Harry is a rarity amongst the officers remembered on Stockport area war memorials – not only was he a regular army officer, but he had chosen the army as his career whilst the War was in progress.
He was born in Altrincham on 7 November 1896, the first child of Henry and Alice. Henry was a civil engineer and their address of “Gas Works Cottage”, suggests he was possibly the engineer in charge of the works. A sister, Madge, was born in 1900 (a brother, Richard, was born in about 1905). The following year, when a national census was taken, the family was recorded as living at 9 Elsenham Street, Wandsworth, London but their stay in the south was fairly brief and, certainly by 1910, they had returned north and taken up residence at “Norwood”, Mauldeth Road, Heaton Mersey. From September of that year until July 1915, Harry would be educated at Manchester Grammar School. Whilst there, he was a member of the school’s Officer Training Corps and served as its Quartermaster Sergeant.
In June 1915, Harry passed the Army entrance examination and he started as a cadet at Sandhurst Military Academy on 12 August after undertaking some preliminary basic training with the 23rd Battalion, Manchester Regiment. His service file still exists at the National Archives and this shows him to have been just under 5’ 6” tall and weighed 112 pounds. Harry received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant on 26 August 1916, joining his Brigade a short while later.
The Battle of Arras had opened on 9 April 1917 and Harry’s Brigade was in action for several days. The front was moving forward and it was necessary for the artillery to follow. Each artillery brigade had four batteries. These were each equipped with six 18-pounder field guns. Harry would have been responsible for two of the guns and their crews. On the 14th, the battery commanders reconnoitred new positions “behind the railway, south of Vimy station”, according to the Brigade’s War Diary. The guns came out of action from their old positions at 4.30pm and started to move to the new locations. The roads were almost impassable due to the mud and many horses were lost and vehicles became stuck. By the next day, Harry’s 37th Battery had only got three guns into position. The remaining three and all six of their equipment wagons were stuck. The Diary has no details of Harry’s demise recording only that he had been killed. It was, most probably, enemy shellfire which killed him as it killed most artillerymen.
Harry’s personal effects were sent home soon afterwards. There wasn’t much – a wrist watch, cigarette case, pipe and tobacco pouch
When the War Graves Commission collated its casualty information in the early 1920s, Mr & Mrs Hildage had again moved and were living at “Highlands”, Boldmere Road, Erdington, Birmingham. It would seem that members of their extended family still remained in Altrincham as its War Memorial commemorates Philip Hildage, the son of Arthur and Kate Hildage. Harry and Philip are the only men with this surname recorded by the War Graves Commission.