Friday, October 07, 2022

Fullbore Friday

Ordinary men often find themselves in extraordinary times, become extraordinary, and then return to ordinary.

That does not prevent us from remembering them.

On the eve of the Second World War if you found yourself in Birmingham, England you may have found yourself in the company of a middle aged optician Edward John Hicks and his wife Ethel. Perhaps their 19-yr old daughter Barbara or 15-yr old Pamela, born a few years after what they would call "The Great War," might make an appearance.

They lived in a simple duplex at 46 Brompton Road. That one on the right.

You wouldn't know that your neighborhood optometrist who makes your glasses was also this man.
Say hello to Lieutenant Edward John Hicks, MC, British Army, 2nd Hampshire Regiment. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. After fighting for the first two years of the war as an enlisted man, he was brought up from the ranks and completed officer training in 1916.

Clearly a good soldier and leader to be brought up, and he knew what that meant. Second Lieutenants only had a short lifespan on the Western Front. You needed luck...but more than that, you needed to be good. Better than good.

In WWI, the MC was the second highest award after the Victoria Cross. Roughly the equivalent to a Navy Cross in the USN.
The Battle of Passchendaele, sometimes called the Third Battle of Ypres, took place from June through October 2017. Yes, for the third time in as many years, there would be a major battle over the same bit of ground.

If you have seen this picture from WWI, it is from Passchendaele. This is where they fought.

When it was all said and done, the British Empire, French, and Belgians suffered over 300,000 casualties, and the Germans nearly that much. Both sides may have had more, no one really knows. Such was that war.

So, we have Edward. Halfway through the battle on September 2nd,1917 he joined the 2nd Hampshire Regiment.
Six weeks later, there he was, in the thick of it. 
The 2nd Hampshire, who left Parroy Camp at 9 .15 p.m. on October 8th, found moving up into the assembly positions more than usually difficult : the expanded Steenbeek had to be crossed, the German shelling was fairly heavy and caused both W and X Companies several casualties, while it rained hard all the time ; but if conditions could hardly have been worse,' somehow the positions were duly taken up, and at 7 a.m., 100 minutes after ` Zero ', the battalion started forward in ' artillery formation '. The fire was heavy, but it was some compensation for the mud that it partly smothered the shell-bursts, direction was well kept, thanks partly to having the railway line to go by, and before long the Hampshire were digging in on the Namur Crossing Line, which the Worcestershire had taken well up to time, subsequently going forward again. Advancing again at 8 .50 a.m., the Hampshire were heavily shelled but, admirably directed by Colonel Spring, established themselves just behind the second objective, which also the Worcestershire had duly secured despite stubborn opposition, taking 200 prisoners. On this line they dug in, 2/Lt. Hicks, though wounded and then buried by a shell-burst near him, set a splendid example, continuing at duty and holding on to his post. Then, about 4 p.m., counter-attacks from the NE. forced the Newfoundlands back from the third objective, which they had reached, their left being pushed back across the Poelcapelle—Cinq Chemins road. They rallied, however, and Colonel Spring was prompt to reinforce them and fill up any gaps in their line, while 2/Lt. Scutt formed a defensive flank on the left with his platoon, rallied officer less men who were retiring and restored the situation. After dark the Hampshire relieved the Newfoundlands in what was now the front line, running about NW. from near Tranquille Farm across the Poelcapelle—Cinq Chemins road,' the relief being smoothly effected. During the night, while patrols successfully located the enemy, taking several prisoners, the line was consolidated, with support and reserve lines behind it. Sergeant Sillence, acting as C.S.M., who had been conspicuous during the advance in assisting his officers and setting a fine example, was now much to the fore in directing the consolidation despite heavy shelling. The enemy's snipers were active, especially from Taube Farm to the right front, causing several casualties, and during the night several times fighting patrols approached our lines, two of about 30 each being dispersed by Private Bray, who was out with a Lewis-gun in front of our line, while Sergeant Martin beat off another and Lance-Corporal Jerram and Private Smith did useful work in scouting and detecting the enemy's efforts to advance. Except for barraging a line the battalion was not holding, the German artillery was inactive, and though such wet ground made the work difficult, real progress was made next day with the consolidation, very good work being done by the battalion runners in keeping up communications. Early in the afternoon the Brigade Major reached battalion head- quarters, now at Pascal Farm, East of Koekuit, with orders for the capture of a troublesome ` strong point ' to the left front near Cairo House. There was barely time to organize an attack before the barrage came down, but Lt. Colonel Spring went forward through a heavy barrage to W Company's head-quarters to arrange the attack, and W was just ready before our barrage began at 5 .30 p.m. Advancing with two platoons in a front wave and one supporting, the company, well led and skilfully directed by Captain Cuddon, who was well backed up by Sergeants Trethewy and Parker, mastered its objective, despite stubborn opposition. Many Germans were accounted for, a Lewis gunner, Private Gosling, dispersing one party of 30 single-handed, and a good line was established 50 yards NE. of the buildings and linked up to the rest of the line. That evening the 7th Lincolnshire (Seventeenth Division) arrived to relieve the Hampshire. A dark night made this difficult, but thanks to good arrangements for guides everything went off smoothly and by 8 a.m. next day (October 11th) the Hampshire were back at Elverdinghe . 2/Lt. Lloyd and 18 men had been killed and Captains C. T. Ball and Mudge, Lt. A. G. Smith, 2/Lts. Cutmore and Hicks and 74 men wounded. One noticeable feature of the action had been the increased expenditure of rifle ammunition; in bringing up reinforcements the enemy had given better targets than of late and, with more chances of using the rifle, battalions which had been careful to maintain their standards of musketry had reaped the benefit.

A Military Cross is not just mailed in. Six months later;
The King. King George V, grandfather of the recently passed Queen Elizabeth II, and great-grandfather to King Charles III.

Sadly, we don't know the details of Edward's wounds, but it would be 10 months until he could rejoin his regiment.

In the days before antibiotics and CASVAC, one can only imagine;
He was wounded a second time the first week of September 1918 a few kilometers north of Armentières, Belgium.

In two more months, the war was over. Then he went home as millions of other survivors of that horribly bloody war. The came home and helped make the world we live in today.

Edward fought as an infantryman - both enlisted and as an officer - for the entire length of the war from 1914 to 1918. The United Kingdom had almost 1-million men killed in the war, another 250,000 or so from her Empire. 

Wounded twice, Edward was one of them who made it home and had to do his best to make a future worthy of their sacrifice. He came home to industrial Birmingham to be an optometrist. He started a family, and there is how he found himself to The Front Porch.

Edward is the great-grandfather of friend to the blog and guest of Midrats, Emma Salisbury. I saw her note about her great-grandfather on twitter and she was kind enough to share with me the exceptional summary of Edward's records provided to her by The Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum where most of the above information was taken from.

Thank you Emma, and to your great-grandfather and all the men like him of his generation - fullbore. 

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