The Fallen of Ewhurst and Ellen's Green, Surrey  
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George William Eldridge

Private S/528
2nd Bn The Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment
Killed in Action 16/05/1915, aged 34.

No Known Grave, but Remembered on:
Ewhurst War Memorial,  Memorial Plaque and Book of Remembrance
The Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment Roll of Honour, Holy Trinity Church, Guildford

The La Touret Memorial, near Essars, France


La Touret Memorial to the Missing

 

 

GEORGE WILLIAM ELDRIDGE was born in Farncombe, Surrey (1) in 1882, the son of William and Mary Ann Eldridge, and brother of Henry Eldridge (b 1885). George's father, William, died in 1886 and his widow remarried James Shurlock of Ewhurst in 1890. By 1891 the family were living in West Gadbridge, Ewhurst, with their step sister, Ivy Shurlock (b1891). Whilst Henry was still in Ewhurst at the time of the 1901 Census, George is untraceable, and might well have been on overseas service. Henry is also mentioned in the 1914 Electoral Role for Ewhurst.

George enlisted in the army in Guildford (1) at Stoughton Barracks, the depot of the Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment), attesting on 5th September 1914,aged 33. He became Private S/528 of 2nd Bn The Queen's (RWSR) (although it is possible that this service number indicates that George had already served in the Army, the S prefix indicating that he was a member of the 3rd, or Reserve Battalion of the regiment. This might also uphold why he joined 2nd Battalion so early in the war).

Prior to the start of hostilities, the 2nd Bn Queen's had been serving in South Africa. The battalion had left Pretoria in August 1914 to return to England, sailing from Table Bay on 27th August aboard H.M.T Kenilworth Castle. Arriving in Southampton on the 19th September 1914, the battalion made its way to Lyndhurst where, on the 20th September it became part of the 22nd Infantry Brigade of the 7th Division under Major General Capper. During the week of 21-27th September, the officers and some of the men of the unit were given 24 hour leave passes to visit relatives, and the remainder of the month was spent in preparation for the Division’s move to France.

On 4th October 1914, the 2nd Queen’s, 30 officers and 988 other ranks strong, embarked at Southampton. The   Battalion Machine Gun Officer was another Ewhurst man, Captain Raymond Heath. The following day they sailed down Southampton Water and along the Channel to Dover, before landing at Zeebrugge on the 6th and 7th. As part of IV Corps, 7th Division was to take part in the defence of Antwerp. When they arrived in Zeebrugge the situation at Antwerp was irretrievable, the city was already falling and so the 7th Division was used to cover the landing of a Cavalry Division at Ostend, and the retreat to the west of the Belgian Army. It then moved south to link up with elements of the BEF moving up from the River Asine before moving west to take up positions to the east of Ypres. 

On 14th October 1914, the German Chief of Staff, General Erich von Falkenhayen, committed the German Fourth and Sixth Armies, and the First Battle of Ypres commenced. On this day the Battalion also claimed its fist victory, by shooting down a German Taube aircraft that was flying reconnaissance over Ypres. The Brigade entered this battle on a dull and cloudy 18th October 1914, by initially advancing from positions near Zonnebeke towards Menin before encountering resistance and being withdrawn towards the end of the day in order to face the perceived threat from the east. On the 20th in rain and drizzle the German Armies launched their attack, and the 7th Division was ordered by Lieut-Gen Sir Henry Rawlinson, commander of IV Corps, to hold the line at all costs. By mid afternoon 22nd Brigade, on the left of the Division, came under heavy attack, eventually encompassing the whole Division, causing heavy losses. The Division received dense waves of enemy infantry, which it successfully repulsed at high cost before the 22nd Brigade was forced back to Zonnebeke station. By this time all of the Battalions of 22nd Brigade were critically short of men due to the sustained high losses.

THE BATTLE OF FESTUBERT

On 14th May, 1915 the 2nd Queen's were in billets in Essars making final preparations for the Battle of Festubert, which was due to commence the following day. The battalion was 27 officers and 967 men strong.

