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Alfred Edward Edwards was born in Bank Top, Burnley on 6th April 1896 and was the son of John and Mary Jane (nee Boardman). He had seven siblings;

  • Fanny Edwards (b.1895)
  • Mary Anne Edwards (b.1898)
  • Sarah Jane Edwards (b.1899)
  • Emily Adelaide Edwards (b.1907)
  • Evelyn Edwards (b.1912)
  • Phyllis Edwards (b.1913)
  • James Edwards (b.1914)

When Britain went to war on 4th August 1914 Alfred was still living with his parents at 51 Preston Street, Chorley and was working as a drawer for Blairshaw Colliery Co.  He was 18 years 4 months old, single, had no previous military service and listed his parents as his next of kin.

Alfred joined the Territorial Force at Chorley two days after war broke out, 6th August 1914, and joined the 2/4th Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment with the number 2031 (later 200481). At his medical inspection the officer described Alfred as standing 5 ft 9 in tall and being of good physical development with a 4o in chest.

Obviously quick to impress his superiors he was promoted to Lance Corporal in December 1914 and appointed Lance Serjeant the following May. Two months later, July 1915 saw him promoted to Sergeant Instructor of physical training.

He was declared ‘fit for foreign service’ in March 1915 but remained with the 2/4th Battalion in the U.K. until the main body sailed from Southampton to Le Havre where they arrived on 8th February 1917.

The journey across the channel hadn’t been as straight-forward as planned, half the Battalion had embarked on the SS Duchess of Argyle and sailed about 1700hrs on the 7th February, but were turned back when ‘just off Portsmouth’ owing to the presence of enemy submarines; they eventually landed at 0230hrs on the 8th; and the second half sailed on the SS Lydia at 2300hrs on 7th February, landing about 0700hrs the next morning. A third group of men, 2 officers and 29 O.R. were delayed by another day when the SS Septah wasn’t allowed to sail.

With very little time to spare, the Battalion took their first turn in the trenches just six days after arriving in France, taking over from some Kiwis at SAILLY SUR LA LYS (near Armentières on the Belgian border) on 15th February 1917. During the 10 days they were in the trenches this first time, the casualties were: 1 wounded, 3 self-inflicted, 17 sick (and a further 8 reporting sick the next day).

In May 1917 he was promoted to Warrant Officer Class II and appointed Company Serjeant Major.

The London Gazette of 14th August 1917 records him being awarded the Military Medal for Bravery in the Field, the a newspaper article published in the Preston Guardian on 16th August 1918 give the specifics of its award;

The Battalion remained in the vicinity of Armentieres throughout the summer but, after a month’s further training in September, they moved north to Boesinghe, just north of Ypres, where they went into the trenches on 24th October, as 57th Division prepared to make its contribution to the Second Battle of Passchendaele.

Alfred sustained a gunshot wound to his upper right arm on 24th October 1917 but continued in the line until taking another to his back two days later. He was then taken by field ambulance to the 46th Casualty Clearing Station and onto the 83rd General Hospital in Boulogne.

At 3.40 on the morning of 26th October 1917 the Battalion had formed up in its assembly position and moved off to attack at 5.40 and captured their immediate objectives (Mendling and Rubens farms) fairly quickly and with relatively light casualties. In the process, however, all four company commanders had become casualties. The centre of the attack was then held up by heavy fire from German pill boxes. The pill box was eventually taken and a more dominant position achieved, but further advance was impossible due to heavy German machine-gun fire from all sides. The Battalion captured 18 Germans and destroyed several enemy machine-guns. The ground advanced over was very bad, swampy and covered with shell holes as can be read about in the ‘messages received’ document below;

In November 1917 he returned to the U.K. and was put onto the strength of the depot; he was then posted into the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion the following January which coincided with an announcement in the London Gazette (dated 18th January 1918) saying he had been awarded the Military Cross for his part in the action on 26th October 1917.

His M.C. citation reads;

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Although wounded on the previous afternoon he accompanied his company in an attack. He captured a “pill box”, killed the occupants, and consolidated and held an advanced shell hole position until he was again wounded.”

Photograph of CSM A. E. Edwards wearing his M.C. and M.M.

Alfred remained in the U.K. and was transferred to Class P Reserve in June 1918 before being finally discharged that December. Subsequent medical boards awarded him a pension for his 20% disability but made a point of noting he would be “quite for work as a collier”.

Alfred Edward Edwards M.C. M.M. passed away in Cleveland in March 1978.

Paul McCormick
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