23539, 40th Company, Labour Corps (Formerly
33759, Lincolnshire Regiment)
Died, 16th September 1917
Cemetery : Ypres Reservoir Cemetery, Ieper,
Grave Reference or Panel Number : I. E.1
Son of John and Mary Durham of 13, Aston Street, Bramley, Leeds;
husband of Eva Evans (late Durham) of Number 27, St. James Street, Wetherby.
Edmund Frederick Durham was born at Bramley, Leeds in 1890 to parents John, a Joiner/ Carpenter
by profession, and Mary Durham, the family residing in premises located at 7, Mount Pleasant, Whitecote Hill, Bramley.
The 1901 Census records that two further sons had been born, Sidney Pearce
aged 7 years and Arthur William aged 4 years respectively, the family having now relocated to Number 1, Beechwood View, Burley.
Ten years on the and the 1911 census details now record that the family had
once again moved house, possibly due to the birth of a further child, Reginald, in 1903, however Edmund had not moved with
the family to their new home at Aston Street but had instead journeyed south to take up employment as a Domestic Gardener.
Residing as a Boarder at Church Street, Brixworth, Northamptonshire, one
would surmise that Edmund had found employment on the associated estate of Brixworth Hall. His father had a connection with
the county having been born at Hannington to the east of Brixworth and residing for a number of years in the village of Pitsford
located to the south. Family connections may therefore be the reason as to why Edmund relocated to Northamptonshire.
Back To The North: Wetherby
The exact year that Edmund moved
back to the north of England is unknown but prior to the outbreak of the Great War a newspaper article records that he had
found employment as a Gardener at Linton Manor, Collingham. An analysis of the 1911 Census details records that Edmund's
employer was one Charles Solomon Allaun, a Furniture Dealer of Linton Manor, Collingham Bridge.
Little is known about Edmund's early life in the district or even if
he was residing in the town of Wetherby but in a little over five months after the commencement of hostilities Edmund no doubt
received news that his brother Arthur William had enlisted into the ranks of the Royal Marine Light Infantry in January 1915,
the only member of the Durham family other than Edmund to serve in the conflict.
Either through his connections in horticultural circles or spending his leisure time at
Wetherby, Edmund met Eva Pratt, daughter of James Pratt, a Domestic Gardener, the family residing at St. James Street. Eva
is recorded in the 1911 Census as a Servant in the employ of Reginald Henry Bowman, a Shoe Manufacturer of Moor Allerton House,
On the 18th December 1915 the couple
married at Wetherby moving into their marital home located at 27, St. James Street, Wetherby.
Edmund Frederick Durham was deemed to have enlisted into the Army on
the 24th March 1916 under the auspices of the Military Service Act, conscription. Placed on the Reserve it would be nearly
seven months before he was to be actually called up for military service.
brother, now serving as Private Arthur William Durham, Royal Marine Light Infantry, PO/18357, the latter prefix denoting the
Portsmouth Division, was now at this juncture serving on board H.M.S. Indefatigable, a Battlecruiser of the 2nd Battlecruiser
Squadron, the latter under the command of Rear Admiral William Christopher Pakenham.
It was on the 31st May 1916 that the British engaged the High Seas Fleet of the German Imperial
Navy under the command of Admiral Reinhard Scheer at the Battle of Jutland. Shortly after the opening of the battle, H.M.S.
Indefatigable was engaged by the German Battlecruiser Von der Tann, the latter along with the Battlecruiser
Derfflinger, the ships responsible for the bombardment of both Scarborough and Whitby in December 1914.
A little after ten minutes of the opening of the battle, Indefatigable
under the command of Captain Charles Fitzgerald Sowerby R.N. was hit by two or three shells fired from the Von
der Tann, causing severe structural damage with the ship falling out of formation. Listing to port and sinking by the
stern, at about 4.03 p.m. after further hits from the Von der Tann's 11 inch shells, a large explosion in the
forward magazines of the ship erupted sending debris, smoke and flame into the atmosphere. Of the ships complement of 1019
men, there were only two survivors.
aged 19 years, is now commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial in addition to being commemorated on the Bramley Church
Roll of Honour, Leeds. A tragic blow to the Durham family of a Bramley lad who had escaped the confines of employment in a
Woolen Mill to answer his countries call.
