EDWIN WALLER was born in Horsham, Sussex in 1895, the son of Mark and Fanny Waller, and brother to Alfred Waller (born c1877), Alice Waller (born c1879) William Raymond Waller (born c1882), James Mortimer Waller (born c1884), Sarah Jane Waller (born c1886), Ellen Waller (born c1888), Fanny Waller (born c1890), Mark Waller (born 1893), Thomas Waller (born 1897) and Arthur Waller, (born c1900).
Edwin’s sister, Sarah Jane married John Frederick Scammell in 1908. The couple lived in Gadbridge Cottage, Ewhurst where John was a general labourer. By 1911 the couple had two sons, John Cromwell Scammell and Edgar William Frederick Scammell.
In 1911 the Waller family were living at Gravetts, Rudgwick, where Mark senior and junior and Edwin were farm labourers. Thomas and Arthur were at school together. Their father died in December 1912.
SPECIAL RESERVE SERVICE
Edwin had joined the Army prior to the end of 1911 as a Special Reserve Soldier with 3rd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment. Men enlisting in the Special Reserve signed on for six years, and undertook the full six months recruit training together with one month’s training every year.
MOBILISATION AUGUST 1914
The men of the Royal Sussex Regiment Special Reserve were mobilised on 8th August 1914. As the early months of the war passed the regular battalions of the British Expeditionary Force suffered significant casualties. Replacements were required from the army units that had remained in the United Kingdom. It appears that Mark was posted overseas to join 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment (2/RSR) as a reinforcement. He arrived in France on 29th November 1914.
OVERSEAS TO THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE
The 2/RSR had arrived in France as part of 2nd Brigade, 1st Division. At the end of November the battalion were refitting in Hazebrouck. Edwin probably joined the unit on 6th November as part of a draft of 138 men. His first experience of the front line came on 22nd November near Eppinette. The battalion spent their first Christmas out of the line at Le Hamel. The Battalion War Diary states: “Xmas day was spent in peace, the Brigade however being prepared to move at an hours notice. Princess Mary’s gifts and Their Majesty’s Xmas cards were issued.”
The 2/RSR were also involved in action at Givenchy on 25th January 1915 (defending the town after a German attack associated with the detonation of 6 mines) and in the proximity of Cuinchy in the days of January and the 29th February (for which they were commended by Sir John French, commander of the British Expeditionary Force).
THE BATTLE OR AUBERS RIDGE
By 23rd March 1915 the battalion had moved north into the area around Richebourg and Neuve Chapelle. On Sunday, 9th May Edwin and the battalion were engaged in the Battle of Aubers Ridge. At 5am the preliminary barrage commenced and 30 minutes later the men of 2/RSR climbed out over the front line parapet along a frontage of approximately 400 yards. The south easterly advance, in its majority, only managed to cover 150 yards into no-mans land, which was interrupted by wide water filled ditches that required wooden bridges to cross (although some elements got to within 40 yards of the German wire). Here it was brought to a halt by heavy rifle, machine gun and artillery fire.
The wet nature of the area lead to the defences being constructed as breastworks: in places the German breastworks were up to 6 feet high, with the defenders firing through loopholes. The artillery barrage had cut very few gaps in the German wire and the parapet was almost unbreached. An hour after it had commenced, the remains of the battalion were recalled to the British front line parapet near the Rue de Bois. The flat nature of the terrain had forced the survivors to lay as flat as possible to avoid the enemy fire; they returned to the safety of the British parapet by crawling. Edwin had survived an action which has cost the unit 14 officers and 548 men killed, wounded or missing (CWGC register indicates 5 officers and 268 men of the unit died on 9th May 1915). In this short period of action 1st Division (8 attacking battalions) had lost 85 officers and 2,135 men, approximately 60 percent of its strength.
Through the summer of 1915 the battalion remained in the area south of the Bethune-La Bassee Road and north of Cambrin). On 22nd May Second Lieutenant William Ireland from Rudgwick joined the 2/RSR as part of a reinforcement draft of 7 officers and 271 other ranks. The latter months of the summer were spent training and preparing for the forthcoming offensive in the flat countryside to the north of Loos.
THE BATTLE OF LOOS
On 25th September 1915 the British Army launched an offensive to the north of the town of Loos, which became known as the Battle of Loos. Following a four day preliminary artillery bombardment the British attacked the German front line with a force of six Divisions. The battle saw the first use of poisonous gas by the British Army, however light and variable winds caused it to return to the British front line.
At 1.50am on the 25th, Edwin and the men of 2/RSR took up positions in support trenches in the vicinity of an area known as Lone Tree, the location of a single, isolated cherry tree on the flat agricultural lands to the north east of Loos. To their front, forming the first wave of the forthcoming attack was the 2nd Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps (2/KRRC) and the 1st Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (1/LNLancs). Lone Tree was just less than half way across No Mans Land, 200 yards from the British Front Line and 300 yards from the German Front Line. The minds of Edwin and the survivors of the Aubers action four months earlier must have been focused on the horrors that they had experienced in front of the uncut German wire, and praying that the experience would not be repeated.
The 2/RSR War Diary contains a description of the action by Edwin's commanding officer, Lt Col Evelyn F Villiers DSO:
"My orders were that immediately the two assaulting battalions (1/LNLancs and 2/KRRC) advanced the Royal Sussex were to move forward & occupy their trenches in the front line in readiness to move forward again in support of the assault so soon as I could ascertain that the assaulting battalions had obtained a footing in the German Front Line Trench.”
“At 6.30am the assaulting battalions moved forwards and the Royal Sussex immediately pushed on to our own Front Line Trench. Owing to the dense smoke from the smoke candles it was not possible to see how the advance was progressing but the wind had veered round and had carries some of the gas back over our Front Trench causing a good deal of confusion amongst the troops of the Assaulting Line. My Company Commanders then on their own initiative at once advanced and pushed on to the assault, the Battalion thus becoming part of the assaulting line at a very early stage of the attack.”
