The diary of Private Edgar Barfoot, RASC, 1916

 

In December 2015, Mr Alan Welland of Tewkesbury presented Surrey History Centre with a tiny diary brought back from the Front by his grandfather, Frank Searle of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), after the First World War.

The diary had been written by Edgar George Barfoot of Richmond, Surrey, who served with the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) and was posted to France in April 1915. The entries cover the whole of 1916 from his service in France to his arrival in Salonika in December, and most are written in schoolboy French and Portuguese.

Most of the diary entries are brief and routine. He describes his daily work as a driver in the RASC, names towns and villages visited, and records duties undertaken such as sentry duty and rifle training. He mentions the names of friends and relatives from whom he has received letters and parcels, Much of his leisure time is spent playing football and cricket, and he also appears to have been religious, attending both Mass and Vespers most Sundays.

SGW/3/1b

Title: SGW/3/1b
Description: SHC ref. SGW/3/1: entries in Portuguese from Edgar Barfoot's diary by-nc

SGW/3/1c

Title: SGW/3/1c
Description: SHC ref SGW/3/1: Entries in French from Edgar Barfoot's diary, 1916 by-nc

While in Marseilles, before disembarking for Salonika, several entries mention “Simone” whom Edgar describes as his sweetheart (“bien-aimée”). On 4 December he spends time with “mon adorée” from 11am until 11pm. Consequently, Edgar is sentenced to a field punishment (FP No 2) of 14 days for being in town about 9pm contrary to Base Orders and being in possession of an irregular pass. Edgar and his fellow soldiers sailed from Marseilles on 16 December on the SS Megantic, arriving in Salonika 4 days later.

Edgar Barfoot was born in Richmond, Surrey, in 1890, the son of George Thomas Barfoot, a hairdresser, and Mary (née Stapleton). Prior to enlisting, Edgar worked as a driver mechanic for Dennis Bros in Guildford. Before and after the First World War, Edgar travelled to Brazil on a number of occasions.

Edgar’s army service record gives his next of kin as his aunt Mrs Frances Poland of Richmond (née Stapleton, a sister of his mother). His records also show that he contracted malaria in Salonika. After the war, Edgar settled in the Guildford area and married Ethel May Bell in 1930. He died in 1975.

We would love to hear from anyone who is related to Edgar Barfoot.

 

 

 

 

Harold Arthur William Gibbons

Information provided by Pat Clack (daughter of Harold Gibbons)

Wedding of Harold Gibbons (seated second from left) and Florence Emma Young, 24 May 1915

Title: Wedding of Harold Gibbons (seated second from left) and Florence Emma Young, 24 May 1915
Description: Copyright: Family of Harold Gibbons by-nc

Harold Gibbons was born in Bath, Somerset, on 9 March 1886.  The family soon moved to a house called Grosvenor, situated in Maybury Hill, Maybury, Woking.  At the outbreak of the First World War, Harold had been working as a printer compositor in the local area,  but left his job when he was posted with the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment.  Only two weeks after his wedding to Florence Emma Young, he was shipped off to serve in Delhi, India, in 1915 and Poona (Pune) in 1918. He documented his time there by taking a wonderful selection of photographs of Indian landscapes and his fellow soldiers. Harold’s posting to Delhi came at a highly inconvenient time in his personal life, as he and his wife, Florence, had been married only two weeks earlier. Whilst in India, Harold suffered from frequent bouts of malaria, for which he was treated with quinine.

His brothers Reginald, Albert, Ernest and Frederick all served with the British Army, and all survived.

Harold also survived the war, and soon returned to life in Surrey, moving from Woking to Send with his wife.  The couple had one child on 6 February 1925, a daughter named Patricia.  He died on 16 November 1948, aged 62.

 

Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment in India 1915

Title: Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment in India 1915
Description: Copyright: Family of Harold Gibbons by-nc

George Alfred Shurlock

Information provided by his daughter, Nancy Shurlock (born Annie Elizabeth Shurlock)

 

George Alfred Shurlock was born in Albury, in September 1871, to James and Louisa Shurlock; he was the fifth of nine children, although, sadly, not all were to survive to adulthood.  George spent his childhood in Albury Heath, where the Shurlock family had been for decades.

