Harold Edwin Salisbury (Rollo) ARMITAGE MiD

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ARMITAGE, Harold Edwin Salisbury

Service Number: Officer
Enlisted: 24 March 1915, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Captain
Last Unit: 50th Infantry Battalion
Born: Norwood, South Australia, 11 November 1894
Home Town: Millicent, Wattle Range, South Australia
Schooling: Houghton Public School, Adelaide School of Mines, Adelaide High School and University of Adelaide
Occupation: Student/Junior School Teacher (Millicent school house)
Died: Killed in Action, Noreuil, France, 2 April 1917, aged 22 years
Cemetery: Noreuil Australian Cemetery
C. 21
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour, HoughtonM*, MillicentM*, National War Memorial (South Australia), Norwood M The Fallen of WW1 & II Kensington & Norwood District*, Norwood Primary School Honour Board, University of Adelaide WW1 Honour Roll Mitchell Bldg*
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World War 1 Service

24 Mar 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, SN Officer, Adelaide, South Australia
20 Apr 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 10th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
20 Apr 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, SN Officer, 10th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Hororata, Adelaide
2 Jun 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 10th Infantry Battalion, ANZAC Gallipoli
4 Aug 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 10th Infantry Battalion, ANZAC Gallipoli
12 Aug 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, SN Officer, 50th Infantry Battalion, Mouquet Farm
2 Apr 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, 50th Infantry Battalion, German Withdrawal to Hindenburg Line and Outpost Villages
1 Jun 1917: Honoured Mention in Dispatches, German Withdrawal to Hindenburg Line and Outpost Villages

AUFC & AUCC - Anzac Day 2015

Extract from the Adelaide University Football Club and Adelaide University Cricket Club document honouring "The Fallen" Anzac Day 2015.

Harold played with the Adelaide University Cricket Club in the 1914/15 season. He was attending the University of Adelaide Teachers Training College and studying for a BA.

Harold enlisted on 16th February 1915 and landed on Gallipoli as a reinforcement of the 10th Battalion on 2nd June 1915. He was then transferred to the 50th Battalion on 26th February 1916. For his work in the battle for Pozieres as CO ‘C’ Company, he was Mentioned in Dispatches by Sir Douglas Haig “for leading his men on the night of 12 and 13 August 1916.” On 2nd April 1917, during the 50th Battalion’s attack on Noreuil, he was shot in the head and killed when looking over the parapet of the trench. His men were heart-stricken. He actually had a presentiment that he would not come through the battle.

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"The Perfect Day"

Extract from Dr Roger Freeman's book "Hurcombe's Hungry Half Hundred"

Next morning, after a hot bath and breakfast, I hurried out to interview tailors, base kit stores, and so on to get ourselves respectfully attired and at lunch time we were so far from home. The useful police put us wise to a good place to lunch, hence we arrived at the “Trocadero”. The place was crowded, and I was slowly walking in when I suddenly heard a familiar voice sing out “Taka Heeme Army” – A pure-Anzac cry from Egypt. I looked round and caught sight of Murray Fowler waving a napkin at me. And there in a mob around his big table I saw Hancock, Moule, Blackburn, Giles, McCann, Jose, Inglis (all old 10th), Dey, Baily, 27th, and Hewitt of Artillery – all our S.A. chums. You can imagine how Cornish and I welcomed them. That meal cost us £9.18.0 – but Blackburn doesn’t get the V.C. every day, so it was excusable. We spent the afternoon at the Hippodrome in the Royal Box – “Flying Colours” – and this cost us 5 or 6 pounds. I’m afraid we rather took charge of the show, but McCann does not get the M.C. every day. Then we had dinner together and “bang went many more sixpences” – more theatre – “Happy Day” – and I remember joining in with the song “The Perfect Day”, before parting. It was a perfect day too, I can assure you; the best and first time I have ever been “perfect” in all my life – but it was worth it – for you can’t imagine how pleased we ten of the old 10th were to be together once more.

Very penitently next morning I went to service at the Abbey.

End Notes:

Blackburn = Lieutenant Arthur Seaforth Blackburn V.C. Original Anzac, 10th Battalion.

