Harold Walter Joel (1897-1917)

Harold Walter Joel was the son of Walter Joel, a jeweller, watchmaker and antique dealer, and a member of St Peter’s Vestry.  The family lived at 20 and 21 King Street, Richmond, in the building at the end of Paved Court, part of which is now Alianti.  You will perhaps spare the Joel family a thought when you pass it.

Harold Joel and Victor Biddulph were close friends and fellow Scouts.  On the day news reached him of Victor’s death, Harold had written in the diary he kept, and which was found on him after his death, “Today, I heard of poor Roundell’s death, can write no more.”

We know considerably more about Harold’s career and his death, than we do about many of his contemporaries, because of the admiration felt in the local community for all he had achieved in his short life.  His obituary in the local paper took up an entire column.[1]

At the age of twelve Harold was first on the list of 500 candidates in the scholarship examination.. When fourteen years old he passed with distinction the junior schools examination, and before his sixteenth birthday, he matriculated in the London University examination with distinction in four subjects.

A great influence came into his life when he joined the Petersham Troop of Boy Scouts, in which he quickly became prominent, being one of the first three in Surrey to qualify as a King’s Scout, and the second in England to claim the distinction.[2]  He remained a member of the Petersham Troop until he joined the army and did a great deal towards its development as he rose to a position of responsibility.

At seventeen, young Joel qualified for a Surrey major scholarship, and then went to St George’s College, London.  The war had however broken out and he was restless, and felt he ought to go, but he was prevailed on to refrain from joining the colours on account of his age and the fact that he was still a student.  In January 1915, he was offered a position at Messrs Cocks and Biddulph’s Banking House, which he accepted.  This appointment broke into his studies, and his thoughts again turned towards the army and he eventually enlisted on March 25th 1915, his eighteenth birthday.  Refusing several offers from people in high position to obtain a commission for him, he joined the London Rifle Brigade as a private. In a very short time he was made instructor in drill and musketry to the regiment, and was quickly promoted to sergeant.  On October 15th, 1915, he was gazetted to the London Regiment, afterwards going to Chelsea for a course of training, which he finished by taking a certificate as instructor in machine gunnery.  This earned for him the post of machine gun officer to his regiment and after some months spent in instructing and training men in the New Army, he went to France on May 22nd 1916, where, as in England, he was very popular with his men.  After some months of fighting the young officer was wounded in the foot in the Battle of the Somme, in which he commanded his company—a fine tribute to his wonderful resource (sic) and reliability.  On April 4th he was placed in command of his company—he was just turned twenty—and was acting captain when he went into the Battle of Messines Ridge.  He was killed instantaneously in the enemy lines, his men having gained their objective after some very hot fighting.

Lieutenant Frank F Jeffery, a close personal friend of the gallant young officer and his family, and who was attached to his battalion, wrote in a letter which came on Thursday: —

“His death is a terrible loss to you and to me, but it is also more than a loss to this country and to this battalion. He was one of the best officers the regiment ever had, and we all feel we can never replace him.  Because I know practically all Harold’s brilliant past and know what a wonderful chap he was I can fully realise and sympathise with you.

“It is early to write many details yet, but I shall write you again when I know more.  I saw the dear boy the night before the battle, and he was very, very cheerful and perfectly happy.  From a captain of ours I know he started over the top in the most wonderful light-hearted way.  He fell in the enemy’s lines when all the hard organisation and worry preceding an attack had been settled by him (with regard to his own company) and it was left only to the men to carry out his instructions, which they most gloriously did.  Every man was a hero that night (the night of the 6th and the morning of the 7th).  I know too that he was killed instantly and suffered no pain.”

Walter Joel was the Adjutant of the Petersham Troop, and took over as Scoutmaster from George Biddulph when the latter’s health deteriorated.  The two men collaborated in writing the history of the Petersham Troop in 1923.

Captain Harold Walter Joel, 1/21st Battalion, London Regiment. (Surrey Rifles) 63rd Division. Killed in action near Ypres 7th June 1917.  Buried at Hedge Row Cemetery, Zillebeke, Belgium, Grave Reference B. 122.

[1]From The Richmond and Twickenham Times, 16 June 1917, page 5
[2] Explain about Plymouth Troop


About Margaret Frood

Margaret Frood is a Family and Local Historian with an insatiable curiosity about the partially told stories of a family's past. Her four war memorial blogs have been created in the hope that they will help to rescue from oblivion the stories of those listed on the war memorials of Petersham, Ham and Tur Langton, as well as Southern Africans commemorated in the UK and in Western Europe.
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