Joseph Harris

1898 – 1916

Born in Surrey, Joseph moved to Oxford as a child. When war broke out he enlisted even though he was under age. He was only 17 when he was killed.

Mother worked at OUP

Joseph Francis Harris was born at Vauxhall, Surrey, near the end of 1898. His father was a gas fitter and his mother had apparently been a printer’s machine girl at Oxford University Press (OUP). Joseph was the first of their five children. In about 1903 the family moved to Jericho, Oxford, where by 1911 Joseph’s father had become a bookcase enameller in an iron foundry.

Only 16

Joseph enlisted in Oxford as a Private, and eventually fought in the 1/4 Battalion of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. This unit reached France in March 1915 when Joseph was still only 16 and so under the minimum recruitment age. His date of enlistment is unclear, but he seems to have evaded the age rule as he began with a 4-digit service number, and these stopped being issued early in 1915.

Fought at the Somme

Joseph seems to have managed to go overseas in 1916. His battalion had not yet seen action, but remained in training and reserve until the intense fighting of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. The unit was deployed in a series of battles that month where there were large numbers of casualties.

Too young to be there

Joseph survived two battles but was killed at the start of the Battle of Pozieres on 23 July 1916, at the age of 17. He was still too young to be there, as the minimum age for overseas service was meant to be 19. His body was not recovered and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, and also at St Barnabas Church in Oxford. Joseph’s brother Hubert died in Oxford in 1980.

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