Today remember Bourne and 1st Battalion Lincs Regiment man, Private Edward James Backlog 11495, who was killed in action on this day, the 16th June 1915 at the Battle of Bellewarde.
Edward was born in Thetford Norfolk in the late summer of 1878, one of twin sons born John. Edward and Sarah Ann Backlog.
John was a general labourer born in Thetford in 1848, where he met and married Sarah Ann Wing born who was born there in 1847. The couple were married in 1876 and set up home in Thetford along with Sarah’s daughter Mary.
As well as the twin boys the couple also went on to have a third son, all born whilst they were in Thetford.
• Mary Hudson Wing, 1868, Thetford (Half sister)
• John Ernest Backlog, 1878, Thetford (Twin)
• Edward Thomas Backlog, 1878, Thetford (Twin)
• William Thomas backlog, 1883, Thetford
In 1881 the three year old Edward was living with his parents and twin brother John Ernest, known as Ernest in Bury Road in Thetford. Also living in the household Edward’s half sister Mary Wing. Father John was working as a labourer at this time. Ten years later and the family are identified on the census at 30 Bury Road, most likely the same house, John working as a general labourer and the three boys now aged 12 and 7 attending school.
John Backlog died In 1895 leaving Sarah to bring up the family.
By 1901 the family had grown up, 22 year old Ernest was married and working as a Mason’s labourer, living in his own house at 32 Bury road next door to his Mother. Sarah, now widowed, was still living at no 30 with daughter Mary who worked in a pulp factory and youngest son William, now working as a labourer. At this time Edward can be found in Leyton, Essex as a visitor in the household of James Nunn. Even though he was listed as a visitor it was possible that he was here because of work as James Nunn was a local Stratford man who’s wife Harriet was from Thetford. Edward at this time was working as a boiler maker and James Nunn a boiler maker’s helper.
Edward attested to the Royal Engineers on 3rd May 1902 in Stratford for 12years, this consisted of 3 years of Army Service and a further 9 years on reserve. The record notes that at the age of 23 years and 11 months he was 5 feet 6 1/4 inches tall with fresh complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair. It also notes that he had a pierced heart tattooed on his right forearm and a flour in a pot with a leaf on his left forearm. Sapper Backlog was given the Regimental number of 11065.
It would look like Edward and the army were not good friends as he had only managed 93 days of service before he went absent without leave on the 4th August 1902 for 7 days. This was followed by three days in confinement awaiting disposal where he was then awarded hard labour. A little over two weeks later and again he went absent without leave from the 30th August until the 4th September. He was kept in the guard room from the 5th until the 18th of September awaiting court marshal on the 19th where he was sentenced to another l4 days hard labour taking him up to the 3rd October when he returned to duties.
The London Daily News on the 6th September reported:-
A Discontented Sapper
Edward James Backlog aged 24 a Sapper in the Royal Engineers stationed at Chatham was charged at the same court for the second time within a fortnight with being an absentee. The prisoner looked very dirty and untidy and by no means a credit to his corps. P.C. Norris said he arrested the prisoner who told him he didn’t like soldiering and was determined to get out of the army. Lance Corporal Dewhurst identified the prisoner as belonging to his company. The magistrate said: “what punishment did he get last time?” This witness said: “seven days imprisonment with hard labour”. The magistrate said: “He stated to the constable who arrested him that he was determined to get out of the army, you had better report that to your commanding officer” Witness said:
“Yes Sir”. The prisoner was then handed over to the escort who’s smart appearance contrasted strongly with his own bedraggled and unkempt condition.
Obviously he just didn’t want to be in the Army as only one month later he disappeared again from the 9th to the 14th of November. The same pattern was followed with 12 days in the Guard Room awaiting disposal and a court marshal on the 28th returned a punishment of 42 days taking him up to the 8th January.
At the end of the punishment period Edward was discharged at Chatham with all service forfeited for pension on account of him being “incorrigible and worthless”.
Sarah Ann was still living at 30 Bury Street in 1911, now sharing the house with her widowed sister Mary Ann Linge who was working as a mill hand in a pulp ware factory. Edward was now living back home with his mother, now 32 and working as a Boiler Maker, labouring in a traction engine works. The only other person in the house was a boarder, George Cousens a fitter’s labourer.
When war broke out Edward Backlog enlisted in Bourne, Lincolnshire into the 1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment in September 1914 being given the Regimental number 11945.
The regulars of the Battalion had already left their pre war base at Portsmouth on the 14th August for France and the Battle of Mons, fighting a rear-guard at Solesmes during the retreat from Mons and then Battles at Le Cateau, The Battle of the Aisne, at La Bassee, Messines and the First Battle of Ypres.
The 1st Battalion were in Hooge a village near Ypres in Belgium when Edward arrived in France on the 11th November 1914, following his initial training. The Battalion came out of the front line on the 20th arriving in the rear area near Westoutre on the 21st November. The Battalion Diary reports that in the evening they received reinforcements, which no doubt included Edward and the next 2 days were spent on refitting.
