Hubert James Edwards
Served with Essex County Constabulary from May 1, 1912 and died on Oct 12, 1917.
Hubert James Edwards was born in 1890 at Norton Loddon near Norwich; the son of Robert Frederick and Mary Anne Edwards. He joined Essex Constabulary on May 1, 1912, and at that time was twenty-two years old. For three years he patrolled the streets in Essex as Constable 506 before volunteering to enlist as Lance Corporal 23908 with the 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards on May 18, 1915. He was married to Rhoda who also came from Norton Loddon.
The 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards formed part of the 3rd Brigade of The Guards Division which was formed in August 1915, following the approval of His Majesty The King. Movement to France took place without delay and the new Division was concentrated in and around the village of Lumbres west of St Omer. The Division comprised the remains of the Guards Division that had formed part of the British Expeditionary Force which had fought so valiantly for the previous twelve months and the new battalions, men who had responded to Kitchener's call for volunteers. The 4th Battalion Grenadiers was one of the new battalions and they were initially billeted at Blendecques.
In September Lord Cavan inspected the 2nd and 3rd Guards Brigades and expressed his opinion that the march past, the handling of arms and the general appearance of the troops were 'at that high standard most proper for all Guardsmen under all and every condition.'
On September 23, 1915, divisional headquarters was moved to Norrent Fontes and the whole of the division marched into the area south of Aire in preparation for the British offensive at Loos. Lord Cavan issued a memorandum to the Guards Division:
'On the eve of the biggest battle in the World's History the General Officer commanding Guards Division wishes his troops God-speed. He has nothing to add to the stirring words spoken by the corps commander this morning, but he wishes to impress upon everybody two things - First, that the fate of future generations of Englishmen hangs on this battle - Second, that great things are expected of the Guards Division. He knows that as a Guardsman of over thirty years' service he need say no more.'
On September 26 the Guards Division moved into the front line and was engaged in the battle of Loos where the 3rd Brigade attacked Hill 70. In October they saw further action with an attack on the well-fortified Hohenzollern Redoubt and Dump trench. They were withdrawn from the line at the end of October and moved to rest billets near Bethune. It had been a baptism of fire for the men of the New Army that confirmed the courage and fighting capability of Kitchener's volunteers.
Over the winter of that year they spent time in the front line trenches to the east and south east of Laventie.
After some hard marching on slippery, snow covered roads they moved north to Flanders, arriving on the Ypres salient on February 19, 1916, where, for the next four months, they spent a number of periods in the front line. They moved back south in July to support the Somme offensive going into the line at Beaumont Hamel and then seeing further action at Morval, Lesboeufs, Gueudencourt and Guinchy until they were relieved on September 25.
The winter of 1916/17 saw the Guards Division relieve the French in the line at Sailly Saillisel before their move back north to Flanders where, on July 31, 1917, they were engaged in the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, part of the third battle of Ypres (June 7 to November 10, 1917), successfully achieving all their objectives in the advance towards Langemark. During the attack the 4th Battalion Grenadiers came under heavy machine-gun fire from Abri Wood but, with the assistance of a smoke barrage, succeeded in outflanking the machine-gun positions.
For the next four days and nights rain fell continuously, turning the area secured by the Guards into a bog. The situation for the men was miserable as they stood with water up to their knees whilst under artillery fire from the Germans. Further advance was impossible. The Guards were relieved in the line on August 7 and billeted in the Proven - Herzeele area.
On August 27, 3rd Guards Brigade were back into the line near the Broembeek stream. Their objective was to cross the swollen stream and advance over the marshy banks towards Houthulst Forest. In some places the stream was just eight feet wide but with the heavy rainfall this had extended to twenty feet in other parts. The water was about two to three feet deep and below it was a bed of thick mud. This added to the aggressive action of the enemy made any advance impossible and after a very uncomfortable period the 3rd Guards Brigade were relieved in the line on September 10.
On October 5, 3rd Guards Brigade took over the battle front with the 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards in the front line. Preparations for the advance were resumed with great energy. Heavy rain once again impeded their efforts with new trenches being destroyed almost as soon as they had been dug.
The Guards attack commenced on October 9 led by the 1st and 2nd Guards Brigades with 3rd Guards Brigade in reserve. They successfully crossed the Broembeek and commenced the advance towards Houthulst Forest under strong defensive fire from German machine guns and a number of counter attacks.
On the evening of October 10 3rd Guards Brigade took over the Divisional front which was now on the high ground bordering Houthulst Forest. Although the advance by the Guards had been successful, other sectors had experienced difficulty in achieving their objectives. It was decided one further attempt would be made to take the ridge and an attack was fixed for October 12. The objective of the 3rd Guards Brigade was to move forward a few hundred yards, thus improving their tactical position.
During the night of October 11 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards and 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, in heavy rain, made their way forward to the line of the new objective. The Germans responded with a heavy barrage of gas shells which caused a good many casualties and considerable disorganisation. The Guards achieved their objective but continuous rain and the swelling of the Broembeek turned much of the area held by the Division into swampland.
By the time they were relieved in the line on October 17 the division had lost 303 Officers and 7,898 other ranks. They had also inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy, helping to put out no less than six German divisions. The following message was received from King George.
"As Colonel-in-Chief of the Guards His Majesty is proud to think that there has been imposed upon the Division no task that has not been successfully fulfilled. The King has no doubt that after a well earned rest, rebuilt and re-equipped, the Division will distinguish itself in the future as it has distinguished itself in the past, and His Majesty sends you all his best wishes."
The 3rd Battle of Ypres that had commenced on June 7 literally became bogged down and after the 2nd Battle of Passchendale the mud and the blood bath ended on November 10.
The 3rd Guards Brigade lost 19 officers and 725 other ranks in the first two weeks of October. Hubert Edwards was killed in the advance made on October 12. He was twenty-seven years old. His body, if ever recovered, was never identified and he is remembered with honour on Panel 9 of The Memorial to the Missing at Tyne Cott Cemetery. He left behind his widow, Rhoda, but it is not known whether they had any children.
The War Diary for 4th Bn Grenadier Guards records:
Vee Bend 11th 10 1917
6pm. The day passed without any unusual occurrence. No.3 Company shot down a German aeroplane by rifle and Lewis gun fire. Flying at an estimated 300feet over their trenches it fell in flames on edge of Houthulst Forest.
Bn. Orders. C G D issued as the result of verbal instruction from the Brigadier who visited the Bn. about 3pm.
10.00am. The German defensive barrage came down on the general line of the trenches held by two leading Platoons of No.1 Company.
12.25pm. CG DOI sent to the Bde. Group preliminary report of patrol into Houthulst Forest.
A former Essex Police colleague George Brenchley was also in the 3rd Guards Brigade and fought with Hubert in the 3rd battle of Ypres. George, who had transferred to Southend Borough Police on April 1, 1914, was a reservist who was recalled to the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards in August 1914, and fought with the British Expeditionary Force. He lived through the fighting in Flanders in 1917, only to be killed on August 24, 1918, at Mory, Pas de Calais.
But death replied: 'I choose him.' So he went,
And there was silence in the summer night;
Silence and safety; and the veils of sleep.
Then, far away, the thudding of the guns.
2nd Lt. Siegfried Sassoon
(Royal Welch Fusiliers)