Thank you to Jane Anthony for this research. Thank you to Shelley Yeo from the Western Front Dead from Western Australia project for additional research.
Harry Elms was born in about 1882 in Forest Green to Thomas and Anne Elms. His father, Thomas was manager of the brickyard in Holmbury St Mary. There were nine children in the family of whom only five were living in 1911; sisters Muriel and Olive, a brother Albert and a younger brother Thomas born in about 1889. Harry attended Ewhurst Village School. In the 1901 census, Harry aged 19, was working as a labourer, living at home with this parents and some of his siblings.
He married Kate Shepherd in Dorking 1905. They arrived with an infant in Western Australia via Albany in November 1910 (reports show they may have left the UK with two children). He was initially a bricklayer then obtained work as a boilermaker’s assistant with the Western Australian Government Railways. In 1916 Kate and Harry were at Viveash Rd, Midland Junction. Thomas Elms came to Western Australia in Jan 1912 aged 23 and was at Bishop Rd Midland Junction in 1916—not far from his brother and sister-in-law.
The 48th Battalion, in which Harry was enlisted, was raised in Egypt on 16th March 1916 as part of the reorganisation and expansion of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) following the Gallipoli campaign. This was achieved by transferring cadres of experienced personnel predominately from the 1st Division to the newly formed battalions and combining them with recently recruited personnel who had been dispatched as reinforcements from South and Western Australia.
In March 1918, following the collapse of Russia, the Germans launched the “Spring Offensive“, a major operation on the Western Front. As the Allies were pushed back, the 48th Battalion undertook a defensive role around Dernancourt, blocking the Amiens Road, before joining the final Allied offensive around Amiens in August. It was withdrawn from the line in mid-September and did not see action again before the war ended in November. During its last battle, at Le Verguier, north-west of St. Quentin, James Park Woods.
There are conflicting reports about how Harry died. One states he was killed during the evacuation of Albert and the other, that he was killed at Monument Wood. The second seems more plausible as the men who died at Albert were buried at Millencourt Cemetery just outside Albert. On the whole of the day of 3 May 1918, the 48th Battalion was at Monument Wood taking part in a major assault. Harry Elms was batman to Capt. Hilary of C Coy in the 48th Bn. Early in the morning of 3 May 1918, the Battalion moved into the front line at Monument Wood near Villers-Bretonneux —with B and C Companies leading the advance. There was a short and apparently not very effective barrage. The men then moved forward into the face of intense enemy machine gunfire. C Company was held up by thick wire. The Battalion fought until forced to pull back to its original front line. A tank moved in to assist but it turned over in an enemy trench and the crew captured. Harry was initially reported WIA (Wounded In Action) and then the same day reported as MIA then KIA. He was reportedly re-interred at Crucifix Corner Cemetery near Villers-Bretonneux, so his body must have been located. Kate Elms signed for his medals, but the witness on one of the receipts was an M. Shepherd, so one or more of her relatives must have also come to Western Australia.
Harry Elms is commemorated at Crucifix Corner which, together with Vaire Wood Cemetary, Vaire Sous Corbie, are near the West side of the Bois de Vaire.
Crucifix Corner Cemetery contains 660 Commonwealth burials of the First World War. 191 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to two casualties known or believed to be buried among them. 16 American, 241 French and ten German graves have since been removed to other cemeteries, but 141 French and two Russian burials remain.
The cemetery was begun by the Canadian Corps in August 1918 and closed in the same month. The original British Cemetery contained 90 burials, and French troops were buried in Plot II at the same time. The cemetery was greatly enlarged after the Armistice when graves were brought in from the battlefields between the Somme and the Luce and the following cemetery.
Harry Elms is commemorated on the Abinger, Okewood Hill and Forest Green memorials.
Born Forest Green, Surrey
Lived West Guildford. Western Australia
Son of Thomas and Anne Elms of Forest Green
Husband of Kate Elms (nee Shepherd)
Regiment 48th Battalion. Australian Infantry Force
Date of Death 3rd May 1918
Place of Death Villers-Bretonneaux, France
Cause of Death Killed in Action
Cemetery Crucifix Corner, Bois de Vaire, France