Edgar Stokes

Name Edgar Stokes
Corps Northamptonshire Regiment, 1st Battalion. Formerly East Yorkshire Regiment 7554
Rank Lance Corporal (Private on CWGC site)
Service No. 7514
Date / Place of entry Market Harborough
Date of death 31 October 1914 Killed in Action
Memorial / Grave Menin Gate, panel 43-45

Edgar Stokes was a second cousin of Leonard Joseph Stokes, Harold Percival Stokes and John Thomas Stokes. He was one of eight children of George and Elisabeth Stokes of Drayton. George was a baker there on Main Street but in the 1880s he had run a bakery on Church Street in Cottingham. He and his young family were next door neighbours of Mary Crane nee Sculthorpe, whose husband Henry was detained in Broadmoor after he killed a neighbour’s young son. Three of Mary’s grandchildren, George, Ernest and John Crane, are known to have died during the War.

Edgar’s elder brothers George and William were born in Cottingham and William was employed on a farm there in 1901. The Stokes family had moved to Drayton by 1889 when Edgar’s younger brother Arthur Edward Stokes was born. Also born in Drayton in 1897 was Hubert Prest Stokes, grandson of George and Elisabeth who brought him up.

One of their neighbours on Main Street until the late 1890s was Josiah Stokes, a married platelayer who moved to Caldecott where the third of his five children, Harold Percival Stokes, was born in 1898. Another was Amos Stokes whose grandson Ernest Stokes was born there in 1880 before moving with his parents Henry Stokes and his first wife Julia Ann Claypole to Great Easton.

Edgar was a groom before he enlisted at Leicester on 7 July 1904, just after his eighteenth birthday. Possibly his decision was influenced  by his father’s cousin Edwin Stokes who served in the Lincolnshire Regiment for twenty one years, retiring as colour sergeant in 1912.
Edgar signed on for the standard term of seven years’ active service followed by five years on the reserve. He was initially assigned to the East Yorkshire Regiment and sent to Beverley. His attestation record describes him as 5 foot 8 inches tall and 142 pounds, though after six months as a soldier his weight was down to 119. He had blue eyes, brown hair and a tattoo on his ring finger.

He was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment on 24 August and then transferred again the following month to the 1st Battalion at Colchester where he was declared fit for service in India. He consequently embarked in late November, arriving in Jullundur (now Jalandhar) in the Punjab on 2 December. The Battalion were stationed in Poona 1907-1910 then went to Aden in 1910, returning to England two weeks before the 1911 census. Edgar transferred to the Reserve, having completed seven years of service and was back at Drayton in time to be listed there on the census. His younger brother Arthur, an Able Seaman, was also in Drayton.

Edgar had rejoined his Battalion when it embarked for Le Havre on 13 August 1914, as part of the Army’s 1st Division. He therefore took part in the Battle of Mons and the subsequent retreat, and the Battles of the Marne, the Aisne and the First Battle of Ypres where he was killed in action on the last day of October.

On Friday 30 October the Northamptonshires and the Royal Sussex Regiment were ordered to move to a small wood, later known as Bodmin Copse, about a mile and a half from the village of Gheluvelt on the Menin Road. Here they took up defensive positions and dug trenches. The following morning there were several attacks and counter-attacks along the road, and the line of the 1st Division was broken by a heavy German bombardment.  The headquarters of the 1st and 2nd Divisions were shelled and the General Officer Commanding 1st Division was wounded. By noon the Germans had taken the village.

In the afternoon the 1st Division moved back in face of a strong enemy advance and the 1st Northamptonshire came under very heavy gunfire; three officers and around 100 men were killed. They then rallied and engaged the enemy in hand to hand fighting inside the woods and drove them back. On the Menin road, a counterattack delivered by the left of the 1st Division and the right of the 2nd Division against the right flank of the German line was completely successful, and by 2.30 p.m. Gheluvelt had been retaken.

Edgar was among those who died during combat on 31st October but whose body was never found; he is one of more than 54,000 missing soldiers commemorated on the memorial at the Menin Gate at Ypres. His parents were not officially notified of his death until 4 January 1915.

His younger brother Arthur was to die the following day, 1st November 1914.