Name: Edward Barber
Unit/Regiment: 18th (Service) Battalion, Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment)
Service Number: 18/744
Date of Death: 1 July 1916
Memorial: Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France
Edward Barber was the second son of Garforth-born William Thomas Barber and his wife Ada (née Pearson), from Dodworth, near Barnsley.
William and Ada married towards the end of 1890 and, in the census of 5 April 1891, the newly-weds were living at Albert Street, Batley with Thomas working as a coal miner. Ada was heavily pregnant, and days later gave birth to a daughter Effie May.
The couple had nine more children. Two more girls came after Effie May – Alice, born in 1892, and Gertrude in 1894; eldest son Willie was born at the end of 1895; then came Edward on 31 July 1897, when the family lived at Soothill; he was followed by Harold (1899), Arthur (1901), George Herbert (1904), Theresa (1907) and finally, in 1910, Wilfred.
Edward attended St Mary’s day school, where he played an active part in school life. For example, he was amongst the pupils who controversially represented St Mary’s in a school pageant in August 1907 to celebrate the raising of money to build an extension to Batley hospital. He was amongst a group of shillelagh-brandishing boys representing Irish peasants, dressed in green jerseys, white knickers and brown hats.1
He was also a schoolboy poet, contributing to the Batley News’ children’s column Golden Moments – Aunt Marjorie’s Page for Juvenile Readers. He joined Aunt Marjorie’s gang in July 1907. His poetry, written at the age of nine and ten, was advanced for his year touching upon life, fate and what the future held. One centred on the greatest gift of youth – and his answer was hope. Another was a haunting poem of love, loss and remembrance. Both are prophetic given that less than nine years later Edward would be fighting on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. I have covered Edward’s poems here.
But if Edward’s poetry demonstrated maturity way beyond his years, his contribution to Aunt Marjorie’s funny anecdotes shows the typical naive, childlike humour of a nine-year-old boy at the turn of the 20th century. His tale was all about a cook’s first attempt at preparing a live lobster for her mistress – with the cook believing the reason it had turned red was because she had over boiled it. To hide her “error” she black-leaded it.2 It’s fair to say the tale’s humour has waned with the passage of time and the accompanying changes to society. But it does demonstrate Edward’s mischievous side.
The 1901 and 1911 censuses saw the family settled in a three-roomed house at Hamburg Street, Caledonia Road in Batley. By 1911 it accommodated William, Ada and their 10 children ranging from four months to 19 years old. Incidentally, with the anti-German sentiment generated by the war, less than five years after the 1911 census, the street was renamed Devon Street.
In the 1911 census 13-year-old Edward had left school and was employed as a coal mine lamp cleaner. More details about what this involved – and it is more crucial to the workings of a coal mine than first appearances – can be found here. Before enlisting he worked in Messrs Critchley’s West End Colliery’s lamp room, the same mine as his brother Willie.
Outside of work, like his older brother, Edward was a keen footballer, playing for the Batley Albion Association Football team and receiving medals in both the 1912-13 and 1913-14 seasons.3
Edward enlisted in Bradford around 11 April 1915, age 17. This was technically under-age, the minimum age for a recruit being 18 with no overseas service until 19. But who was checking birth certificates at this early point in the war?4
He joined the 18th (Service) Battalion, Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment), better known as the 2nd Bradford Pals. Recruitment for the battalion began in early February 1915, initially in the Cleckheaton, Keighley and Skipton areas. They also used route marches as far afield as Spen Valley to Birkenshaw, Cleckheaton to Heckmondwike to boost numbers, and by the end of April 1915 had reached full strength.
The 1st and 2nd Bradford Pals formed part of the 31st (Pals) Division. Along with the Leeds Pals and Durham Pals, they made up the 93rd Brigade. From May 1915 the 2nd Bradford Pals were based at Ripon, before moving to Fovant near Salisbury in September 1915. In December 1915 they were posted abroad, to Egypt. Edward was 18-years-old.
They were to remain in Egypt for a little over two months. Their job was to defend the Suez Canal against attack by the Turks, and to help with the construction of a new defence system to the east of the canal. They saw no military action apart from the occasional accidental friendly fire incident, but this was all soon to change.
