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Edgar Gaunt was baptised at St. Jude`s Church in Preston on the 5th January 1896, the baptism record noting his address at the time was 13 St. Michael`s Road in Preston. Edgar was the youngest of three children born to William and Martha Gaunt (nee Williamson). William and Martha married in the church of St. Paul in Preston on the 20th July 1889 and their eldest son William was born in 1891 and he was followed by a daughter Florence in 1894.

In 1901 the family lived at 9 Sizer Street in Preston where Edgar`s father was employed as a clerk for a coach builder. By 1911 Edgar, his parents and brother and sister had relocated to Nooklands Farm, Garstang Road in the Fulwood district of Preston. William Gaunt was now a bricklayer`s clerk, William Jnr. was a bricklayer`s apprentice, Florence was a machinist in a slipper works and Edgar, described on the Census as `farmer`s son` was working on the farm. According to the Census the farmhouse itself had four rooms which would suggest that the family`s farm was more of a `small holding` which was being looked after by Edgar on his own.

At some point after the 1911 Census Edgar finished working on the family`s farm and went to work as a shop assistant for the Preston Co-operative Society. Not long after war broke out he joined the queues at the recruiting offices in Preston, signing his papers on the 6th September 1914. His medical inspection revealed that he was 5`8” tall and he weighed 112lbs. He had a dark complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair. Edgar was issued with the service number 13056 and joined the 7th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, later becoming a member of “D” Company (Preston Pals). After the 7th Battalion had been formed and all the formalities completed the Battalion left Preston for Tidworth to start their training. The 7th Battalion remained at home in training until the 17th July 1915 and then left Tidworth by train for Folkestone and from there made the crossing to Boulogne. The strength of the Battalion at this time consisted of 30 Officers and 900 other ranks coming under the Command of the 56th Brigade in the 19th (Western) Division.

The 7th Battalion LNL took part in the Battle of the Somme and during the first ten days of July they lost 7 Officers and 164 other ranks. According to his service papers, Edgar was appointed Lance Corporal (unpaid) on the 17th July 1916 when the Battalion was in camp at Henencourt Wood near Albert. On the 19th of the month the 56th Brigade received orders to be ready to move to bivouacs near Fricourt; that evening the Battalion marched off and before dawn on the 20th the Battalion had relieved a unit of the 98th Brigade at Bazentin-le-Petit. Later that same day they took over an advanced and a very extended line of over one thousand yards in length for which they had no more than 480 rifles available.

The Battalion War Diary mentions that on the 20th July “at 7pm our Lewis guns brought down a German aeroplane just in front of our line, which burst into flames and both men were burnt to death”.

Two days later, Edgar along with Sergeant Sandwell and Lance Corporal William (Billy) Bagot went out on a patrol to try and establish the position of the enemy. After discovering a nearby enemy patrol, the party attempted to take cover but sadly Edgar was mortally wounded having been shot through the heart. His date of death confirmed as 22nd July 1916.

A few weeks later an extract from a letter written by an unnamed soldier to his mother in Preston appeared in the Daily Post. The letter is an account of some of the events that happened during the 7th Battalion`s involvement on the Somme in July 1916. Mid-way through the letter the writer refers to the aeroplane being shot down and following that it also mentions scouting patrols from both sides going out to try and establish each other`s position;

STORY OF THEIR SHARE IN THE BIG PUSH

“One of the members of the original Preston Pals company, who was a member of the Daily Post reporting staff when he enlisted, gives an interesting account of his adventures during the `big push` in a long letter to his mother.

Writing from “a quiet little village miles behind the firing line”, he says, we came out of action, Monday, 31st July (1916), after being in the thick of it all the month; a month I shall never forget. In my section (machine guns) we have a lot of extra tackle that we move about with special handcarts. These carts are alright on good roads, but can you picture us shoving them around on the ground captured from the Germans, some three or four miles in depth, which is one mass of shell holes and debris, and through a perfect maze of motor lurries and all sorts of traffic.