Prior to the First World War, George had been working as a house painter on the Duke of Northumberland’s estate in Albury Park, an area of 150 acres that the Percy family had acquired in 1890.  Only four months before the outbreak of war, George married Mary Anne Cumper, who had been a family friend for many years.  The pair were unusual for the period in that they married much later in life than was the norm: on their marriage certificate, George is recorded as 43 years old and Mary as 35.  The marriage was a happy one, and was soon followed by the births of three daughters: Nancy (June 1915), Dorothy (June 1916) and Hilda (November 1919).

Much of his wartime life is unknown, or subject to uncertain family memory, but George was only called up in the latter years of the conflict and was not posted abroad.  He received his orders in April 1918, after the British Government increased the upper age limit for conscription to 50; George was 47, and had been too old to enlist prior to this extension of the Military Service Bill.  The family is fairly certain that George joined the Royal Engineers, the insignia on his cap (see his photograph) looks very much like that of the regiment.  Fortunately, the family still has his silver spoon with his service number engraved: 326867.  It is hard to trace his wartime experience because he did not serve abroad, and therefore was not awarded any medals.  However, he did spend the remaining months of the war in Chalfont St Giles, at a military camp, most likely carrying out essential war work.

Sapper Shurlock, as he would have been known, was demobbed in February 1919, meaning that he was allowed to leave his military duties and return to civilian life.  His eldest daughter Nancy recalls this occasion as her first real memory as a child, then aged nearly 4 years old.  She distinctly remembers seeing her father walking towards the family home by Albury Heath Common, running ‘as fast as [her] little legs would carry [her]’ into his arms.  Like most men of his generation, George would not talk about the war and his time with the Royal Engineers, but was largely unaffected by the conflict in the way that many were.  This was because he did not witness the horrors of the Western Front.  It was very common for returning soldiers to encounter difficulties in finding work, but George managed to secure a position as a painter and decorator for a firm called F.A. Woods and Sons.

George Alfred Shurlock died on 10 January 1941, in St Luke’s Hospital, Guildford, after suffering a heart attack.

 

The Family

The Shurlock/Cumper family contributed in many ways to the Surrey war effort.

Matthew Shurlock, George’s nephew, was killed in action on the Western Front in 21 March 1918, aged only 21.  He lies in an unknown grave in France, but is commemorated at the Pozieres Memorial.   He was a Private with the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment (Regimental Number: G/22292)

William Arthur Cumper, George’s brother-in-law, fought on the Western Front with the Royal Engineers (Regimental Number: 176621).  William survived the war, but never spoke of his experiences.  Kenny Cannons, a friend, credits William with saving his life by sharing the last of his water with him.

Fanny Elizabeth Cumper, George’s sister-in-law, worked at the Chilworth Munitions Factory, outside Guildford.

Fanny Elizabeth Cumper (right) with friend as Chilworth Munitions girls

Title: Fanny Elizabeth Cumper (right) with friend as Chilworth Munitions girls
Description: Courtesy of Nancy Crick by-nc

Alfred Victor Smith VC (1891 – 1915)

Born in 1891 to William Henry and Louisa Smith in Guildford, Surrey, Alfred is shown in the 1901 census living at 3 Drummond Street, Cambridge, and 10 years later in the 1911 census he is listed as living in Burnley, Lancashire. Before the First World War, he was a Police Officer and on 10th October 1914 he enlisted with the East Lancashire Regiment as a Second lieutenant.

The 3rd March 1916 edition of London Gazette reports how he got the Victoria Cross;

“For most conspicuous bravery. He was in the act of throwing a grenade when it slipped from his hand and fell to the bottom of the trench, close to several of our officers and men. He immediately shouted out a warning, and himself jumped clear and into safety, but seeing that the officers and men were unable to get into cover, and knowing well that the grenade was due to explode, he returned without any hesitation and flung himself down on it. He was instantly killed by the explosion. His magnificent act of self-sacrifice undoubtedly saved many lives.”

He died aged 24 on 22nd December 1915, and is buried at Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery in Turkey. His Victoria Cross is displayed at Towneley Hall in Burnley, Lancashire.

