Private Fred Richard Seat Harris

Fred Seat Harris

Regiment: Bedfordshire Regiment, posted to 1/1st Battalion Hertfordshire Regiment
Service No.: 41795
Date and place of birth: 2 February 1899 in Elsted
Date and place of death: 26 April 1918 (aged 19) at Kemmel, near Ypres, Belgium

Fred Richard Seat Harris was born in Elsted, where his father was a coachman employed by the local rector. He served with the Bedfordshire Regiment and was killed at the Battle of Kemmel Ridge.

Family background

Fred Richard Seat Harris was the third of eleven children born to Fred Harris (1869 – 1938) and his wife, Lavinia née Cousins (1875 – 1949).

Fred Harris senior was born in Sherston Magna, near Malmesbury in Wiltshire, where he was baptised on 12 June 1870. By 1891, he was working as a groom at Badminton House, just across the county border in Gloucestershire.

In the summer of 1895, Fred married Lavinia Cousins from South Harting. The couple moved to Elsted in 1897, when Fred was employed as the Rev Paget Moffatt’s coachman. The Harris family lived in one of the Glebe Cottages, which have since been converted and enlarged to become the Glebe House.

Their first child, Eva Lavinia May, was born at Elsted in November 1897 followed a year later by a second daughter, Ethel Grace, who died as an infant. Seat (or Fred junior) was born at Elsted on 2 February 1899 and baptised at St Peter’s, Treyford on 9 April.

Over the next 13 years, the couple had a further eight children, all born at Elsted:

  • Sheila Pretoria Maud:  born 18 July 1900
  • Horace Cyril Cecil: born and died Autumn 1901
  • Daniel DunDonald: born 12 March 1903
  • Marjorie Lily: born 16 February 1905
  • Jack Hector MacDonald: born 5 September 1906, died Spring 1912
  • Amelia Barbara Christina: born 28 January 1908
  • Alice Dorothy Celia: born 7 June 1910
  • Algernon Bernard: born Autumn 1912

At the 1911 census, the couple was still living in the Glebe Cottage with Seat and his six younger siblings. By this time, 13 year old Eva (known as May) had left home and was in service as a “between maid” for the Rev Moffatt and his wife Gertrude at Elsted Rectory. In the 1901 and 1911 censuses, Fred junior is listed as Seat Harris.

Seat Harris was educated initially at Elsted school, before going to Midhurst Grammar School where he won a scholarship to Cambridge University.

Military service

Seat Harris enlisted at Chichester, probably in late 1916 or early 1917, into the Bedfordshire Regiment. At the time of his death, he was attached to the 1/1st Battalion of the Hertfordshire Regiment, part of the 116th Brigade, 39th Division.

During early 1918, the battalion was heavily engaged in the Somme against the German Spring Offensives in the Battle of St Quentin, the actions on the Somme crossings and the Battle of Rosieres in March. In April they moved into Flanders, where they fought in the Battle of the Lys, namely the First and Second Battles of Kemmel.

Death and commemoration

On 25 April, the German Fourth Army stormed the hill at Kemmelberg, six miles south-west of Ypres, which was controlled by the allies. The regiment’s war diary records the battle as follows:

At 2:30am enemy opened up very heavy bombardment with H.E. & Gas shells on battalion front & heavily attacked our line about 6:0am. Our line was driven in and forced back on to the GHQ line, the enemy coming in very large numbers. One platoon of the left front Coy got back to the GHQ line but the other three platoons were forced back onto the Bn on our left holding the Voormezeele defences and were therefore lost to the Bn. The right Coy extricated themselves after being nearly surrounded & withdrew fighting to the GHQ line. The enemy quickly came onto the GHQ line but were well held there & after suffering many casualties withdrew to cover some 500 yards away. The platoon in the Brasserie post was closely pressed by the enemy & withdrew to the GHQ line but an immediate counter attack was launched by B Coy & the post was successfully recaptured together with two prisoners & a machine gun. Several enemy were killed in the post & our casualties were very slight. The latter part of the day passed quietly except for successful sniping of the enemy & the Coys were able to be reorganised in the GHQ line.

Private Frederick Richard Seat Harris remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial
Private Frederick Richard Seat Harris remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial

Seat Harris was one of only four men from the regiment reported “killed in action” in the battle.

His body was never recovered and he is one of 35,000 casualties commemorated on The Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing.

Memorial to the Bedfordshire Regiment at Tyne Cot, near Ypres
Memorial to the Bedfordshire Regiment at Tyne Cot, near Ypres

He is also commemorated on the war memorial now in St Paul’s church in Elsted, on which his name is shown as Fred Ceit Harris, and on the Midhurst Grammar School War Memorial, now in Midhurst Rother College.

Subsequent family history and other family members

In about 1920, the Harris family moved to No 5, Church Cottages, now incorporated into Treyford Cottage (nearly opposite the long demolished St Peter’s church, Treyford).

In 1931, Seat’s youngest brother Algernon was employed as a lorry driver at Terwick mill. After finishing work on 10 April, 18 year old Algernon was messing around on the river in an old canoe which capsized and Algernon, who was unable to swim, was drowned despite efforts by his workmates to rescue him.

Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project