Ernest John Harland

Sergeant Ernest John Harland, Service Number 3317 was a member of the Honourable Artillery Company, Second Battalion (Infantry,) when he was killed in action 9th October 1917, during the third battle of Ypres, Passchendaele. 

Family Life

St Paul’s Church, Molesey

Ernest’s parents, Frederick and Elizabeth (née McKenzie) Harland, were certainly older than many that we have researched when he was born. The 1881 Census shows that the family already consisted of Caroline (15) born in York; Frederick (12) and Charles (9) both born in Muttia, India; Ada (14) born in Fulham; and Elizabeth (12) and Annie (10) both born in East Molesey. The variety of places where the children were born, showed that Frederick had a job that required him to move. The 1891 Census showed two more children Amy (8) and Ernest (4) both born in East Molesey. The five youngest children who were still living at home, were listed on this Census as being scholars. Ernest had been born on 14th April 1886 and baptised at St Paul’s Church, East Molesey, Surrey, on the 18th June 1886. The 1911 census return tells us that Elizabeth had a total of 10 children of whom 8 were still living.

According to both the 1891 Census and Ernest’s baptism record his father was a Warder at Hampton Court, who was born in Cawnpore St (Kanpur), India, an indication of a military background. The family by now had settled in Park Road, East Molesey, Surrey, showing that Frederick’s occupation now provided a more stable environment.

Frederick appears in the 1841 Census: Frederick (4), Emma (1) and Ann (15) Harland were all to be found in the Hounslow Cavalry Barracks built in 1793, all listed as servants. Frederick’s father, Ernest’s grandfather, was a cavalryman, hence the link to Hounslow Barracks. Records from the Royal Hospital Chelsea Pensioner Soldier Service Records 1760-1920 show that Frederick Godfrey Harland, Ernest’s father, qualified for a pension in 1876, having achieved the rank of Serjeant in the 11th Regt of Hussars (service number 1705).

Elizabeth Caroline Harland (Ernest’s mother) was born in 1844 in Chelsea. Her father had died before the 1861 Census but her mother Caroline (40) was listed as head of household, as a widow, and her occupation was dressmaker and plain worker. Elizabeth then aged 17 was shown as her mother’s dressmaking assistant.

Frederick William Godfrey Harland who was 18 years older than his brother Ernest, joined the 29th (Fortress) Company of Royal Engineers sometime between September 1887 and September 1888 (service number 22563) becoming the third generation to join the military. He achieved the rank of Serjeant and fought in actions in Cape Colony, Orange Free State and the Transvaal. However fate dealt a heavy hand and the record shows that on 16th November 1901 he was charged with embezzlement and was subject to a District Court Martial. He was found guilty and reduced in the ranks to Sapper. Things became worse when on the 25th March 1902 he was discharged from the service as a lunatic.

The Manual of Military Law 1914 states

In England the lunatic shall be sent to the asylum, hospital, house or place to which a person in the workhouse aforesaid, on becoming a dangerous lunatic, can by law be removed.

No further explanation was given on his record.

It is against this background that Ernest grew up. His father died in 1895 after having been admitted  on three occasions to Woking Lunatic Asylum. The reason for admission is given as dementia. When he died the 1895 probate register shows that his widow, Elizabeth received £131 from his estate. In 1911 Elizabeth is recorded as being 65 years old and of independent means, a widow and living with three of her children Ernest (24), Ada (34) and Elisabeth (32) and now recorded as Lily, in the same family house in Park Road, East Molesey. By this time both Ernest and Elisabeth were Certificated Teachers working for the County Council; however currently we have no evidence to show where Elizabeth completed her teacher training.1

Ernest had begun his own education at East Molesey National School and then remained there as a pupil teacher. In preparation for applying to a training college he had taken various courses and examinations in physiography, and freehand, model and blackboard drawing. He took the entrance exam for Winchester Training College in December 1904, gaining a first class pass. Students were also required to take the Archbishops’ Entrance Examination in which he did not do so well, achieving only a third class pass.

Winchester Training College

Ernest attended Winchester Training College from 1905 to 1907. The Surrey Comet, published on Saturday 4th March 1905, reported that Ernest had obtained a first-class entrance scholarship to the College. We know little personal detail of his life at college as his name does not appear in the college publications of the period.

Ernest’s experience of student life would have been much like this: ‘On weekdays reveille was sounded by the bell monitor at 6.15 a.m., making his way through the dormitories, ringing a hand-bell. A cup of cocoa stood ready for students at 6.30 in the dining hall, and roll-call, taken at 6.45, was followed by an hour’s lecture. Then came morning service and afterwards breakfast at 8.30 a.m. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays lectures lasted from 9 a.m. until 12.50 p.m., with a break from 10.45-11 00 a.m. Lunch was at 1 p.m., and at 2 p.m. on the above days there followed a 1—2-hour art lesson or psychology or hygiene or criticism lesson. This still left time for football, cricket, or tennis on the dytche [sports field area – see foreground in picture below] before tea at 5 p.m. From 7-9 p.m., commencing with roll-call, all students undertook private study in their appropriate lecture room, either junior or senior. A member of staff supervised in one room and a prefect in the other. Evening chapel was at 9.15 p.m., followed by supper at 9.30 then to bed, with lights out at 10.30 p.m.’

