129709 Private Harold Blanchford Kelly – 72nd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force
(Fredericton NB, November 2, 2023 – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE) Each year, as Remembrance Day approaches, the York-Sunbury Historical Society chooses a fallen soldier to remember. This year, it will be Private Harold Blanchford Kelly who was killed in action on the Somme on 25 November 1916. The inspiration for this is a memorial urn that is dedicated to his memory. The urn stands about ten and a half inches tall. Two Corinthian columns on each side of the container are embossed with gold and black. The inscription is in black and reads Pro Patria (“For one’s Country”) across the top of the dedication “In Loving Memory of Private H. B. Kelly, 72 Bn Canadian Seaforth Highlanders, who was killed in action in Somme, November 28, 1916.” At the bottom one can read “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
The urn was made by the Ceramic Art Company Limited which was located with the Crown Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent from 1905 to 1919. The design of the urn was registered in 1917. Objects such as this would have been popular at the time. It was a tangible way to commemorate a loved one who had died during the war. The Kelly family may have ordered it from the manufacturer or through a sales agent. They would have been able to specify the inscription that appears on the urn. For some reason, the incorrect date of death appears on the urn.
Harold Blanchford Kelly was the son of Robert and Ella Kelly of Cross Creek, New Brunswick. He was born on 19 February 1888 in Stanley, New Brunswick. Besides himself, there were three brothers and three sisters in his family. One brother, Arthur Cleveland Kelly, also served overseas. When Harold Blanchford Kelly enlisted on 21 September 1915 in Vancouver, British Columbia, he was single and was working as a bookkeeper. He had been a member of a local militia unit, the 6th Battalion, the Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles. On enlistment, he joined the 72nd Overseas Battalion (Seaforth Highlanders) and was assigned the regimental number 129709. His battalion left Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 23 April 1916 aboard the HMT Empress of Britain. They arrived at Liverpool, England, on 4 May. After a short training period in England, they embarked for France on 12 August 1916.
The Battle of the Somme (1 July to 18 November 1916) was raging and the 72nd Battalion was soon caught up in it. In the closing phase of the battle, Canadian troops were involved in the Battle of the Ancre. One of the last actions was the capture of Desire Trench on 18 November. On 20 November the 72nd Battalion was assigned to relieve the troops that had captured the trench. They would remain there until relieved on 26 November. Their goals were to prevent the Germans from retaking the trench and to consolidate the interconnecting trench systems that had been badly damaged during the battles. Private Kelly was killed in action on 25 November. Neither the unit War Diary nor the unit history could provide any details of how he died. As his body was not recovered, it could well have been due to an explosion of an artillery shell.
Private Harold Blanchford Kelly is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial. Only 28 years old when he died, he had served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force for less than fourteen months and just over three months in France. In his will, he left all of his possessions to his mother. His family later received other mementos of his service. His medals (British War Medal and Victory Medal) were sent to his mother on 4 May 1920. The Memorial Plaque and Scroll were sent to his father on 21 January 1921. Lastly, his Silver Cross was mailed to his mother on 14 December 1921. Until the arrival of these items, the only tangible memory of their son would have been the memorial urn. No doubt, it held great significance for them.
The York-Sunbury Historical Society is honoured to hold this memorial urn in its collection. It would be nice to be able to add the other items sent to the family in the collection. Should anyone know of the whereabouts of these items, please let the York-Sunbury Historical Society know. You could call the Fredericton Region Museum at 506-455-6041 with this information. The Society holds several artefacts relating to his brother, Arthur Cleveland Kelly, and it would be good to be able to expand the family grouping.
By Gary Campbell,
York-Sunbury Historical Society