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Ernest George Weavers

Served with Southend Borough Constabulary from Apr 1, 1914 and died on Sep 28, 1915.

Ernest, the son of Benjamin and Rosamund Weavers who lived in Peacock Terrace, Carlton Colville, Lowestoft, Suffolk, was born in 1889. He joined Essex Constabulary in 1911, serving in that force as Constable 223 for just under three years. He was one of the 69 Constables who successfully applied to transfer from the County to the Southend Borough Force in 1914 and was attested as Constable 97. He lived in the Westcliff area.

In September 1914, with the permission of the Chief Constable he enlisted as Private G/4910 Ernest George Weavers with 13th Battalion Middlesex Regiment - The Duke of Cambridge's Own - also known as the 'Die Hards' as a consequence of their actions in the Penninsular War. The battalion formed part of the 73rd Brigade of the 24th Division.

Initially formed in Shoreham, the 24th Division moved to the Aldershot training area in June 1915, and were inspected by Field-Marshall Earl Kitchener on August 19 and King George on August 20. Orders to move overseas were received and they departed for France on September1, in pouring rain, from Folkestone on the Duchess of Argyll.

Having disembarked about midnight that day, the 13th Middlesex comprising 30 Officers and 952 other ranks marched through Boulogne to a rest camp just outside the town.

On September 3 after a three hour train journey to Maresquel the 13th Middlesex marched to Crequy where they were billeted in farms and sheds until September 21 - training, marching and preparing for the move to the front line. Newly formed divisions were normally afforded a period of trench warfare training with gradual initiation into active service conditions but, with advanced plans of an offensive at Loos, this was not the case with the 24th Division who were thrown into action with very limited preparation and no experience of hostile rifle, machine gun or shell fire.

At 8 p.m. on the September 21 with the 13th Middlesex forming the advance guard, the division commenced a weary 11 miles march through hilly country, in brilliant moonlight. At 1a.m. on 22nd they arrived at Laires and spent the remainder of the night in farms and barns in the village. At 8 p.m. that evening they recommenced their march, covering 14 miles in bright moonlight and arriving at L'Ecleme about 3 a.m. the following morning. They lost little time in taking their rest in the farms and barns allotted to them. Eventually they were to reach Beuvry, which was very close to the front, line about 11p.m. on September 24.

Early the next morning (September 25) ear splitting roars awoke the men, with the farmhouses and the sheds in which the battalion was billeted literally shaking and rocking from the thundering of a thousand guns. The great 15 inch howitzer at Sailly La Bourse had added 'her' voice to the roaring of the other 'heavies' and pandemonium reigned. The battalion received orders to march from Beuvry eastwards along the Vermelles road.

The 73rd Brigade (which included the 13th Middlesex) were placed at the disposal of the 9th Scottish division then engaged in a desperate struggle for possession of the Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8.

The 13th Middlesex had not gone far along the Vermelles road before they met the first evidence of real warfare.

'For down the roadway there came, in ones and twos and sometimes in small batches, wounded men with all the signs of a bloody struggle fresh upon them, limbs bandaged with 'first aid' dressings, tunics torn open, or stained with mud through which dark-red patches had begun to make their appearance, some limping and stumbling, others with that curious, upright, nonchalant air, which often covered a ghastly wound. And then behind the wounded British soldiers, herded together under strong escorts, came a crowd of German prisoners, their faces depicting every emotion from that of a man snatched from a horrible death and happy with his release though a prisoner of war, to that of a loathing and hatred of their captors, discernable in the sullen expressions and the smouldering fires glowing in the eyes of some of the captured Teutons.'
About 12noon, the battalion arrived west of Sailly La Bourse, where it was directed to the left, and formed up west of a small stream west of Vermelles. Here the Middlesex men were joined by the 71st and 72nd Infantry Brigades of the division, the remainder of the 73rd Brigade having proceeded further east towards the firing line.

Soon after 4 p.m. instructions were received by Colonel Oliver to move his battalion forward to east of Vermelles, and in the gathering darkness, this movement was carried out. The Middlesex men were now assembled near the railway at the western end of a long communication trench (Barts Alley), which led from the old British front line about three-quarters of a mile in front. The battalion diary states that it was in this position that 'the Battalion for the first time came under fire (shell and rifle fire)' but it is presumed that no casualties were suffered as none are mentioned in the records.

