b. 18/07/1877 Southport, Lancashire. d. 11/08/1917 Ypres, Belgium.
Harold Ackroyd (1877-1917) was born at 26 Roe Lane, Southport, Lancashire on 18th July 1877. His father, Edward, was a tailor and outfitter, and lived originally in Bolton. He married Ellen nee Holden, a bleacher, at Birkdale, Lancashire in June 1866. Edward later became the Chairman of Southport and Cheshire Lines Extension Railway Company. Harold was one of six children.
Harold was educated at Shrewsbury School in Chance’s House and was a member of the Officer Training Corps. He was later educated at Mr Clough’s School, Southport. He then entered Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge from October 1896 (BA Natural Sciences 1899 & MA 1904). He then decided on a medical career and studied at Guy’s Hospital, London from October 1900 to April 1903 (MB BCh 1904 & MD 1910). Harold married Mabel Robina Smythe on 1st August 1908 at St Luke’s, Southport. She was from Newport, Shropshire. She was previously working as a governess in London, and at the time of her marriage was the matron of Strangeways Hospital, Cambridge. They settled into married life at Brooklands, 46 Kneesworth Road, Royston, Hertfordshire. They had three children: Ursula (born 1909), Stephen (born 1912) and Anthony (born 1914).
Harold was appointed House Surgeon at Queen’s Hospital, Birmingham and then at David Lewis Northern Hospital, Liverpool. He received a BMA research scholarship for Downing College Laboratory, Cambridge in 1909, pioneering research into vitamins and human metabolism. Initially he was attached to the Department of Pharmacology and later transferred to the School of Agriculture, where he accepted a post in the newly formed Institute for the Study of Animal Nutrition. Harold received the Thurston Medal and Medical Scholarship in 1911 for his scientific research work.
He was commissioned in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a Lieutenant on 15th February 1915 and attached to 6th Royal Berkshire as the Regimental Medical Officer. The Battalion trained at Colchester and Codford St Mary in Wiltshire. Harold was not popular with the troops during training due to his intolerance of malingerers, who he could spot by instinct. The Battalion was posted to France on 25th July 1915 and he was promoted to Captain on 15th February 1916.
He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions between 19th-21st July 1916 at Delville Wood, Somme, when he tended the wounded in clearing the entire wood of more than 700 British and German wounded, which was fraught with difficulty due to the conditions and the confused nature of the fighting. He was once blown up, and under constant sniper and shellfire, and eleven officers in other units recommended him for the VC. He was awarded the MC instead.
His tireless efforts caused him to spend hours in no man’s land at night. The mental strain took its toll and he suffered a nervous breakdown and nervous exhaustion, compounded by blindness brought on by shellshock. He was invalided home for six weeks leave on 11th August. A medical board passed him fit in October, and he returned to France to rejoin the Battalion.
On 31st July to 1st August 1917, at Ypres, Belgium, he worked continuously for many hours up and down and in front of the line tending the wounded and saving the lives of officers and men. In so doing he had to move across the open under heavy machine-gun, rifle and shell fire. He carried a wounded officer to a place of safety under very heavy fire. On another occasion he went some way in front of our advanced line and brought in a wounded man under continuous sniping and machine-gun fire. His heroism was the means of saving many lives, and provided a magnificent example of courage, cheerfulness, and determination to the fighting men in whose midst he was carrying out his splendid work.
On 11th August, following a repulse of an enemy attack at Jargon Trench, Glencorse Wood, he set about locating casualties behind the firing line, moving from shell hole to shell hole alone. Having dressed the wounds of one man he had found in a forward crater, he got up to fetch the stretcher-bearers and was shot and killed. His body was discovered in the shell hole with six others by his batman, Private Scriven, and was brought back for burial. Harold is believed to be buried in Birr Cross Roads Cemetery. The VC and MC were presented to his wife and son, Stephen, by King George V outside Buckingham Palace on 26th September 1917. His widow later lived in Malvern, Worcestershire in the 1930s and later lived on the island of Jersey.
In addition to the VC and MC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. Mabel bequeathed the VC and 1914-15 Star to her son Stephen and the MC, British War Medal, Victory Medal and Thurston Medal to her son Anthony in her will. After Stephen died the medals were owned by Anthony and passed to his son, Dr Christopher Ackroyd in 1988. All the medals were loaned to the Army Medical Services (now Museum of Military Medicine) Museum, until being returned to the family in April 1994. They were sold for £110,000 in October 2003 to the Ashcroft Trust and the proceeds of the sale were donated to fund four annual scholarships for medicine at Gonville and Caius College. The medals are displayed in the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM.
BURIAL PLACE: BIRR CROSS ROADS CEMETERY, ZILLEBEKE, BELGIUM.
Harold Ackroyd's medal collection including VC and MC on display at Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (August 2014)
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
Special Memorial 7
Southport Garden of Remembrance
(Ned de Malet Carteret)
National Memorial Arboretum (Andy Wright)
St Georges Church, Ypres
Ackroyd Road, Royston (Christopher Ackroyd)
Southport War Memorial (Brian Drummond)
His memorial stone in Southport laid on
8th September 2017 (Brian Drummond)
St Ouen, Jersey (Ned de Malet Carteret)