Friday, 15 January 2016

On this day, 16th January, in 1916, Private John Edwards died

John Edwards was born in Stoke Climsland village in 1891, in a cottage just behind the church. He was baptised in the church on 9th August of that year. His parents were Philip, a boot and shoe maker, and Sarah. John appears to have lived in the village all his life, almost certainly attending the nearby school, and worked locally. His entry in the 1911 Census gives his occupation as a 'labourer' but gives no further details of where he worked. He enlisted into the 2nd/4th Batallion of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry at Cambourne and his regiment sailed for India at the end of 1914 and landed at Karachi on 1st January 1915. The 2nd/4th Batallion remained in India for the duration of the war but many men were drawn from this unit to make up numbers for other regiments at frontlines elsewhere and it is for this reason that John Edwards was drafted to the frontline in Mesopotamia.

India itself was not classed as a 'theatre of war' but Mesopotamia was (Code 5A according to army classification). As any medal entitlement dated from a soldier's actual entry into a theatre of war, it is possible to date John Edwards' arrival in Mesopotamia from his medal roll card as 25th August 1915.

In most accounts, Mesopotamian is regarded as a campaign peripheral to the major battles in France and Belgium. But this view should not detract from the atrocious conditions that soldiers in this arena had to withstand - heat, disease, starvation, thirst were ever-present. We cannot ascertain the exact circumstances of John's death on 16th January 1916 but it is highly probable that he was involved in the fierce fighting around the River Tigris and Kut Al Almara on that date. His death certificate states that he was killed in action but gives no details. His body was never recovered and he is commemmorated on the War Memorial at Basra.

The Basra Memorial commemorates more than 40,500 members of the Commonwealth forces who died in the operations in Mesopotamia from the Autumn of 1914 to the end of August 1921 and whose graves are not known. Until 1997 it was located on the main quay of the naval dockyard at Maqil, on the west bank of the Shatt-al-Arab, about 8 kilometres north of Basra. Because of the sensitivity of the site, the Memorial was moved by presidential decree. The move, carried out by the authorities in Iraq, involved a considerable amount of manpower, transport costs and sheer engineering on their part, and the Memorial has been re-erected in its entirety. It is now located 32 kilometres along the road to Nasiriyah, in the middle of what was a major battleground during the first Gulf War. It is worth noting that whilst the current climate of political instability persists it is extremely challenging for the Commission to manage or maintain its cemeteries and memorials located within Iraq.
Basra Memorial in its new position.
The commemorative plaque on the Memorial.
John Edward's citation on the Memorial.

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