Called To The Colours
Eva heavily pregnant with their first child, it was on the 7th October 1916 that Edmund was summoned to York for a preliminary
medical examination. His declared age was 27 years, height, 5 feet, 8 1/2 inches with a weight of 129lbs. One crucial factor
however was discovered during the course of the medical examination, Edmund was found to be blind in his right eye. It is
unclear if this was a permanent disability but some annotations included on his surviving service documents although difficult
to decipher suggest some form of eye infection rendering him temporarily? unfit. As he was approved for service by the Lieutenant-Colonel
of the Medical Board, one can only assume that he was deferred from military service until a later date.
On October 25th 1916, Edmund and Eva's first child was born, Arthur Cyril
Durham, but in February 1917 the inevitable call up for military service arrived on the doorstep of their home.
Summoned to Harrogate on the 26th February 1917, after stating answers to
various questions Edmund was approved for military service by the Approving Officer 14th Recruiting Area on the same
day at York. Allocated the serial number 33759 (later re-numbered 23539) and posted to the 1st Labour Company, Lincolnshire
Regiment, his movements in the days that followed are not recorded but on the 12th March 1917, Edmund along with his company
sailed from Folkestone to Boulogne to join the British Expeditionary Force.
1st Labour Company, Lincolnshire
The exact date as to the formation of the 1st Labour Company is obscure however this company
may have existed from about mid 1916. We do know through surviving service documents however the ages, medical conditions
and occupations of those who enlisted.
example, and with a specific search criteria being placed on an enlistment taking place in Yorkshire, there was one William
Carney. William, a Painter, attested for service in December 1915 and was placed on the Army Reserve. A married man and a resident
of Burley, Leeds, Carney was mobilized on the 27th February 1917, allocated the serial number 23511, and posted to the B.E.F.
on the 12th March 1917.
Percy Cavanagh, also
from Leeds and a native of Armley. Graded medical category "B2" ( Authors note: Class A, "Fit For General Service,"
Class B, "Fit For Service Abroad But Not Fit For General Service," Class C, "Fit For Home Service Only."
Class B would comprise would comprise of three classifications: B1, "Garrison Or Provisional Units," B2, "Labour
Units Or On Garrison Or Regimental Outdoor Employment," B3, "Sedentary Work As Clerks Or Storemen Only") Percy
was deemed to have enlisted in June 1916 and mobilized on the 26th February 1917. Allocated the serial number 23510, Percy
would be posted to the ranks of the 1st Labour Company on the 28th February.
The town of Tadcaster would also provide one man who would eventually serve in the ranks
of the Company. Frederick Clewer, of Bridge Street, a Tobacconist, was deemed to have enlisted in September 1916. Mobilized
in February 1917, Frederick was also posted to the ranks of the 1st Labour Company and allocated the serial number 23522 only
to be discharged in September 1917 after being wounded in a 'friendly fire' incident in September 1917.
Formation Of The 40th Company, Labour Corps
The origins of the 40th Company,
Labour Corps, lie in the formation of the Corps itself. With the ever increasing amount of men both at home and abroad performing
their duties in various capacities in a variety of labour units, it was soon realised that a restructure of organized
labour was required to achieve a maximum level of efficiency and performance.
Formed in early 1917, the Labour Corps
would be steadily re-organised both at home and abroad in the months that followed. Edmund and the men of the 1st Lincolnshire
Labour Company would now be transferred and re-designated the 40th Labour Company on the 14th May 1917.
A further examination of the surviving service documents of men who served
with the 40th Labour Company reveals that the Officer Commanding this company was one Major William Robert Rook, seconded
for service with the Labour Corps from the 1/7th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment).
Rook, a Wine Merchant in civilian life and a native of Ruddington, near Nottingham, would be awarded the O.B.E. and the Territorial
Decoration after the cessation of hostilities.
On The Western Front
It is most unfortunate that no actual War Diary of the Company has survived
however the Author will attempt to place the unit in various locations by an analysis of both surviving service documents
and casualties sustained up until September 1917.
An examination of the surviving service documents of one Percy
William Baxter, 23448, record that he was admitted to the 17th Casualty Clearing Station on the 17th May 1917 suffering from
the effects of a hernia. The aforementioned C.C.S. at this period was located at Remy Sidings, close to the village of Lijssenthoek,
a site established near a vital rail link by various medical units to deal with the evacuation of wounded from the Ypres Salient.
