The Parish of South Willingham

Private Edmund Rhodes

The first named on the roll of honour hung in St Martin’s Church is one Edwin Rhodes. A search of the CWGC database revealed no one by the name of Edwin Rhodes. I did note, however, that one Edmund Rhodes, Private 14384, 1st Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment and son of Hannah Rhodes, featured in the records. Edmund, who enlisted with the Lincolnshire Regiment at Louth, died June 16 1915, aged 18 in ‘Flanders fields’, having arrived in France on 30 April that year. He died from wounds received in the fighting around Hooge, inthe Ypres Salient. Edmund has no known grave and his name is inscribed

on theYpres Memorial at the Menin Gate – an inscription on a stone wall and, still in the safe keeping of the family, his Victory Medal, British War Medal and 1914-15 Star, seemed to be all that remained to recall the life of a young man, nay, a boy, who gave his life for ‘God, King and Country’ (the British War Medal was a silver or bronze medal awarded to officers and men of the British and Imperial Forces who either entered a theatre of war or entered service overseas between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918 inclusive; the 1914-15 Star was awarded to all who saw service in any theatre of war against the Central Powers between 5 August 1914 and 31 December 1915 (except those eligible for the 1914 Star) and the Victory Medal was awarded to all those who received the 1914, or 1914-15 Star, and the British War Medal).

Edmund was born to Hannah Rhodes on 20 February 1897 at Covenham St Bartholomew, near Louth, Hannah being one of William Rhodes’ six daughters. Unfortunately, Edmund’s birth certificate does not reveal the name of his father, but his second Christian name, Gray, undoubtedly holds a clue to whom that might have been. In 1901 the Rhodes’ address is recorded as Barkwith Road, South Willingham, whilst in 1911 it is simply ‘South Willingham’. In that 1911 census Edmund is recorded as 14 years of age with the occupation ‘farm boy’. A hard working life, no doubt, but life in this rural idyll would soon be shattered for the farm boy from South Willingham who would end his life in an unknown grave in the fields of Flanders. Where Edmund worked is currently still unknown; his grandfather William worked on the Heneage Estate (where his average pay was 30 shillings a week, altering depending on the seasons, for an average working day of ten and a half hours!) but the only wages book for 1910-1914 that I have so far discovered does not list Edmund and he may have been employed by one of the tenant farmers locally – that, however, remains conjecture at this stage. 1916 saw the Military Service Act passed into law and this imposed conscription on all single men aged 18 to 41, effective January 27 1916, with exemptions for those in essential war time employment, those deemed medically unfit, religious ministers, and conscientious objectors. However, although conscription proved necessary during this time to ensure all those who were eligible enlisted, many of those on the front line had joined the armed forces as volunteers, and Edmund Rhodes was one of these. Patriotism, a thirst for adventure, ‘secure employment’ – one wonders what it was that drove young Edmund to enlist at the age of 17, and who was to become one of the nearly 10,000 men of the Lincolnshire Regiment to lose their lives in the Great War.

Of enormous interest to me is that a distant relation of mine, Henry (Harry) Scott, married Lizzie Rhodes, one of William’s daughters, on February 27 1913; I have a photograph of them on the pathway in front of what was their cottage, the first in the pair of semi-detached cottages owned by the Heneage Estate, on Blacksmith’s Lane. Before her marriage to Harry, Lizzie had worked for Dr Denny at East Barkwith. Harry died young (33 years of age) of influenza, just five years after marrying, but his widow Lizzie survived until July 1964 – I lived across the road from her at East Barkwith for the first twelve years of my life (the last twelve of hers). Interestingly, she had two sons, one of whom was named John Edmund (in remembrance of Edmund Rhodes, Lizzie’s nephew?). John, or ‘Ted’ as he was known to distinguish him from the other four John Scotts who lived in East Barkwith at that time, married Albina ‘Biny’ Pixsley from Spring Gardens, East Barkwith. Biny recalls Hannah Rhodes, Edmund’s mother. Intriguingly, however, Hannah, by then married to Joseph Woodcock of Bardney, was known to the family as ‘Nance’. Biny never knew her as Hannah. But this certainly was Hannah because records show that Hannah, born at Thorganby, is listed on the 1881 census, aged 7, living with her family at Barkwith RoadSouth Willingham. Hannah is next seen in the 1891

census living as a ‘general servant’ with an aunt and uncle in Mablethorpe and then reappears in 1901, four years after Edmund is born at Covenham, as a ‘general domestic servant’ in the service of one William Varlow at Bardney. One of Hannah’s brothers, John Lusby Rhodes is recorded as living at Covenham with his wife in the 1901 census, so Hannah may well have gone to stay with John when she was carrying Edmund? Two years later she marries Joseph Woodcock and in 1911 Hannah and Joseph are recorded as living on Abbey Road, Bardney, with their son William – this is where my aunt Biny recalls them.

The outbreak of World War One soon impinged upon the life of the country and those left at home carried on with such duties as were required. One example of where the remaining population were called upon to perform extra duties was in the area of Parish Constable. Henry Scott, Lizzie’s husband, took up such a position at East Barkwith, where the couple were now living, in February 1915. A letter to him from the Lincolnshire Constabulary, and dated February 15, 1915, read: I am forwarding a Parish Constable armlet, which you are requested to carry in your coat pocket, so that it will be available for immediate use at any time, to prove your authority, should the occasion arise. The armlet must be worn on the left arm, halfway between the elbow and shoulder.

