In Honour of Edmund Rhodes

Some three years ago I began researching the men commemorated on memorials in South Willingham who died during the Great War. When I looked at the memorials to the fallen, and then the first of eight names listed on the hand written scroll in the church is 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 16th 1915. aged 18 in' Flanders Fields', having arrived in France on 30th April that year. Edmund has no known grave and his name is inscribed on the Menin Gate. An inscription on a stone wall and his Victory Medal, British War Medal and 1914-15 Star, seemed to be all that remained to recall the life of a young man, who gave his life for God, King and Country.

Having made notes from the CWGC website about Edmund, just in case the Edwin Rhodes on the plaque happened to be Edmund Rhodes, it was time to look at census returns. Recorded in the 1901 and 1911 census returns is one Edmund Gray Rhodes, grandson to the head of the household, William Rhodes. 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, Edmunds 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. The 1911 census records Edmund as 14 years of age with the occupation farm boy.

A distant relation of mine, Henry (Harry) Scott, married Lizzie Rhodes, one of Williams daughters, on February 27 1913. Lizzie survived until July 1964 I lived across the road from her at East Barkwith for the first twelve years of my life. Interestingly, she had two sons, one of whom was named John Edmund (almost certainly in remembrance of Edmund Rhodes, Lizzies nephew). John, or Ted as he was known, married Albina Biny Pixsley from Spring Gardens, East Barkwith. My aunt Biny is still alive and well at 95 years of age and confirms that the young Rhodes boy from South Willingham who died in the Great War was, in fact, Edmund, not Edwin Rhodes. Biny also recalls Hannah

Rhodes, Edmunds mother, but she was known to the family as Nance. The records show that Hannah, born at Thorganby, is listed on the 1881 census, aged 7, living with her family at Barkwith Road South 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 Hannahs 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.

Edmund wrote to Lizzie from the barracks in Grimsby, the postmark bearing the date 31 January 1915. (Edmunds complete army records do not, unfortunately survive, so he either joined the 5th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment (a territorial unit, and formerly part of the County Volunteer Corps, where enlistment was permitted from age 17), the headquarters of which was at the Drill Hall Grimsby, or he joined (underage?) the 3rd (Special 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).  Edmunds 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 Lincolnshire Regiments official roll of honour for the 1st Battalion records Pte Edmund Rhodes, and Simpsons History of the Lincolnshire Regiment, taken from the Regiments Official History, describes the action in which Edmund may have 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 amongst the 76 missing.

So, although we know precious little of Edmunds life, we now know that he is the Edwin referred to on the roll of honour in St Martins Church. I intend to see that mistake corrected and Edmunds name rightly recorded as being among the fallen of this Parish - he is undoubtedly owed that.

By Stewart Scott