Killed at the Battle of Passchendaele

Evidence of war - Gunner Lewis Harman's belt

This resource is one of a series created to commemorate the First World War Centenary in 2014-2018


This belt belonged to Lewis William Harman, who was a gunner in the Royal Artillery during the First World War. He was wearing this belt at the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium in 1917 when he was shot and killed.

Lewis was born in London on 2 October 1895 to William Benson and Sarah Harman. His father was a scene-shifter. By looking at the 1911 Census we can find out that Lewis's father worked at the Garrick Theatre, and was also described as a 'tic tac bookmaker', and that Lewis worked as a 'taker-offer' for a printer. 

Wounded in battle
Lewis enlisted with the London Territorial Royal Field Artillery in 1915. He was posted to the 18th Brigade Royal Field Artillery and went with them to France in 1916. In that same year he fought in the Battle of the Somme, while in an area near La Boiselle, nicknamed 'Sausage Valley' by British soldiers. A year later Lewis was fighting in one of the bloodiest of all battles; the Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele.  On 17 August 1917 he was wounded in the back by a piece of shrapnel. He was taken to one of the 'casualty clearing stations' near the town of Poperinghe, nicknamed 'Mending Them' by British soldiers. Lewis died of his wound the same day.

Decorated belt
Lewis’s wife Alice at their home in Kennington Road, London, was brought news of his death. She received his personal belongings and the belt Lewis had been wearing when he was wounded. Lewis had decorated his belt with cap badges and buttons of some of the troops he had met on the Western Front, including a German tunic button. Ironically, the piece of shrapnel that hit Lewis had passed through the Royal Artillery cap badge he had placed with pride in the centre of his belt. Gunner Lewis Harman is buried in Belgium, along with 2,391 other British soldiers and 52 German soldiers. Lewis received the 1914-1920 British War Medal and the 1914-1919 Allied Victory Medal, which were sent to Alice in 1921.

The Battle of Mud
The Battle of Passchendaele, was fought in West Flanders in Belgium between July and November 1917. It was known as the Battle of Mud. Heavy rain before it meant that tanks couldn't move in the mud, bombs destroyed what little drainage system there was, and soldiers drowned in holes made by shells. Mustard gas was used by the Germans which caused many soldiers severe burns, and in all there were 310,000 British and 260,000 German casualties of the Battle of Passchendaele. General Haig who led the battle for Britain was criticised for continuing it even though the surviving soldiers were exhausted. The battle resulted in very little gain for the British. It showed to many people how horrific and senseless the war was.

Glossary:

Artillery - guns and weapons
Artillery shell - powerful gun or cannon
Casualty clearing station - emergency hospital
Casualties - wounded or dead
General Haig - senior WWI Commander criticised for the huge number of British casualties under his command
Gunner - soldier who operates a large gun
Ironically - humour using words to suggest the opposite of their usual meaning
Mustard Gas - poison gas used as a chemical weapon that burns the skin and can cause death
Scene-shifter - person who moves background picture boards in a theatre
Shrapnel - parts of metal that scatter when a shell, bomb or bullet explode
Taker-offer - person, usually a lad, who took off and stacked sheets of paper as they came off the printer
Tic-tac bookmaker - someone who takes bets and pays winners
Tunic - loose clothing top usually worn with a belt  
Western Front - WWI battle line between the French, British and German armies in western Europe 


View other relevant My Learning WW1 resources.


Scroll down for a list of links and resources on this topic or see the teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas.




 
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