Cate, Albert Henry, 9th Service Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment)

Albert (Bert) was the maternal great uncle of Peter & Brian Hurn who supplied information to the Oral History Project of Surrey History Centre. He was born on 7th September 1891 in Battersea to Henry and Caroline Cate who evenutally had five other children,(Maud, Lizzie, Phillis, George, Nellie) and he was baptised on 18th October that year. On the 1901 census, in which Albert was mistakenly recorded as being “Herbert”, the family was living in Battersea and by 1911 Bert was living and working as a barman at a pub in Wandsworth. On 21st September 1914 Bert joined the 13th Service Battalion, No. 4 Company, Royal Fusiliers as Private 4032, but on 5th November 1914 he was discharged on medical grounds due to a hernia. He then went to serve with 9th Service Battalion,Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment as a Private and a Lance-Corporal, service number 15739. On a casualty list issued by the War Office, Bert was shown as having been wounded on 26th September 1916. He also served in the Labour Corps as Private 605207and was discharged on 18th June 1919. On 19th June 1919 he joined the Royal Engineers enlisting at Kingston-upon-Thames as Sapper 608442. The enlistment papers noted that he had a distinctive mark from a gunshot wound to the head. Following the War, Bert married Annie Caroline Lane on 8th October 1921 in Wandsworth and he lived until 1946, his death being registered in the third quarter of the year in the district of Lewisham.

The stories of other members of the Hurn family: George John Cate, Ernest Albert Grey, John (Jack) Isaac and Reginald Lewis Isaac, may be found on this website.

Listen to extracts from an oral history interview with Brian and Peter Hurn talking about their maternal great uncles Albert Henry and George John Cate and their maternal grandfather Ernest Albert Grey. Click here to download a pdf (PDF) copy of a summary of the clips included in the extracts with timings.

The full recording is available to listen to at the Surrey History Centre in Woking, Surrey. Please contact the centre in advance by telephone: 01483 518737 or e-mail: [email protected]

Isaac, John (Jack), 8th Battalion East Surrey Regiment

John (Jack) was the paternal great uncle of Peter & Brian Hurn who supplied information to the Oral History Project of Surrey History Centre. He was born on 2nd December 1884 in Battersea to Frederick and Elizabeth Isaac who eventually had eight other children (Effa Mary, George, Elisa, Frederick, Charles, William, Annie and Reginald) and was baptised on 1st March 1885.In the 1891 and 1901 census records the family was living in Lambeth and by 1911 Jack was living in RIchmond, Surrey and working for the railways. In WW1 he served in the 8th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment as a private (service number 8172). He was killed in action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916 aged 31 and is commemorated on the Memorial of the Missing at Thiepval on the Somme as well as being remembered on the memorial at The Minster Church of St Cuthburga, High St, Wimborne, Dorset along with his brother Reg.

The stories of other members of the Hurn family: George John Cate, Albert Henry Cate, Ernest Albert Grey and Reginald Lewis Isaac, may be found on this website

Isaac, Reginald Lewis, 3rd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment

Reginald was the paternal great uncle of Peter & Brian Hurn who supplied information to the Oral History Project of Surrey History Centre. He was born on 6th December 1892 in Lambeth to Frederick and Elizabeth Isaac who had eight other children (Effa Mary, George, Elisa, Frederick, Charles, William, Annie and John (Jack)) and was baptised on 25th January 1873. In 1901 they were living in Lambeth but by 1911 some of the family, including Reginald, were living in Wimborne in Dorset and Reginald was working as a grocer’s apprentice. Reginald served in the 3rd Battaion of the Worcestershire Regiment in WW1 rising to the rank of Sergeant (service number 23286). He was wounded in March 1918 with a gunshot wound to the face and was treated at No 3 Casualty Clearing Station. He died on active service in France on 28th May 1918 aged 25 and is buried in Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille, France. He is also remembered on the memorial at The Minster Church of St Cuthburga, High St, Wimborne, Dorset along with his brother John (Jack).

The stories of other members of the Hurn family: George John Cate, Albert Henry Cate, Ernest Albert Grey & John (Jack) Isaac, may be found on this website.

