October 1915The aftermath of the Battle of Loos
The Battle of Loos had been intended as the ‘Big Push’, part of a big Anglo French offensive with the French attacking further south. The Surrey Times carried a report headlined - “Queens in Great Advance” – “Twenty one officers killed or wounded”. The attack on the first day, 25th September, had indeed made some advances, but the lack of support from the reserves, together with problems in supply of ammunition meant the troops were forced back and by the following day had lost most of the ground gained. The losses of men were high with over 50,000 British casualties, of whom nearly 8,000 were killed. Losses were particularly high amongst the officers, with around one in four killed. Relations between the two British commanders Field Marshal Sir John French and General Douglas Haig were strained, but neither had wanted to attack at Loos. The ground was flat and easily defended, the British army was still suffering from earlier losses at the battles of Festubert and Neuve Chapelle, and there was a shortage of ammunition. But the French General Joffre pushed for the attack and was it was backed by Kitchener and the British government. It was the first time the British had used poison gas (it had already been used by the Germans), but the weather on the day was unfavourable and much of the gas dispersed, with some actually drifting back to the British trenches. However, the main cause of the failure was the deployment of the reserves. On the orders of French, the reserves had been held 16 miles behind the lines, and by the time they had marched through the night to the front, they were too late and too tired to be of much use, which meant the advantage of the earlier gains was lost. This failure cost French his position as Commander-in-Chief of the British forces and he was replaced by Haig.
Many Ewhurst men, serving with the local regiment The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, took part in the battle - Capt Raymond Heath, Second Lieutenant Richard Joynson Hicks, Acting Corporal Harvey Field, and Privates William Baker, Victor Baker, Frank Dedman, William Thomas Denyer, William Haffenden, Frank Jenkins, Albert Killick, Joseph Parsons, Frank Sellings, William Thompson, Victor Lawrence. Another Ewhurst man Samuel Randall was serving with the Royal Veterinary Corps. It is thought that Albert Buck, Harry Kilhams, and Frank Jenkins, all serving with the Queens, also took part.
Of the fifteen Ewhurst men, known to have taken part in the battle, five were killed - Capt Raymond Heath, Joseph Parsons and Victor Lawrence were killed on the first day of the battle, with William Haffenden thought to have been killed the following day and Samuel Randall, on the 2nd October. Six men were wounded - richard Joynson Hicks, William Baker, Victor Baker, Frank Sellings, William Thompson, and Harvey Field.
On the 2nd October The Surrey Advertiser carried a detailed report of the loss of Raymond Heath. Raymond’s parents had been living at North Breache, but had, just one month previously, moved into the Heath family home at Kitlands, Holmbury St Mary. On 5th October, his family held a Memorial Service at Coldharbour Church, which was reported in the Surrey Advertiser on the 9th October. His parents later received a letter from one of his junior officers expressing the “admiration I feel for the way in which Captain Heath led us all day and by his coolness and personal example made us all feel anything he told us to do would without doubt turn out well, and I am sure I am voicing the feelings of the Company in saying this”.
News for the other worried parents was much slower in coming through. On Saturday 9th October, the Surrey Advertiser reported “Although the parents have received no official information from the War Office, news from other sources points to the sad conclusion that that following have also fallen: J. Parsons, 1st Queens, son of Mr J Parsons of Canfold Copse; and Victor Lawrence, 1st Queens, son of Mr William Lawrence, Heath House, Ewhurst. The following are also unofficially reported wounded, Victor Baker of the Queens who was a butchers assistant in Ewhurst; Frank Sellings of the Queens, son of Mr and Mrs B. Sellings, The Bungalow; W. Thompson, son of Mr and Mrs Thompson, Ewhurst Green; and Harvey Field, son of Mr Edward Field of Winterfold Farm.” In fact Mrs Parsons was to receive the news of her son’s death via a letter sent from a fellow soldier to his mother as the following week, (16th October) the Surrey Advertiser confirmed “We unofficially announced last week that J. Parsons, 1st Queens, son of Mr J. Parsons of Canfold Copse and Victor Lawrence, 1st Queens, son of Mr William Lawrence, Heath House had fallen in action. Although the parents have not yet received official intimation from the War Office, there appears to be little doubt of the sad fact of Parson’s death. Pte T.W. Denyer, 1st Queens, son of Mr and Mrs Denyer of Ewhurst, writing home on September 29th says that Victor [Baker] got badly wounded and J. Parsons was hit through the head and died instantaneously.”