Giles = Major Felix Gordon Giles D.S.O., V.D. Original Anzac

McCann = Major William Francis James McCann D.S.O., M.C., O.B.E. Original Anzac, 10th Battalion.

Inglis = Captain Eric Murray Inglis. Original Anzac, 10th Battalion.

Dey = Captain George Dey.


Letter from Captain Harold Armitage (50th Battalion) to Mr Armitage (father).
Harold Armitage, pp 188-189 'Hurcombe's Hungry Half Hundred'

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Sergeant Roy Clark's letter to Mr Armitage

Extract from Dr Roger Freeman's book "Hurcombe's Hungry Half Hundred"

Letter from Sergeant Roy Clark (50th Battalion) to Mr Armitage.

I feel constrained to write to you, because of the respect I used to have for your beloved son who was, in the first instance, my Platoon Commander in the old 10th Battalion; and afterwards my O.C. in the 50th Battalion. In the 10th I was a Private in the Platoon over which your son was the Commander, and in the 50th a Platoon Sergeant in the Company over which he was O.C. You see, I write with the authority of one who has known Captain Armitage as a superior officer; but also I have been in the position to learn to know him as a man of ideals and high principles.

The respect that I had for your late son has developed to reverence, as I have gradually realised the loss of our Company and Battalion had sustained by his death. The day that he made the supreme sacrifice will ever be remembered by the lads who followed the Captain. I was near him during the whole of the advance, and witnessed the courage and calm judgement he displayed before us all. The, when the battle was carried successfully through the little village of Noreuil (and onward to the pre-arranged “objective”, on the rising ground on the other side of the village) I saw our Captain pass along the trench we had occupied, to direct the consolidation work to be done on our right flank, which was “in the air” and likely to be rushed by the enemy at any time. He cheered the lads with his quiet words as thy “dug-in” for dear life, and directed the work of constructing the fire trench with absolute disregard of personal safety.

We had been in this new position about three hours when word was passed along from mouth to mouth that our Captain had been “sniped”. Hi death was instantaneous. What a sudden transition from the noise and carnage of the Battlefield into Heaven, the Eternal Home of our Souls. The depression was noticeable in the gloomy expressions on ever man’s face when they realised that our Captain had met his ultimately end. Only two other Officers who had survived that fiery “stunt”, on that momentous 2nd April day, had “gone over” with the attacking troops. It proved to be the most disastrous “stunt” that our Battalion had taken part in.

A burial party from another Battalion in our Brigade was responsible for the burial of our fallen comrades in that sector. L/Cpl Percy Foster of Lucindale, a friend of mine, was laid to rest by that party. Your son fell a couple of hundred yards away from the spot where my pal was killed, so the same part, undoubtedly laid your son, and our revered O.C., in his last resting place.

This letter will reach you about the time when you will have commemorated sorrowfully the first anniversary of your son’s death. Accept this as my expression of condolence.

We, who have survived the fiery, deadly battles, in which many a good comrade has fallen, are endeavouring to carry on the difficult task of defeating the wily, unscrupulous Germans. As much as we long to get back to our loved ones and friends in Australia, every true Britisher is determined to pay back the Hun in his own coin, and wrest from his tyrannous grasp spoiled Belgium, wrecked Serbia, plundered Rumania, oppressed Poland, and that part of France which he has intruded upon so rudely. There is still much heavy fighting to be done on every front where the Allies are facing the Huns.

At the present time we are playing the waiting game on the front. Rumours are rife that Fritz intends to launch an offensive on a big scale on this Western Front somewhere but, wether Fritz or the British strike, King Winter holds the armies in his chilly grip, and both sides are forced to await the weakening of these stubborn fingers; until Spring returns an offensive action is practically impossible for either side. Then, when conditions are favourable, there will be a clash heavier and more intense than any previous action on record. May the great, terrible, diabolical action be the last in this great war is my sincere prayer, and just as sincerely do I trust that a satisfactory peace that will endure will be settled amongst the troubled Nations.

