Researched and written by Anne Wright
Major-General E Feetham, CB CMG
Commanding Officer, 39th Division
Edward Feetham was one of the most senior British officers to be killed in the First World War. He was a career soldier having been commissioned into the Royal Berkshire Regiment from the Militia in 1883. He was born in Bremel, Wiltshire on 4 June 1863 to the Reverend William and Alice (nee Hawkins) Feetham. William Feetham was part of a prosperous family; his father Thomas had been a coal merchant in London and had then invested in property in the capital. The first indication of a link to Weybridge comes to light with the baptism of Edward at St. James’ Church on 17 July 1863. At the time his uncle, John Feetham, lived at ‘Oakfield’, now the site of Temple Market at the top of Monument Hill. This uncle and Edward’s grandparents Thomas and Elizabeth were all buried in St. James’ Churchyard in 1873, 1864 and 1850, respectively. Thomas and Elizabeth were probably the original owners of ‘Oakfield’.
Edward’s parents married on 12 August 1862 in the parish of St. Woolos in Monmouthshire. He was the eldest of their four children. By 1871 the family had returned to Wales from Wiltshire with the Reverend Feetham being vicar of Penrhos where he remained for at least the next twenty years. After Alice’s death, c. 1870, he remarried to Mary Crawley and had three more sons. Edward was educated at Marlborough College. Soon after starting his military career he saw active service in the Sudan (1885-86) and S. Africa (1901-02) where he commanded the 10th Battalion, Mounted Infantry. In October 1910 he took command of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Berkshires and the following year attended the magnificent spectacle of the Delhi Durbar. When the First World War broke out he was still in command of the 2nd Berkshires and returned from India with them on 22 October 1914.
He and his men spent less than three months in England; the expertise of these professional soldiers was desperately needed and as part of the 25th Brigade, 8th Division they landed at Le Havre in early November. On 2 April 1915 Edward took command of the 137th Staffordshire Brigade (so named from 12 May 1915) in the 46th (N. Midland) Division, the same month in which he was promoted to the rank of Colonel. This division experienced the first use of flame- throwers by the Germans at Hooge (near Ypres) in July and they took part in the attack of the Hohenzollern Redoubt in October. 1916 saw them sent to Egypt from where they were recalled after a few days, returning in time for the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. They were involved in operations on the Ancre in March 1917 and the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line amongst other actions in that year. On 20 August Edward Feetham took over command of the 39th Division with his promotion to Major-General.
He was in command of this division for some of the most difficult and desperate fighting of the war: the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele, 31 July-10 November 1917) and the German Spring Offensive, launched on 21 March 1918. After two days the British were reeling in full retreat; they held the Germans temporarily at the Battle of Rosieres (26-27 March), which was Edward Feetham’s last battle. He was walking up the main street of Demuin (a village close to Villers Bretonneux, due east of Amiens) with his aide de camp on 29 March when he was fatally wounded in the neck by a shell fragment. He had been a soldier for thirty-five years; in the course of the war he had been mentioned four times in despatches.
Edward is buried in Picquigny British Cemetery (II.B.13) which is 13 km north-west of Amiens. He left a wife, Isabel Beatrix (nee Grant) whom he had married in 1894 and a daughter, Sybil Beatrix, who had been born in May 1901. On her marriage in 1923 Sybil became the second wife of Lancelot Edward Lowther (the future 6th Earl of Lonsdale); they had one son, Timothy Lancelot Lowther. His maternal grandfather, Edward Feetham, had led an itinerant life but at the time of his death the family home was Farmwood, Ascot in Berkshire. He had been a soldier of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras; he ended his long career by enduring almost four years of a cataclysmic war he could probably not have imagined as a young officer in 1883. The inscription on Edward’s headstone reads as follows:
LIFE – NOT DEATH TENAX PROPOSITI STEADFAST OF PURPOSE
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1921, www.ancestry.co.uk
Dorset, England, Church of England Marriages & Banns, 1813-1921, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Royal Berkshire Regiment); 39th Division, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
Thornton, Andrew “We had done all that was expected of us.” Staffordshire Territorials and the Assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt, 13th October 1915, www.hellfirecorner.co.uk