Grey, Ernest Albert, 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers

Ernest Albert Grey, maternal grandfather of Peter & Brian Hurn who supplied information to the Oral History Project of Surrey History Centre, was born in Croydon on 6th July 1888 and was baptised on 2nd September that year. He joined the army in 1906 when he went with a mate up to Trafalgar Square and as the recruiting officer said his name sounded Scottish and he should join a Scottish regiment, he joined the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, enlisting on 25 October 1906 and served as a Private, service number 9214. The Battalion was overseas prior to WWI, in Gibraltar, and it returned to the UK in September 1914. They were to be deployed to France immediately but the men were unhappy as they were not going to be able to see their families first. This was then allowed and they then deployed, landing at Zeebrugge on  6th October 1914.

The Battalion was involved in the First Battle of Ypres and Ernest was wounded in that locality, being shot in the upper right arm, just weeks after landing in Belgium. He was invalided back to hospital in Hamilton, Scotland, before being transferred to hospital in Croydon, Surrey, which led to him being discharged from the army as unfit for further war service, on 27th June 1915. For his service he was awarded the Mons Star.

Ernest met his future wife Beatrice Maud Cate at Croydon Hospital, where she was the head cook.They were married on 25th June 1917 at St Michael’s & All Angel’s Church, Croydon, at which point Ernest listed  his profession as a Postman. During the First World War one of his sisters, Winifred, worked in munitions at what was known as the  “Ack and Tab” (Accumulatory and Tabulation Company) in Mitchum Rd, Croydon. After the war at home, Ernest would grow vegetables and keep chickens and in the 1920’s he canvassed for the first Labour Councillor in Croydon, accompanied by his daughter. He also had a job with Croydon Council as a Disinfector, driving a van to houses where people were suffering with infections such as diphtheria, scarlet fever & tuberculosis, his job being to collect their linen and clothes for  disinfecting. Ernest loved football & cricket. He followed Crystal Palace football team & Surrey County Cricket Club, regularly visiting their grounds Selhurst Park & The Oval. He played cricket despite his injured arm and had previously played cricket when he was in the army, being the only private in a team of officers.

Ernest continued living in Croydon for the rest of his life and passed away there in 1973 at the age of 84.

The stories of other members of the Hurn family: George John Cate, Albert Henry Cate, Reginald Lewis Isaac & John (Jack) Isaac, may be found on this website.

Images courtesy of Peter Hurn.

Listen to extracts from an oral history interview with Brian and Peter Hurn talking about their maternal great uncles Albert Henry and George John Cate and their maternal grandfather Ernest Albert Grey. Click here to download a pdf (PDF) copy of a summary of the clips included in the extracts with timings.

The full recording is available to listen to at the Surrey History Centre in Woking, Surrey. Please contact the centre in advance by telephone: 01483 518737 or e-mail: [email protected]

Private Harold Alfred Pook

Researched and written by Anne Wright

Pte H A Pook
1st Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, attd. 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers
Killed in action, 3.5.1917
Age, 20

On 8 June 1917 the Surrey Herald carried a plea from a desperate father, Mr J D Pook, seeking information about his son Harold Alfred who had been reported missing after ‘an engagement in France’ on 3 May. Mr Pook hoped to hear news of his son as the Herald was ‘… widely read both at home and at the Front.’ Harold was killed in the brutal Arras Offensive but his story had begun twenty years earlier; his birth was registered in the Chertsey District in the first quarter of 1897. He was the eldest child of James Doddridge, a bricklayer, who went on to become a builder’s foreman, and Florence (nee Humphreys) who had married the year before. Three more children followed – George, Phoebe and Freda. In 1901 their home was at Gladstone Villa in Oakdale Road, Weybridge and by 1911 they had moved to Sunnymead in New Haw. Harold was educated at St James’ School (Baker Street) before becoming a plumber’s mate.