Accompanying the armlet was a copy of the Lincolnshire Constabulary’s ‘General Instructions to Parish Constables’. The leaflet warned that, on penalty of a £5 fine, Parish Constables were ‘held responsible for acting, if necessary without further instruction, in the execution of your duties’. Some of the ‘more important duties’ were listed, variously, as:
‘You shall apprehend, without a warrant if necessary, for any of the following offences: setting fire to house, church building, out-houses, stack or rick; murder, manslaughter, inflicting grievous bodily harm with or without a weapon or instrument; cutting, stabbing or stealing any goods or articles… …You may also arrest any person wandering abroad and lodging in any barn, outhouse or enclosed premises, not having visible means of subsistence and not giving a good account of himself or herself.’

When about tomake an arrest, Parish Constables were instructed to distinctly tell the person what the charge was, and to say, ‘I arrest you in the name of the King.’ So, as Edmund went to war, his uncle took up the duties as described. Edmund must have been very close to Lizzie, and he knew her as a sister, rather than an aunt.This is reflected in a letter that he wrote to Lizzie from

barracks in Grimsby,the postmark bearing the date 31 January 1915. Edmund’s complete army records do not, unfortunately survive, so he either joined the 5th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment (a territorial unit where enlistment was permitted from age 17), the headquarters of which was at the Drill Hall Grimsby, or he joined (underage?) the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion which trained men up as replacements for the front line units. Originally based at Lincoln, the 3rd moved to Grimsby at the outbreak of war. By the time he went to war, he had transferred to the 1st Battalion. Edmund’s note is headed ‘Wellington St Grimsby’, and in it he describes to Lizzie some of the activities in which he had been engaged. Initially, he begins by suggesting that, although well enough as he wrote the letter, he expected to be quite ill on the morrow. This was due to the fact that he had just received vaccinations, adding that “it is just beginning to take hold of us; I have a lump under my arm the size of a nut”. Edmund then describes a route march that the men had undertaken; “we went nearly to Waltham and we had two rests on the way”, adding that “the officer (who) was with us is a nice man, he let us smoke and talk and sing and he bought five mouth organs for some of them to play so we was alright”. Describing a little more of the training regime he added “I have had ten shots at a target. We have got a 25-yard range put down here now. The first five shots I got a three-inch ring and the next five I got a two-inch ring so I hope I should get a bull the next time we shoot.” The 3rd Battalion was charged with the defence of the coastline on the south side of the Humber and Edmund makes reference to that by writing “Last Sunday we was confined to our rooms all day and all of us had 100 rounds (of ammunition) on us. Four German boats was not far off us but two of them got put under the water for a good job. I should not be surprised if they don’t try to get here before long by what they say.” Interestingly, Edmund signs off with the words ‘with best love from your loving brother Ted’.  Click to view letter

Not only was aunt Biny able to add some more flesh to the bones of what little was known of Edmund but, rather poignantly, she gave me a copy of an article which appeared in the Lincolnshire Echo some time after Edmund’s death. In that article was a poem attributed as having been sent home from France by ‘E. Rhodes of South Willingham’.

It is some time ago
Since I left old England’s shore
And went to foreign countries
To fight for home and all
It was hard lines I can tell you
But I soon forgot all that
My eyes were watching something
As I shall ne’er forget.
 

It was the night we landed
And we all went down the lane
The shot and shell were flying
O’erhead and on our way
And as we neared the bridges
The shells came thick and fast
The captain shouted now my lads
Across that bridge you get.
 

And two by two he ordered us
Across that bridge to get
So that the enemy could not see us
Or where to fire upon
And then their lights began to shine
Upon the black dark night
To see if they could find us
In fours upon our way.
 

But as good luck would have it
A large black hedge was there
And there we laid behind it
And they lost us on our way
And there we stayed a little while
Till everything was quiet
And then we went upon our way
As happy as you please
. 

We landed at an old white house
And there we stayed the night
The shot and shell were flying
Above us all the while
We did not sleep but little
As you will understand
And when the morning came again
We were up again quite well
 

We went then to the trenches
To fight our enemy
We had not been there very long
Before they fired at us
But we did not mind about it
As we fired at them again
And soon we finished the battle
And then went home again
 

We were not at all downhearted
As the Lord was by our side
He guarded us safe through it all
And brought us home again
And if we only trust Him more
He’ll always be our guide
And take us home to heaven
When we die and leave this earth.

Above: Christmas card sent by Edmund to Lizzie; date unknown, but comparing the hand-writing with that in the letter above one may conclude that this card was sent whilst Edmund was in his teens and it illustrates again the apparent close bond between the two and paints Edmund as a sensitive and caring young man.

Simpson’s History of the Lincolnshire Regiment, taken from the Regiment’s Official History, describes the action in which Edmund lost his life. The 1st Lincolns were to attack Bellewaarde Ridge in the area of Hooge, and by 1.15am on June 16 the battalion was in position, having lost four other-ranks wounded on the march to the front line; it is not thought that Edmund was one of these because if he had been, and had later died from his wounds, he would probably have had a marked grave. After a day of fierce fighting, the Lincolns were relieved by the 4th Gordons at about 9.30pm. The following day, back at Red Wine Camp, a roll call was taken at midday and the reported losses amongst other ranks were 22 killed, three died of wounds, 76 missing and 265 wounded. Edmund, presumably, was among the 76 missing…….

Above: Edmund Rhodes’ commemorative scroll (with thanks to Mike Credland).

The Life & History of South Willingham Also thanks to Mike Credland