Winchester Training College as Ernest would have known it

Very much part of student life was the Hampshire Regiment. Until 1908 it was expected that every student would become part of the Volunteer Company. The link with the College went back to 1859 and in 1875 the Company was officially called ‘The Winchester Diocesan Training College Corps’ or the ‘24th Hants Rifle Corps’, or simply the ‘Volunteer Force’. The College had a full armoury for rifles and ammunition, and a small-bore shooting range.

In Ernest’s time at College, a transition was already underway, as explained by Martial Rose;

In 1908 the Territorial Force was formed and the Volunteer Force ceased to exist. The College Company became “B” Company of the 4th Territorial Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. From now on, students at the College would no longer be enrolled, instead they would be enlisted. This changed the nature of the Force and not all students joined. The men were subject to a more professional system which included military discipline and more thorough training.

Of the students Ernest knew in his two years of study, no fewer than ten would give their lives in the Great War.

Students took College exams at the end of the Christmas term and in midsummer. In his first set of exams Ernest was placed 17th in the order of merit, with an average grade of 69.9%. At the Christmas of his second year, Ernest was unable to take his exams due to illness. At the end of his two years of study he was graded by the College with A for Music, B for Drawing and Teaching and C for Science. He achieved a second class pass in both his certificate exam and his final Archbishops’ exam.

Upon graduating from the College, he worked for Surrey County Council as a certificated teacher, he lived at home and his College records show that he returned to the National School East Molesey for his first teaching appointment after completing his college course. The Electoral Roll for 1912 shows that he was a lodger at Ernest Villa (the family home), had a bedroom on the second floor that was furnished that he was renting for 10 shillings per week and that his mother was his Landlord.

On August 2nd 1913, Ernest married Elsie Gertrude Wheatly in the Parish Church in East Molesey and they lived at 50 Pemberton Road, East Molesey (source Commonwealth War Graves Commission). They had a daughter, Audrey, who was born on 21st June 1914.

At War

When war was declared it seemed natural in many ways that Ernest would join the colours like his father and grandfather before him, and despite the fact that has older brother had been discharged on the grounds of lunacy.

He joined the Honourable Artillery Company at Armoury House on 31st March 1915. He enlisted at the rank of Private and was promoted to Lance Corporal at the beginning of August 1916. By the beginning of October he had substantive promotion to Corporal, having temporarily held that rank from September 1916, finally reaching the rank of Sergeant on the 15th May 1917. His medical inspection report from the time he enlisted tells us that Ernest was 5ft 10¾in tall, with a 36½in chest. He had perfect vision and his physical development was described as fair.  He would have had a period of training and had risen in the ranks to Sergeant, prior to his arrival in France. We know that Ernest, with the HAC 2/1st battalion left for France 2nd October 1916.                                                                                                                                                

The battalion arrived in Le Havre 3rd October 1916, and placed under the command of 22nd Brigade in the 7th Division. Whilst in France the Division were held in reserve, as the Battle of the Somme was beginning to wind down in preparation for the winter, so were not called into the line for any major offensive. Once at the front, Ernest suffered from bouts of illness. He was first admitted to hospital in November 1916 with dysentery, followed by colitis, before being discharged and sent back to his unit towards the end of December.

The New Year brought the 7th Division up the line and they formed part of Fanshawe’s V Corps and were involved in the operations of the Ancre. These were skirmishes to establish height advantage over the German positions; essentially they were the very last flickerings of the Somme Campaign.

7th Division were involved in the capture of the Munich Trench, 10th -11th January. The attack, by a brigade of the 7th Division, began at 5:00 a.m., when the leading companies lined up on tapes, 200–300 yds (180–270 m) from the Munich Trench. At 6:37 a.m. three divisional artilleries began a standing barrage on the trench and a creeping barrage started in no man’s land in thick fog. Movement was so difficult that the barrage moved at 100 yd (91 m) in ten minutes. German resistance was slight, except at one post where the garrison held on until 8:00 a.m. After the fog cleared at 10:30 a.m., the ground was consolidated, most of it being free from observation by the Germans.

The area around the Munich Trench copyright unknown

Operations continued in the Ancre until the end of February, with actions taking place all along the line designed to advance the Allies lines and to harass the enemy.

As the war dragged on into 1917 the 7th Division, still part of V Corps under Fanshawe now found itself subsumed into the Fifth Army under Gough. The war was going badly for the Germans resulting in their retreat to the Hindenburg Line. They pursued a scorched earth policy, destroying what they could in order to slow down the advancing Allies.