One would surmise that Percy would have been sent to the nearest medical facility to hand so at the very least we can assume
that the 40th Labour Company were operating in this area or locality.
The tasks performed by a Labour Company varied from road building, the construction of railways
of various gauge, and the formation of dumps to store a variety of materiel. At times in the performance of their
duties the men were often exposed to enemy shell fire even whilst operating in the rear areas. It was on the 21st June 1917
that one man fell victim to what one would suspect was a shell fired from German long range artillery. Private Patrick McGlade,
33657, a native of Middlesborough, had originally joined the ranks of the 1st Lincolnshire Labour Company before being transferred
to the newly formed 40th Labour Company and renumbered 23691. Patrick now lies in Poperinghe New Military Cemetery, Belgium,
along with many a Labour Corps man who had fallen victim to enemy artillery.
|The Labour Corps At Work, Source, "I Was There," Volume Two. Original Photo, I.W.M.
In preparation for the forth coming offensive, Third Ypres as
the British Nomenclature Committee would later define this series of battles, work behind the lines intensified. New roads
were built along with railway lines, dumps for stores and ammunition were created as well as pipe lines laid to supply water
to the vast amounts of men and associated transport that began to assemble in the Salient.
As a prelude to the offensive, the Messines Ridge had been seized in June
by the Second Army after the detonation of 19 mines under the German positions. It was then that the offensive halted to allow
preparations to be made for the continuation of the main battle by the Fifth Army under the command of General Sir Hubert
Gough. The offensive finally commenced on the 31st July however this delay, over six weeks in duration, would have a serious
impact on operations as a whole. Third Ypres would finally grind to a halt in November in the mud of Passchendaele with the
Allies sustaining an estimated 250,000 casualties.
August: The Battle Rages On
Despite early success of the advance to the north, in the south, progress had been halted across the Gheluvelt
Plateau due to a number of factors. Shell torn terrain impeded the advance and enemy resistance had stiffened with numerous
counter-attacks being conducted supported by heavy artillery. As the line of advance wavered, a tactical withdrawal was made
to enable a line of defence to be consolidated but it was now that another enemy appeared to transform the battlefield and
halt operations, heavy rain.
In the rear areas,
the activities of the Labour Companies intensified as a new assault was to be launched once again on the Gheluvelt Plateau
on the 10th August. Whilst performing duties of an unknown nature the day previous to the attack, possibly in the area of
Vlamertinghe to the west of Ypres, disaster befell the 40th Labour Company. One would surmise that the company, or at least
a party of the latter, were subjected to the attentions of German long range artillery that resulted in the deaths of five
men and the wounding of one Other Rank:
Percy William Baxter, 23448, a native of Hull, aged 39 years
Private Harry Brown, 23461, a native of Newcastle-on-Tyne, aged 28 years
Private Tom Harry Downes, 23540, a native of Salterhebble, Halifax, aged 42 years
Private Joseph Dyson, 23544, a native of New Mills, Stockport, aged 36 years
Private Raistrick Holmes, 23613, a native of Thornton, Yorkshire, aged 21
All these men are now buried in Vlamertinghe
New Military Cemetery.
Private Frederick Hamilton,
23609, would succumb to his wounds the following day. Frederick, a married man with five children, resided at premises located
at 19 Baden Street, Harrogate. Employed as a Postman, Frederick would originally enlist into the ranks of the 5th Battalion,
West Yorkshire Regiment on the 2nd September 1914. Due to a serious medical condition he was transferred to the Second Line
Territorial Battalion, the 2/5th, on the 10th April 1915. Transferred from the ranks of the West Yorkshire Regiment and serving
at home with reserve battalions of the South Staffs. and the Depot Labour Companies of the Durham Light Infantry, he would
be posted overseas to join the British Expeditionary Force on the 30th April 1917. On arrival at Boulogne, France, it would
appear that Frederick spent some time at an Infantry Base Depot, possibly the 9th I.B.D. before being transferred to the ranks
of the 1st Labour Company, Lincolnshire Regiment, ultimately being transferred to the ranks of the 40th Labour Company
on the 14th May 1917. Frederick Hamilton, aged 29 years, now lies in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery.
