to William Edwards Bithell and Margaret (Jackson).
Harold grew up living at the Blue Bell Inn, Castle Street, moved to 12, Earl Street before settling with the family at 60, Earl Street.
He was one of the best-known footballer players in Flintshire and North Wales, having been a member of the Flint Club’s team some seasons. A single man, he was employed as a beamer at the local silk works and was a member of the Loyal Flint Castle Lodge of Oddfellows.
Harold enlisted in Flint sometime in 1914 and at one time was a Lance Corporal, so for some unknown reason had been demoted. He landed at Boulogne, France 27th July, 1915.
Private Bithell was killed by a shell in France on 20th November, 1916. He has no known grave but is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France, on Pier and Face 4A (see below). He is remembered on three war memorials: Flint Town, St Mary’s Parish Church, Flint and Oddfellows Hall, Flint. He is also commemorated on the North Wales Heroes’ Memorial Arch, Bangor.
He was awarded the 1914–15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal and the Military Medal for bravery in the Field (without citation), which was published in the London Gazette on Wednesday, 23rd August, 1916.
The Captain of the Company in which Private Bithell was a member conveyed to his parents the sympathy of the officers and men at the death of their “splendid son”, who was killed by a shell. “The remains were laid to rest where he fell, with two comrades who shared the same fate. His loss to the Company and to me personally is immense. He was a splendid soldier and a noble man who had a great and good influence with the men. His heroism was prominent at the time; and it is very satisfactory to know that it has not gone by unheeded, for he was the proud wearer of the Military Medal. Such noble fellows as these cannot be dead. They and their influence and their works live after them.”
Private E B Morris, whose home was in Park Avenue, Flint, and who was one of the comrades of Private Bithell, wrote to Mr and Mrs Bithell, and furnished them with particulars of the death of their son, and stated his remains were respectfully interred. The funeral service was read at the grave. A cross had been erected to mark the spot, so that the parents would now know how highly respected was Harold by all his comrades. Harold was always cheerful and always the same, and his death – along with that of many other poor fellows – had made them sad and more thoughtful men.
On the same day the intelligence reached his parents and friends that Private William Carr, the son of Mr Thomas Carr, florist, of Chester Road, Flint, and brother of Company Sergeant Major George Carr (page 61), had been seriously wounded. Private Bithell and he were in the trenches, and a portion of the shell which killed Bithell came into contact with his arm. He was removed to the dressing station, and then to the hospital.
The following extracts were taken from the personal diary of H Lloyd Williams (A/Lt-Col: T/Major) 9th (Service) Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers recounting his experiences during the years of the Great War concerning the action in which Private Bithell was killed:
“On the morning of the 19th November 1916, the 56th and 57th Brigades had made the oft-postponed attack on Grandcourt. A thick mist prevailed, and the attack, which was supposed to have about four turning movements, and which the brigades made their several attacks in directions which were at right angles to each other, resulted in hopeless confusion although some points were seized and some progress made. The 58th Brigade was ordered to continue the progress and to make good the already captured positions and to consolidate them. The instructions were not one whit more definite than that. No-one knew the situation in front, and when we of the two front companies (B. and C.) called at the 57th Brigade H.Q. in Stuff Redoubt for information on our way up, neither the General ( Jeffreys) nor any of his staff had the remotest idea of what had happened or of the position of the troops in front. It was thereupon arranged between us that B. Company should occupy Blue Trench – a position they held on their previous visit – and that C. Company should make good a certain trench to the left front of that position. It was not known in whose possession this latter was, and I was advised to proceed carefully and warily, because it was certain that there were many of our wounded lying about and there was a likelihood of its being held by the enemy. Our orders generally were to construct and consolidate a line from Fergusson Communication Trench to Lucky Way. There were no guides provided, and the two Companies struggled along behind Matt Davies who was directing himself by means of a compass. We ultimately arrived at Blue Trench, and leaving the Company lying behind that Trench, Lt. E. O. Roberts and I reconnoitred forward and fixed on positions in which to place the Company, and around which we could establish strong points.
There certainly were numbers of our wounded lying about, and in the dug-out which we made our H.Q., was a wounded sergeant of the Gloucesters, who had gone insane. After raving for several hours, the poor fellow died there before we could arrange to have him sent down. Our time was feverishly employed in rescuing and sending down the wounded and in consolidating our position, for we had not the remotest idea of how far or how near the enemy was. During the next day our position was rendered uncomfortable by accurate sniping and artillery fire. The very door of our dug-out was accurately ranged, and when a group of men dashed for the dug-out in the middle of a bombardment, the destruction was awful. The entrance was blocked, and the steps inside also, with our dead, who included the C.S.M’s Staff – Bithell, Brennan, and Kingsbury. It was a brutal state of affairs, and when an order came through from Battalion H.Q., who had never once been down to see the situation for themselves, to carry out another difficult operation, I felt very mutinous indeed. It was so obviously an operation conceived by the drawing of lines on the map by someone who had not the remotest idea of the conditions in front. Before proceeding to carry out this order, I made enquiries of Battalion H.Q., and was informed that it emanated from a certain junior captain who had spent his whole time bluffing at H.Q., an outsider and sycophant, who had so influenced the C.O. while we were enduring as we were in front, that the latter, on proceeding to take over the command of the 12th Brigade, left his junior in command. From that moment I dropped the reigns, and so did Matt Davies. We brought our Companies back to the comfort of Battalion H.Q. in Bainbridge trench and later went even further back to Bulgar trench. It was a bold proceeding, but we were desperately ‘fed up’ with this treatment.
On Saturday, 28th April Lieutenant Colonel Chaplain the Reverend Canon Nicholas, of the Rectory, Flint, received from the Authorities the Military Medal, which had been awarded to the late Private for bravery in the field. It is known that the act of bravery was very conspicuous, and it was most unfortunate that in a later action he received a fatal shrapnel wound, and therefore was deprived of the opportunity of being presented with the honour at Buckingham Palace. The Canon delivered the medal to the mother of the deceased soldier who had already received the prayer book and other small articles belonging to her son, and which were in his possession at the time of his death.
Harold’s brother, Albert Francis, served in the war as a Quarter Master Sergeant with the 2/5th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers from 1915–19. He and his wife Mary Ann were both killed in WW2 by enemy bombing over their home at 22, Well Lane, Rock Ferry on 12th March, 1941.
Their father, William, died on 15th October, 1920, aged 65, at his home, 60, Earl Street, and buried in the Northop Road Cemetery, Flint. He was born in Flint and was at one time Licensed Victualler at the Blue Bell Inn, Castle Street, Flint, and for many years he was in the employ of Mr Henry Taylor, Clerk to the Borough Justices, and subsequently he held the position of School Attendance Officer, and also that of Coal Controller. He was a solicitor’s clerk, managing clerk (law), accountant and Inspector of Nuisances. He was a gentleman who was held in high esteem and greatly respected by the residents of Flint. He was a member of the local Conservative Club, and out of respect to him after his death the Club’s flag was flown at half-mast. He was also a Freemason.
His wife Margaret, also born in Flint, died 2nd November, 1940, aged 84, at 54, Earl Street, Flint and is buried with her husband. She was very well known and highly esteemed in the town, of which she was one of its oldest residents. She was a daughter of Mr and Mrs Robert Jackson, of the Castle Inn, Flint and a faithful member of St Mary’s Parish Church.
A loving hero, true and kind,
A beautiful memory left behind.
Sincerely mourned by his Parents, Brothers and Sisters.
(County Herald, 23rd November, 1917)