“This advance was pushed right up to the German wire which was not cut and at this stage all our officers and men who had reached or got close to the wire were either killed or wounded. The Royal Sussex Machine Gun Sections, which had advanced with the Battalion endeavoured to reach the German Line but were annihilated about 50yds in front of Lone Tree.”
“Meanwhile the 15th Division on our right and the 1st Brigade on our left had succeeded in driving the Germans out of their Front Line Trenches. Owing to the fact that almost all my Officers & NCOs were either killed or wounded it was very difficult to obtain reliable information as to the progress of the attack but it was evident that in front of the 2nd Brigade the Germans were holding their Front Line in strength. My second in command Major Willett went forward to endeavour to obtain information as to the progress of the attack, he was able to get as far as Lone Tree but beyond this it was impossible for anyone to advance in the face of German Machine Gun & Rifle fire.”
At about 11.45am Green’s force attacked but at this time did not get any further forward than Lone Tree. A second attack delivered by the same force later in the day was able to push on further and at about 3.40pm the Germans in front of the 2nd Brigade surrendered.”
“At about 3.15pm I and Major Willett with Lieutenants Baker & Wallington collected all the men of the Battalion whom we could get hold of, some 70 in all, and found a line close to Lone Tree & when the Germans in the Front Line surrendered I occupied their trenches and from thence pushed on to Chalk Pit where by order of the GOC 2nd Brigade, we entrenched ourselves along the Lens-La Bassee Road with our right resting on the Chalk Pit. This line we held until relieved at about 3am on Sept 26th when we returned to the old British Line in front of Bois Carree."
During the day's fighting Sergeant Harry Wells of 2/RSR won the Victoria Cross when his platoon officer was killed and he took command, leading his men forward to within 15 yards of the German wire. Nearly half the platoon were killed or wounded and the remainder were much shaken but Sergeant Wells rallied them and led them on. Finally, when very few were left, he stood up and urged them forward once again and while doing this he was killed. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Register 12 officers and 171 men from 2/RSR were killed in the action on the First Day of the Battle of Loos.
One of the officers killed in action was Rudgwick’s Second Lieutenant William Ireland. After the battle many of the men from 2/RSR were buried at Le Rutoire Farm, the site of their Brigade Headquarters during the attack. In the early 1920's it was deemed that the burials at Le Rutoire Farm were too isolated, and the graves were moved to Dud Corner Cemetery. where William Ireland and Harry Wells VC now lie.
Private Edwin Waller was one of the many men wounded in the action. He was evacuated from the battlefield to a Casualty Clearing Station in Lillers, approximately 15 miles west of where he was wounded. Three days after the battle Edwin succumbed to his injuries. He was laid to rest in Lillers Communal Cemetery.
The cherry tree at Lone Tree was cut down after the battle and some of it's wood appears to have been kept as mementos by the men who fought in it's proximity. On 25th September 1995 members of the Western Front Association replanted a flowering cherry tree at the site of Lone Tree to mark the 80th anniversary of the battle (more details).
FURTHER CASUALTIES IN THE WALLER FAMILY
Edwin’s brother in law John Scammell arrived in France during 1916 and was serving with the 7th Bn Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). On 18th November 1916 the battalion was engaged in an attack on German positions on the high ground above the River Ancre. The weather conditions were extremely arduous and the attack became dislocated. 7th Bn RWSR lost heavily in the attack, and the news returned to England that John had been lost in the attack.
Mark Waller was posted overseas with 9th (Service) Battalion Rifle Brigade on 2nd December 1916 and was killed in action near Arras on 21st March 1917.
Thomas Waller was posted overseas on active service on 12th October 1916 and transferred to the Royal Sussex Regiment’s 8th Battalion. He also served with the regiment’s 5th and 7th Battalions, before returning home sick. He died of his aliments (attributed to the wet and cold of the trenches) on 29th October 1919 at the age of 22.
Alfred Waller (born 1877) (died 1897?)
Alice Waller (born c1879)
William Raymond Waller (born c1882), 1919 living The Cottage, Mundays Hill, Ewhurst.
James Mortimer Waller (born 1883), 1919 living Hazelbank, Ewhurst.
Sarah Jane Waller (born c1886), married John Frederick Scammell 1908, 1919 living Ewhurst Green. Pte J F Scammell was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme on 18/11/1916 whilst serving with 7th Bn RWSR. He is commemorated on the Ewhurst War Memorial.
Ellen Waller (born c1888), 1919 living Ivy Cottage, Rudgwick.
Fanny Waller (born c1890), (died 1896)
Mark Waller (born 1893), Rifleman S/28472, 9/Rifle Brigade, Killed in Action 21/03/1917
Edwin Waller (born c 1895), Private SR/1340, 2/RSR. Died of Wounds 28/09/1915.
Thomas Waller (born c 1898), 3584 2/4th Bn RSR (became 260069) enlisted 25/08/1915, overseas 11/10/1916-17/01/1918, discharged from 7th Bn RSR 30/04/1918 no longer fit for military service. Died of illness 29/10/1919.
Arthur Waller, (born c1900). 1919 serving as D/35311, 1st Troop, ‘C’ Squardron, 6th R.R.C, Tidworth, Wiltshire.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Soldiers Died in the Great War
Soldier’s Medal Record Cards
Soldier’s Personal Records
Personal Record Pte Albert Edward Page LSR/1617 enlisted 29/01/1912
Personal Record Pte George Young (Flack) LSR/1330 enlisted 07/03/1911
2/RSR Battalion War Diary