Edward’s first taste of the trenches came shortly afterwards when the Battalion relieved the Oxfordshire Light Infantry on the night of the 27th November in the front line near Kemmel. The next day was quiet in the trenches apart from occasional enemy sniping and the casualties for Edward’s first day at the front was 1 killed and 1 wounded other ranks.
At the end of the month that tour of the trenches was completed and whilst in billets on the 3rd December the entire Brigade were lined up alongside the main road through Westoutre for an inspection. His Majesty The King passed through on his tour of inspection and the men gave three hearty cheers as he passed them in an automobile accompanied by the commander in chief.
A letter was received afterwards in which his Majesty expressed great pleasure at the appearance of the troops.
A party of 50 NCOs and men under the command of Captain E Tatchell proceeded to Locre to perform the duties of a guard of honour where His Majesty presented medals for Distinguished Conduct to the NCOs and men of the brigade and Private Stroulger being the only representative owing to all the other NCOs and men who had been awarded the medal being killed or wounded. The Battalion paraded at 3.30pm to proceed to Locre where they were billeted in support of the units in the firing line.
It was not until the 6th of December when the daily stand to orders were changed and they marched to Kemmel to relieve the 1st Royal Scots Regiment in the trenches. The diary reports that –
“Owing to the recent heavy rains the trenches were in a very bad state and in some places were waist deep in mud and water. B,C + D companies formed the firing line and A company in support in a barn close to Battalion HQ. We obtained several bundles of fascines planks of wood and placed them in the trenches for the troops to stand on. The men were also provided with straw wisps to wrap around their legs + boots to keep themselves dry. These efforts proved of little consequence owing to the amount of water in the trenches. B Company who held the right of the position occupied by the Battalion were in such a bad state that after being in the trenches for 24 hours, the commanding officer found it absolutely necessary to relieve them with the company in support.
Officers A.S.S Wade and 2/Lieut A B L Parish joined the Battalion. Casualties. 1 Killed and 1 wounded.”
The battalion then being involved in what was to be Edward’s first involvement in a planned attack of the enemy trenches on their third day. The attack was deemed a success even though after reaching the enemy trench which by then resembled a small canal, the already fatigued men became subject to such rifle and machine gun fire that they were ordered to fall back to their own trenches, which they did in good order. The casualties for the attack were 4 killed, 19 wounded and 18 missing of the ranks and 3 officers wounded.
A and B companies were relieved and returned to the barn in support and it would be another day before the entire Battalion was relieved from their trenches and returned to Locre to billets before the division was relived.
The tours of the trenches continued with their next tour ending on the 24th December placing them back in Locre for Christmas Day.
The Battalion diary reported the following:
25th December 1914
Christmas Day and very seasonable, all ranks adapted themselves to the circumstances and celebrated Xmas in as an enjoyable way as the conditions permitted. Christmas Greetings were received from Field Marshall Sir John French, GCB, GCVO, KCMG, Commander in chief of the British Army in the field.
“In offering to the Army in France, my earnest and most heartfelt wishes for Xmas and the new year I am anxious once more to express the admiration I feel in the valour and endurance they have displayed throughout the campaign and to assure them that to have commanded such magnificent troops in the field will be the proudest remembrance of my Life”
All ranks of the Battalion received an Xmas card from the king and Queen and a present for all ranks from Princess Mary, consisting of a package containing Xmas Card and box containing tobacco and cigarettes which was greatly valued by all ranks of the Battalion. Greetings were also received from the Mayor and Citizens of Lincoln and many others interested in the welfare of the Regiment.
The Battalion went back into the trenches on New years eve. Eventually being transferred to the 28th Division and moving to Ypres in mid February to assist with operations on the Ypres canal. They stayed in the Ypres Salient and in April were involved in the attack on Hill 60 near Zillebeeke.
On the 23rd Edward’s Brother, Private Ernest John Backlog 17233 of the 3rd Battalion Norfolk Regiment died by Cerebro Spinal Fever contracted on active service, leaving a widow and five children. He was buried in Thetford Cemetery.
We jump forward to June 1915 and now the 1st Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment are based around Ypres, once again the battalion Diary tells the story of Edward Backlogs final days.
15th June 1915
The battalion. Remained in bivouacs during the day.
The Battalion paraded at 4.15pm ready to march to the assembly trenches, Cambridge Road South End I.11d. The order of the march was D. C. HQ. A + B Companies. The machine gun detachment accompanied the left column of the Brigade:- (5th Fus, R Scots Fus + Liverpool Scottish). The Battalion and 4th Royal Fusiliers formed the right column. The right column marched off from road junction H13 central at 5.0pm, and proceeded by the road through H13. H14. H15. H23 to Krruisstraat crossed the canal at bridge 13 + thence through Ypres to the Lille Gate at 8.30pm continuing via railway hack to I.10.d.0.2 thence by Menin Road.
