Henry Frederick Edgecumbe Edwardes

Researched and written by Brian Bouchard

Henry, born 21 December 1878, was one of five children from the marriage of Edgecumbe Ferguson Edwardes, a solicitor, and his wife Emily Yair, nee Dobson. Having attended Crediton Grammar School, he went up to St. John’s College, Cambridge. Gaining a BA during 1900, he became a languages teacher, firstly at Carlisle Grammar School, then at Coatham School, at a school in Paris, at Shrewsbury School, Kimberley Boys High School, South Africa, Wakefield Grammar School and University College School, London. In the Summer Term of 1914 he joined the Staff of Abingdon School as an Assistant Master but enlisted on 6 October 1914, described as 5ft 11 ins tall, weighing 154lb, with brown hair and blue eyes, in the 21st Battalion (4th Public School) Royal Fusiliers (raised at Epsom by the Public Schools and University Mens’ Forces on 11 September 1914).

From The Abingdonian December 1914: –
“Mr Edwardes has also enlisted, but we hope to welcome him back again when the war is over.

Letter from Private HFE Edwards, 4th Co. 4th Battn Royal Fusiliers, Ashtead, Surrey

‘I am billeted with some 60 others in a sort of tin shed arrangement. All my Battalion are billeted on this village of Ashtead and most of them are very well off, as most of the houses belong to prosperous retired London merchants who treat their billetees very well. My own billet however is more Spartan in character, more like camp life – we have to sleep in our blankets and overcoats and do our washing in the open air and the old woman who runs the show has a keen eye for business. I am not sorry to be here rather than in more luxurious quarters, as the change will not be so great when we do go into camp. They are building a hundred huts, each holding a platoon, on Epsom Downs, and part of our fatigue duties consist in going up there and assisting in the building operations. I spent one day in carting timber from Epsom Goods yard and another in sawing up wood, and now we have to go and dig the trenches for the drain pipes. When we happen to be the Company in waiting we have to provide a night guard which means 16 hours sentry go – not too attractive a job on a wet night with the wind whistling over the Downs. However, we all remain merry and bright and extract a great deal of fun out of most unpromising situations. They are a sporting lot of fellows here. I am just recovering from vaccination. They give us an extra strong dose – just to make certain I suppose – and most of us have had arms about three times the size of Sandow’s. The latest rumour is that we are going to France early in January, but there are so many rumours about that one does not know what to believe.’”

In June 1915 the Public Schools and University Men’s Force of four battalions was transferred to Clipstone Camp, Nottinghamshire, and assigned to 98th Brigade in 33rd Division. On 1 July 1915, in common with other locally raised units, they were taken over by the War Office. In August 1915 these troops moved on to Tidworth, Wiltshire and by 10 August the concentration of the Division on Salisbury Plain was complete. On 4 November the Division was ordered to prepare to move to France. Four days later Her Majesty the Queen inspected the Division at Figheldean Down. Entrainment began on 12 November1915 when the Division embarked for France and Flanders. The 21st Royal Fusiliers left camp at Perham Down for Folkestone, 14 November 1915, to embarked on SS Princess Victoria for Calais and proceed to  Boulogne by rail.

Four months later Edwardes was returned to England to attend cadet school. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry on July 6 1916. He died of wounds, 6 February 1917, in a raid on enemy trenches eight months after receiving his commission, and was buried at Bethune Town Cemetery, France, aged 38. In the raid of merely 20 minutes only two men had been killed.

His demise was recorded in The Abingdonian, March 1917: –

“EDWARDES – 2nd Lieut. H. F. E. Edwardes, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. Later he returned to England and after going through a cadet’s course he obtained his commission in the D.C.L.I. During his short time at the School he took a prominent part in the life of the place, being himself a keen cricketer and a man of varied interests.”

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