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  Edward Ernest Whitty 

Lance Corporal S/526

 7th Battalion The Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment)
attached to the 178th (Tunnelling) Company, Royal Engineers (1)
Killed in Action, 20/10/1915, aged 42 (2), by the explosion of a mine near Fricourt, on the Somme, (France).

Buried in Norfolk Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt, on the Somme, France (I.B.16)


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


 

 

 

EDWARD ERNEST WHITTY was born in 1873 (3) in Castle Hill, Dorset, the son of Christopher and Elizabeth Whitty. The family had originated from Dorset, but moved to Surrey shortly after Nelson's birth, his father taking the position of head gardener at Burrows Lea Garden in Shere (4). Edward was the one of four children, Arthur Edward (born 1868,(5)), his twin Amelia Jane (born 1873 (6)), and  Nelson Herbert, (born 1878, became a gardener, and was killed in action on 10th December 1917 whilst entering Jerusalem.) During this period, Edward's cousin, Mark Brett Whitty was also living with the family. He subsequently married and remained living in Shere. One of his sons, Cyril J Whitty is remembered on the Shere Village Memorial.

By 1891 the family had moved to Munday's Hill in Ewhurst (100m north of the Bull's Head  public house) and in 1896 Elizabeth Whitty died. By 1901 the family address was Woodland's Cottage. Edward's occupation was noted as a plumber & glazier, living with his father and younger brother Nelson.

Edward, a member of the National Reserve,  enlisted in the Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment at their depot at Stoughton Barracks, Guildford, with the commencement of the First World War. He became Private G/526, of the 7th Battalion Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment (the prefix of G to his service number denoted that Edward was a member of the New Armies). 

The 7th Battalion was a newly formed K2 battalion with created in Guildford in September 1914.  On 11th August 1914 Earl Kitchener, the Minister for War, asked for 100,000 volunteers. This number was raised in two weeks and the battalions they formed where allocated the reference K1. On 28th August 1914 the situation in France lead to Kitchener's call for a second 100,000 volunteers, referred to as the K2 battalions. 7th Bn Queen's became part of 55th Brigade of the 18th (Eastern) Division on 11th September 1914, part of Lord Kitchener's Second New Army.  The Division landed at Boulogne in July 1915.

ACTIVE SERVICE IN FRANCE

After many months of training, 7th Queen's left Codford in Wiltshire on the 27th July 1915, an earlier detachment having left the previous day via transports to Southampton and then to Havre aboard the S.S. Mount Temple. The main body of the battalion travelled to Folkestone via trains and sailed for Boulogne on the S.S. Victoria. Their strength was 33 officers and 947 other ranks, including Edward Whitty, who arrived in France on 27th July 1915 (7). Also serving with the 7th Queen's at this time was James Dedman, also from Ewhurst.

In early August 1915, the battalion was on the relatively quiet stretch of frontline that in eleven months time would be the scene of the Battle of the Somme. For now it was to be the battalion's learning ground. In spite of the relative peace, the battalion still suffered 1,247 casualties in the four remaining months of 1915. One of these casualties was to be newly promoted Lance Corporal Edward Whitty, who in September, along with a band of men from 55th Brigade under Lt Roland Heath (8) had been attached to 178th (Tunnelling) Company, Royal Engineers.

178th Coy RE were involved in mining operations in the Fricourt area where the 55th Brigade had been operating. Lt Heath, originally an officer with 8th Bn East Surrey Regiment, described how he and none of these men had any experience of mining, but he described the work as

"very interesting, very safe at some times, and very dangerous at others. There was no danger from shells and trench mortars, but the French, from who we had taken over in August, had very mistakenly begun mining without carrying out a vigorous policy; the Germans had replied with much more energy and effect, and by this time had got more than two-thirds of the way across No Man's Land, here about 100yards wide, with their galleries. Consequently, going underground involved some uncertainty as to the return journey.

