Bedales 1909-1912 Captain 1st Battalion (attached 9th Batt.) West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own)

Harry was the second son of Charles Webster Procter and his wife Elizabeth Anne née Rice. When he was born in Headingley, Leeds, his elder brother Charles Howard was already fourteen years old.  Charles and Elizabeth had no other children.

Harry’s paternal great-grandfather had not been born in Yorkshire but in 1841, aged about 60, he was living in Leeds with his son Charles and daughter Ann; I assume his wife had died.  Charles and his father were both plasterers, presumably a good occupation as Leeds was growing rapidly at this time.  In 1845 Charles married Martha Varley Sedgwick and was expanding the business and by 1851 he was a Master plasterer employing four men.  Ten years later, on census day, he was a builder and plasterer and possibly had kept some of the houses he built.  He died in October that year when his youngest son (Harry’s father) was only four years old and his eldest son John was just twelve.  The executors of the will were Martha and her brother William Varley Sedgwick, a Master Wireworker employing twelve men.  In 1871 Martha was described as “proprietor of houses”.

Martha was the third of four children born to Maria Sedgwick; all of them were given the middle name Varley.  No father is named on their baptism records and I have found no record of a marriage but it would appear that the Varley family accepted them.  The Varley Wire-working firm had been founded by William Varley in 1740.  I presume he was William Sedgwick’s grandfather or great grandfather.  William was described as a Book-keeper in 1841 and the 1851 census seems to indicate he was keeping the books of a wire making firm.

After their father’s death it appears that the Procter boys were guided by  their uncle William Sedgwick.  In 1871 John was a managing clerk in a wire works, possibly William’s, (though his staff had shrunk to three men and a boy).  By 1881, married and living in Boston, Wetherby, John was a master wireworker employing six men and three boys and recently married Charles was also a Wiremaster.  In 1884 the old Varley wire firm was re-established as Procter Brothers with John and Charles as directors.

Charles and Elizabeth seem to have had connections in artistic and theatrical circles.  On census day 1881 they had two visitors.  Lydia Hengler was the daughter of the famous Circus impresario Charles Hengler with permanent bases in Liverpool and a number of other English cities as well as Dublin and Glasgow.  From 1871 his most celebrated establishment was at the Palais Royal in Argyll Street, London and his patrons included the Princess of Wales.  Another guest was Rebecca Sprake, daughter of composer and conductor Henry Sprake who, amongst other things, was Director of Music at The Royal Adelphi Theatre in The Strand.  I think these interests must have set them a little apart from other Leeds manufacturers and perhaps influenced their choice of school for Harry.

It is likely that Harry felt more like an only child; before he was established at school his brother (known as Howard) was already working in the family business.  Perhaps this gap was one reason why Harry was sent to boarding school; his father might have heard about Bedales from members of a prominent Leeds family, the Luptons.  Harry arrived in Steep in January 1909, just short of his fourteenth birthday.  Within the year he featured in the school magazine The Bedales Chronicle as a regular performer at ‘Merrie Evenings’, the termly Saturday night entertainment, written and performed by staff and pupils.  Most importantly he was much appreciated for his drawings, especially cartoons. 

On 1st December 1911 the Chronicle Editor Vyv Trubshawe proudly announced that, for the first time, the magazine contained illustrations, undertaken at great speed by two Bedalians.  “I must thank them both (H M Procter and F Best) most heartily for the trouble they have taken and especially for their kindness in presenting the blocks.” he wrote.  Harry had produced a cartoon drawing of Bedalians decorating the Great Hall for Christmas at risk to life and limb.  Vyv commented, “Our well-known comic artist, Mr. Harry Procter, here depicts a most "royal and ancient" custom.  He felt - and quite rightly too - that the girls would be protected under the tables, safe from the falling bodies and suchlike dangers.  The hardened suffragettes, however, have dared to sally forth.”  (The Bedales Digital Archive on the school website contains Vol. 5 number 4 of The Chronicle and the cartoon appears on page 45).

In spring 1912 Harry was awarded three stars at the Prizework exhibition for his drawings and he continued to produce sketches for the rest of his school career.  He left Bedales for Art School at Easter 1912: two years later in May 1914 The Chronicle reported in “News in Brief” that “Harry Procter has had drawings accepted by the Bystander (a satirical magazine founded in 1903).  Both of Harry’s parents died in 1913, Elizabeth on 20th October and Charles three weeks later on 8th November; both are buried in Lawnswood Cemetery in Leeds.  Presumably after that Harry’s main base in Leeds was with his brother Howard and his wife Elsie.

In 1914 Harry returned home from Art School in London (Stratford Studios) for the summer holidays, spending time with friends and family including his cousin Jack Procter, his uncle John’s youngest son.  On 21st August, two and a half weeks after war had been declared, Harry and John enlisted as privates in the West Yorkshire Regiment and spent their first night as recruits together.  This new environment proved a shock to both of them; at the end of the first week Harry wrote to his brother Howard, “I have heard more bad language in half an hour than ever before.”  Although the official record always associates Harry with the West Yorkshires (and in February 1915 The Bedales Chronicle claimed he was in their 14th Battalion) a recent History of Procter Brothers claims he was posted initially to the East Yorkshires.  This is confirmed by the fact that whilst training and living under canvas at Grantham, Harry decided to call on the resources of the firm.  He wrote to Howard asking if he could “make him some device to hold candles in place in tents.  Howard duly obliged and Harry later ordered more of the same but asked if they could be modified to include a device to trap molten wax.” (A History of Procter Brothers).  It would seem that Harry was a part of the 6th Service Battalion of the East Yorks, known from December 1914 as the Pioneers; they were based in Grantham.

