The Hampstead Heavies
138th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery
Homage to Major Paris, Estrees
GUNNER EDGECOMBE'S LETTER OF CONDOLENCE, 6th OCTOBER 1918
The following account of the death of Major Paris was extracted by Walter Wright from the letter written by Gunner F Edgecombe.
"About twenty to four the first shell came on to the battery. Several Hun planes flew overhead and directed the fire by dropping red lights, all the time machine-gunning. We did not move from the bivouacs as the shelling was direct on the battery which was some 300 yards away.
After about ten minutes the 'planes evidently spotted our bivouacs and, I should imagine, took them for ammunition dumps. There was a sudden burst of fire round the bivvies, and for about five minutes hell raged. The shells were chiefly "77's" and 4.2 gas. We laid flat and only hoped.
A shell burst just outside our home and a fragment wounded Gunner Ward (Lt. Greenhough's man) in the heel. He screamed out, and I got him into a chair and ripped off his boot. He shouted for the Major, who was half asleep in his bivvy, for the fiercest bombardment was a matter of indifference to him. He came in and pacified Ward, whose heel I had dressed.
The Major was in front of Ward, when Bellingham (Lt. Annesley's man), who was watching me replace Ward's boot, was hit in the head. He rolled over screaming, and the Major immediately tore his own field dressing out and began to dress the wound.
To make space I took Ward into the officers' bivouac and laid him on his back, so that he was comparatively safe, being below the ground level. The shelling was continuous.
A 4.2 gas shell burst behind the kitchen and again wounded Bellingham in the leg. The Major came to the door of the kitchen, and I rose to go to him. He said, "A field dressing, Edgcombe," and came towards me. As I was handing it to him a shell burst behind or sideways, I don't know which.
He was struck by a piece, staggered towards me, and I caught him in my arms. His own weight carried both myself and him to the entrance of the Mess, I staggered backwards under his weight, and he collapsed in a sitting position on the ground, I supporting him. I tore open his collar, and saw the wound just below the right collar bone, the piece having passed through both lungs and out at his left side. He uttered no word, for his lungs were full. As I placed the pad upon the wound the blood stopped welling, and he had passed away.
The whole affair took no longer than two minutes from beginning to end. When I saw he had gone the whole world went dark to me, and I shouted out for help. Gunner Butcher shouted for help, and Corporal Norton and Bombardier Elliot rushed up, after them came Lt. Greenhough, he looked at the Major, gave one hopeless gesture, and said, "He has gone, we can do nothing."
Bellingham was wounded for the third time, and Lt Greenhough and the others, with Dawkins, who could not leave Bellingham, took him and Ward to the dressing station. There was a slight lull in the shelling for about ten minutes, I composed the Major, and covered him as best I could. The shelling recommenced, and I was alone there. I took a chance and ran to the cookhouse for company. Sergeant Taylor was killed about the same time.
Lts. Greenhough and Annesley came around and cleared us all into the cellars of a ruined farm about 200 yards on the flank. There we took shelter for the night. The next day I took the Major's possessions from his pocket, and we wrapped him in two blankets, a soldier's shroud. In the afternoon (again we were shelled).
We carried his body to a motor lorry, which conveyed all that remained of the two bravest and most gallant men in France to the Hargicourt Quarry Military Cemetery. A grave had been prepared by his own men, and there we buried them, side by side, two brave souls.
The while a great 9.2 Railway gun, a few yards off, fired, as it seemed, a parting salute. A trumpeter sounded the Last Post, and we looked our last upon him we admired and loved beyond all men. The Colonel and Staff and several brother Majors paid their last respects at the grave, and so we left them in a soldier's grave, laying as they would have wished to lay, buried by the loving hands of men who loved them as truly as a man can love.
"We shall never forget him."Manuscript of Gunner Edgecombe's letter
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