I have been acting in capacity of Company Sergeant Major for “C” Company for over two months now, and the other day had occasion to look through some of the old Company books. Amongst them I found one with Captain Armitage’s name on it, and in the book was the enclosed photos. Am enclosing these knowing that you would value them for your son’s sake. The old N.C.Os and men wish me to convey their regards to you. I send my best wishes.

Roy Clark, pp 102-103 'Hurcombe's Hungry Half Hundred

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Biography

Harold Edwin Salisbury Armitage was born in Norwood on the 11th of November 1894. He was the eldest son of Henry James and Martha Elizabeth Armitage who were living on Edsall Street at the time of his birth. From a young age he was nicknamed ‘Rollo’ and his father; Henry Armitage, was the head teacher at Millicent Public School.

Harold was educated at Houghton Public School (in the Adelaide Hills), the Adelaide School of Mines and also Adelaide High School. After graduating at Adelaide High School he entered the University of Adelaide in 1914 with his father’s employment obviously rubbing off onto him. He started undertaking an arts degree specialising in English and History whilst also taking up a degree in education. Harold, however, took a leave of absence from his university studies from the 1st of January, 1915 onwards until his services with the AIF were complete. Unfortunately, however, Harold Armitage would never return to teaching.

Whilst his educational studies were still in progress Harold Edwin Salisbury Armitage also began working as a junior school teacher at the school house in Millicent with his father.

In his younger years Harold Armitage had also been a member of the cadets and Citizen Military Force. From 1910 onwards for two years he was a cadet at Adelaide High School and in 1912 was a Corporal in Adelaide High School’s Senior Cadets (J Company of the 76th Cadets.) From 1913 to July 1914 he was in A Company of the 79th Infantry holding the ranks of private, sergeant and lieutenant all for some period of time. He was also detached to G Company of the 79th Infantry for short time.

When war broke out in August 1914 he had been eager to resign his commission in the Citizen Military Force and enlist in the AIF as a private in the 10th Battalion. This, however, was refused by the military authorities. Consequently, Harold Armitage joined an Officer Training Course at Brighton in December 1914 and passed the course at the top of his class. He was then able to enter Oaklands Camp in Adelaide where he helped train the 3rd, 4th and 5th Reinforcements of the 10th Battalion before he was finally accepted into the AIF in March 1915 with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. He was drafted into the 5th Reinforcements of the 10th Battalion and embarked with them at Adelaide on the 20th April, 1915 onboard HMAT Hororata (A20). He was 20 years old and a brilliant, yet tragically short military career awaited him. It is unusual; however, that he was allowed to embark overseas as AIF military regulation said no officer under the age of 23 years could be taken into active service. This rule, however, seems to have been relaxed on Armitage’s behalf because of his strikingly good abilities.

Harold Armitage and the 5th Reinforcements sailed directly towards Gallipoli and he was taken on strength by the 10th Battalion on the peninsula on the 2nd of June, 1915 as a platoon commander. By August the 4th, 1915 he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and had already won much respect from his men under him.

On one occasion when waiting for an attack to take place on a Turkish trench he later wrote ‘it was a queer sensation to see the blue flashes of their guns only a few feet away, and feel the wind of a bullet whizzing an inch or so overhead. Our boys kept quiet and waited for my whistle, then gave the Turks the English Mad Minute – 15 rounds as fast as can be fired. My word there was a scatter.’

The attack was unsuccessful; however, with the Turks forcing ‘Rollo’ and his men back to their old trench with heavy machine gun fire. They launched another attack, however, with this one being successful. He later wrote, ‘we safely regained the new trench with only two casualties, neither serious, though the bullets had hummed round us like hailstones.’

Harold ‘Rollo’ Armitage continued to fight for the duration of the campaign and it would appear that Harold did not even get sick, ill, or wounded once, according to his service papers, which at Gallipoli was quiet rare. By the time the ‘Fighting Tenth’, the 10th Battalion’s nickname, was withdrawn from Gallipoli on the 21st of November, 1915 they were drastically reduced in size and thus fighting capacity.

In a letter home Armitage wrote that he had seen many sights, ‘pleasing, horrible, awe inspiring, hellish, but as far as I can say, the effect has only been to broaden my experience, [and to] make me a little more serious.’  