September: Continuation Of The Offensive
With an improvement in the weather conditions, the shell torn ground
began to dry. The opportunity now presented itself to continue the offensive over more favourable ground with the capture
of the Gheluvelt Plateau being one of the primary objectives. Command of the Second Army now passed to General Sir Herbert
Plumer who had formulated a specific plan of attack relying on innovative artillery and infantry tactics that was to be assisted
by the advance of the Fifth Army to the north. The attack was to be conducted in a series of movements so as to allow adequate
supplies and artillery to be moved forward to interdict anticipated enemy counter-attacks.
With the emphasis being placed on the philosophy that "artillery
conquers and that infantry occupies," Plumer requested that any further operations cease to allow the build up of
men and materiel. In addition, the prosecution of a successful advance would require the construction of advance
artillery emplacements, light railways and the laying of a complex system of telephonic communications. A system of what were
in effect Corduroy Roads, roads constructed from wood as opposed to that comprising of a metalled surface, were to
be built to assist forward movement of guns and supplies. The offensive, the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge, was set to commence
on the 20th September 1917. Their was to be no delay as the mechanism now set in motion ran to a strict timetable. The Labour
Companies would now be expected, as always, to play their part and complete their allocated tasks.
Sunday, 16th September 1917: The Death Of Private Edmund
evidence to describe the circumstances surrounding the death of Edmund are to be found in a newspaper article dated the 2nd
October 1917 that states the simple fact that he was killed by the fall of a shell.
After a request for information via the The Great War Forum as to the location of the 40th Labour Company
on the day in question, the Author received two replies. Ian Bowbrick kindly informed the Author that the Company came under
the the command of the Officer Commanding Durham Light Infantry. Ivor Lee, co-author with John Starling of the book "No
Labour, No Battle" more specifically placed the group in which the 40th Company served as having its Headquarters
at Sheet 28, G.c.6. 2.2. however the precise location for the company on the 16th September is unknown.
|Extract of Sheet 28. Army Administrative Situation Map Dated 1st February 1918
Although the above map extract is dated to early 1918, one can
surmise that there may have been a similar if not identical establishment in the vicinity of Red Farm in September
1917. The letter "R," north of the latter place, denotes the location of a Rest Station. Similarly the
annotation "H," to the north-east denotes the site of Horse Troughs indicating that a maximum of 1000
horses could be watered at this location per day. The camp as a whole, is located to the north of a broad gauge railway, running
parallel, west to east, of the Poperinghe - Vlamertinghe - Ypres Road.
Of the two casualties sustained by the 40th Labour Company on the 16th September 1917, one can only assume that the
company were at work either on the road or on the railway line between Poperinghe and Ypres. Edmund as we now know, lies at
rest in Ypres Reservoir Cemetery located in the town of Ieper (Ypres).
Private James Howie, 123330, wounded in the explosion, had previously served with the 77th, Training Reserve Battalion,
Royal Scots Fusiliers. Originally numbered TR/2/20792, James, a native of Mauchline, Ayrshire, was transferred to the 40th
Labour Company and renumbered 123330 however the date of his transfer to the Labour Corps is unknown. Evacuated to either
the 3rd Australian or 44th Casualty Clearing Stations located at Poperinghe, James, aged 41 years, succumbed to his wounds
on the same day and now lies in Nine Elms British Cemetery.
Ypres Reservoir Cemetery
Three cemeteries were originally constructed for the burial of the dead near the western gate of the walled town
of Ypres (Ieper). Two cemeteries were located between the prison and the reservoir, the third, occupying a position to the
north of the prison. The latter, at first recorded as the "Cemetery North of the Prison" was later designated as
"Ypres Reservoir North Cemetery" and finally Ypres Reservoir Cemetery, the two cemeteries between the prison and
the reservoir being concentrated into this burial ground.
Burials commenced in the cemetery in October 1915 by units in the line and field ambulances until after the Armistice
when the cemetery contained 1099 burials. The cemetery was enlarged by the concentration of burials from various locations
in the salient and by the concentration of three smaller burial grounds from the vicinity. Ypres Reservoir Cemetery now contains
2,613 Commonwealth servicemen either buried or commemorated within its boundaries of which 1,034 of the burials are unidentified.