The battle was to commence at 11.30pm on the 15th with the 2nd Division advancing towards Violanes in a south to south-easterly direction. Their left flank would be on Richebourg L'Avoune, with their right flank protected by 7th Division. If this attack was unsuccessful, a further attempt would be made after a 30 minute artillery bombardment at 3.15am on the 15th May, at the same time as the planned advance of the 7th Division, whose right flank would be approximately 150 yards south of Rue de Cailloux. The objective of the attack was to advance approximately 1000 yards and form a semi circular defensive line (See Map below).

Within 7th Division, the attack was to be carried out by 20th and 22nd Brigades, to the left and right respectively, with 21st Brigade in reserve. Within the 22nd Brigade, the first wave would be made up of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (on the left flank) and the 2nd Bn The Queen's (on the right flank). The second wave was made up of the Royal Warwickshire's (left) and the South Staffordshire's (right) with 8th Bn Royal Scots acting as the brigade reserve.

The battalion, 22 officers and 773 other ranks making their fighting strength, left Essars at 6.30pm and marched into the trenches. 'A' and 'B' Companies formed up in the front line in front of the assault ladders, with 'C' and 'D' Companies to their right.  As soon as 'A' and 'B' had cleared the ladders, 'C' and 'D' were to move over and advance using the same ladders. The battalion was then to advance with the first two platoons of 'A' Company in front covering 200 yards, followed by the second two platoons at an interval of 50 yards, and so on through the battalion. Thus eight lines would be formed, crossing the 180 yards of uneven ground, ditches and long grass to the German front line.

On the morning of the 16th May, Private George Eldridge and the rest of the men of the battalion received a rum ration as they waited in the front line at 2.30am. A quarter of an hour later the sky to their rear lit up as the British artillery bombardment of the German front line commenced. At 3.15am, in partial daylight, the first men of 'A' Company climbed the assault ladders and advanced into no mans land. Immediately the German front line commenced heavy rifle fire, appearing unaffected by the artillery preparation.

When 'A' and 'B' Companies had cleared the trench, and with the fire from the enemy line still at a great intensity, 'C' and 'D' Companies advance was delayed for 15 minutes whilst a second bombardment of the German line was effected. The subsequent advance into the German line of the remainder of the battalion was successful. Many casualties, however, had occurred in the 180 yard stretch between the two trenches, and approximately 230 men of the battalion were able to advance out of the German front line and the remaining 800 yards, across two further German trenches, one of which was a breast worked communications trench, and the La Quinque Rue, to their final objective, which they reached at 6am. To their left, however, the 20th Brigade had been held up by a deep ditch and machine gun fire from the German stronghold known as the Quadrilateral, exposing the left flank of the 22nd Brigade's advance.

 


Trench map of the area of the attack on 16th May 1915, with trenches correct as of 12th June 1916
(Courtesy of Trench Maps on CD, The Naval & Military Press)

The battalion held their line into the afternoon, in spite if the fact that their left flank was not in contact with any British forces other than a few elements of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and was being heavily enfiladed from the Orchard to their left. The Germans commenced heavy artillery fire on the British and formerly German front lines, and as the afternoon wore on this fire gradually enveloped the positions of the 2nd Queen's, who suffered more casualties. At 7.30pm, and still with no support to the left, the battalion was forced to retire to the German line captured at the start of the day.

The battalion had suffered 435 casualties, of which  9 officers and 153 men were killed, 10 officers and 237 men were wounded and 45 men were missing. This figure included Private George Eldridge, whose body was never identified, and is therefore now commemorated on the La Touret Memorial to the Missing, along with the names of over 13,000 other men who fell in this area before 25th September 1915 and who also have no known grave.


Private George Eldridge's name on the La Touret Memorial


Follow this Link to details about First World War Medals

 

 
Notes:
(1) Soldiers Died in the Great War, Born Farncombe, Enlisted Guildford, Residence Leatherhead. KiA 16/5/15, 1891 Census.

Sources:

  • 2nd Queen's Bn War Diary, WO95 1664 (Public Records Office)
  • Soldiers Medal Cards, (Public Records Office)
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
     

 

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Andrew Bailey, Ewhurst, Surrey
andy@ewhurstfallen.co.uk
Copyright©2005