The battalion moved into line about 11p.m. (September 25), the move took place in artillery formation, over open ground, to trenches that had been the old British support line. In many places these trenches were knee deep in water and the men had a most uncomfortable time. From these trenches it was vividly evident that fighting was still going on all up and down the line. In front of them the desperate struggle for the quarries was still going on, with sounds of machine guns, trench mortars and grenades being punctuated by rifle fire. On the left front were the Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8. Burning buildings threw a lurid glaze over the battlefield as hour after hour passed, and still no orders to go forward for the Middlesex men. Finally, about 3a.m. on September 26, an advance was made by A and D Companies of the 13th Battalion across the open towards the 'Slag Heap' of No. 8 Fosse.

'The trenches occupied by these two Companies were German support trenches south-west of the Hohenzollern Redoubt; A Company was on the left and occupied a portion of the trench going to the left facing the Slag Heap and a portion of Slag Alley (a communication trench to the south-west side of the Slag Heap, No. 8 Fosse); D Company was on the right joining up with the 2nd Queen's Regiment Facing Haisnes Church.'
Having taken up their positions, the 13th Middlesex were in a desperate position and were exposed not only to heavy shell fire but also to repeated rifle attacks by the Germans who made determined, but unsuccessful efforts to wrest the trenches from the Die-Hards. With skillful use of their machine guns and counter-attacks by bombers the 13th held their own and beat off any German advance. They suffered casualties but did not give way.

They also suffered from want of food and water as none had been issued to them. Their hurried departure from Beuvry on the morning of the 25th had been prior to the issue of rations for that day, and owing to their isolated position in the front line trenches it had been impossible to pass up supplies to them. On the night of 26th, a small quantity of water, biscuits and ammunition was sent up to the front line, but the forward companies would have suffered much more severely had it not been for the kindness of the 2nd Queen's company, who shared what they had with the Die-Hards.

During the 27th September, the position of the 13th Middlesex became more precarious and their struggle continued. With great fortitude they maintained their desperate situation, though suffering severe casualties, and on the morning of 29th were relieved. A total of 170 men, all that was left of 'A' and 'D' Companies, marched back to Beuvry and then entrained for Lillers whence they marched to Lambres to rejoin the remainder of the battalion, in billets on September 30.

Following the deployment of 'A' and 'D' Companies on 26th, 'B' and 'C' Companies were extended to occupy the length of trenches previously occupied by the whole battalion. About 2 p.m. that day, most of these two companies were moved forward about 100 yards, as the German guns had found the exact range of the original trenches. There are no accounts of what happened to these companies between 2 p.m. on Sunday and the Monday afternoon when they had to move forward again for the same reason but clearly they were under continuous fire in an exposed position. The battalion diary records a determined attack by the enemy on the left flank during the Monday afternoon about 5 p.m. which was repulsed by men from several regiments including the Royal Scots, Black Watch, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, assisted by the Northants. and the 13th Middlesex who were moved down to meet the attack. Throughout the night, these attacks were constantly repeated, and in every instance they were beaten off and the enemy eventually retired, leaving the ground littered with the dead and the dying.

'B' and 'C' Companies were relieved about 8a.m. on 28th and moved back to Vermelles and then to Sailly-la-Bourse where they were visited by the Divisional Commander 'who warmly congratulated the Battalion on the work it had done.'

The battalion diary records 14 killed, 85 wounded and 71 missing presumed killed. The 24th Division suffered a total of 4,178 casualties in this short period of fighting.

It has not been possible to confirm to which company of the 13th Battalion Ernest Weavers was assigned so we cannot be sure as to the precise location where he fell. He died on September 28 but his body, if recovered, was never identified. He was twenty-six years old. He is commemorated together with 20,588 other officers and men who died during the Battle of Loos at the Loos Memorial to the Missing in Dud Corner Cemetery.

Although Ernest had joined his Regiment in September 1914, he had only been in France for twenty-eight days at the time of his death and in the front line for less than a week. Like many others this was his first and last action. By coincidence, as the 73rd Brigade had been placed under the command of the 9th Scottish Division during the action Ernest would have been deployed in the same area as his former Southend Police colleague Charles Gillings who lived through the Battle of Loos only to die nine months later on the Somme.

Again, by coincidence whilst writing this account of Ernest Weavers in November 2004 it has been sad to read that a field in Auchy Les Mines, which formed part of the Loos battlefield is being turned into a rubbish dump. During the excavation for this work human remains from the battle of Loos have been recovered. A Daily Mail article confirmed that more than 61,000 British troops from six Divisions were killed, wounded or captured during the battle. Amongst the 8,000 dead was the brother of the Queen Mother - Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon of the Black Watch and Rudyard Kipling's son John.

White stones ablaze in the sunlight
Like the ice on a festive cake,
On each a name, now most forgotten,
All asleep to never wake.
With bare chests they faced machine-guns
With never a thought to refuse,
Just gun-fodder for Dud Corner,
The scrap heap of Loos.
Private Harry Fellows.

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