Captain John Forsythe Harvey, 9th (Service) Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Tyrone Volunteers)
Whilst researching for a forthcoming book on the 36th (Ulster) Division in the German Spring Offensive, March 1918, the following headstone was found at Noyon New British Cemetery, 30 miles south east of St Quentin.
Further research identified that the remains in this grave and those of another identified Inniskilling – Pte John Douthart 27685 had been exhumed from Brouchy Churchyard in a graves concentration process and re-interred at Noyon. Brouchy is a small village 15 miles south-east of St Quentin.
The war diaries of the Inniskilling battalions were interrogated and it was discovered that on 23 March 1918, the 9th Inniskillings were in the vicinity of Brouchy. By 23 March, the German Spring Offensive had been under way for two days and the 36th (Ulster) Division were performing a fighting withdrawal, hard-pressed by rapidly advancing superior numbers of German forces.
The 9th Inniskillings war diary records the following:
22nd March. The battalion marched to Brouchey (sic) and the night was passed in billets. At about 7 am, the battalion marched out of Brouchey and took up a line from the railway bridge through Aubigny. At about 1130 am the enemy forced us back on Brouchey, but a counter-attack was made and Aubigny was re-occupied with few casualties. The battalion was again driven out of the village but again counter-attacked in the afternoon, this time sustaining heavy casualties. One light and two heavy machine-guns were captured and heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy. During the afternoon our left flank was left in the air and the battalion fell back on Brouchey, where considerable fighting took place.
During the action of 23 March, 9th Inniskillings had five men killed, including Captain John Forsythe Harvey. In a nominal roll attached to the war diary, he is the only Captain identified as having been killed.
Records from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission indicated that when the remains were exhumed, they were clothed in a Captain’s uniform manufactured by WJ Purdon, a clothing manufacturer situated at 67 Donegal Street, Belfast.
John Forsythe Harvey was born at Ballymaconaghy, Castlereagh, County Down on 27 January 1894, the eldest son of William and Elizabeth Harvey (nee Forsythe). William Harvey was a Leather Merchant at Belfast. In 1911, the family were resident at ‘Inverary’, Downshire Road, Cregagh, Belfast. John, then aged 17 was apprenticed to the Linen trade.
John enlisted in the 12th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on 8 September 1915 and was issued with the service number 26043. Around the same time, he applied for a commission and was appointed Second Lieutenant in July 1916. He joined the 9th Inniskillings on 25 September 1916 and by August 1917 was a Company Commander, having been promoted Captain.
John’s family were informed of his death by telegram on 2 April 1918.
John’s remains were officially never recovered and he is currently commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial to the Missing.
Research material was compiled and a case was submitted to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in July 2017 asserting that the remains currently interred at Noyon New British Cemetery in a grave marked Captain Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, name unknown, were those of Captain John Forsythe Harvey.
On 14 January 2019, a letter was received from the MOD Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre stating the following:
After further research I am pleased to inform you that the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) are in agreement with your findings, that is, that John Forsythe Harvey is the unknown Captain buried in this grave.
The headstone will now be replaced and a re-dedication service will take place at the graveside on 21 March 2019, conducted by a Padre from the Royal Irish Regiment, the decendent regiment of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The service will also be attended by a representative of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers Regimental Association and the Inniskillings Museum.
Efforts are currently underway to identify surviving descendants of Captain Harvey. Can you help? Information can be passed to the Inniskillings Museum on 028 6632 3142 or firstname.lastname@example.org or use the ‘Contact Us’ page on this website.