yeovil at War

Edgar Whitby

Killed in action during the Somme Offensive

 

Edgar Whitby was born in Yeovil in 1890. He was the son of wool merchant George Henry Whitby (1854-1935) and Rosa Meech née Hardy. Edgar was the grandson of bookseller Ebenezer Whitby. George and Rosa's children were George B (b1885), Arnold S (b1887), Lilian M (b1889) and Edgar.

In the 1891 census the family were living in Trinity House in Peter Street and were at the same house in 1901 and 1911. In the 1911 census 21-year old Edgar gave his occupation as an estate agent's clerk. 

Edgar enlisted at Cheltenham, joining the 10th (Service) Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment. His Service Number 25590 suggesting that he enlisted at the end of 1915 or the beginning of 1916.

The 10th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment was raised at Bristol in September 1914 as part of Kitchener's Third New Army and was attached to to 26th Division. They proceeded to France on 8 August 1915 and joined 1st Brigade, 1st Division, on 17 August 1915. They first saw action in The Battle of Loos. In 1916 they were in action in the Battles of the Somme.

The Battle for the Somme has a unique place in British military history. Haig was in the middle of preparations for a British offensive but came under strong pressure to mount an attack due the French commitment to the Battle for Verdun, a city which held an important place in the nation's psyche and that the Germans had attacked in February 1916. Any Allied offensive would therefore have to be carried mainly by the British. Haig was therefore forced to undertake an offensive near to where the British and French lines met, near Bray-sur-Somme in Picardy, although he would have preferred to attack further north and to have had longer with which to prepare his new army. The battlefield was bisected by both the Albert – Bapaume Road and the River Somme, and was a series of gentle chalk ridge lines into which the Germans had dug a series of well-prepared fortifications. Haig's plan called for Rawlinson’s Fourth Army to achieve a breakthrough in the centre after which Gough’s Reserve Army (later renamed the Fifth Army) would exploit, roll up the German defences and capture Bapaume. Allenby's Third Army would undertake a diversionary attack on Gommecourt, which lay to the north. The massive preparatory bombardment, meant to destroy the German defences started on 24 June 1916 at 06.00. Over 1.7 million shells were fired but a high proportion, some 30 percent, failed to explode as the Ministry of Munitions had abandoned any semblance of quality control in order to be able to produce the quantities needed in time. Tunnelling companies dug hollowed out chambers underneath key German strongpoints and filled them with explosives. The shelling had started on 'U' Day and was meant to go on until 'Z' Day, which was 29 June 1916 but heavy rains caused the approach roads, trenches and crater ridden No-Man's land too muddy and so the assault was postponed until 1 July. Just after dawn on 1 July, the first British wave clambered out of their trenches and started to make their way towards the German frontline. As they did, seventeen enormous mines were detonated and the barrage moved forward. The infantry followed behind and although there were local gains on the first day, generally things looked bleak. The British suffered 57,470 casualties (19,240 killed and 2,152 missing) which was an unprecedented experience for the British Army. Seven 'New Army' divisions attacked, alongside three Territorial and four regular Army divisions. The French attack on the right of the British line was smaller than had been originally intended as troops had to be diverted to the fighting around Verdun but their attack went relatively successfully and the preponderance of heavy guns in the French sector also helped the British forces adjacent to them.

The British Army suffered, over the course of the entire 142-day campaign, some 415,000 casualties. The Somme campaign involved some twelve separate battles and finally came to an end on 18 November 1916.

Edgar Whitby was killed in action on 23 July 1916. He was aged 26.

The Western Gazette, in its edition of 11 May 1917, reported "Mr and Mrs GH Whitby, of Trinity House, Yeovil, have received official notification from the War Office, that their youngest son, Private Edgar Whitby, of the Gloucester Regt., has been killed. During the fighting in France on July 23rd 1916, he was reported to be missing, but after every enquiry had been made, the War Office regretted to report that he had been killed. Private Whitby was sent to the Front shortly after joining his regiment. Much sympathy is expressed for the parents."

William is commemorated on the Pier and Face 5A and 5B of the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France, and his name is recorded on the War Memorial in the Borough.

 

gallery

 

Trinity House on the south side of Peter Street, the home of the Whitby family and where Edgar was probably born. Photographed in 2016.

 

Part of the Somme battlefield. 1916.

 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate in memory of Edgar Whitby.

 

The Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.

The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916. The memorial also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial in recognition of the joint nature of the 1916 offensive and a small cemetery containing equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves lies at the foot of the memorial. The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was built between 1928 and 1932 and unveiled by the Prince of Wales, in the presence of the President of France, on 1 August 1932.