This story is the result of an investigation of documents held by Surrey History Centre. The file (SHC ref. CC7/4/4, nos. 1-50) contains correspondence and insurance claims on behalf of Surrey County Council Education Department employees who had been killed in action during the Great War. The cases date from 1915 to 1918.
Name: Edward Cyril Friston
Occupation: Clerk, Motor License Department, Surrey County Council
Birth Place: Surbiton, Surrey
Residence: Surbiton, Surrey
Date of Death: Killed-in-Action 16th August 1917
Age: 19 years
Location: Langemark, Ypres
Regiment: 8th (Service) Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
Regimental Number: 43780
Edward was the son of Thomas, a grocer’s assistant, and Janet Friston, of 18, King Charles’ Crescent, Surbiton, Surrey. He was educated at Christ Church School, Surbiton, and Kingston Day Commercial School. He was also a member of the Christ Church choir and the Church Lads’ Brigade.
He was a clerk in the motor license department of Surrey County Council. An obituary in the Surrey Advertiser describes how Edward was ‘much liked for his bright and cheerful personality’.
He attested into the army on 3rd December 1915 initially joining the 15th County of London (Prince of Wales’ Own Civil Service Rifles), regimental number 6700. During his time in the U.K. he qualified as an Army Signaller, 1st Class. He embarked for France on 24th February 1917, arriving the next day. He was probably placed into a replacement pool as he then joined the 8th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on 19th March 1917. He was one of fifty-nine replacements to join the Battalion that day.
The 8th Battalion was one of Kitchener’s New Army, raised in Omagh, Northern Ireland, in August 1914. By the time Edward joined, it was a battle-hardened unit having fought on the Somme at the Battle of Guillemont and Ginchy at the beginning of September 1916. In March 1917, the battalion was at rest at a place called the ‘Doncaster Huts’ near Poperinge in the Ypres sector. The battalion went into the line the night of his arrival, but it is not recorded if Edward was with them. The next two months were spent training behind the lines, carrying out work parties or in the trenches.
Edward’s first action would have been during the Battle of Messines when the 8th Inniskillings attacked Wytschaete Ridge on the 7th of June. As part of 49th Infantry Brigade they supported the attack, acting as ‘carrying parties and mopping up’. Each man carried up to 65lbs of equipment – ammunition, grenades, sand bags, water etc. When they reached the enemy trench, they found them demolished and quiet. They directly took some 300 prisoners, and throughout the day, the battalion helped process over 1,000 prisoners. Casualties were low.
The remainder of June and July were relatively quiet for Edward and his comrades. The war diary notes that June was mostly taken up by ‘Battalion, company and platoon training, route marching, individual training etc.’.
In early August they moved forward to occupy trenches around Potijze Chateau, near Zonnebeke in the Ypres sector. Edward was just about to take part in what would be known as the Battle of Passchendaele.
The battalion were withdrawn to bivouacs between 8th to the 14th July and remained there for the remainder of the month. Already by July, the infamous mud of Passchendaele had appeared, with the battalion history describing a ‘sea of tormented mud under driving rain’. On the 1st of August they again began their way forward to the frontline.
They initially moved into the area of Potijze on the 4th where their Colonel, T.H. Boardman D.S.O.,was severely wounded and later died of wounds the next day. The battalion was in the trenches until the 7th, when they moved back to bivouacs for what the war diary calls ‘resting and refitting’.
On the 14th of August, described as ‘X day’ in the war diary, they moved forward to the frontline. The battalion headquarters, to which Edward was attached, moved to a position called ‘Square Farm’, about 2.5 miles north-east of Ypres. On the 15th they moved forward again, this time in preparation for an attack on enemy trenches the following day. On the 16th they attacked enemy trenches to the south of St Julien as part of the Battle of Langemark.
At 4.45 a.m. they went forward and almost immediately the battalion was struck by artillery and machine gun fire, taking heavy casualties. By 5 a.m. they were being held up by the intensity of the fire. Fire from block houses on one side and a counterattack on the other threatened to surround elements of the 8th Battalion and forced them to pull back. The war diary describes how it was difficult for headquarters to communicate with the troops in the frontline, and ‘orderlies’ were used, several of whom were killed. It may be that, as a battalion signaller, Edward was one of these orderlies, and was killed going forward.
A Letter from 26195 Private M. Cooley, Headquarters Signallers, dated 20th August 1917, may confirm this:
‘I am very sorry to inform you of the death of your son E.C. Friston who was killed on the morning of the sixteenth.
We had just left battalion Headquarters to go forward when he was killed instantaneous by a sniper.
He was a very good soldier and well liked by all who knew him and we signallers sadly regret his loss.
We all sympathise with you in your sad bereavement.’
The attack stalled, and eventually the 8th Battalion was withdrawn. The officer commanding the battalion wrote afterwards that casualties had been heavy, and of nineteen officers that went into action, ‘only one company officer survived’.
Edward’s mother, Janet Friston, in a letter dated 24th November 1917 to the Surrey Education Committee, highlighted the strain on families at home:
‘I ought long ago to have answered your letter, but for some weeks our second son has been lying dangerously ill in France with poison gas, and I have not felt well enough, but I feel you will understand.’
Edward’s brother, Thomas, survived the war.
After his death, Edward’s family pursued an insurance claim with Surrey County Council, who had taken out an insurance policy on behalf of Edward. The family eventually received £85 and 15 shillings.
Edward is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, and on his father’s and mother’s headstone in Surbiton Cemetery.
He is entitled to British War Medal and Victory Medal.
CC7/4/4 File 32
National Archives, WO363, Army Service Record – 43780 Pte. FRISTON E.C., 8th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
Sir F. Fox, The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in the World War (London, Constable & Company, 1928).
The Surrey Advertiser & the Surrey Comet, 22nd September 1917 – ‘Pte. E.C. Friston Killed – Member of the County Hall Staff’
Surbiton Cemetery: https://billiongraves.com/grave/Thomas-Friston/7851919
Commonwealth War Graves Commission – https://www.cwgc.org/
Ancestry website – https://www.ancestry.co.uk/