Service number: 108133 | Rank: Private | Regiment: The King’s (Liverpool Regiment). Formerly of Norfolk Regiment (2459).
Killed in action, May 23, 1918, in Flanders.
Buried at HOUCHIN BRITISH CEMETERY, Pas de Calais, France.
WHAT I KNOW ABOUT EDWARD …
Edward’s story has more twists and turns than a Hitchcock movie. He was born in the spring of 1899 and was the seventh child of William and Eliza Edwards, who already had four sons and two daughters. William was a house painter and Eliza pulled fur from rabbit skins while she cared for the children at their home in 76 Thetford Road, Brandon. During the 1911 Census William wrote down his youngest son’s name as ‘Jack’ instead of Edward, but I shall continue to use Edward as his first name. In 1911 Edward had two younger sisters and by now the family had nine children and five are still at home, including 12 year old Edward.
At the start of the war, when so many young Brandon men were enlisting to fight, Edward told his parents that he was going to enlist too. However he was too young and his parents vehemently objected and they prevented him from doing so. This did not deter Edward and his desire to join up only got stronger. The following year on 1st June 1915 he travelled to Norwich and enlisted, even though he was still not old enough. So how was this possible? Well, Edward lied to the Recruiting Officer and had made up an identity on his enlistment form. He claimed to be 19 years old, hence old enough to enlist, and had changed his name to ‘John’ Edwards who was employed as a cycle mechanic. The Recruiting Officer, keen to add another name to the Norfolk Regiment accepted his enlistment and sent him on to the regimental Depot and four days later he was in the 10th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment and serving under the Service Number of 19455. At this time Edward was a mere 5-foot 2½-inches tall and a skinny 7-stone in weight.
Edward left the county and remained at Colchester barracks with his Norfolk Regiment comrades for a period of training before going to the front. His parents soon realised what had happened and began a campaign to have him released. The military were not
so accommodating to the family’s requests to release him because at this time in the war men were badly needed to be trained and sent off to the front. Too many men were seen to be making excuses as to why they could not go, and so his family could be lying. The military wanted proof before they would consider any release. However, despite Edward’s parents frantically writing to the military, he did not want to go home. On 4th September 1915 he was in trouble after his Sergeant-Major found him in possession of a duty rifle. It is not known if this was related to efforts to get him out of the military or not, but he was confined to barracks for five days. Letters criss-crossed between Edward’s father, William, and the military authorities and this is the letter that clinched Edward’s release,
I have forwarded my son Jack Edward’s, number 19455, of the 10th Battalion Norfolk Regiment, now lying at Colchester, birth certificate on to you to let you know he is only 16 years old. I have done so as I think he is far too young to go into any firing line yet for a long while. I wish him to do home duty only.
Yours truly, W. Edwards”
The birth certificate was concrete proof that Edward was not old enough to join up and had therefore given a false statement when doing so. Edward’s cover had been blown but he was still very reluctant to leave the military and on 14th September 1915 a captain from his battalion wrote to the military authorities on his behalf.
“This man is very anxious to serve. Is it possible for us to keep him as a bugler?”
Capt. Bavis, 10th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment
More letters then followed. On the 15th Lieutenant Barrow wrote to the War Office,
“I beg to recommend for consideration as a special case, that the man mentioned may be allowed to remain in the service for duty at home, until such time he is physically fit for service abroad in view of the fact that the man does not wish to be discharged and his father is willing for him to serve at home.”
The War Office replied,
With reference to your memorandum of the 15th instant, No. 19455/15, relative to No. 19455, Pte J. Edwards, 10th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, I am directed to return the accompanying Attestation and Birth Certificate, and to inform you that this soldier should be discharged forthwith, under paragraph 392 (vi) (a) King’s Regulations.”
The army was now compelled to release him under paragraph 392(vi)(a) of the King’s Regulations. This stated that he, “… made a mis-statement as to age on enlistment – Soldier under 17 years of age at date of application for discharge.” On 27th September 1915 he was returned to civilian life.
Edward did not take this too well at all and pledged to get back into the Army when he was eligible to enlist without parental consent, which was at the age of eighteen. It appears that true to his word and in 1917, on his eighteenth birthday, he walked into an Army Recruitment Office in Norwich and took the oath to become a British soldier a second time. This time he used his real name of Edward and his parents were helpless to do anything about it.
After months of training in the UK he left these shores and went over to France with 1st/5th Battalion of the Liverpool Regiment. Toward the end of May his battalion were not very active but did have to endure enemy artillery which, on the 22nd May, also included the enemy firing gas shells at roads and tracks leading toward the trenches where Edward and his comrades were. Fortunately there were no casualties reported from this action. The enemy were constantly sending up observation balloons to watch their artillery land among the British lines and the following day, on the 23rd, it was reported to be too windy to get any aerial observation but nonetheless the enemy fired a few artillery shells at the trenches housing Edward’s unit. In this action two men were killed and four were wounded. Perhaps the battalion had become blasé in the absence of no observation balloons and the enemy had caught them out? In any case Edward was one of those killed. Sadly, within only a few weeks of getting to the front, 19 year old Edward had become a casualty.