He enlisted in Addlestone, when is not known, and was initially posted to the Royal Sussex Regiment (4/5324) before his connection to the 1st Battalion, Royal Fusiliers and eventually being attached to the 4th Battalion in early April 1917. In the two months before he joined them Harold’s final unit were based in and around Arras, either in the trenches or occupied in working parties. They received 87 reinforcements to the ranks on 4 April; it is likely that Harold was one of them. He was just in time to be engulfed in the Arras Offensive which began five days later. This was a major operation intended to break through the German lines and end the stalemate on the Western Front.

The 4th Royal Fusiliers left their assembly trenches at 7 am on 9 April. They reached the last trench of the old German front line but then came under heavy shell and shrapnel fire which increased as they descended a slope. They were then forced to stop for a few minutes to allow the creeping barrage to move on, however, the right flank had been caught by the barrage and had ‘suffered considerably’. The enemy trenches were captured as the wire had been well cut by the artillery. The day had cost the battalion 2 officers killed, 4 wounded, 37 other ranks killed, 126 wounded and 30 reported missing. Harold’s unit held their position during the next day and moved to an assembly position on 11 April to continue the advance.

At 6.45 pm on 13 April they moved forward once again. They had to endure three enemy barrages and came under heavy machine gun fire on both flanks. The unit made it to a sunken road where they were held up by severe rifle fire; only three officers remained with the companies. The battalion had left their assembly point just one and a quarter hours earlier; 3 officers were dead, 2 wounded, 12 other ranks were dead, 40 wounded and 34 missing. They were ordered to withdraw. Harold and his comrades spent the rest of the month in billets in Arras or Duisans carrying out training, parades and inducting reinforcements. Their respite was brief.

On 1 May the 4th Royal Fusiliers went into trenches east of Monchy-le-Preux. Two days later they attacked once again. At 3.45 am on the 3rd their supporting barrage lifted and advanced in waves of 100 yards with the battalion following at a distance of 75 yards. Not long after starting they were hit by heavy machine gun fire from the right flank and there were heavy casualties as the German front line had been left untouched by the advancing barrage. Upcoming support had been decimated crossing no man’s land and the unit did not have enough strength to complete their mission despite repeated attempts to hold on as their right flank was rolled up by the enemy. The leading companies reached the line 100 yards east of the Bois des Aubepives and dug in. They faced two counter attacks the second of which came from three directions. The two leading waves of the unit were feared to have been cut off, yet the remainder of the battalion held its ground until nightfall with just one officer left. They then retired to their original position.

The 3 May 1917 cost the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers the following casualties: 4 officers killed, 4 wounded, 3 reported missing, 30 other ranks killed, 156 wounded, 99 missing and three suffering with shell shock. Harold was reported missing, presumed dead. It is not surprising that the army could give little information to Harold’s anxious parents considering the events of that day. The 4ths had been attacking a major defensive part of the Hindenburg Line which resulted in fierce, bloody, attritional combat. The Arras Offensive came to an end three days later; no breakthrough had been made.

Harold’s body was not recovered. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial (Bay 9) with almost 35,000 other casualties. He is also remembered at St Paul’s Church and Victory Park in Addlestone and on the Memorial to the Fallen of St James’ School in Weybridge. Harold’s father died in 1935 and his mother in 1952.


England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915,
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations),1856-1966,
War Memorials,
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962,
Memorial to the Masters and Old Boys of St James’ School, Weybridge, Who Fell in the Great War 1914-1918, St James’ Church
Elizabeth Spencer Family Tree,
UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1901-1929,
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919,

My Nineteenth Year, 1917-1918

Herbert ‘Bert’ Frank Boxer was born in Penge, Surrey, in 1898, the son of Thomas and Alice Boxer. In December 1915, Herbert enlisted with the East Surrey Regiment and, by 1917, he was serving with the 9th Battalion on the Western Front.

Herbert Boxer wrote his account, ‘My Nineteenth Year, 1917-1918’, in Poplar Hospital, London, while recovering from wounds inflicted at Vermand, France, in March 1918. Herbert’s diary begins in July 1917 with his battalion returning to the Ypres front. It gives a detailed and matter-of-fact account of the skirmishes and fatalities, his duties as a signaller, and of the horrendous conditions he and his comrades endured. There is a particularly chilling account of a soldier who had been stuck in the mud for 24 hours and had to be shot by another soldier (who had been plied with rum) to put him out of his misery.

