Researched and written by Anne Wright
Pte H Baldwin
2/1st Battalion, Oxford & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
Killed in action, 19.7.1916
On 19 July 2010 the final body of 250 recovered from close to Pheasant Wood at Fromelles (south of Armentieres) on Aubers Ridge was buried in the first new cemetery constructed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for 50 years. This soldier was ‘Known to God’. Ninety-four years earlier, on 19 July 1916, Private Horace Baldwin was among over 7,000 British and Australian casualties killed, wounded or missing at the Battle of Fromelles.
Private Baldwin’s life began in the late summer of 1885. He was born in Ramsgate, Kent to Horace Edmund Baldwin and his second wife, Margaret (nee Forrest). Horace was the third of four sons of this marriage. His father was a draper and by 1901 he had followed in his footsteps. In 1911 Horace was no longer living with his parents and had moved to Wimbledon where he shared accommodation with several other ‘retail drapery assistants’ in Hill Road. His parents had moved to Aylesbury with his younger brother Owen. By the time he enlisted Horace’s place of residence was Weybridge; Kelly’s Directory for Surrey 1913 records a draper’s shop in Baker Street run by H.Baldwin. This could have been the father or the son. It still existed in 1918 and when Horace Edmund Baldwin died in 1928 his address was 3, Rutland Cottages, Baker Street, Weybridge. His effects were left to Owen Baldwin.
Horace Baldwin’s battalion was part of the 184th Brigade in the 61st (2nd South Midland) Division. They landed in France on 24 May 1916. The Division saw its first action on 19-20 July in the Battle of Fromelles. The main Somme battlefield was some 40 miles to the south where fighting had begun on 1 July; the objective of the action at Fromelles was to make the Germans believe that it was a major attack on Aubers Ridge and to divert men and equipment destined for the Battle of the Somme to Fromelles. The 61st was already under strength and tired from the debilitating effort of moving gas cylinders whilst their Australian allies had just arrived and were about to face their first action on the Western Front. The battle was preceded by confusion and changes to timings; the fighting began three days later than planned and the bombardment of the Germans did not begin until 11am on the 19th because of unseasonable mist and rain.
The 2/1st Oxford & Bucks. Light Infantry (Ox. & Bucks L.I.) was designated as an assault battalion and placed in the front line opposite the ‘Sugar Loaf Salient’ and the experienced 6th Bavarian Division which had been victorious at Aubers Ridge in 1915. It probably also still included Corporal Adolf Hitler. The Germans had strengthened their positions with concrete blockhouses, machine gun emplacements and thick barbed wire. The artillery bombardment lasted for seven hours and so the infantry attacked at about 6pm; the Ox. & Bucks. L. I. went through sally-ports into No Man’s Land. This area was flat and exposed to the view of the Germans on the rise of Aubers Ridge. Four waves of infantry were decimated by machine gun fire as No Man’s Land filled with bodies. Those who managed to get through to the German wire found that it was still uncut – the bombardment had not succeeded. Any who were able to retreat later would have been lucky to survive German shell fire. No objectives were achieved.
Horace Baldwin perished in this debacle. There is a faint chance that his remains could now be buried in Pheasant Wood Cemetery but to date (2013) the majority of those identified are Australian as some of them managed to get to the German lines. The Germans gathered the bodies from the territory they recovered and transported them by trench railway to burial pits near Pheasant Wood. However, Private Horace Baldwin is commemorated on the Loos Memorial in Dud Corner Cemetery on the main Lens to Bethune Road along with over 20,000 others who have no known grave.
Background to the Battle of Fromelles Part 2: 1916 and the Battle of the Somme, www.fffaif.org.au
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Berridge, Steve Remembering Fromelles 1916-2010, www.lightbobs.com
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, www.ancestry.co.uk
The Great War 1914-1918, Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery, France, www.greatwar.co.uk
Fromelles: naming the dead World War 1 Soldiers ‘challenging’, The Telegraph, 18 March 2010
Fromelles Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery, www.findagrave.com
1913 & 1918, Kelly’s Directory, UK, City & County Directories, 1766-1946, www.ancestry.co.uk
2 OXF & BUCKS LI 1914-1919, www.lightbobs.com
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919, www.ancestry.co.uk