Ernest and the rest of his battalion found themselves on the move again working northwards, arriving in the Arras sector in April. The Hindenburg Line near Bullecourt was a heavily fortified German stronghold and it became apparent that this needed to be neutralised. The first attack on Bullecourt took place in April but met with fierce resistance so essentially failed in its objectives. The Division was involved in a flanking operation at the second Battle of Bullecourt which took place in May 1917. The 7th Division along with the 62nd finally took the town and held on to it in May 17th. In August, Ernest was granted 10 days leave in the field, so he would not have been able to return home to see his wife and young daughter.

The Division retired from the line and then moved north into the Ypres sector and took part on the Battle of Polygon Wood as part of X Corps under Morland. The Allies were up against it. Dispersed and camouflaged German defences, using shell-hole positions and pillboxes. They also held back much of their infantry for counter-attacks. This strategy meant that as British advances became weaker and disorganised by losses, fatigue, poor visibility and the channelling effect of waterlogged ground, they met more and fresher German defenders. The action became attritional as attack and counter attack developed and no overall gains were made on either side.

The operation that saw the death of Ernest was the attack on Becelaere 9th October 1917. The H.A.C. War Diary at the time states

The 7th Division have been given the task of advancing the line now held by 21st Division in order to secure observation over the valley of the Polygone Beek and Reutel Beek and to widen the salient formed by the present Divisional front

October 6th 1917

The 2nd HAC were to attack on the right and the 2nd Royal Warwickshires on the left with the 9th Devons as Brigade reserve. Zero hour was 0520 9th October. It had rained the week before, so the ground was sodden and the going was extremely tough for all the advancing soldiers. Not many units managed to get to their starting points on time, some lost their way to the jumping off point and at least one officer was killed when he led his men into the path of a number of Germans.

Like the Battle of Polygon Wood the battle flowed to and fro with men being cut down by machine guns on both sides. The rain- soaked ground played a huge part in this action, along with uncut wire, and poor barrages that were less than accurate.

The 7th Division recorded 3877 casualties alone in this battle with many lying out in water filled shell holes for days on end.

Ernest was killed in action and whilst his body was never found he is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the missing.

Probate records that his widow Elsie received  £254 11s 0d. She was also in receipt of a widow’s pension of 21s 3d a week. After his death, Elsie received a package containing Ernest’s belongings.  These were a pocket wallet, a letter, photos and a lock of hair. Ernest had survived many battles in the Great War and whilst he paid the ultimate price he followed the family military tradition.

Elsie Harland died in 1981 aged 96. She never remarried.

Researcher and Author: John Westwood


[1]  When Ernest was killed in action Army Form W.5080 was filled out giving the names and addresses of his living relatives. As well as his wife and daughter, the list also includes his mother , still living in Park Road along with her daughters Caroline, Ada, Elizabeth and Annie. Amy had married and was living in New Malden, Surrey. Ernest’s two older brothers were both living in Blue Town, Sheerness.  Blue Town was a deprived area close to the docks, which had got its name because dockyard workers had’ liberated’ blue paint from the dockyard to paint and therefore aid the preservation of their wooden houses. Both Frederick and Charles were landlords. Frederick must have been deemed fit to be released from the lunatic asylum. Frederick was the landlord of The Duke of Clarence, having previously been the landlord of The Waterman’s Arms, which was then handed over to his younger brother Charles.


Ancestry (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2018].

British Newspaper Archive (2018). The Surrey Comet , published on Saturday 4th March 1905, p.8. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2018].

Commonwealth War Graves Commission, (2018). Home page. [online] Available at [Accessed 2018]

The Long Long Trail, (2018). Welcome to the long long trail. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2018]

Rose, M. (1981). A history of King Alfred’s College, Winchester 1840-1980. London: Phillimore

Vickers, J. University of Winchester Chapel Memorial Rail image.

University of Winchester Archive – Hampshire Record Office
Reference code Record
47M91W/ P2/4 The Wintonian 1899-1900
47M91W/ P2/5 The Wintonian 1901-1902
47M91W/ P2/6 The Wintonian 1903-1904
47M91W/ P2/7 The Wintonian 1904-1906
47M91W/ P2/8 The Wintonian 1905-1907
47M91W/ P2/10 The Wintonian 1908-1910
47M91W/ P2/11 The Wintonian 1910-1914
47M91W/ P2/12 The Wintonian 1920-1925
47M91W/ D1/2 The Student Register
47M91W/ S5//5/10 Photograph of 5 alumni in Mesopotamia
47M91W/ Q3/6 A Khaki Diary
47M91W/ B1/2 Reports of Training College 1913-1914
47M91W/ Q1/5 Report and Balance Sheets 1904- 1949
47M91W/ R2/5 History of the Volunteers Company 1910
47M91W/ L1/2 College Rules 1920
Hampshire Record Office archive
71M88W/6 List of Prisoners at Kut
55M81W/PJ1 Managers’ Minute Book 1876-1903
All material referenced as 47M91W/ is the copyright of The University of Winchester. Permission to reproduce photographs and other material for this narrative has been agreed by the University and Hampshire Record Office.