Herbert also pays tribute to his commanding officer, Colonel De La Fontaine: ‘Our Colonel came up as soon as the attack started and he was killed. He was one of the bravest men I have ever met, he was everywhere where there was danger, and it was through being so careless of danger that he was killed.’

Remarkably, Herbert writes that, during fourteen days’ leave at home, he ‘had a grand time, although I missed the boys of the Battalion. London seemed very strange, I felt as if I had come back to another world, and strange to say I felt unsettled, I could not understand it. When my fourteen days had passed, I was quite ready to go back…’ His diary concludes, ‘Do I regret those years in the Army, in particular my Nineteenth Year. No, the memory, those wonderful memories will live with me always.’

Yet, according to his family, Herbert did not glorify war; like many of his contemporaries, he hardly ever spoke of it, probably because of the horrors he saw and experienced.

After the war, Herbert worked as a builder and decorator in Enfield. He used his demob money to invest in a barrow and paint, starting by decorating local houses and quickly building it into a very successful building and decorating company with about 40 employees. He married Doris Winnifred Baker in 1936 and they had four children. During the Second World War, he was a fire marshal in London. As a master builder, he helped in the rebuilding of the capital and was granted the Freedom of the City of London. Herbert died in 1970.

A transcript of Herbert’s diary has been kindly presented to Surrey History Centre by his granddaughter, Jo Harman, of Turramurra, Australia (SHC ref Z/704).





Corporal Harry Parsons

Researched and written by Anne Wright

Cpl H Parsons
1st Battalion, Rifle Brigade
Died of wounds, 14.5.1915
Age, 26/27

Harry Parsons, a professional soldier, does not have his name engraved next to that of his younger brother William on Weybridge’s War Memorial. An H Parsons was recorded on the wooden memorial, which became known as ‘the Shrine’ and was erected in the churchyard of St James’ Church, Weybridge in March 1917. However, the regiment to which H Parsons belonged was named as the R Irish Regt not the Rifle Brigade – very possibly a mistake, of which more later.

Harry was the oldest of seven surviving children born to John Crispin and Rose (nee Knight) who married on 25 October 1885 at Hurstpierpoint in Sussex; they were both natives of the county. Harry was born in Ditchling in 1888 where he was baptised on 9 September. John Parsons was a gardener and in 1901 held the position of head gardener at Ivy House in North Road in Ditchling. Ten years later the family were living at New Lodge in Old Avenue, Weybridge where John was employed. In 1911, Harry’s siblings were William, James, Joseph and the twins Frank and Nellie and Rose. Three years earlier Harry had joined the army.

His service dated from 30 June 1908; he stood almost five feet and six inches tall, had a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. Before joining the military he had been a vanman. Harry confirmed that he was an Anglican. He arrived at the Rifle Brigade depot in Winchester on 6 July 1908 and was posted to the 3rd Battalion on 5 August. Harry saw service in Ireland (Tipperary) in 1911 and 1912 being promoted to L/Cpl on 4 May 1911 before returning to the ranks, at his own request, on 2 July 1913. He went to France in September 1914 but was reported, as an Acting Corporal, to have been wounded in the casualty list submitted on 2 December. His recovery seems to have taken some time as he did not return to the fighting until 7 April 1915 with the 1st Battalion of the Rifle Brigade when they were billeted at Ploegsteert (Ypres Salient) and in the surrounding area. A location they had inhabited for much of the time since the previous November and where they had done great hard work to improve the conditions of the trenches and the drainage system. An attempt, in November, to capture enemy defences had failed at great cost.