In the Bleak Midwinter: the Surrey Regiments and the 1914 Christmas Truce

The Christmas Truce enjoyed by the 2nd Battalion of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment was a far cry from the chocolate, football, booze and carols which some other units shared with the Germans elsewhere on the Western Front. The 2nd Battalion was in the line around La Boutillerie, just north of Fromelles and a few miles south of the Belgian border. On the 18th December two companies of the battalion had supported the 2nd Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment in a disastrous attack on the German lines, the Queen’s losing 97 officers and men, either killed, wounded, missing or taken prisoner. The dead and wounded lay scattered in front of the enemy lines overnight.

A first truce occurred at daybreak on 19th December 1914, when the Germans opposite beckoned the 2nd Battalion out to collect its wounded and bury its dead. Several officers, the Medical Officer and around 30 men went out to meet 60 Germans in No Man’s Land. The rival officers talked as the burial parties got to work, the Germans assisting in burying many of the British dead, many of whom lay close to their front line. They did not, however, play entirely fair: two British officers and seven stretcher bearers were enticed into the German trenches and taken prisoner. This truce was captured in photographs by 2nd Lieutenant J B Coates, who, though only aged 17, found himself commanding a company.

Unofficial Armistice, 19th December 1914 2nd Bn The Queen's Royal Regiment (SHC Ref: QRWS/1/16/11 p2 1of2)

Unofficial Armistice, 19th December 1914 2nd Bn The Queen’s Royal Regiment (SHC Ref: QRWS/1/16/11 p2 1of2)

Unofficial Armistice, 19th December 1914 2nd Bn The Queen's Royal Regiment (SHC Ref: QRWS/3/11/3 p17)

Unofficial Armistice, 19th December 1914 2nd Bn The Queen’s Royal Regiment (SHC Ref: QRWS/3/11/3 p17)

Despite this somewhat inauspicious armistice, as many dead still lay unburied, a further truce was agreed on Christmas day at 11am negotiated by the Wiltshire Regiment on the Queen’s right. The 2nd Battalion’s war diary reported that ‘many German officers and men came out of their trenches to midway between the two lines’ and more graves were excavated. However the frozen earth meant progress was very slow and a third armistice was agreed for Boxing Day to begin at 9am. A number of immaculate German Staff officers appeared in fur lined coats ‘of quite a different class to the infantry officers who were of a very low class’. While the men hacked at the hard as iron ground, they chatted with their counterparts, sharing with the British their sanguine views on the war’s progress: ‘All professed themselves as confident as to their being able to end the war in their favour. They had no opinion of the Russians who they considered already beaten. All gave the appearance however of being fed up with the war’. Finally, at 1pm, with the graves all now completed, the British chaplain read the burial service, in the presence of the digging party, some officers of the Queen’s and 8 or 10 German officers. The proprieties observed, both sides returned to their trenches.

By contrast, the 1st Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment was ordered into the line at Christmas by GHQ to take over from a battalion which had been fraternising with the enemy far too eagerly. The offending unit had actually issued an invitation to the Saxons opposite to come into their trench, the Germans being particularly keen to obtain British newspapers to find out what was happening in the world. The East Surreys had regretfully to tell the Germans when they approached that this arrangement had been cancelled, but even so exchanged a few words and a copy of the ‘Times’.

As the experience of the 1st Battalion of the East Surreys testifies, the spontaneous coming together of the two sides during December 1914 was frowned upon by the high commands. In 1915, the British top brass was determined that there should be no reoccurrence of 1914’s fraternisation because of its supposed effect on morale and fighting spirit. The 7th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment rejected an initiative by the Germans opposite on Christmas Day: ‘No fraternising this year, although the Germans tried to make peaceful advances by showing the white flag. Our Artillery consistently pounded their trenches all day and night. A certain amount of retaliation took place but not nearly as much as we put over’. The 8th Battalion were swiftly disabused of any notion that the enemy might again seek a convivial truce: ‘All thoughts of fraternising on Christmas Eve was put an end to by Trench Mortars, Sausages, Rifle grenades and whiz-bangs on the part of the Germans’.

The fragile flowering of peace and goodwill during the first Christmas of the war was never to be repeated.