Private, 315387, 16th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment
Killed in Action on 6 November 1917 near Beersheba, Palestine, aged 42
He is buried in Beersheba War Cemetery: Grave M 18

Beersheba War Cemetery, Israel and Palestine
Click to enlarge

Private Ernest Harding was born in Maresfield in 1877. At the time of the 1911 census he was recorded as living at 1, Roland Villas, Hartfield Road, Forest Row. Subsequently he lived at 1, Marsh Green Cottages, Hartfield, and enlisted in Coleman's Hatch. He was killed in action on 6 November 1917 near Beersheba, Palestine, aged 42, and is buried in Beersheba War Cemetery: Grave M 18.

He married Ellen Susanna Harding (née Brand) (1882-1967) in 1902 and they had the following children: John Ernest (b. April 1903), Edith Nellie (b. March 1904) and Gladys Evelyn (b. 1910). His pre-war occupation was gardener.

Ellen died in 1967 aged 85. His son John, who had married Edith in 1924, died in 1935 aged 32. He was living in Hartfield in the time, but died in Kent and Sussex Hospital, Tunbridge Wells. He is buried in Colman's Hatch churchyard.

His daughter Edith married Amos Killick in 1924. She died in 1977 aged 72, her husband died in 1959. They lived in Colman's Hatch.

His daughter Gladys married Ernest Wheatley in 1932. Gladys died in 2004 aged 94. Ernest was the younger brother of Charlie Wheatley who died in 1921 and a nephew of the other Wheatleys who are also profiled by the Ashdown Forest Research Group.

The 16th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment were involved in the Battle of Sheria in early November 1917. On 1 November they were in bivouac in the Wadi Saba and were helping to clear up the battlefield after the Battle of Beersheba. The following day they moved behind an old Turkish position and on the third they served as an advanced guard to the brigade.

Gravestone of Ernest Harding
Click to enlarge

On 6 November they formed part of the initial attack in the Battle of Sheria and came under heavy rife and machine gun fire. Interestingly Captain Hanbury Lewis Kekewich, who is commemorated on the Forest Row war memorial, was killed in the same battle: on 6 November 1917 he was in command of 'C' Company attacking the Turkish lines and defending Gaza with about 600 of the battalion.

Three officers were killed in the battle (including Captain Kekewich), 19 other ranks were killed (which included Ernest Harding), and 98 were wounded with two missing.

Map showing the Gaza to Beersheba line, Sheria
and Edh Dhaleiriye (ad-Dhahiriya), Palestine
Click to enlarge
(Source: British Army Survey of Egypt)

XX Corps attack on 6 November 1917 stretching
from Tell Khuweilfe westwards towards Hareira*
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Ernest Harding is listed on the war memorials in Coleman's Hatch and Hartfield. There is also a memorial plaque in St John's Church, Felbridge. His name was also added to the war memorial in Danehill in 2001.

Ernest left £8 3s.3d to his widow in his will.

Carol O'Driscoll


Cyril Falls, A. F. Beck (1930) 'History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence Military Operations Egypt & Palestine from June 1917 to the end of the War, Volume 2, Part 1 (London: Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence, 1928-30. 2 vols in 3 parts. Held by the British Library.)
Note: the 16th Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment, were involved in this offensive as part of the Battle of Sheria.