When the Commonwealth War Graves Commission collated its casualty informnation in the early 1920s it recorded that Harry was the son of Nephi Howard Wood and Mary Wood of 6 Ansley Grove, Heaton Moor. Regimental records published after the War show that he was born in New York.
His family history and early life have proved difficult to unravel and further research is beyond the scope of this project. It would appear that Nephi Wood was born in Stockport in 1852 and, in the opening months of 1871, he married Elizabeth Hall. Two years later, a daughter was born who they called Leah.
Nephi is the name of a prophet from the Book of Mormon and, whilst he and Elizabeth married in an Anglican church, it is believed that, at least later, they became firm adherents to the Mormon faith. Indeed, by 1880, the family had emigrated to America and was living in Utah - the home - then as now - of the Church. By 1891, when a UK census was taken, they had returned to the UK and were living in nearby Denton, where as well as Leah, other children mentioned are Bertha (born in the USA) and Frank and Arthur (both born in Denton).
Ordinarily, it would be presumed that they must have then gone abroad again for Frederick to be born in the USA. However, when the 1901 Census was taken, Elizabeth, Arthur, Bertha and Frank and listed as living in Denton. There's no mention of Nephi or Harry living at the property.
However, Harry appears to be living in nearby Hyde with a man called Levi Wood and is described as his son. Levi Wood is a married man but his wife is not living there. However, a woman called Mary Hurst is recorded as being his servant which seems unusual as Levi was a hatter by trade and unlikely to be able to afford to employ someone. She appears to have married Nephi in 1921 and is, presumably, the Mary Wood recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The questions that remain unanswered are:
Was Mary Hurst Harry's mother?
And who was his father - Levi or Nephi?
Had the two men and Mary travelled together to America in a complex relationship, perhaps understood by the Mormon Church if not by Edwardian Stockport?
In spite of all this speculation about his family, nothing is known of Harry's early life until he joined the army. He was living in Heaton Moor at the time but travelled into Manchester to join the fourth of the "pals" battalions being formed by the Manchester Regiment. Most recruits joined the 19th Manchesters in early September 1914 and were assigned to one of its four companies. In the following January, a fifth company, "E", was raised and this allowed some of the unfit men to be weeded out. Details of the recruitment and training period can be found here. By the November, the men were ready to go overseas on active service and the Battalion reduced back down to four companies and Harry was reassigned to "A" Company.
The day on which Harry was killed was the opening day of the Third Battle of Ypres, often known as Passchendaele. Zero hour was set for 3.50am and the 19th Manchesters would be in the second wave of the attack, in support of the 2nd Green Howards.
"A" and "B" Companies had assembled in Crab Crawl Tunnel, near Maple Copse to the east of Ypres (now Ieper). By the time they were due to move forward, wounded troops from the leading units were already returning and blocking the exits from the tunnel. Men could only get out in ones and twos and it meant they were unable to properly get into their attack formation. As they waited in the open, for others to join them, there were many casualties.
"C" and "D" were to the rear in Maple Copse. As "D" moved forward it came under very heavy shellfire causing many casualties. By the time the reached the original British front line, their numbers had been so decimated that they were unable to advance any further into the attack proper. "C" had better luck and, together, with remnants of the other Companies, they pushed on to reach where the leading units were now held up.
By now, the Germans had remanned their strongpoints and were sweeping the ground with heavy machine gun fire, supported by artillery shelling. By 6.30am, it was clear that there was no chance of making any further advance and the Battalion "dug in" at this position. Over 60 men were dead, including Harry and another local man, Frederick Howes.