William Edward Paxton
Served with Essex County Constabulary from Apr 1, 1911 and died on Oct 9, 1915.
William Edward Paxton was born in1890 in Islington, London, the son of Edward and Sarah Anne Paxton who later lived at 118 Sirdar Road, Wood Green, London. After serving with the Coldstream Guards he joined Essex Constabulary as Police Constable 114 on April 1, 1911. Just three years later, with the outbreak of war, he was recalled to the Colours and rejoined his colleagues at Chelsea Barracks in 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards as Private 7694. His police colleagues Percy Unsworth Battle, Herbert James Button and Stapleton Hollett, also reservists, were recalled to the Grenadier Guards.
Six Battalions of Guards went to France with the original British Expeditionary Force (total strength of 150,000), which crossed the Channel between August 12 and 17, 1914.
The 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions Coldstream Guards and the 1st Battalion Irish Guards constituted the 4th (Guards) Brigade under the command of Brigadier-General R Scott-Kerr (Grenadier Guards).
At midday on August 23, 1914, Sir John French's Army was holding the line Binche-Mons-Conde in an attempt to stop the German advance south from Belgium towards Paris. Early that afternoon, the 4th (Guards) Brigade, which had been held in reserve, was pushed forward to extend the line north-westward towards Mons.
Under sustained German attack, facing far superior numbers, a retreat was ordered with the 4th (Guards) Brigade forming the infantry rear guard. On reaching Landrecies on 26th the Brigade went into billets. The retreat was resumed the following day August 27 and, for the remaining days of that month the Guards were not called to do any fighting, but the hard and continuous marching in the dust and heat, and the short time available for rest and sleep, severely tested their powers of endurance. They reached Soissons on August 30.
On September 6 the Allied Armies turned to the offensive and managed to push the Germans back across the Marne and the Aisne. The Guards played a major role in this advance and sustained high casualties when the Germans held their position at Soupir.
This action brought the war of movement to an end and was the beginning of the trench warfare that was to last for the next three years.
In October the 4th (Guards) Brigade moved north to Flanders in time for the opening of the first battle of Ypres on October 19, 1914. On October 20 the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards saw action in the vicinity of Zonnebeke and then moved forward with the rest of the Brigade towards Passchendale. On October 22 an attempt was made to continue the British advance with the Coldstream Guards leading the attack, but the fire of the enemy was severe and little progress was made.
The Guards position was then taken over by the French and they moved forward with the objective of taking the Reutel spur. The attack was fiercely opposed and was checked about 200 yards north of the village of Reutel. The Coldstream Guards dug in and held a line on the eastern edge of Polygon Wood facing Reutel and Becelaere till they were relieved by the French on November 16. Though not involved in heavy fighting during this period they had no respite from the fire of the enemy's guns. By the time they were withdrawn on November 20 the 4th (Guards) Brigade had lost 1,700 men.
Their time out of the line was short lived. Having reached Bethune on December 22, 4th (Guards) Brigade took over a very wet part of the line to the north east of that town. At the end of January, 1915, they moved to the Cuinchy sector of the front, south of the La Bassee Canal, remaining in this area till early spring. They stayed in the line, in that area, at Vermelles, Auchy, Cambrin and Givenchy till they were withdrawn on the formation of the Guards Division.
The Guards Division was formed in August 1915 at the instigation of Lord Kitchener. The six Guards Battalions that formed part of the British Expeditionary Force in August 1914, had sustained heavy losses and the new Division included a large number of Kitchener's Volunteers.
The 4th Guards Brigade became 1st Guards Brigade and retained the four battalions that had been with it throughout the war. On August 19 the Brigade moved back to St. Omer and then into billets in the villages of Houlle and Moulle north of Lumbres.
The Battle of Loos was the first of the greater offensive operations in which the British Army took part, lasting from September 25 till October 16, 1915. The Guards Division were moved into the line on September 27 after an unsuccessful attack the previous day with orders to attack the Chalk Pit and Puits No.14 bis on the Lens - La Bassee road and Hill 70. The 2nd Guards Brigade were successful in securing the Chalk Pit and the lower slopes of the rising ground on which Puits No. 14 bis was situated but only after sustaining heavy losses. They remained in the line under heavy fire till they were relieved on September 30 and 1st Guards Brigade went into billets in the Mazingarbe area.
On October 4 they were back in the line with 1st Guards Brigade taking a position in the line just south of the Quarries. The intention was to take the Quarries but this had to be abandoned in the light of attacks made by the Germans. Action was taken to strengthen the position held. During the night of October 4, in spite of heavy shelling by the enemy, 1st Guards Brigade had improved and consolidated the trenches in its sector of the line.
On October 6 preparations were made for gas cylinders to be installed along the frontage held by the Guards for an attack that would be made later by 46th Division. 120 cylinders were to be placed in position in front of each brigade, but this was delayed by enemy action.
The British had first used gas in an attack on September 25, during The Battle of Loos. The use had not been successful and is well described by Robert Graves in his autobiography Goodbye To All That. Graves recalls standing in front-line trenches as men of the Middlesex Regiment, many suffering from the effects of the gas, stumbled down to the dressing station. He asked them what had happened 'Bloody balls-up' was the most detailed answer he received.
The night of October 7 passed comparatively quietly, but shortly after noon the following day it was reported that the enemy had cut passages in the wire near Hill 70 and that German artillery was active. About 5pm October 8, 1st Guards Brigade reported that the bombardment on its front had become severe. This was the prelude to a German infantry attack along the front held by the Guards. Gallant action by all ranks that resulted in one Coldstream Guardsman, Sergeant Brooks, being awarded the Victoria Cross, prevented a German breakthrough.
The Guards were relieved in the front line trenches on October 9, 1915, but up to the time of their relief they were under continuous fire from German artillery and it was during such an attack, on October 9, 1915, that William Paxton, together with four of his colleagues, was killed instantly in one shell explosion. His body, if ever recovered, was never identified and he is commemorated on the Loos Memorial, Dud Corner Cemetery. William was twenty-five years old when he died.
An extract from the War Diary for 2nd Bn. Coldstream Guards reads:
09 10 15.
In trenches east of Vermelles. Heavy bombardment continued all day. Bn. relieved by 1st Bn. Irish Guards at dusk and returned to support trenches. Casualties 2nd Lt. A W Kirk wounded, other ranks - killed 5, wounded 8 including one man slightly wounded remaining at duty.
On December 1, 1915, the Chief Constable reported to the Police Authority 'Constable William E Paxton, a bachelor, who was a Police Reservist has been killed on active service.'
When comes the day of reckoning
Who will carry the can
For this awful condemnation
Of man's inhumanity to man.
Private Harry Fellows.
(12th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers)