Saturday, 1 October 2016

On this day, 4th October, in 1916, Private Edwin Serpell was killed.

Private 100143
49th Battalion Canadian Infantry (Alberta Regiment)
Died age 29
4th October1916
Edwin Charles Serpell was born in Venterdon on March 8th, 1887, the son of Samuel and Mary. He had three brothers and four sisters, was baptised in Stoke Climsland church and attended the primary school. At the time of the 1911 census (2nd April 1911), he was living with his parents and working as a ‘Steam Roller Assistant’, presumably at nearby Dingles. Like so many other young men from Cornwall, Edwin decided to seek his fortunes overseas and, on 3rd June 1913, he sailed from Bristol, on the Royal Line steamship Royal Edward, bound for Quebec and Montreal. His ultimate destination was Edmonton, Alberta. There he seems to have found work as a gardener as this was the occupation he gave when he enlisted in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in Edmonton on 1st July 1915. Interestingly, most of the 1,000 initial recruits were originally from Britain: only 208 were Canadian-born. The battalion subsequently landed in France on 9th October 1915, where it fought as part of the 7th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division in France and Flanders. It entered the fighting line on October 16th 1915 and remained on active service until the end of the war.
The action in which Edwin Serpell lost his life was during one of several conflicts that became part of the larger Battle of the Somme. It was a desperate fight for the strategically important high ground along the Pozieres Ridge, an area that was heavily defended by the Germans. The Battle of Flers-Courcelette was a large-scale general renewal of the offensive after the weeks of attritional fighting for the third German system at Pozieres, High Wood, Delville Wood, Guillemont and Ginchy. It is historically noteworthy for being the first time that tanks were used in battle and the first time that the Canadian Corps entered the Somme. The 49th suffered 63 casualties, 14 killed and 49 wounded. Edwin was one of those who died, his body was recovered and buried in the Courcelette British Cemetery, just north of Pozieres in Picardy.
As well as on our local war memorials, Edwin Serpell is commemorated on the Canadian Maple Leaf virtual war memorial. A newspaper clipping at the time mentions that he was a life-long member of the Sunday School in Venterdon. He had an ‘even temper and transparent goodness which remain as lessons in life for all the young people of his acquaintance’.

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