Jack had been transferred to the Lincolnshires after being commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant and he was drafted to Gallipoli in the summer of 1915.  In September Harry followed him, in charge of a group of 100 men.  Their role was to dig trenches, build and maintain roads and railways.  When Harry wrote home he always said he was not in any danger as his group was behind the front lines.  This did not protect him from the severity of the weather and the prevalence of disease.  Harry was affected by jaundice and frost-bitten feet.  After a short time in hospital in Egypt Harry arrived back in England to the 3rd Southern General Hospital military hospital in Oxford (established in Somerville College) where Jack was already recovering from dysentery.  When he was released from hospital; Harry found himself back in the West Yorkshire Regiment – this time definitely the 14th battalion (source: an Army List from 1916).

The 9th Service Battalion of the West Yorks had arrived at Marseilles from Egypt on 1st July 1916 and sometime later that summer Harry joined it in France.  It was from there, in September, that he wrote home after hearing of the death of Jack’s father John.  October was the first time that Harry experienced the stresses of the war in France.  He had decided, however, that army life suited him and he decided to stay on after the war.  He applied for a commission in the Regular Army and on 4th December “Temp. Capt. Harry Mettam Procter” was named as a 2nd Lieutenant.  He was to retain his “higher rank where specified, and seniority in (his) present unit until ordered to join a Regular unit”, as was stated in the London Gazette on 3rd January 1917.  I think this explains a confusion: the CWGC casualty list names him as 2nd Lieutenant but all the death notices in the Yorkshire papers gave him the rank of Captain.

Harry had not been involved in the Battle of the Somme but, “somewhere in France”, he spent Christmas Day in the trenches.  He wasn’t posted to the Somme until early in 1917 and initially reported that his men were not confined to the trenches but could move freely about the country.  I haven’t been able to establish whether Harry was involved in the Battle on the Ancre between January and March: certainly his battalion played a part as it did in June at Messines, but by the beginning of August he was near Langemarck.  I am told that Harry’s letters to his brother Howard, (still in the possession of the family) reflect a growing unease, almost certainly influenced by the appalling weather of 1917.  The relentless rain gradually turned the battlefields into a sea of glutinous mud.

The War Diary of the 9th Battalion gives graphic accounts of events from the beginning of August culminating in the attack on 27th.  On 5th August they moved out of D camp to take over the front line from the Royal Scots at the Canal Bank.  They faced heavy artillery fire from the enemy, particularly severe on 13th August; in this period 10 other ranks were killed and 29 wounded.  On 14th August the battalion was relieved and retreated to the graphically named “Dirty Bucket Camp” until 17th when they returned to Canal Bank in reserve.  The Officer commanding wrote “18th-25th resting, practising the attack for forthcoming operations.”  “On 26th August the Battalion moved off at 9pm to take over the portion of the front line held by 9th Bn. Sherwood Foresters.”

Describing 27th August he wrote, “At 1.55pm the enemy was attacked, the objective for the Battalion being Pheasant Trench … The intention was to capture and hold this line with the first wave and to establish a line of posts … with the second wave.” They set off after a heavy barrage directed at the enemy in a vain attempt to achieve their objective.  “Owing to heavy rain the ground was in very bad condition being impassable in places where shell-holes were continuous and full of water. … The advance was checked by machine Gun and Rifle fire from Pheasant Trench, which was very strongly held, and from several concrete emplacements west of the trench.”  It was probably at this phase of the attack that Harry was killed: it was the first occasion on which he had led his men “over the top”.  The C.O. does not mention any officers by name but at the end of the exercise he recorded the casualty list:-

KILLED.          3 Officers / 62 ORs

WOUNDED.   8 Officers / 144 ORs

MISSING.              ----      / 17 ORs

The following day both sides called a temporary truce so that the bodies of the dead could be recovered and Harry was laid to rest at nearby Bulow Farm.  Several years later, when bodies were being exhumed to be re-buried in the new Imperial War Graves Commission Cemeteries, Harry’s body was not found so he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.  I wonder whether the body was later discovered as the “Find a Grave” site online claims he lies in a churchyard at Zonneebeke, West Flanders.

Howard had his brother’s name added to the stone commemorating Charles and Elizabeth in Lawnwsood Cemetery and his name was also inscribed on war memorials in Rawdon and Harrogate in Yorkshire.  Finally, in 1921 H.M.Procter’s name is one of the four inscribed above the window in Bay 8 of the Bedales Memorial Library, built by Geoffrey Lupton, aided by Edward Barnsley, to a design by the late Ernest Gimson.

Sources:  The Bedales Archives: T.N.A.: genealogical and world war one sites online: “A History of Procter Brothers” by Andrea Hetherington. Especial thanks to Chris Procter and Claire Beaumont.