In December 1915 an Anglo-French conference at Chantilly had decided on a new Allied offensive the following summer. The plans were disrupted on 21 February 1916 by a massive attack on the French at Verdun. Sir Douglas Haig argued the British forces on the Western Front were under-strength, and the German attack at Verdun which sucked in the French army made the need for additional British troops an urgent one.
The Pals Battalions of the 31st Division were part of these bigger plans and in March 1916 they were on their way to France. They arrived in billets in Mailly Maillet just behind the front line on 31 March 1916, part of Sir Henry Rawlinson’s Fourth Army.
During May 1916, the two Bradford Pals battalions along with the other battalions of the 31st Division rotated trench duties in the Colincamps sector on the Redan Ridge. The pattern was periods of five days in the front line, five days in billets at Bus-les-Artois and then five days in reserve near Sucrerie. They now suffered a steady stream of casualties, mostly from German artillery fire. This pattern of rotation continued until 12 June when they returned to their billets in Bus-les-Artois where preparations for the coming offensive began – better known as The Battle of the Somme.
The 93rd and 94th Brigades of the 31st (Pals) Division were to be involved in the attack, operating on a two-company front of 700 yards. The Hull Battalions of the 92nd Brigade were held in reserve.
94th Brigade’s front (led by the Accrington and Sheffield Battalions) was on the left running along the edge of four copses named “Matthew”, “Mark”, “Luke” and “John”. Their task was to capture Serre village and then to face north-east to shield the northern limit of the Fourth Army attack.
The task of 93rd Brigade, on the right south of the copses, was to sweep round the southern edge of Serre village. They were then to swing left facing north east looking towards Puisieux au-Mont to extend the Fourth Army’s protective shield. 4th Division would be on their right.
The attack was to be in four waves; the Leeds Pals going first; followed by a combination of Leeds and First Bradford Pals; next the remaining First Bradford Pals and Durham Pals; with the Second Bradford Pals in the final wave.
But even before the attack launch, the 2nd Bradford Pals were involved in action. On the evening of 29/30 June the Brigade had instructions to make a raid on the enemy front line. 42 2nd Bradford Pals (four officers and 38 men) were amongst the volunteers. It proved a disaster, with initial 2nd Bradford casualty estimates 10 killed (later rising to a confirmed 13) and 12 wounded. Chillingly, though the German trenches seemed “knocked about” by the intense artillery bombardment of the preceding days, “their trenches seemed very full of men, and apparently very deep.”5
The Second Bradford Pals left Bus-les-Artois at 8.45pm on 30 June, the eve of the attack, and made slow progress to their assembly positions, Dunmow and Landguard trenches, arriving at 4.30am on 1 July.
At 7.20am the Hawthorn Ridge mine was blown just over a mile away, and the attack commenced at 7.30am with heavy casualties being suffered immediately as the men carried out their instructions to walk with their rifles at port, their only cover being waist-high grass or shell holes created by the bombardment; but the waiting continued for Edward Barber and the 2nd Bradford Pals, though they already began to suffer casualties, coming under enemy shrapnel fire from 7.10am and high-explosive fire ten minutes later.
At 8.40am it was their turn to go over the top. With bayonets fixed and to a blast of the whistles they climbed out of Landguard and Dunmow trenches. About 100 yards beyond Dumnow trench they came under heavy enfilade machine-gun fire from the German positions in the Heidenkopf or, as the British called it, the Quadrilateral, south of Serre. Very few of the 2nd Bradford Pals got beyond their own wire.6
The Unit War Diary recorded:
8.40 AM Battalion left assembly trenches. Under heavy machine gun fire from the time of leaving dead ground up to our front line trenches, and an intense barrage of shrapnel and H.E. Casualties very heavy. Brigade advance was held up in front of German wire, but 15th, 16th, 18th W. Yorks. and one Company of 18th D.L.I. advanced as if on parade…
The majority of our casualties occurred between LEEDS trench and our own wire, and were due chiefly to machine gun fire from flank and front. Three very heavy barrages were formed along our line, which hampered the advance and caused other casualties before reaching LEEDS trench. A number of casualties were also caused by indirect frontal machine gun fire.7
Private William Slater, in Landguard trench, described the initial moments of the advance:
For some reason nothing seemed to happen to us. At first we strolled along as though walking in a park. Then suddenly, we were in the midst of a storm of machine-gun bullets and I saw men beginning to twirl round and fall in all kinds of curious ways as they were hit, quite unlike the way actors do it in films.8
The Unit War Diary went on to say that at 4.30pm around 60 of the Battalion were in Dunmow and Old Dunmow. And five minutes later when Grey, Bradford, Monk and East Bleneau trenches were checked, they were empty other than a few wounded.