Casualties 4 other ranks wounded.
Fine summer weather.
16th June 1915.
The Battalion occupied the assembly trenches I.11.d at 1.15am. The 9th Brigade were to attack the Bellewarde Spur at early morning. The objective was to seize and hold the line I12.d.3.2 – Y18 – Y7. The 1st phase of the attack was begun by our artillery severely bombarding the hostile trenches and wire entanglements with high explosive shells. Short spaces were made in the bombardment at 3-10am, 3-40am and 4am.
Our front line was occupied by Royal Fusiliers, Roy Scots Fusiliers and 5th Fusiliers. The Lincolns and Liverpool Scottish in support. The Liverpool Scottish were on our left, the 1st Wilts (7th Brigade) on our right. When in the assembly trenches the Battalion was shelled by enemy and a few casualties accrued.
At 4-15am exactly our first line rushed forward and immediately seized the first line of hostile trenches from the East edge of wood Y16-Y15-NE corner of Railway Wood and took prisoners all of the enemy in the trenches that had not been killed.
The Roy Scots Fusiliers in conjunction with 5th Fusiliers seized the trenches between Y13 + Y15. at the same time.
The Battalion rushed forward in support of the Royal Fusiliers reinforcing their line. The line continued its advance, bombing parties forcing their way along the trench Y16-Y20 driving the enemy at a run into his second line trenches.
The attack was being covered on the right by rifle and machine gun fire from the Menin Road and from the South of it, and covered on the left by rifle and machine gun fire of the 6th Division from the railway.
The Battalion and Royal Fusiliers seized the trench Y20-Y21. The artillery bombardment on the first line of trenches had been most effective in rendering them untenable and in destroying the barbed wire entanglements. Many dead Germans were found in the trenches. The prisoners taken were forced to the rear.
The attack now assumed its second phase which was the seizing of the trench running from Bellewarde farm to house on the road 100yds South of Y17. Our artillery had already dealt with the trench which we seized at 4.30am with very few casualties to our side, the enemy being finally driven out with the bayonet.
The third phase of the attack followed immediately. A party of 50 NCOs and men led by Major Boxer succeeded in occupying the line Y17-Y18. It was however found impracticable to retain, owing to our own artillery not having ceased to shell this position. The artillery observers were prevented from seeing the flag carried seeing the flag carried by the infantry, denoting the progress of the advance, by mist and smoke from shells. Also communication was difficult owing to the signal wires being cut by the enemy fire.
The advance of the infantry had been extremely rapid and was carried out with great dash and fervour and they had accomplished their object too quickly for our artillery, which caused many casualties to our side.
The commanding officer – Major H E BOXER was himself wounded when he ordered the men to fall back on the line Y17-Y20.
Units in their eagerness had rushed forward, mixed together and were much disorganised in captured trenches.
The attack had been brilliantly carried out and many acts of gallantry were performed by all ranks of the Battalion, both during the attack itself and during the subsequent enemy bombardment.
At 6.0am the Battalion now under the command of Major D F Grant received orders to fall back on to the first line of captured trenches Y16-Y17 and Y16-Y15 to reorganise and hold the line at all costs, which was held accordingly.
The Germans heavily bombarded the captured trenches throughout the day, the bombardment becoming most violent at 4pm when it became evident that a counter attack was being launched. The counter attack was met by our own artillery and by heavy rifle and machine gun fire, the enemy being repulsed with great loss to him.
At 6pm the enemy bombarded the trenches and ground behind with Gas-shells and the men had to resort to the use of respirators.
At 9.30pm the Battalion was relieved by the 4th Gordons (8th Brigade) and marched back to bivouac I.8.b.4.5 arriving about 5am next day.
17th June 1915
The battalion having returned to bivouac rested during the day.
A roll call was taken at 12 noon.
The following casualties had been incurred during the previous day’s fighting.
Major H E R Boxer – Wounded and missing
Captain J R G Magrath – Wounded
Captain R H Spooner – Wounded
Lieut A D Walker – Missing
2Lieut F C Green – Killed
2Lieut J H P Barrett – Wounded
2Lieut R O Pearson – Missing
Died of Wounds 3
Whether from one of the three bayonet charges, our own artillery barrage or the later German bombardment of their old trenches, Private Edward James Backlog was originally posted as missing presumed dead and then later officially regarded as died on the 16th June 1915 as part of the action described by the battalion Diary.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
In memory of Private Edward James Backlog, 11945, 1st Bn., Lincolnshire Regiment who died on 16 June 1915 Age 37. Son of John and Sarah Ann Backlog, of 30, Bury Rd., Thetford, Norfolk. Remembered with honour, Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial
Edward is also remembered on the war memorials in Bourne Lincolnshire and also Thetford Norfolk.