Edward James Foster in World War One

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Edward James Foster

Edward James Foster was born in Holne in 1880, his father James is recorded in the 1881 census as a copper miner. Both Edward's father and mother Alice were born in Buckfastleigh. In 1891 the Foster family is shown as living at Lower Hannaford in the parish of Widecombe, James has ceased to be a miner and is listed as a Gardener. By 1901 the family live in Hannaford Cottage and Edward had employment as an under gamekeeper/domestic.

Edward married Clara Dodd in Buckfastleigh in 1908. In the 1911 census, the couple were living at Higher Aish, Poundsgate. They had a son, Frank, registered born in Widecombe in 1910 . Edward, Aged 31, was employed in the local area as a gardener.

Edward Foster enlisted into the 1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment at a date in 1915/16 and would have been posted to France as part of reinforcements for the 1st Battalion who had been stationed on the Western Front since 1914. Army records of Edward's service were destroyed during the blitz on London in the Second World War, so it is not possible to be specific about where Pte Foster fought.

However on 6th November 1917, the 1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment were tasked to support The Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry in an operation to attack and capture the strategically important Polderhoek Chateau, this attack was part of the 2nd battle of Passchendaele. The villages of Polderhoek and Passchendaele are geographically only 8km apart. See Lemuel Lyes Blog for more details on the chateau

Widecombe WW1: Polderhoek Chateau  Pre-War (Photo courtesy of David Ashman Collection)
Widecombe WW1: Polderhoek Chateau 1915 (David Ashman Collection)
Widecombe WW1: Polderhoek Chateau 1917

Listen to the Regimental Quick March of the Devonshire Regiment

Widecombe WW1: Passchendaele Map

The 1st Battalion Devonshire Regt were successful in achieving their objective, and held their position until later in the day when it was combined into the front line of the fighting.

During this battle Edward James Foster was one of the 26 * men Killed in Action.

Historical Note:

The 2nd Battle of Passchendaele was fought in late October and early November 1917. The offensive comprised a series of attacks, set with limited objectives and delivered at intervals of 3 days or more. The tentative dates for each phase were given as 26 October, 30 October and 6 November with a final small action on 10th November.

Widecombe WW1: Passchendaele Battlefield IWM Photo from Doncaster Archives
Widecombe WW1: Stretcher bearers on Passchendaele battlefield IWM Photo from CANADIAN FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL EXCHANGE COLLECTION

Extract from a stretcher bearers war diary for 6th November at Passchendaele

“Heavy shelling and casualties. We carried out eight (wounded) that day and came back to the tents at 11.30pm. We had a long way to carry each one under shell fire, four to a stretcher and each one kept an end on a shoulder. We could not keep to (the trench) mats*, but had to go a roundabout way, sometimes a quarter of a mile out of our way. One fellow could slip in a hole or sink in the mud and let the end down. Some of the wounded were great, others moaned or yeled at each jar, it could not be helped. Often the four of us went through a big shell hole, water near the thighs. But we worked hard and did our best. It was rain and mud.”

*Trench mats were another name for the duckboards used in the trenches.

Extract from the “History of the 1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment” web-site

“In the Battle of Arras in April and May 1917, their losses in four attacks nearly wiped out the Battalion. Near Passchendaele in early October they attacked Polderhoek and suffered 327 casualties. A month later, supporting another attack at Polderhoek a single company lost another 100 killed* and wounded”

Edward J Foster is remembered on Tyne Cot Memorial Panel 38-40.

Widecombe WW1: Tyne Cot Memorial Panel

*John Henry Irish, also from Widecombe and Killed in Action in April 1917, is similarly commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

THE TARGET By Ivor Gurney.

Read by John Kimber

I shot him, and it had to be

One of us ! ‘Twas him or me.

‘Couldn’t be helped,’ and none can blame

Me, for you would do the same.

My mother, she can’t sleep for fear

Of what might be a-happening here

To me, Perhaps it might be best

To die, and set her fears at rest.

For worst is worst, and worry’s done.

Perhaps he was the only son…

Yet God keeps still, and does not say

A word of guidance any way.

Well, if they get me, first I’ll find

That boy, and tell him all my mind,

And see who felt the bullet worst,

And ask his pardon, if I durst.

All’s a tangle. Here’s my job.

A man might rave, or shout or sob;

And God He takes no sort of heed

This is a bloody mess indeed.


Thanks to John Kimber for reading the poem. Pictures of Passchendaele: Imperial War Museum and Canadian First World War Official Exchange Collection. Polderhoek Chateau: David Ashman collection and Imperial War Museum.

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The information on this page was last modified on August 09 2017 10:07:26.

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