One soldier from the 2nd Bradford Pals who did not go over the top that fateful day because of an injury, and was placed amongst the follow-up troops, wrote in his diary:
Saturday, 1 July 1916 – Attack opened at 7.30am. Leeds got slaughtered as soon as they got on top. 16th and 18th also. Durhams got likewise. The boys fighting like men possessed. Wounded coming up in hundreds and it was simply heartbreaking. Saw about 10 of our platoon’s wounded come in….Simply murder.9
22 officers and 675 men of the Second Bradford Pals went into action that day. At the end of it there were 490 casualties (killed and wounded) – 70.3% of those who started out. 118 other ranks, including Edward Barber, were amongst those killed on 1 July.10 He was just 18 years old, one of the many under-age casualties.
Official news of Edward’s death reached his family towards the end of July. He had been missing since the first day of the Battle of the Somme and the authorities concluded that he had been killed. Alderman H. North wrote to his son, Corporal Clifford North, in France, to make inquiries about Edward. He relayed the news from his son to Mr. and Mrs. Barber. It was to the effect that his son feared that “Eddie” is killed as he has not been seen since the attack on July 1. Corporal North spoke in the highest terms regarding Pte Barber.11
Within days of receiving news of Edward’s death, the family learned of the death of a second son, Willie, also killed on the Somme.
The family continued to remember their sons in the local paper on the anniversary of their deaths, even after they left Batley. This tribute to Edward was published on the 30 June 1917.
Barber – In Loving Memory of our Dear Son and Brother, Private Edward Barber, 18th West Yorks (Bradford Pals), Who Was Killed in Action, July 1st, Somewhere in France
We think we see his smiling face,
As he bade us all good-bye,
And left his dear ones for ever
In a foreign land to die.
But we have one consolation,
He bravely did his best;
Somewhere abroad our dear one
A hero laid to rest.
But the hardest part is yet to come,
When the warriors all return,
And we miss among the cheering
The face of our dear one.
From Father, Mother, Sisters and Brothers, No 3 Devon Street, Batley12
Within the year of this appearing, the Barber family moved to Leeds. But they were back in Batley on 12 October. 26-year-old daughter Alice died at their new home at Hyde Park four days earlier. The family came back for her burial in Batley Cemetery.
Edward was awarded the 1914-15 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal. In addition to St Mary’s, he is also remembered on the Batley War Memorial. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
1. Batley News, 30 August 1907.
2. Batley News, 12 August 1907.
3. Dewsbury Reporter, 5 August 1916.
4. In June 1916 the War Office agreed that if parents could prove their child was underage they could be sent home, unless the recruit wanted to stay or if the unit refused.
5. Unit War Diary, 18th Bn West Yorkshire Regiment, The National Archives (TNA) Ref: WO 95/2362/2
6. For more about the Bradford Pals in the war see: Raw, David. Bradford Pals: A Comprehensive History of the 16th, 18th & 20th (Service) Battalions of the Prince of Wales Own West Yorkshire Regiment 1914-1918. Pen & Sword Military, 2006.
7. Unit War Diary, Ibid.
8. Raw, David, Ibid.
9. Excerpt from the diary of Private George William Broadhead, from Batley. Published in the Huddersfield and Family History Society Journal, April 2012.
10. Figures from Raw, David, Ibid.
11. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 28 July 1916.
12. Batley News, 30 June 1917.
Other Sources (not directly referenced):
• 1891 to 1911 England and Wales Censuses.
• Batley Cemetery Burial Register.
• Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.
• GRO Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes.
• The Long, Long Trail website.
• Medal Index Card.
• Medal Award Rolls.
• Newspapers – various editions of local papers.
• National Library of Scotland maps.
• Parish Registers.
• Pension Record Cards and Ledgers.
• Soldiers Died in the Great War.
• Soldiers’ Effects Registers.