Black Country Bugle, Douglas Harris, Floandi, Mayor, memorial, minute books, Navy, Parks and Baths Committee, Penn, Penn Fields, Robert Jackson Emerson, St Peter's Gardens, St Phillip's Church, Wolverhampton Council
If you are familiar with Wolverhampton, you will have walked past the statue of Douglas Morris Harris in St Peter’s Gardens. This is his story.
Douglas Harris was born in 1898 in Penn. His parents, Leopold and Mabel Harris, were originally from London, and had moved first to Coventry and then to Wolverhampton. In the 1901 census, the family, including two daughters, two sons and a servant, were living at 49 Penn Road, but by the 1911 census their family had expanded to include two more daughters and an additional servant, and they had moved to 42 Lea Road.
Harris joined the Navy, and was stationed on HMS Admirable, before moving to the Italian drifter Floandi as a wireless operator. On the night of 14th – 15th May 1917, the drifters came under heavy attack in the Adriatic from the Austrian Navy. Harris refused to leave his post in the midst of the battle, continuing to send messages calling for assistance, and was sadly killed in action.
His bravery under fire was admired by many, it was decided to create a memorial in his honour. A model and photograph of the memorial were submitted to the Parks and Baths Committee of the Council on 31 Dec 1917, with a desire that it be “placed in a prominent position in the town as a memorial to the late Douglas Morris Harris, of the drifter “Floandi”. A plan was also submitted showing the suggested site “within the open space in Lichfield Street adjacent to the Art Gallery”. Whilst the Mayor was concerned about the potential cost (he stipulated that
“the Memorial must be erected without entailing any expense upon the Corporation”), he also understood that “the Memorial might act as a stimulus to the Townspeople” to erect a “larger and more imposing” memorial after the War “to perpetuate the memory of all Wolverhampton men who sacrificed their lives in the War.” The Committee agreed to the memorial on that site.
The statue was created by Robert Jackson Emerson in 1919, and now stands in St Peter’s Gardens. Harris is also commemorated on the war memorial in the garden opposite St Philip’s Church at Penn Fields, where his inscription reads:
DOUGLAS MORRIS HENRY HARRIS BZ/9359
Able Seaman (Wireless Operator)
H.M. Drifter “Fandi.” Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
Died 15/05/1917 Age: 19
Son of Leo.E.and Mabel Harris,of Winsmore Lodge, St.Albans Rd Watford,Born at Penn, Wolverhampton.
Grave/Memorial Reference: IV. F. 8.
Cemetery:TARANTO TOWN CEMETERY EXTENSION
Further details of the incident leading to the death of Douglas Harris can be found in this Black Country Bugle article.