Researched and written by Anne Wright
2/Lt E B Harrison
1/7th Battalion (Leeds rifles), Prince of Wales Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment
Died of wounds, 28/29.9.1916
Edgar Brooks Harrison’s parents, Charles Ernest and Maud (nee Kestevern) were married at St. James’ Church, Weybridge on 8 April 1891. Charles, a solicitor, was a resident of Weybridge, but he was not a native of the town, having been born in Manchester (1855). Maud lived in Hersham, but she hailed from Hampshire (b.1858). They went on to have three sons: John Ernest, Geoffrey Kestevern and Edgar Brooks. John and Geoffrey were born in Weybridge in 1892 and 1894 respectively. By the time of Edgar’s birth in 1897 the family had moved to Westfield, New Road, Ashtead. This was still their home in 1911 but at this stage Edgar was a boarding pupil at Bengeo College in Hertford.
John, Geoffrey and Edgar all fought in the First World War. Edgar’s unit, the 1/7 Battalion (Leeds Rifles), Prince of Wales Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment arrived at Boulogne on board RMSS Onward on 15 April 1915. They were part of 146th Brigade, 49th (West Riding) Division. Edgar’s first taste of battle came when they were on the periphery of the Battle of Aubers Ridge in May. The battalion then operated in defence of Ypres and the Ypres Salient until December 1915. They were in and out of the trenches close to Pilckem and Brielen and at the Yser Canal. They experienced the first use of phosgene gas by the Germans in November and the appalling conditions of the trenches. Private Fred Rothwell Wigglesworth in a letter to his parents dated, 22 December, described what they had to endure: ‘…the parapet was very low and water up to the knees everywhere, naturally our waders took wet after a while. No sleep at all…..’. Sometimes, when out of the line, they were at Elverdinge (north-north-west of Ypres) but even here the war impinged as Captain Cox described, ‘Elverdinge Woods was full of singing nightingales until the Germans shelled it.’
By 18 January 1916 Edgar and his comrades were in camp at Calais where they embarked on a training programme. They were next in the trenches at Bouzincourt (3 km north-west of Albert) in the department of the Somme at the beginning of February. For the next five months they were again in and out of the front line, close to Albert and Amiens, but this time punctuated by training and making up working parties. On 1 July, the day on which the Battle of the Somme were launched the 1/7th Battalion was in assembly trenches at Thiepval Wood; they were held in reserve then went into the original front line whilst two companies went forward to the captured German line. The scale of the casualties was truly awful; on 6 July two officers and one hundred men from the 1/7th were detailed to carry out burial duties in Thiepval Wood. When not in the line they often formed carrying parties taking supplies to the front. This pattern was repeated in September. It is not clear when and how Edgar sustained his fatal wounds; from 20-26 September his unit was in the line in the Thiepval Sector and on the 27th they went into billets at Mailly Maillet Wood (9 km north of Albert). He died on the 28th or 29th September.
Edgar is buried in Puchevilliers British Cemetery (III.A.18) which is 19 km north-east of Amiens. This was the site of the 3rd and 44th Casualty Clearing Stations and he would have died in one of these as Plots I-IV and almost all of Plot V contained men who had died in these facilities. Edgar’s brothers survived the war and both lived with their parents in Ashtead for part of the 1920s. At the time of his father’s death in 1936 his parents lived at Oak Tree Cottage, Woodfield Lane, Ashtead. Edgar’s eldest brother John returned to Weybridge; he lived at Cherrett Lodge in Old Avenue. He died in Weybridge Hospital on 6 June 1959. A pair of candlesticks in Edgar’s memory was presented to All Souls Chapel at St. James’ Church.
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment), www.longlongtrail.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
St James & St Michael and All Angels Parish Records, Surrey History Centre, 3204/10/8
Wigglesworth, Fred Rothwell. “Memoirs of Fred Rothwell Wigglesworth.” The World War One Document Archive. Ed. Richard Hacken. Brigham Young University Library