Carter H.

Private 1041 Harry Carter, 4th Yorkshire Regiment (Territorials)

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Died following wounds, 11th May 1917

Some of the information on this page has been provided by Jean and Dennis Durnell. Jean's mother Madge was Harry's niece. We thank them for their help with Harry's story and also with that of Madge's father Fred Carter. Frederick Carter also served in the war, with the Northumberland Fusiliers. He survived. (See his story in They Also Served)

Harry Carter (known to his family as 'Punch') was born in Stokesley in 1891, his birth being registered early in the following year. He was the son of John Carter (a Stokesley-born labourer) and Jane Harper, who were married in Stokesley in 1881. Jane Harper was also born in Stokesley, and was the daughter of Joseph Harper, blacksmith and Jane (nee Best). John Carter was also the brother of Elizabeth Hardy Carter who married John Rafferty/Shore in the town, which meant that the children of John and Jane Carter were cousins of the 7 Shore brothers who fought in the Great War, three of whom fell. (See Shore A., Shore F. and Shore W.)

In 1901, the family was living in West End, and Harry at 9 years of age was the youngest child of four in the house, the oldest son Frederick having left home: Jane (17), Alice (15), and John (13) completed the family in the household.

According to the 1911 census Harry had 5 brothers and sisters: Frederick, Jane, Alice, John, and Samuel Hampton who was recorded as an adopted son. The Book of Remembrance states that Harry worked as a farm labourer prior to going to France, and this is confirmed by Harry's entry in the 1911 census.

From surviving documents we can be certain that Harry Carter joined the 4th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, a Territorial battalion, on 24th January 1910. In his attestation (enlistment) papers, he gave his occupation as groom to Mr J. P. Sowerby of High Street, Stokesley (the lawyer who was to become a great benefactor to the town). Harry was then described as 5’ 5 ½" tall, with a chest measurement of 36” expanding to 38”. He had good vision and good physical development.

The 4th Yorks Territorial Regiment was in Wales on manoeuvres when war was declared and returned home to await orders. They were mobilised on 4th August 1914 in Northallerton and were sent to France in April 1915.

The German army seems at this point to have been better prepared and better equipped than its British counterpart. (The following information about weaponry and fighting is largely drawn from the work of Bill Danby of Skelton, in his website entitled The 1/4th Battalion, Alexandra Princess of Wales' Own Yorkshire Regiment).

The Germans had trench mortars, hand and rifle grenades and sniper rifles with telescopic sights. British weaponry by comparison seems to have been somewhat inadequate. The British were for example using improvised hand grenades, such as the “Jam Pot”.

The “Recipe” for making this grenade was as follows:

Take a jam pot. Fill it with shredded gun-cotton and ten penny nails, mixed according to taste. Insert a No 8 detonator and a short length of Bickford’s fuze. Clamp up the lid. Light with a match, pipe, cigar or cigarette and throw for all you are worth”

(Bill has recently updated his website and this information appears no longer to be included. However, his account of the action in which Harry was gassed can be found at: http://4thyorkshires.com/004Bn1915.html)

The soldiers would have needed a good sense of humour!

If they lacked sophisticated weaponry, Harry and his comrades had plenty of other kit to look after. Harry’s surviving army records include a list of all the equipment each soldier had to have on 'embodiment'. The list is reproduced here:

Carried in Haversack

Sufficient food for one day
Holdall and table knife
Fork and spoon
Toothbrush & shaving brush
Comb, Razor and case
Spare bootlaces
Housewife – complete with needles etc
Towels and soap

Packed in Kitbag

Tunic, trousers blue, cap
1 change of underclothing
1 flannel shirt and 1 pair boots to be
correctly labelled with man’s rank
and name and Coy; brought to place
of mobilisation but not to exceed 12lbs

(Note: 12 lbs is roughly 5.5 kilograms)

Worn on Man

1 pair boots
1 pair breeches
1 pair drawers – woollen
1 Great Coat with
1 pair socks in pocket
1 mess tin
1 haversack & water bottle
1 waistcoat or cardigan
1 clasp knife with tin opener
1 pair puttees
1 shirt - flannel
1 pair socks

Amongst all these necessities, gas masks were not included. As far as Harry Carter was concerned, this was to prove a serious omission.

According to the Book of Remembrance Private Carter was with his battalion on Whit Monday, 24th May 1915. On that day at dawn the Germans opened up with artillery, machine guns and rifles. They also released their latest weapon, chlorine gas. Witnesses said the gas formed clouds 40 feet high which drifted on the wind across the British line. The effects of the gas were said to have been felt as far as 20 miles away. 5 officers and 198 Other Ranks fell in the attack..

The Book of Remembrance tells us that Harry was caught in this gas attack and never really recovered. His army records certainly show that he was admitted to hospital several times between May 1915 and his eventual discharge in July 1916. There is no mention in any of these records of the effects of gas, and Private Carter remained in France from 17th April 1915 – 17th June 1916 when he came back to England from Wimereux near Calais on the Hospital Ship Newhaven.

On 17th July 1916, Private Carter was discharged from the army as being “no longer physically fit for war service”. Harry’s description was as follows: 24 years 6½ months old, 5’ 8” tall, with hazel eyes and brown hair. His trade was given as miner and his address was West Green, Stokesley. His military character was “very good” and he was “honest and sober”.

At this time doctors quite understandably knew little or nothing about the long-term effects of gas attacks, and made no links between such events and subsequent prolonged illness or death. It is at least questionable therefore whether the medical report which accompanied his discharge was a hundred per cent correct in stating that Harry had tubercular laryngitis. The doctor noted that Harry could only speak in a whisper, had a chronic cough and blood was present in his sputum. The doctor further said that Private Carter needed sanatorium treatment and that he was totally incapacitated at that present time.

This report was apparently read by the doctor’s superior, who seems to have sent it back with the eminently sensible suggestion that Private Carter’s sputum should be tested to confirm the diagnosis of tuberculosis. The original doctor did not want to comply, and merely wrote: “There is no doubt that he is suffering from TB”. And so Private Carter was discharged; but this simple comment left Harry with a potential problem, as it effectively meant that it could now be argued that his illness was nothing to do with his war service.

Harry Carter was indeed sent to a sanatorium - in Aysgarth - but there was no improvement in his condition. Years later, his niece Madge would tell her own children that she could never forget her uncle lying in bed at home with hardly any voice at all. The Book of Remembrance tells us that Private Carter died at home following “long suffering” on 11th May 1917, aged 25. He was given a military funeral in his home town and the Last Post was sounded over his grave. His Death Certificate gave the cause of death as TB, certified by Dr Yeoman.

Harry Carter was awarded the British Medal and Victory Medal and also the 1915 Star.  His body lies in Stokesley Cemetery.

The tragedy, however, had not even then been played out.  On 4th February, 1924, Harry Carter’s  mother wrote the following letter to the military authorities:

“I am given to understand that there is a Bronze Plaque for each dead soldier. Could I get my son’s – his name and number are as follows No 1041 private Harry Carter 4th Yorks”.

The reply she received, stamped 5th February, was potentially devastating.  It said that the "bronze plaque and scroll" could only be issued if she submitted medical evidence that Harry’s death "was directly caused by his army service".

This was something she had never doubted, but could now perhaps never prove.  Jane Carter probably never received the prized plaque, as this is the final communication in Harry's file.

Harry's Death Certificate - Certificate kindly provided by Ray Wilkins of Middlesbrough, to whom we are extremely grateful

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