Harry’s return to the trenches came on 12 April at St Yves; he and his comrades were relieved on 15 April and remained in billets until the 23rd during which time they were occupied with route marching, drilling and musket training. The following day they entrained en route to Poperinghe from where they moved on to St Jean marching via the stone bridge just north of Ypres on 25 April. The second Battle of Ypres had begun two days earlier with the Germans trying yet again to take the beleaguered city. Harry and his comrades were shelled pretty constantly for the next three days before moving forward to dig in on the side of Hill 37. They must have welcomed the two quiet days which followed. April had cost the battalion 49 deaths, 181 woundings and 23 reported missing. The early days of May were equally hard with Harry’s unit moving to dugouts on the eastern bank of the Canal de L’Yser on the 8th. The next day they took over trenches from the Royal Irish Regiment at Shell Trap Farm. These trenches had been much ‘knocked about’ but there was little opportunity to remedy the situation as they were shelled for the next two days. This was the overture to the German attack which came on 13 May. Shelling began at 4 am but the enemy was driven back at the cost of 130 casualties of whom Harry was one.

It was noted in his military records that he ‘died in the field’ the following day; his battalion was relieved on the 14th by the Royal Irish Regiment. The confusion of battle may have led to him being wrongly identified as a member of this regiment on ‘the Shrine’ in St James’ Church churchyard. Harry was buried in Hazebrouck Communal Cemetery (II.C.11) which is located on the south-western outskirts of the town, 56 km south-east of Calais. His cigar case, pouch, jack knife, pen knife, note book and Prayer Book were returned to his family who by 1915 has moved to 8, Ellesmere Cottages in Ellesmere Road. In 1918 his father no longer appears on Surrey’s Electoral Register having moved to Mount Pleasant, Tower Hill in Horsham.


British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-1920,
The Rifle Brigade 1914-1918,
Parsons & Edwards Family Tree,
Casualty Lists, The Times, 20 January 1915
UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1908-1929,
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1918,

Private Jasper (Jack) Huggett

Jasper, known to the family as Jack, was born on the 4 November 1895 at 13 Oakwood Road, Thornton Heath, West Croydon. He first went to Boston Road Infants’ School on 5 June 1899, before joining the boys’ school from 6 April 1903. He left on 26 March 1909 to become a labourer. Jack’s parents were Daniel and Annie Huggett, and he had many siblings (at least 15!). The 1901 census shows his address as 1 Oakwood Road, Croydon, while by 1911 the family had moved to 72 Donald Road, West Croydon.

Jack volunteered for the Army at the age of 19 on the 14 November 1914, enrolling into the 1st Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. After a short period of training, he arrived in France two months later on the 22 January 1915 and was initially stationed at Le Havre base for a week before entering the trenches in the Cuinchy area. He was present at the battalion’s actions on 10 March (Neuve Chapelle), 9 May (Aubers Ridge) and 28 May (Festubert), before being wounded in action on the first day of the Battle of Loos (25 September 1915). The wound was sufficient for him to be invalided home on the 2 October, from Le Havre to Southampton aboard the Asturius. Jasper had recovered sufficiently to attend a Buckingham Palace garden party on 22 March 1916. Between the 3 July 1917 and January 1919, Jack served with the Labour Corps (Unit 326, HS Works Company) as a carpenter. His service documents also state that he was attached to the 29th Battalion Middlesex Regiment as well as to the Bedfordshire Regiment. Jack Huggett was discharged to the Class Z Reserve on 14 March 1919.

Jack became engaged to Hilda Emmeline Lane (born 2 August 1896) on 21 May 1918 and they married in St John’s Church, Red Lion Square, Holborn, London, on 9 January 1921. Jack and Hilda initially lived at 33 Lime Grove, New Malden, Surrey, for ten years, raising three children, Peggy, Peter and John. The family later moved to 16, Ebbisham Road, Worcester Park, but were forced to move from there to rented accommodation in 1935 when they moved to 4, Carlton Crescent, North Cheam, Surrey, the house that became Jack’s home for the rest of his life. The 1939 register confirms that address and details Jasper as a wood fencer and ‘Carpenter (Heavy Worker)’.

Jasper died at home on 17 February 1957 of chronic bronchitis and cardiac failure at the age of 61 years. He was buried in Cuddington Cemetery, Worcester Park.