The 9th October edition of the Surrey Advertiser also reported the death of Sergeant Samuel Randall of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps on October 2nd. His mother lived at Hazelbank and he left a wife Rose, whom he had married in 1910.
Death of Edward Ernest Whitty
On the 23rd October,
the Surrey Advertiser carried a report of another Ewhurst casualty from the
Queens, E.E. Whitty who had died in an underground explosion whilst laying
had originally enlisted as a Private in the 7th Battalion, The
Queens, but by the summer of 1915 had been promoted to Lance
Corporal and was attached to the 178th (Tunnelling)
Company, Royal Engineers. Despite having no mining experience the company were involved
in mining operations at Fricourt, to lay mines under the German lines. On the
20th October a German counter mine exploded killing several men. The
Surrey Advertiser reported – “TRIPLE
BEREAVEMENT IN 12 MONTHS – News has come to hand of the death at the front on
October 20th of Corporal E.E. Whitty 7th Battalion
Queens, (attached to 178th co. R.E.). A letter received from his
company Lieutenant Roland Heath* states he met his death in the explosion of a
German mine. “He was just underground
preparing to go down a shaft when the explosion occurred and he was killed
instantly and painlessly in the shock and the rush of gas which followed. He
was a first class NCO always to be trusted and always quick to understand
exactly what was wanted and you carry it out. All the men liked and respected
him and everyone I have met in the R.E. Company has said how sorry he is that
he has gone”. Corporal Whitty was a National Reservist and very popular in
the village. He was one of the first to join the Queens in August 1914 and he
gave his £5 bounty under the National Reserve scheme to the Prince of Wales
fund. He came home on a seven day leave as recently as October 4th
this being a reward for bravery.
Much sympathy is felt for Mr N. Whitty who quite recently lost his father. In 12 months he has been bereaved of his father, sister and brother leaving him the sole survivor of the family.”
Later his brother received a letter from a letter Second Lieutenant Morse of the 7th Battalion The Buffs, attached to the Royal Engineers, saying that Corporal Whitty "was one in whom I put absolute trust. He always did his best to help me. The very day before his death I had him up before me specially to congratulate him on a very good bit of work he had done a few days previously. When all but an officer had left a certain bit of anxious and dangerous work, he alone remained to help the officer and stayed with him until the danger was over. Lt Heath sent his name to the captain for recommendation. This, however, falls through owing to his unfortunate decease."
*Roland Heath was a cousin of Raymond Heath, but did not have any connection with Ewhurst.
The Volunteer Training Corps
On Sunday 17th October the Ewhurst platoon of VTC, together with the other local platoons were inspected at Ewhurst.
This was reported in the Surrey Advertiser on Saturday 23rd October 1915 – “On Sunday the Hurtwood Volunteer Training Corps was inspected on the golf links [Mapledrakes Road] by Col. A. V Hatch, following company drill. Col. Hatch afterwards expressed his satisfaction with the appearance of the men and also with the drill, especially considering the difficulty each company experienced in being such a long distance away from one another and that it was only the third time they had met together. The officers present were company Commander A.E. Clark- Kennedy, Acting Adjutant Gilbert Swayne, 6th Guildford Battalion and Platoon Commanders P.C.Wood, A Gibbons, L Campbell Taylor and E.H. Pryke. Tea and light refreshments were served by a number of ladies assisted by the Girl Guides and the Boy Scouts.”
School children send gifts to Gallipoli
An entry in the school log book for 22nd October, recorded that “The children received three postcards this morning from the Gallipoli Peninsula thanking them for gifts of tobacco sent though the Overseas Club to members of the New Zealand Field Artillery.”