The expansion of the AIF followed the Gallipoli campaign; with half of the 10th Battalion (after receiving fresh reinforcements) forming the new 50th Battalion in Egypt. Harold Armitage was transferred to this new battalion on the 26th of February, 1916 being taken on strength on the 1st of March, 1916. Twelve days later Armitage was promoted to Captain in 50th Battalion and given command of his own company: C Company. The 50th Battalion was soon, sent to France to fight and by mid June 1916 the Battalion was located in Northern France.

His first action as part of the 50th Battalion was at Pozieres/ Mouquet Farm where after 5 weeks fighting Australian had suffered 23,000 casualties - it’s worst ever total in 5 weeks. The 50th Battalion's had been heavily involved in fighting at Mouquet Farm from the 13th of August to the 15th of August and it was replaced by another Australian Battalion on 16 August. It was during this brief engagement that Armitage left his first true mark on his new battalion. He later described his experience of fighting at Mouquet Farm as ‘four days of hell and four nights of double hell.’ In March, 1917 he was recommended for a Mentioned in Despatches and he was later posthumously awarded the MID. (See story for MID recommendation.)

After this battle the 50th Battalion received some time in the back line where it rested and recovered from its heavy losses. It wouldn’t be involved in another engagement until early 1917.

In February 1917 the Germans took the Allies by surprise by withdrawing from their front line to consolidate along the much stronger Hindenberg Line whilst also eliminating a very large salient from their lines.  "Salient’s" are projections of territory into enemy territory and leave the defender vulnerable to being outflanked and cut off and hence the German consolidation. However, the speed of the process took the Allies by surprise. The Australian Divisions began a cautious follow up which included the 4th Division and the 13th Brigade of which the 50th Battalion was a part.

The so-called "Outpost Villages" were fortified and well-defended villages prepared by the Germans on the approaches to the Hindenburg Line.  The "Outpost Villages" were a mechanism to impose delay on any aggressive follow-up of the withdrawing German forces by the Allies and were also put in place to cause maximum casualities to the Allies.

The 50th and 51st Battalions were responsible for attacking one of these “outpost Villages” called Noreuil on the 2nd April 1917, with the other Battalions of the Brigade in Reserve (49th and 52nd).

Unfortunately, however, Captain Harold Edwin Salisbury Armitage was killed during this attack in a trench. He was worried that the right flank was unsecure and open to counter attack when he looked over the parapet to assess the situation and was shot through the head. He died instantly, surronded by his men and his friends.  

Millicent flew its flags at half-mast to remember him when they heard the news.

Under fire he was known for keeping his cool and working hard to maintain cohesion and order in his company. He was always energetic in the field, and devoted time to moving among his men, making sure they understood the coming action, directing trench construction and ‘cheering the lads with his quiet words.’ Harold Armitage was strongly motivated by duty, and once wrote to his parents ‘I’ll go into action with the calm assurance that I have done my duty to my men and my Country. If I happen to fall rest content with the knowledge that I have played the game, and done my job thoroughly.’

After his death Major Harry Seager of the 50th Battalion wrote to Mr Armitage, telling him the story of his son and the attack. (See story.)

After the battle, his body was recovered and buried in Noreuil Australian Cemetery, plot C 21. His moving epitaph reads: 'A Loving Son, A Devoted Officer, A Soldier And A Man.' 

By 1927 Armitage’s parents were living in the town of Lyndoch in the Barossa Valley, South Australia, with Henry Armitage teaching at Lyndoch school. Henry James Armitage resigned from teaching in 1929 after a teaching career of 44 years. He died on the 30th of November, 1950 and is buried at West Terrace Cemetery in Adelaide.  

Contrary to the trove reports, Rollo's service papers show no record of him ever being promoted to the rank of Acting Major.

Rest in Peace, Lest We Forget.   

 

Awarded:

MID (Mentioned In Despatches, date of Recommendation: 2 March 1917.)

1914/15 Star: 2950

British War Medal: 10898

Victory Medal: 10852

Memorial Plaque and Scroll: 355743

 

Researched by Nathan Rohrlach from personal service papers, AWM biography and personal letters and diaries held on the AWM site - His Duty Done.

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