Second Lieutenant Robert Leonard Garner

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:                            Robert Leonard Garner

Occupation:                   Assistant Master, West Street Council School, Farnham

Birth Place:                    Smethwick, Staffordshire

Residence:                     Kingston-Upon-Thames

Date of Death:               Killed in Action 24th August 1918

Age:                               30 years (Born 1888)

Location:                        Near Bray, France

Rank:                             Second Lieutenant

Regiment:                      11th (County of London) Battalion (Finsbury Rifles) attached 21st Battalion (First Surrey Rifles) London Regiment

Born in 1888, Robert was the son of Walter, a glass cutter and merchant, and Maria.  He was the second of three children, with an elder brother and a younger sister. In the 1911 census he is single and describes himself as a student. 

In 1913 he married Maud Minnie, nee Woollacott, in Kingston. Her father was a paper agent, a Justice of the Peace, and a local dignitary who sat on several local council and hospital boards. According to the Surrey Comet of 7th September 1918, Robert had been an assistant master at Elm Road Boys’ School before moving onto West Street Council School, Farnham.

Robert’s enlistment record is somewhat confusing. Early in his career, he was at times a member of the Army Service Corps, 16 Training Reserve (essentially a training unit from which recruits were sent to battalions), and in the 6th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He did no overseas service with any of these units.

Robert was made a Second Lieutenant on 24th November 1917 and joined ‘11th Battalion, The London Regiment’. Records indicate that he went to France with this Battalion. It is probable that he went to the 2/11th Battalion which arrived in France in February 1917; the other Battalion, the 1/11th, was then stationed in the Middle East.

Soon after Robert joined, the 2/11th Battalion was disbanded in January 1918 as part of a wider army reorganisation to cover a gap in reinforcements. Officers and men of the Battalion were transferred to other units, predominantly London Regiment battalions, and it is likely that Robert was attached to the 1/21st London Regiment as part of this reorganisation, but this cannot be proved definitively.

In August 1918, the 1/21st London Regiment was operating around Albert, France. Throughout the month they had been in and out of trenches, carrying out work parties, patrols etc., when on the 23rd they moved up to trenches behind the Albert-Bray road. Their objective was German trenches north-east of ‘Happy Valley’, which was a deep curving valley just north of what is now the Bray Vale Cemetery.

Reading the War Diary it appears they captured the trenches on the morning of the 24th August, but a neighbouring battalion failed to capture an enemy strongpoint on their left. This strongpoint inflicted heavy casualties on the 1/12st Battalion until it was finally overcome with the aid of a tank. Three officers were killed and six listed as missing during the 24th – Robert was one of those killed.

Robert’s servant, Rifleman H.G. Wells (No. 651408), D Company, 1/21st County of London Regiment, wrote dated 28th August 1918:

‘Killed Sunday 26th August 1918.

I am very sorry to break the sad news to you, but your husband was killed while we were in action. He gave me your address before we went over; I stuck by him almost to the last. Never thinking that anything would happen. I am afraid this all I can say, and you have my deepest sympathy. He was always very good to me, and we used to get on well together.’

After his death, Robert’s wife pursued an insurance claim with Surrey County Council, who had taken out an insurance policy on behalf of Ernest. As part of this process, local enquiries were made into the circumstances of his family. His wife was described as ‘perfectly responsible and honourable and in my opinion entitled to receive the sum you refer to… Her father is Mr. A. Woollacott who is this year the Chairman of the District Council…’. His wife eventually received £88.

Mr Woollacott was chairman of the local council, and following his death, his fellow councillors passed a resolution to record their sympathy. Mr Woollacott described how Robert’s death had been a heavy blow to the family.

Robert’s body was never recovered, and he is remembered on the Vis-En-Artois Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.

He is entitled to British War Medal and Victory Medal.


Surrey History Centre File CC7/4/4, file 43

Regimental War Diary – 2/11th (County of London) Battalion (Finsbury Rifles)

Regimental War Diary – 1/21st Battalion (First Surrey Rifles) London Regiment

London Gazette, 24th November 1917 –

The Long, Long Trail – The British Army in the Great War 0f 1914-1918

England Census

Commonwealth War Graves Commission –

Ancestry website –

Private Edward Cyril Friston

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

Rank:                                          Private

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:

England Census

Commonwealth War Graves Commission –

Ancestry website –