The Death of a Rainham Headmaster in the Great War of 1914-1918

Harold Greenhalgh became headmaster of Rainham Council School, now known as Meredale in 1908, two years after it had been constructed and he proved to be very hard working and popular.

Originally from Preston in Lancashire, he came to Kent where he worked with Gillingham Education Committee and then with the dockyard class at Barnsole Road School. After this and with the departure of headmistress Miss Dyason, he became headmaster of Rainham Council School where he soon proved to be a very capable head. According to an article in the East Kent Gazette dated April 1918, the school reached a high standard under his leadership and pupils won many scholarships. Because of his talent and interest in music he helped scholars obtain county honours and when war broke out in 1914 he organised collections of eggs and social gatherings at the school for wounded soldiers from Fort Pitt Hospital which gained him a lot of respect in the community.

When he first applied to join the army he was rejected for being physically unfit but he eventually passed for general service and joined the Royal Engineers in 1916. Stationed in Chatham he soon became a lance-corporal and he obtained the Haynes Memorial Medal, awarded to the best recruit in each new batch of Royal Engineers recruits.

When he went to France in September 1917 he experienced several dangerous assignments then he was commissioned to the Ordnance Department and made Ordnance Railhead Officer at Poperinghe in March 1917. This is where he died on April 9th 1918 aged 41. His major wrote a letter to his wife:

‘About 10 0’ clock on Tuesday 9th instant, Poperinghe Railhead, of which he was Ordnance officer in charge, was shelled by the enemy. One shell fell near where he, his sergeant and Private Barlow were standing. This killed Private Barlow. Your husband then ordered the sergeant to run for an ambulance and knelt down to see if anything could be done for Private Barlow. When the sergeant was about 80 yards away a second shell fell at practically the same spot, killing your husband instantaneously by the concussion. The body was buried in a soldier’s cemetery just outside Poperinghe, in the portion reserved for officers. The service was conducted by an army chaplain and attended by lieutenant colonel Fisher and myself on behalf of the Army Ordnance Department. A wooden cross is placed at the head of his grave, bearing his name, unit and that he was killed in action 9th April 1918.’

In 1919 at a meeting of the Kent County Education authority, committee member Mr Tapp said that in Mr Greenhalgh Kent had lost a very valuable teacher and questioned why headmasters should be taken away for military service which caused education to suffer. He also paid tribute to Sergeant W. S. Hadlow who also died in the war and had worked as an assistant teacher at the Council School. Another teacher, Mr Pitcher, became a captain in the Artists and Rifle Regiment and got wounded in the head but he recovered. He later received the Military Medal for bravery and resumed teaching at the Council school when the war ended.

Harold Greenhalgh’s death was a great loss to his family as he left a widow and two young daughters and to Rainham Council School where he worked and where he had gained a high reputation before joining the army.



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