“Sound let him sleep in the land where he fought so well,
With some of his own beside him, those that he led”
These are the first two lines of memorial verses penned by Captain R W Templeton about his Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Harold Thompson DSO Croix de Guerre, which commemorates a very brave and obviously well-respected WWI Officer of The Royal Scots Fusiliers (RSF).
WWI was a war of big numbers: more than six million men were mobilised in the United Kingdom alone; of which over 700,000 died and some 8,981 DSOs were awarded, but that did not diminish each individual act of bravery that led to the award of each medal. The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) is a gallantry medal, second only to the Victoria Cross (VC); after 1917, it was only awarded for courageous action under enemy fire.
On Saturday 22 April, Harold’s great grandchildren, Iona and Simon, Simon’s wife, Amelia and their children, Archie and Matilda (Harold’s great great grandchildren) gathered together in St Saviour’s Episcopal Church in Bridge of Allan to remember him on the 100th Anniversary of his death. Harold, who had been brought up by his aunt and uncle (Ann & Edmund Pullar) had worshipped in this Church during his formative years and all three are commemorated in the large west window. Harold would also have been familiar with the elements of the very moving service as they were taken from the Book of Common Prayer, that was replaced in 1937.
Harold had been commissioned into the RSF in 1902, fighting in South Africa and then in the 1915/1916 Galliopi campaign, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre by our French allies – one of the very first, as it was created in 1915.
Simon’s address to the congregation contained a very moving description of the events leading to Harold’s death after the 2nd Battle of Gaza in the Middle East – possibly one of the forgotten theatres and of WWI. The plan was for the 51st and 52nd Divisions to advance, capturing the line of forts and hills held by the Turks. Harold commanded the 4th Battalion, The Royal Scots Fusiliers (4 RSF) and along men of the 5th Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers (5 KOSB) both part of , supported by a small number of tanks, was tasked to lead a frontal infantry attack on two of the hills.
After bombarding the Turks with high-explosive and poison gas in the early morning of 16 April 1917, the advance began and 4 RSF were in the thick of the fighting, sustaining many casualties – gaps in the line began to appear and Harold attempted to fill those breaches with all the men that he could find. Sadly, he fell mortally wounded, shot through the throat, jaw and arm – in all, 4 RSF had lost 6 Officers (killed or missing) and 44 Other Ranks. Although, the battle had not achieved its objectives, it was credited with having laid the foundations for future advances of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force into Palestine.
Although seriously injured, Harold insisted on walking back to the ambulance and remained cheerful in hospital until he finally succumbed to sepsis on 22 April 1917. When asked how he was during a visit, he wrote that he was “splendid”, but he feared that he had given the orderlies a “terrible” time.
Harold left a widow and their only child, grandmother to Simon and Iona, was born in July 1917.
“Sinai marked him; Syria holds his grave
Near where the great strong man of Israel fell:
But his unconquerable spirit no land could hold
Goes with the regiment still as it went of old.”