Edward (Teddy) Cutt was a private in the 9th Battalion East Surrey Regiment (Regt no. 5765). Teddy, within weeks of arriving in France for the first time, was killed at the Battle of Loos in September 1915 and his First World War story is told through a small collection of papers kept by his fiancée, Ellen (Nellie) Dabbs (1889-1971). A little red notebook among the papers begins as a diary of their developing relationship and becomes a chronicle of her desperate search for news of Teddy.
Only 18 years old, Teddy, a gardening boy from Shalford, had rushed to enlist and was enrolled in ‘B’ Coy of the 9th (Service) Battalion. During training he was billeted with Nellie’s family in Broadwater, near Worthing. Nellie was an infant school teacher and her notebook records that they met for the first time on 30 November 1914, and soon after became engaged.
Teddy underwent training at Shoreham, Chobham Common, Blackdown Camp and Redhill and the notebook tenderly records the precious but fleeting time they spent together before he left for France on 31st August 1915: for example, in July 1915, Nellie wrote in her diary, ‘Teddy and I have a ripping weekend together, we had not seen each other for a month’. Just before he sailed, they spent his last leave together and once parted, Nellie wrote to him every day.
The initial British assault at Loos on 25 September had faltered and 72nd Brigade, which included Teddy’s battalion, the 9th East Surreys, though raw and desperately inexperienced, was hurried into the line overnight to attack at 11am on the following day. They were not aware that the Germans had reinforced their line and the flanking woods during the hours of darkness and when 72nd Brigade attacked, they found themselves advancing into a hail of machine gun and rifle bullets from three sides. Those who reached the German line were confronted with a barbed wire barrier, 4 foot high, 15-20 feet deep, well staked and totally undamaged, and were forced to retreat while the German machine guns continued their relentless fire. Casualties across the whole of 72nd Brigade amounted to 75 officers and 1979 other ranks out of a total strength of around 3600. 9th East Surrey’s casualties were 16 officers and 438 ORs, of whom 150 were killed outright or died of wounds soon after. 8th Battalion, the Queen’s Royal West Surreys, who took part in the same attack, suffered 431 dead, wounded or missing, of whom 12 were officers including the battalion commander, Lt Col Fairtlough.
Teddy was one of those who failed to answer to his name at roll-call after the attack and was officially reported missing. On 4 October 1915, Nellie wrote: “I first receive the awful news from Mr Willitt that Teddy is missing”. She made desperate attempts to trace her fiancée, writing to the War Office, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, even the King of Spain, but she received no positive news, other than a letter from one of Teddy’s comrades who was the last to see him alive, entering a wood near the German trenches, with his overcoat on. Briefly in January 1916 hope revived when a Lance Corporal Green in a Newcastle hospital said that he had heard a report that Teddy was captured. It wasn’t true.
She sadly recorded Teddy’s birthday on 16th November 1915 and by 15th January 1916 the diary reflects her slow and hopeless realisation that he would never be coming home:
“I got a letter I wrote to Teddy on 30th September 1915 returned to me, this is the first one I have had back, suppose others will follow”.
Official notice from the War Office that Teddy was killed at the Battle of Loos arrived on 2nd October 1916. Her diary contains no further entries. Teddy’s remains were finally located and he is buried at Cabaret-Rouge Cemetery, Souchez, in France.
Nellie suffered a breakdown and moved to Lincolnshire to be with family. She remained devoted to Teddy and never married; in Teddy’s Pocket Gospel of St John (issued to all troops) she inscribed ‘In memory of Teddy, August 1915’. This little book, a cherished lock of his hair and a photograph was all that Nellie had to remember him by, a fate suffered by millions of women of her generation. The Cutt papers not only show the human cost of the Great War but also an enduring love story.
The Cutt papers were deposited at Surrey History Centre by Nellie’s family; local historian Margaret Dierden has written about Teddy’s story in her book Further scenes of Shalford past : a third collection of pieces on the history of Shalford in Surrey (2009) available for study at Surrey History Centre, click here to see the Surrey Library Catalogue entry.
Read Teddy’s entry on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website here