The position we had to occupy was a newly captured trench in front of the village which was the scene of our last scrap. The German gunners started bombarding when we neared the position, and we had a pretty hot time. The kept it up all night, but slackened off next morning. Both sides were shelling everlastingly, and the din never ceased. It is not exactly pleasant sitting tight and wondering where the next shell is going to drop. The following afternoon we helped to bring down a German aeroplane. Two of our aeroplanes were chasing it, and it flew pretty low near our trench, trying to dodge them and get back to its own lines. We let fly at it with rifles and machine guns, and suddenly it tilted sideways, burst into flames, and fell with a crash just in front of our trench. The sky is always swarming with aeroplanes but we see very few German aircraft.

The following night we advance, under the cover of darkness, to a new trench in front of our position. The Germans did not know exactly where we were, and we were not sure of their position. Consequently both sides had scouting parties out, and things were quite exciting. The new trench was quite isolated, and the German snipers got one or two of us in the open ground to the rear, so it was not an easy matter to get food and water up to the men. I tried to keep my thirst down by chewing rubber, but I would have given 20 francs gladly for a pint of water.

The charge did not come off until the following Sunday morning, just after midnight. We intended to surprise the Huns in the dark, but they were ready for us, and met us with machine gun fire and bombs. Our casualties were rather heavy, but I was one of the lucky ones. A few of us got a footing in the German trench, but not enough to hold it. Most of the wounded were able to get back, but a few were forced to lie out in shell holes. We crawled out and dragged some of them in, but the dirty Germans sniped the rescuers.

That afternoon we were relieved, and we occupied a line of support trenches in a wood a little behind the trench we had just left. For two days we had a fairly quiet time, and then the Germans began systematically searching the wood with shells of all sorts and sizes, including gas and tear shells. Our own shelling was terrific; at least ten times as heavy as theirs; one continuous roar. Naturally we had some casualties, and all of us had narrow shaves. It would take a book to try and describe all that I saw and heard that month, on every day of which the weather was really hot. Every tree in that wood was splintered and scarred with shell fire, and the ground was one mass of shell holes.

It was curious to watch the effect of the bursting shells. A valley to the right, traversed by two roads, got it pretty hot. You could see a wagon or gun team galloping along, with shells dropping all around them. Then one would burst right over them, but the team would unharness a wounded horse or two – like lighting – shoot them – and gallop on.

We came out of the battle area dead beat and dirty, and after a light dinner behind the lines, were taken by motor lurries to a village several miles back. Ordinary trench warfare is child`s play compared to this offensive. An old soldier in our Battalion who has been through most of the big engagements says they were nothing compared to this, and our French comrades say, Verdun is a minor affair compared to this one”.

After the news of Edgar`s death reached home, the Preston Guardian printed the following article;

A photograph and a testament were the only two personal items of Edgar`s returned to his family in Preston.

After the war Edgar`s father took receipt of the 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals that his son was entitled to and he would also have received his Memorial Plaque and Scroll in recognition of his sacrifice.

Private Edgar Gaunt was originally buried in one of the smaller cemeteries on the Somme, later his body was exhumed and identified by the means of a cross marking his grave. He was finally laid to rest with honour in Caterpillar Valley Cemetery on the Somme. He is also remembered on the Roll of Honour in his home town of Preston in the Harris Museum and Library.

Edgar`s parents had the following words inscribed at the foot of his headstone;

“EAGER AT HIS COUNTRY`S CALL

STRONG, UNDISMAYED SURRENDERED ALL”

Photo taken July 1916

Author`s note: Of the two soldiers mentioned in Edgar`s newspaper obituary, 13181 Lance Sergeant William (Billy) Bagot, he died on the 2/8/1917 at Passchendaele, to read his story click here

The other one was 13087 Harry Eugene Sandwell, Harry was awarded the MM and then commissioned on 16/11/1916 and he went on to serve for the remainder of the war with the Border Regiment, rank Lieutenant.

Janet Davis

Janet Davis

Janet Davis has been researching her family history for many years and through this she discovered many relatives who served in WW1. This interest then led Janet to do many walking the battlefield tours with her husband. In April 2013 she discovered this website and volunteered to help. Janet believes that there are lots of stories still to be told, most of them very sad but at the same time they are a fascinating insight into the men, their families, what they did and where they came from.
Janet Davis

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