George D'Arcy Edwardes - Ogbourne St Andrew History Group

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George D'Arcy Edwardes

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George D’Arcy Edwardes, a keen polo player and horseman, was born in 1888 and was the only son of the late Mr George Edwardes a well known London theatrical manager of Irish ancestry (and who is regarded as the father of musical comedy in this country) and Mrs Edwardes of Winkfield Lodge, Windsor Forest, Berkshire.  George  was educated at Eton and at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst; he was gazetted to the 1st (Royal) Dragoons in 1907, joining his Regiment on the 2nd February 1908 as 2nd Lieutenant, subsequently promoted on the 12th June 1910 to Lieutenant, serving with his Regiment at Potchefstroom, South Africa.   He appears to have been granted leave from his duties and returned to England, where in ‘Polo Monthly’ of March 1914, he was mentioned as being a very prominent polo player, who had had ridden as a jockey with other fellow polo playing Officers in the Grand Military Gold Cup at Sandown Park at the end February 1914, however there are no details to his finishing placement.

His Regiment was recalled back to England, eventually returning back to British shores on the 19th September 1914, when they were temporarily barracked at Windmill Hill Camp, Ludgershall.  Within the month the 1st (Royal) Dragoons were placed under Command of the 6th Cavalry Brigade in the 3 rd Calvary Division.  On the 4th October 1914, George embarked with his Regiment at Southampton, and after some sailing delay due to suspected submarine activity in the English Channel, it arrived at Oostende on 8 th October 1914 and preceded to Bruges as part of IV Corps. The 3rd Division including George’s 1st (Royal) Dragoons then remained on the Western Front in France and Flanders, taking part (mostly as dismounted infantry) in the following engagements in 1914: The Antwerp Operations (9 – 10th October 1914), The Battle of Langemarck (21 – 24th October 1914) ("First Ypres Phases"), the Battle of Gheluvelt (29 – 31st October 1914) ("First Ypres phases") and The Battle of Nonne Bosschen (11th November 1914).

George’s military career as an officer continued upwards and on the 31 st October 1914, he was promoted to Captain, taking over the role as the second in command of a cavalry squadron.  In 1915 following the Battle of Frezenburg Ridge (11 – 13th May), a phase of the Battles of Ypres 1915 ("Second Ypres"), George was amongst a list of officers "Returning from Wounds or Illness" (without specifying which) back to England. Following a period of respite Captain George D’Arcy, a cavalry officer, now as a ‘Temporary’ Major, was transferred to the 13th (Service) Battalion (2nd Rhondda), one of the newly raised Kitcheners’ ‘New Army’ Welsh infantry Regiments. This was partly due to the shortage of ‘Regular’ experienced officers, who were less scarce in the cavalry then those in the infantry, so New Army Battalions needing senior officers were supplied from this source.

On the 28th April 1915, the 13th (Service) Battalion (2nd Rhondda) of the Welsh Regiment, which had been formed in Cardiff on the 23 Oct 1914, become part of the new 114 th Brigade of the 38th Welsh Division.  In August 1915 the Battalion moved from Rhyl in North Wales to Winchester and then in December 1915 from Southampton to Le Havre in France.  The 13th Battalion along with the rest of the 38th (Welsh) Division spent the early part of 1916 training for trench warfare and gaining experience under battle conditions in the line around Givenchy, in preparation for the 1916 Offensive on the Somme.

It was in May that George wrote a very sympathetic letter to a friend, Douglas Page,  whose father had unexpectedly died.  Unlike George's experience the previous year when his father had passed away, Douglas was refused compassionate leave and George urged Douglas to re-apply to the Divisional General. Refused again, it was ironic that Douglas was given home leave a week before the Somme battle but he had missed his father's funeral.  See:
http://whiz-bangskrumpsandcoalboxes.co.uk/2016/05/26/26th-may-1916-friday/

The Division left the Givenchy area on 10th June 1916 to the nearby area of St Pol for additional training and on the 5th July 1916 relieved the 7th Division in front of Mametz Woods.  By early July 1916, Major (T) George D’Arcy Edwardes was now the second in command of the 13th (Service) Battalion (2nd Rhondda). Mametz Wood was given as the objective of the 38th (Welsh) Division during the First Battle of the Somme. The initial attacks on the 7th and 8th July on the heavily defended wooded area were pushed back by the dug in machine guns of the German elite ‘Lehr’ Regiment, the 38th (Welsh) Division taking heavy losses. The attack proposed for the 9th July was postponed until the morning 10th July; the Germans knew they would be coming.

In a recent (July 2016) BBC documentary (Wales at the Somme) it was suggested that General Douglas Haig, C in C of the B.E.F., accused the 38th Welsh of "a lack of determination, a lack of resolve and a suggestion that they didn’t press hard enough".  British high command had expected that the wood would have been cleared in a matter of hours, but that was only achieved on July 13th, after 4,500 British killed or wounded.  The German defenders were battle hardened whilst the Welsh Division were novices, but in addition recent archaeological research has revealed extensive German fortifications which were not marked on any British maps of the time.  Two pre-war quarries together with a previously unknown network of trenches formed an almost impregnable stronghold.  The 38th Welsh eventually overcame these defences, but at terrible cost and Haig's intemperate suggestion of cowardice left a long standing bitter taste.

On the Morning of 10th July 1916, Major George D’Arcy Edwardes, was now the Commanding Officer of the 13th Welsh. At 0412 Hrs his Battalion formed up ready to go ‘over the top’. To his front was the heavily forested wood and redoubts of Mametz, to his right, the area of the wood known as the ‘Hammerhead’ which had been attacked unsuccessfully earlier on the 7 th July by the 38 th Welsh Division.  The Germans had setup machine guns in that area of the wood and would be able to fire enfilade into the assaulting troops moving to their front.

 
 
 
 

The attack started with a 45 minute artillery bombardment, with a smoke barrage along the length of the attack, as the 14th and 13th Welsh Battalions advanced in to the hail of enemy machine gun and artillery fire, casualties were heavy, but eventually the battalion reached the wood, meeting with heavy resistance. Two attempts were made to enter the fringe of the woods and were thrown back, the third attempt after bloody hand to hand bayonet fighting was successful with the 13th Welsh managing to get into the wood and take prisoners and silencing some of the German Machine Guns.

The battalion continued to push forward into the wood with the Germans giving ground stubbornly. The situation in the wood now became very confused and congested as several of the other advancing British Battalions met. The British artillery rolling barrage that was moving forward with the advancing troops now started to fall short amongst the British units; messages were sent back to the Artillery to lift their fire, but the request was refused and all units were ordered to fall back.  During this time, whilst reorganising his men to attack further dug in German machine gun posts, Major George D’Arcy Edwardes was killed in action.  The battle continued for the rest of the day, by the 12th July 1916 the wood was effectively cleared of the enemy. The Welsh 38th Division had lost about 4,500 men killed or wounded in this engagement and would not be used in a massed attack again until 31 July 1917, one year later.

Major George D’Arcy Edwardes, is remembered with Honour at the Dantzig Alley British Cemetery, Mametz, France.  Dantzig Alley British Cemetery now contains 2,053 burials and commemorations of the First World War. 518 of the burials are unidentified, but there are special memorials to 17 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials record the names of 71 casualties buried in other cemeteries, whose graves were destroyed by shell fire.

The 38th Welsh at Mametz Wood   by  Christopher Williams  [National Museum & Galleries of Wales]

 
 
 
 
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