Captain Eardley Apted: The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment

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Eardley Apted was born in March 1885 in Reigate, the second son of Oliver Cromwell Apted and Prudence. He had two brothers, Frank Eardley and Oliver Heath and three sisters, Prudence, Winifred Margaret and Margery. The family lived at Doods Brow, 74 Doods Road Reigate. His father worked as an inspector of taxes, ran the family brickmaking business and was also a member and Alderman of Reigate Borough Council.

Eardley attended Holmesdale School before being sent to Cranleigh School, where he became a member of the Officer Training Corps. Upon leaving Cranleigh, he entered Gray’s Inn as a law student and was called to the bar in 1913. (By this time, he was also running the family brickmaking business.)

Politically, Eardley was a keen Liberal and was a well-known figure in parliamentary contests. He joined the local branch of the League of Young Liberals and much of the success in making its influence widely felt was owed to Eardley’s exceptional abilities as an organiser.

In the pursuit of pleasure, he threw himself into every kind of outdoor sport and was a tennis player of no mean order.

On the outbreak of the First World War, he immediately joined the Inns of Court Training Corps at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, from which he was commissioned into the 9th Battalion, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. The 9th was a reserve battalion, involved with training and recruitment.

Eardley proved to be an excellent recruiter and travelled the south, visiting recruitment offices and giving speeches at town halls, and he was often in the Reigate area. The 9th Battalion was disbanded in September 1916 and absorbed into the 5th Training Reserve. It was noted that a large number of recruits passed through his hands, with excellent results. Eardley, a strict disciplinarian, was highly esteemed by his superior officers. However he felt compelled to go to the front and share the dangers with men he had trained.

Both of his brothers were fighting abroad. His elder brother Frank was serving as a Lieutenant with the Royal Engineers in Palestine, but his younger brother Oliver, when serving with the Stockbrokers’ Battalion (10th Royal Fusiliers) in France was badly wounded at the Battle of the Somme and discharged from the army.

Eardley was transferred from the 5th Training Reserve and posted to the 11th Battalion The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, which was serving in France. He landed on the 7 July 1917 and joined his new battalion a few days later, having been promoted to Captain. The 11th Battalion was preparing for a large attack at the end of the month, which would become part of the great offensive at Passchendaele. On 25 July 1917 the Battalion was moved to the front, to take over Imperial Trench. This took all night, due to the bad state of the ground and the heavy German shelling. The trench system taken over was little more than shell holes, filled with mud and water. On the first day, the Battalion lost nine men killed and 17 more wounded.

On the 28 July an attempt was made to lay out tapes, so the Battalion would know where to form up for the forthcoming attack. Due to the terrible conditions, a job that should have taken a couple of hours overnight took two days! Part of the forthcoming advance was to be over a railway embankment, but the sides were steep and owing to the waterlogged conditions it was virtually impossible to scale. Engineers had to be dispatched to cut steps over the embankment.

At 9.40 pm on 31 July, Eardley and the Battalion moved off, following the tapes and by 1.30am they were in position, without suffering a casualty. Zero hour was 3.50am and the Battalion, advancing behind the creeping barrage, had no difficulty in taking its first objective, but due to the heavy state of the ground the troops had great difficulty in keeping up with the barrage. As they came within 300 yards of the final objective, three concrete pillboxes were discovered, held by Germans, who opened fire with machine guns and rifles.

The barrage and previous bombardments had made no impression on these pillboxes and it appeared there was no chance of taking them. Nevertheless efforts were made to capture them. Two parties of men went forward, one led by Eardley and they worked their way to within 50 yards, but every movement was met with German machine gun fire and casualties were high. A decision was taken to withdraw and return to their original positions at Imperial Trench.

The following day, at roll call, many men were missing. The Battalion had suffered an estimated 200 casualties and Eardley Apted was amongst the missing. He had only been in France for 24 days.

Back in Reigate, Eardley’s family received the official news that he was missing in action. His father had a letter from Eardley’s commanding cfficer, stating that his section had attacked the enemy and obtained their objective (but they hadn’t!). Whilst some of the men had returned, Eardley and others were missing and it was quite likely that he and those other men may have been taken prisoner.

Eardley’s commanding officer kept in contact with his father and again wrote to him:

“I still have a hope you may hear from your son in Germany. My own opinion is that your son went to the furthest objective of the attack, which very few units reached, but was cut off and then captured, killed or wounded. It is impossible to say what has happened, but if you do hear from him, please let me know. I have very great admiration for your son and am very anxious to hear from him. He only came to me whilst we were in training for the attack; yet although he was new to everything and had never been in the trenches, his grasp of the situation was remarkable. I, and the whole battalion have lost a most extraordinarily capable officer, who is much missed by us all”.

The Colonel continued his enquiries over the coming months, until news was received from three men of Eardley’s company who had been wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans. One of them, a Corporal Stevens, wrote:

“I am sorry to say Captain Apted was killed almost at the same time as I was wounded. I must also say that his behavior on that day was splendid; he was wounded by a bullet in the wrist early in the attack but stayed with us lads. About 4pm (1st August 1917), we had become cut off and surrounded, when a bullet, which struck him in the forehead, killed him. Two minutes later I was captured”.

By April 1918, the War Office decided that in all likelihood, he had been killed in action at Passchendaele on 1 August 1917 and his family was officially notified.

Eardley is commemorated locally on the memorial board in Reigate Town Hall and appears on the South Park Congregational Church war memorial. His family also added his name to the family grave in Reigate Cemetery. He is remembered in Belgium on the Menin Gate in Ypres.

Click here for a newspaper report of Eardley Apted going missing.

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