Harry Dickinson was the eldest son of Richard H. Dickinson and his wife Cecilia. He was born 25 August 1885 in Birmingham. His father then was an engineer, who between 1881 and 1917 rose from being a locomotive inspector to chief engineer for the Birmingham Corporation Tramways. A second son, Arthur Dickinson, followed his father into the same firm, also as an engineer.
Harry Dickinson attended the King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys, in Birmingham. He then studied theology at Queen’s College in Birmingham prior to matriculating at Durham University in the Easter term of 1907 to study Arts. He was a member of Hatfield Hall. He was awarded his B.A. in 1907, and his M.A. in 1913. He also won the Long Reading Prize in both 1907 and 1909. He went on to teach Classics at Bridgnorth Grammar School, but perhaps only in 1907/08. For in 1908 he was ordained deacon and priest the following year, and served as curate of Brandon from 1908 until 1910.
His career in the Church of England then took him closer to home, as the curate of St George’s Church in Wolverhampton (1910-1914), where he boarded in the vicarage with Rev. John H. Hamilton and his family, then chaplain of St Cuthbert’s College, Worksop (1914-1915), and then, wishing to return to parish work, he accepted the incumbency of St Mary and St John’s Alum Rock, Saltley, in Birmingham (1915-1916). He became a Chaplain to the Forces (4th class) early in 1916, in the same year he was appointed vicar of St Stephen’s, Newtown Row, in Birmingham.
Chaplain Dickinson was attached to the 28th Battalion London Regiment (Artists’ Rifles). He was killed in action with his battalion as it took part in an attack over the Paddebeck on Passchendaele Ridge during the Battle of Passchendaele on 30 October 1917. The Regimental Roll of Honour and War Record of the Artists’ Rifles (3rd ed. 1922) relates how the battalion advanced early on that day supported by a heavy barrage, “one gun to every 9 yards of front”.
To reach our objective we had to cross the Paddebeek, on the map an insignificant streamlet, but in fact but this time a wide and almost impassable swamp.
The instant our attack started, the forward troops came under intense machine-gun fire from an almost invisible enemy who had taken refuge in their “pill boxes” during our bombardment, and were no posted in carefully chosen tactical positions. Simultaneously our supporting troops suffered heavy casualties from enemy artillery, while the ground to be traversed was a deep sea of mud, which drowned wounded men and clogged rifles and Lewis guns in the first few minutes, rendering them entirely useless. Consequently it was not long before the attack was brought to a complete standstill, and the very attenuated Battalions proceeded to consolidate as best they could on our side of the Paddebeek.
… On this day the Artists went into action about 500 strong and suffered 350 casualties, amongst those killed being Captains Bare, Chetwood and Gordon Williams, Lieuts. Haslam and Howe, an dour splendid Padre, Capt. Harry Dickinson. The toll of deaths would have been still higher but for the untiring efforts of our M.O., Capt. Matthew [M.C.], who for 72 hours hardly rested from the work of collecting and dressing the wounded.
The Regimental Roll of Honour and War Record of the Artists’ Rifles (3rd ed. 1922), by S. Stagoll Higham, pp. xxiv-xxv.
This attack was also witnessed by Sir Philip Gibbs, then a war correspondent, and who published this account before the year’s end in his From Bapaume to Passchendaele (1917):
It is idle for me to try to describe this ground again, the ground over which the London men and Artists had to attack. Nothing that I can write will convey remotely the look of such ground and the horror of it. Unless one has seen vast fields of barren earth, blasted for miles by shell-fire, pitted by deep craters so close that they are like holes in a sieve, and so deep that the tallest men can drown in them when they are filled with water, as they are now filled, imagination cannot conceive the picture of this slough of despond into which our modern Christians plunge with packs on their backs and faith in their hearts to face dragons of fire a thousand times more frightful than those encountered in the “Pilgrim’s Progress.” The shell-craters yesterday were overbrimmed with water, and along the way of the becks, flung out of bounds by great gun-fire, these were not ponds and pools but broad deep lakes in which the litter and corruption of the battlefield floated.
… [T]he London men had to wade and haul out one leg after the other from this deep sucking bog, and could hardly do that. Hundreds of them were held in the bog as though in glue, and sank above their waists. Our artillery barrage, which was very heavy and wide, moved forward at a slow crawling pace, but it could not easily be followed. It took many men an hour and a half to come back a hundred and fifty yards. A rescue party led by a sergeant-major could not haul out men breast-high in the bog until they had surrounded them with duck-boards and fastened ropes to them. Our barrage went ahead and the enemy’s barrage came down, and from the German blockhouses came a chattering fire of machine-guns, and in the great stretch of swamp the London men struggled.
And not far away from them, but invisible in their own trouble among the pits, the Artists Rifles, Bedfords, and Shropshires were trying to get forward to other blockhouses on the way to the rising ground beyond the Paddebeek. The Artists and their comrades were more severely tried by shell-fire than the Londoners. No doubt the enemy had been standing at his guns through the night, ready to fire at the first streak of dawn, which might bring an English attack, or the first rocket as a call to them from the garrisons of the blockhouses. A light went up, and instantly there roared a great sweep of fire from heavy batteries and field-guns; 4.2’s and 5.9’s fell densely and in depth, and this bombardment did not slacken for hours. It was a tragic time for our valiant men, struggling in the slime with their feet dragged down. They suffered, but did not retreat. No man fell back, but either fell under the shell-fire or went on.
From Bapaume to Passchendaele (1917), by Sir Philip Gibbs, pp. 373-374
Chaplain Harry Dickinson is buried in the Passchendaele New British Cemetery in Belgium. His sacrifice is also commemorated on two war memorials at Bridgnorth Grammar School (now Bridgnorth Endowed School), on a plaque in Hatfield College Chapel, and on a memorial in the ante-chapel at St Cuthbert’s College, Worksop. A memorial to Dickinson was also erected in St Stephen’s Church, Newtown Row in October 1918, but this church was demolished in the 1950s.