George Williams Harper.

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'Final act of an old soldier.'

 

'From all quarters of Huntingdonshire, families with medals and mementoes of the old county regiment of the Great War period, the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion, have been coming in.

But perhaps none have been so dramatic as the recollections of Daisy Chapman of Station Road, Warboys, whose father, Sgt, George Williams Harper, appeared in the first picture of this series of the eight Warrant Officers and NCOs who were still serving with the 5th (Hunts) Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment in 1935.

Sgt.  Harper was born at Brampton on September 17th, 1889 and he died at Hartford in 1978 aged 89. One of the last acts of this fine old soldier, whose heart was in the Territorial Army, was to clean his medals and lay them on the table beside his bed before he died.

His medals not only form a possibly unique group, all of them of course named to him on the rim, but they tell a story and fill a gap in the history of the county's service to the country.  They consist of the British War and Victory medals, the Territorial Force War Medal, for voluntary service overseas and the Territorial Force Efficiency medal and the Territorial Efficiency Medal.

But his first voluntary service was with the 4th (Hunts) Volunteer Battalion, The Bedfordshire Regiment which he joined at Huntingdon, from his home in Brampton, aged 17, on March 20, 1906.  Now this battalion had just had a sad chapter in its history. For a long time it had been the 5th Volunteer Battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps with such officers as the Earl of Sandwich as Colonel and the Duke of Manchester as one of the captains. Great umbrage had been taken when it was required to become part of the Bedfordshire Volunteer Bridge.

Although it clearly still existed in 1906 - parchment given to Harper for his service proves this - its days were numbered and on March 31, 1908, when the Territorial Force was created the 4th (Hunts) ceased to exist.  The illuminated parchment, signed by Lt. Gen. Sir A. H. Paget, G O C Eastern Command, certified he had served for two years and twelve days. 

Then for six years, George Harper's love for a part-time soldier's life had to go unrequited. During that time, Huntingdonshire was one of the few counties in England without a Territorial Force Battalion.  Early in the Spring of 1914, his chance came. There was to be an entirety new type of unit formed, a cycle (pedal cycle) battalion. One of these was to be raised in Huntingdonshire and G. W. Harper was one of the first to volunteer.

The exact date he joined is not known, but he was given the regimental number 56. This number appears on his first three medals, the British War and Victory medals and the Territorial Force War medal. Each is named 56 Pte G. W. Harper Hunts. Cyc. Bn.

1914 was altogether an eventful year for him. Not only because he was on Active Service but he also got married, to Elizabeth Culver of Harlow. Daisy was born the following year.  Harper presumably spent most of 1915 serving with the Hunts Cyclists in their coast Defence role. As we have already established with others, his fighting had to be done with another regiment. In his case it was the Machine Gun Corps.

He must have served in France to hold the two war medals and the only surviving relic of that period of his life is a Day Pass to enable No 72152 Pte Harper G. W. to be absent from 9 am 12.10.17 to noon the same day and to use a government bicycle during that time. The pass was signed at Belton park by Lieut. W. Sproule officer Commanding No 251 Machine Gun Coy.

He was not a casualty in the war, in fact his daughter believes he remained unwounded. In due course, in 1919 he was demobbed. The land fit for Heroes to which he returned,  his parents were then living at Hartford and he lived with them, was not one in which jobs were easily come by.  He was in fact to remain at Hartford to the end of his life. But he had not lost his passion for soldiering. He does not seem to have returned, or not immediately, to the Hunts Cyclists which, in 1921 were to become the 5th (Hunts) Bn Northamptonshire Regt T. A.

This is clear in that his fourth medal,  The Territorial Force Efficiency Medal was awarded to him as No 480 Pte G. W. Harper 5 Bed/Herts.  In a way he had gone home, as his first unit was the Bedfords. Indeed it was approximately his same old Volunteer unit.

What had happened was that the Bedfordshire Regiment which had both regular and territorial battalions, had amalgamated to form the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. The 5th Bn was reformed in early 1920 and, the history of that battalion records, a total of 16 NCOs and 23 privates joined it between February and July of that year. Since most of the training took place in and south of Bedford and Harper was living at Hartford this showed outstanding enthusiasm. He was rewarded with the bestowal of the medal.

The following year, 1921, the 5th Bn Northamptonshire Regt. T. A. formally replaced the Hunts Cyclists and I can only assume that, as a matter of common-sense, Harper transferred. He served for at least 14 years with the          Northamptons, still at Huntingdon, and so easily qualified for the last his medals, the Territorial Efficiency Medal. As we know he was still there in 1935 and at the age of 46 years which is knocking on a bit for an infantryman.

What particularly pleases me about his story is that, as I told his daughter, her father and I were comrades-in-arms.  For a few years even if we never in the same battalion together, but the bond of regiment was very strong in those days.'

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The article is credited to Buckden military historian GEOFFREY MOORE, but as this paper cutting was posted to me with no indication of its origins I can't credit the original source. It was presumably from a local paper.

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Enquiries were also made of the author, Geoffrey Moore, but, sadly, I was informed he had died some years ago.

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Any help in locating the source of this article would be appreciated.

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If you can help with any data on this Huntingdonshire Cyclist please contact me at huntscycles@btinternet.com

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09/04/2012

. . Martyn Smith