EDWIN FRANCIS PAGE was born in 1897 in Beckenham, Surrey, the son of Edwin and Maude Ellen Page, and brother of Rhoda Alice (born Warnham 1911). In 1911 the family were living in Hill Cottage, Ends Place, Warnham.
Edwin's personal service records appear to have been destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War, however surviving records show that he enlisted for service in Chelmsford, to serve with the 3/5th Battalion Essex Regiment, becoming Private 3864. His service number indicates that he enlisted on 27th August 1915. (1)
The 5th Battalion Essex Regiment was a Territorial battalion of the Essex Regiment. At the start of the First World War there was a surge of men enlisting in the Territorial battalions, which rapidly filled. It was decided, therefore, to create 'sections' of these Territorial battalions, numbered 1/5th, 2/5th, 3/5th. The terms of enlistment for Territorial soldiers was for 4 years service, to be subject to call-up in the event of an emergency but with no obligation to serve overseas. This last restriction was negated by a waiver which Edwin signed with his enlistment papers.
1/5th Essex Regiment served overseas with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, and had landed at Sulva Bay on the Gallipoli Peninsular on 12th August 1915 as an element of 161st Brigade, 54th (East Anglian) Division. The battalion had remained on the battlefields of Gallipoli until 4th December 1915, when they were evacuated initially to the island of Mudros, and then to Alexandria in Egypt on 17th December 1915.
TO THE MEDITERRANEAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE
Edwin completed his basic training and then travelled to Devonport with a draft of men to embark for service overseas. It is likely that he boarded the S.S. 'Oriana' on 18th May 1916, and disembarked at Alexandria eleven days later. In doing so he was transferred to the 1/5th Battalion Essex Regiment (5/Essex), to serve with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. After a short time at the Base Depot it is likely that Edwin joined the battalion at Shallufa on 8th June 1916.
In January 1915 Turkish forces of the Ottoman Empire, integrated with German units and officers, threatened the lifeline to the British Empire that was provided by the Suez Canal through which vital supplies of men, oil , food and materials had to pass. With the release of men and resources from the Gallipoli Campaign it was decided to establish defense in depth for the Suez Canal by pushing positions out from the east bank of the canal into the Sinai desert.
The Turkish forces could threaten the Canal by three routes across the Sinai Desert, the northern, the central and the southern. In March 1916 it was decided to destroy any water sources on the central route, thereby denying the enemy this route of advance. As any force pushing the Turks back towards Palestine would require materials and water, a railway and a water pipeline was commenced that, in mid May 1916, reached Romani.
On 3rd August 1916 the Turks made a last attempt to attack the Canal by breaking through at Romani, but were thwarted in an action lasting two days. From this point onwards the Allied forces were on the offensive, pushing the Ottoman army back across the Sinai peninsular. The pipeline and railway was pushed on for the next four months at a rate of 15 miles a month to reach El Arish, the forward post of the Ottoman forces. On 17th October it was confirmed that the Turks had withdrawn from El Arish. On 9th January 1917, the remaining Ottoman forces were pushed out of Sinai at the Battle of Rafa.
ADVANCE INTO PALESTINE
In March 1917 service numbers were re issued throughout the Territorial Force of the British Army. Prior to this, a man was issued a service number according to the unit with which he was serving. This had worked easily during peacetime but had led to confusion with the dramatic expansion of the forces and when a man transferred from one unit to another within the same Regiment or Corps he required renumbering. The men were issues with six digit numbers, each unit being issued with an allotment of numbers, hence, the 5/Essex were allocated numbers 250001 to 275000. The longest serving member of the unit was issued 250001 and so on. Edwin was allocated the new service number of 251099.
During this period Edwin and the 53rd Division was moved to the Egypt/Palestine border area from the Southern Suez Sector where it had been on defensive duties.
From the railhead at Rafa, Gaza was just 20 miles away. When, in early 1917, it was decided to increase pressure on all fronts to relieve opposition on the forthcoming offensives on the Western Front, the commanders decided that Gaza was to be attacked. Gaza was a prominent town 2 miles from the coast and forming the western node of the Turkish Gaza- Beersheba defensive line. The First Battle of Gaza began on the 26th March 1917, with the 161st Brigade, including Edwin, reinforcing the attacking 53rd Division. The attack commenced at 1030am and at 1310 161st Brigade became involved in the action. Following initial successes, in the face of Turkish reinforcements and at the brink of victory, battle was broken off and the Allied Forces withdrew.
The 5/Essex had closed with the enemy for the first time since leaving Gallipoli. It was Edwin's first experience of battle. On the 26th the battalion had lost 117 men killed or died of wounds (since June 1916 the battalion had lost only two men to illness).
Ottoman Machine Gun Corps in the vicinity of Gaza 1917
The Second Battle of Gaza commenced on 19th April 1917, by which time the Ottoman forces had reinforced their defensive line around Gaza. The British infantry moved into position in sight of Gaza on the morning of 17th, and remained there, under fire, throughout the preparatory barrage of two days which culminated in the firing of 2000 gas shells against the defenders, the first use of poison gas and six tanks by the British in the campaign.
On the 19th, the 54th Division was pitched at the defensive positions on the ridges to the south east of Gaza. It appears that the 161st Brigade was held in reserve on the day and not committed until the afternoon, by which time the battle was being broken off with heavy casualties. Of the 5,917 British casualties on the 19th, 2,971 were from 54th Division, although 5/Essex had been spared.
Following a change of command to General Sir Edmund Allenby and reinforcement, by October 1917 the Allies were once again ready to renew their attack with the objective of reaching Jerusalem by Christmas 1917. The offensive commenced with the successful capture of Beersheba by a surprise attack on 31st October 1917. This was followed by a renewed attack at Gaza starting before dawn on 2nd November with the men of 161st and 162nd Brigades attacking the Ottoman trench system in the dune area between Gaza and the sea. Again casualties were heavy, 5/Essex losing 65 men, but the action was successful.
From the position attained by the 161st and 162nd Brigades in the dunes, a major attack was launched towards Gaza on the morning of 7th November, and Gaza was captured. This resulted in the fall of the Gaza-Beersheba Line and the Ottoman forces began their withdrawal northwards. 50 miles remained between the Allied Forces and Jerusalem.
NORTH OF JAFFA
On 24th November the 54th Division took part in an attack crossing the Nahr el Auja, 3 miles north of Jaffa (now known as the Yarkon River in the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv). After establishing a bridgehead on the northern side of the river, the force was pushed back by an Ottoman attack on the 25th. 5/Essex experienced no casualties until the 28th November, when 9 members of the battalion died, including Private Edwin Page from Rudgwick.
On the night of 28th November the Ottoman forces had launched a counter attack against the Allied forces east of Jaffa. It is likely that Edwin and the men of 5/Essex were killed in this counter attack. It appears that at this time 161st Brigade was detached from 54th Division and located approximately 2 miles north east of Jaffa (in what is now Tel Aviv). Of the 9 men, Edwin and six others have no known grave and are commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial.
Edwin was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
(1) From the records of Pte Henry A Bines Essex (T) 3863 251098 and Pte William Doe Essex (T) 3865 251100
Soldiers Medal Record Cards
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Soldiers Died in the Great War
The Great World War, A History