But the life was far superior to that of the infantry. We had shorter spells in the trenches; two days in the line, and two or three days back at headquarters in Meaulte. This meant that one worked really hard for a definite visible result in the line and had a real rest out of it; whereas, the infantry's duties were those of passive routine in the line and very tedious and continuous training while out of it." (8)

Whilst the Germans  carried out anti mining operations in the area, the 178th Company pushed mines forward that would facilitate the detonation of three large charges under the German lines on Boxing Day, 1915. One of the German countermines was exploded on 20th October 1915, and cost the lives of several of the men attached to 178th Coy, including Lance Corporal Edward Whitty.

"News has come to hand of the death at the front on October 20th of Corporal E E Whitty, 7th Battalion The Queen's (attached 178 Co R.E.). A letter received from the lieutenant of his company, Lt Roland Heath (8), states that he met his death in the explosion of a German mine. "He was just underground preparing to go down the shaft, when the explosion occurred, and was killed instantly and painlessly by the shock and the rush of gas which followed. There is no man in my section of miners whom I could have missed more. He was a first class NCO, always to be trusted and always quick to understand what was wanted, and to carry it out. All the men liked and respected him, and everyone in the R.E. Company has said how sorry he is he has gone". Corporal Whitty as a National Reservist, and was very popular in the village. He was one of the first to join The Queen's in 1914, and he gave his £5 bounty under the National Reserve Scheme* to the Prince of Wales's Fund. He came home on seven days leave as recently as October 4th, this being his reward for bravery.
Much sympathy is felt for Mr Nelson Whitty, who quite recently lost his father. In twelve months he has been bereaved of his father, sister and brother, leaving him the sole survivor of the family"

Surrey Advertiser 30/10/15

*   In fact this £5 was from a war bonus scheme initiated by Sir Charles Chadwyck Healy to encourage recruiting. £5 was offered to every recruit who came forwards from the parishes of Cranleigh & Ewhurst within 14 days of the commencement of the war, (between £600 & £700 was disbursed). A similar payment was offered by Mr Pandeli Ralli just to the men of Ewhurst. (9)

Later in October 1915 the Surrey Advertiser reported on a letter received from a Second Lieutenant Morse of the 7th Battalion The Buffs, attached to the Royal Engineers, concerning Corporal Whitty. It stated that he:

 "was one in whom I put absolute trust. He always did his best to help me. The very day before his death I had him up before me specially to congratulate him on a very good bit of work he had done a few days previously. When all but an officer had left a certain bit of anxious and dangerous work, he alone remained to help the officer and stayed with him until the danger was over. Lt Heath sent his name to the captain for recommendation. This, however, falls through owing to his unfortunate decease."

Edward's body was recovered and buried in Norfolk Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt, in grave I.B.16. In the cemetery are also the graves of a further 6 members of the 7th Bn The Queen's, 4 men from 8th Bn East Surreys  and 1 man from 6th Bn Royal Berkshire Regiment who lost their lives on the 20th October 1915. Edward was awarded the 1915 Star, The Victory Medal and the British War Medal.(7)

Probate was granted on Edward's estate on 10 March 1917, leaving £327 4s 9d to his surviving brother Nelson Herbert Whitty, who was to be killed in action entering Jerusalem with the Somerset Light Infantry on 10 December 1917.

 

 

 

Follow this Link to details about First World War Medals
 

 

Notes:
(1) Surrey Advertiser article 30/10/1915
(2)  Ewhurst Book of Remembrance notes rank incorrectly as Sgt and age at death of 50, & cause of death as "died gallantly at the explosion of a mine at Fricourt.
(3) Free BDM, Birth registered in Dorchester.
(4) 1881 Census
(5) Plumber & Glazier (1901 Census). Married (Rosa Tickner?) Guildford June 1903, Died Guildford 1908)
(6) Birth registered Dorcester, (twins) became housemaid to William Webb (uncle of Evelyn Webb) of Woodlands, Ewhurst,  marriage registered Hambledon 1896 to Harry Preston,
(7) Medal Record Card
(8) Lt Roland Heath. Extract from "Records of the Heath Family, Vol2" by George Heath 1913. Roland Heath was a relative of Capt Raymond Heath (shared great grandfather on their fathers side.)
(9) Info from the Surrey Advertiser 6/11/15

 

 

Other sources:

  • Book of Remembrance

  • Soldiers Died in the Great War

 

 

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