Private Richard William Harber

Regiment: 23rd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers.
Service No: G.49639 (Formerly 2711, 29th Royal Fusiliers)
Date & place of birth: 25 August 1894 at Ambersham, Sussex
Date & place of death: 3 May 1917 (aged 23) at Oppy, northern France

Like many of the local men killed during the war, Richard Harberwas the son of an agricultural labourer, who would probably have followed into his father’s occupation.

Family background

Richard Harber was born in Ambersham on 25 August 1894, the second child and only son of Abel Harber (1861–1939) and his wife  Emma Jane née Overton (1861–1939). Abel was employed as a farm labourer and had married Emma in 1890.

By 1901, the family had settled in West Lavington and were living at Tanyard Cottages, near the corner of Selham Road and Oaklands Lane. Their neighbours were William and Ellen Sageman, whose son George was killed in September 1914.

Richard attended West Lavington School from 24 October 1898 until he left on 30 July 1908, shortly before his 14th birthday. In the 1911 census, Richard was described as a gardener.

Military service

Richard enlisted in the 29th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers at Horsham in 1915, but was later transferred to the 23rd Battalion. After training at Tidworth in Wiltshire, the battalion was shipped to northern France in November 1915.

In July 1916, the battalion was engaged in desperate fighting on the Somme, including the battle of Delville Wood, suffering a large loss of men and officers. Their next engagements were at Beaumont Hamel in November and at Greyvillers in March.

Death & commemoration

On 2 May 1917, the battalion attacked the enemy lines at Oppy near Arras with the objective of taking the Fresnoy Trench from the enemy. The attack was partially successful but a number of Germans still possessed the northern part of the trench. The following day the Germans launched a heavy counter attack, forcing the Fusiliers out, but they soon rallied and retook the trench once again. Lack of ammunition forced the survivors to withdraw from the trench during the day and they fell back to shell holes until they were relieved by the 15th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment that night.

Following the attack, Private Richard Harber was posted as “missing in action”. On 13 May, the military history says that he was “regarded for official purposes as having died on or since 3 May 1917”.

Richard Harber's name on the Arras Memorial
Richard Harber’s name on the Arras Memorial

As his body was never recovered, he was one of 35,000 Allied troops commemorated on the Arras Memorial in the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery in Arras.

Other family members

Richard Harber’s sister, Ethel Jane, married George Cook on 9 February 1916. He died in Basra, Iraq in July 1916 and is commemorated on the Iping war memorial.

 

Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project