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Blue plaque in Halling to be unveiled to honour First World War and Victoria Cross hero Sgt Thomas Harris killed on the Somme


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A war hero awarded the Victoria Cross after he was killed on the Somme battlefield in the final months of the First World War will be commemorated in the village he lived in.

Sgt Thomas Harris, from Halling, is set to have a blue plaque unveiled in his honour tomorrow at the family home before he went off to the Western Front. 06/08

Sgt Thomas James Harris of the West Kent Regiment who died in action in August 1918 is to be commemorated on the first blue plaque in Halling
Sgt Thomas James Harris of the West Kent Regiment who died in action in August 1918 is to be commemorated on the first blue plaque in Halling

The plaque, which symbolise significant historic figures and events and their locations, is the first to be put up in Halling and will be located on the side of 79 High Street.

A ceremony attended by several of Sgt Harris's descendants will take place on the property at 3pm tomorrow – two days before the anniversary of his death on August 9, 1918.

The Halling History Society started a campaign for the blue plaque last year and raised money to see it installed.

Sgt Harris, who enlisted in the village on August 27, 1914 aged 22, served in The Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment and first saw action in France on June 1, 1915.

He was wounded twice in February and July 1916.

WW1 VC winner Harris and his medals. Supplied by Maidstone Museum
WW1 VC winner Harris and his medals. Supplied by Maidstone Museum

On the second occasion, he was hit by shrapnel in his right side and forced to return by hospital ship to England and spent six weeks in hospital until August 25, 1916 returning to the battlefield the following May.

He was awarded the Military medal following a six-day defensive action against a German offensive near Amiens in late March 1918.

The action which saw Sgt Harris killed but ultimately recognising the bravery and gallantry under fire which cost him his life came in early August 1918 – the start of the push which led to the Armistice a few months later on November 11.

The 6th battalion of the West Kents were stationed at Marrett Wood near Morlancourt on the Somme on August 9, 1918 ready to continue an attack launched the previous day.

At 5.30pm, assisted by tanks under a creeping barrage, they attacked the northern flank but were held up by a German stronghold manned by machine guns concealed in cornfields and shell holes.

The attack was under threat of being held up but Sgt Harris rushed one of the guns at the head of his section of the line, captured the position and killed seven German soldiers.

Sgt Thomas Harris VC MM was killed in action on the Somme on August 9, 1918
Sgt Thomas Harris VC MM was killed in action on the Somme on August 9, 1918

The West Kents were pinned down twice more during the assault and twice more Sgt Harris dashed forwards.

The first time he successfully captured the machine gun emplacement and killed the gun crew but on the next occasion he was fatally shot.

A citation issued in the London Gazette confirming Sgt Harris's VC commended his "most conspicious bravery and devotion to duty".

It added: "It was largely due the great courage and initiative of this of this gallant N.C.O. that the advance of the battalion was continued without delay and undue casualties. Throughout the operation he showed a total disregard for his own personal safety, and set a magnificent example to all ranks."

Sgt Harris's platoon commander Lt Sidney Upfold, who was alongside him and injured during the attack but survived, sent a heartfelt letter to his parents.

It read: "The blow you have sustained in the loss of your extremely gallant son, is an irreparable one, and I feel very deeply with you and your husband in your bereavement.

Sgt Harris's relative Anthony Pearson lays a wreath on his grave at the Derancourt Communal Cemetery near Albert in France
Sgt Harris's relative Anthony Pearson lays a wreath on his grave at the Derancourt Communal Cemetery near Albert in France

"I was the officer in charge of the platoon to which your son was attached, and was the only person near him when he was killed, for as a matter of fact we were within a yard of one another when the bullets struck him and he fell into my arms.

"His death was practically instantaneous, for he just smiled, sent his love to his mother and his father, wished me good-bye, and his gallant spirit was gone to the place where there is no pain, and where suffering is unknown."

Sgt Harris is buried at the Derancourt Communal Cemetery near Albert in France. He was 26-years-old.

Thomas Harris was the son of William and Sarah Harris and the seventh of nine children.

He was born in Upper Halling on January 30, 1892 and attended the Halling Board School from 1896.

The family moved to 6 Manor Terrace – now 97 High Street – before the 1910 census and this is listed as his address when he joined the army.

A memorial stone commemorates Halling hero Thomas Harris in the road which bears his name
A memorial stone commemorates Halling hero Thomas Harris in the road which bears his name

The event tomorrow at the former Harris family home is due to be attended by 40 of his relatives and is also expected to be attended by Lt Upfold's grandson. 06/08

Representatives from the Royal West Kents' successor regiment – the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment – are also due to attend.

Sgt Harris is commemorated already in the village with a road named after him where mhs homes built 16 shared ownership properties. More information about Sgt Harris can be found on the Halling History Society's website by clicking here. http://www.hallinghistory.co.uk/community/halling-historical-society-18475/home/

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