I bought, not so long ago, a set of medals and some paperwork to an Alfred Hedges; Over the next few weeks I am going to tell much of his life story which was both eccentric, interesting and heartwrending on occasions.
Part One: From pupil to the Western Front…..
Alfred Victor Hedges was born in 16/4/1895 (118 years ago today), he was the son of Mr Hedges, a wholesale grocer who lived in “Ightenholme,” 399, Padiham Road, Burnley.
He was educated at Giggleswick school and it was there that he joined the OTC (Officer Training Corps);
From Giggleswick he found employment upon leaving at Gawthorpe Hall (Lord Shuttleworth’s estate) as a pupil to the Surveyor there (Newspaper states to the Estate office). http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/gawthorpe-hall/ It looks a most magnificent building.
On the 4th of September 1914, he enlisted into the First “Public Schools” Battalion, Royal Fusiliers; Officially the 18th Service Battalion; Royal Fusiliers.
18th (Service) Battalion (1st Public Schools)
Formed at Epsom on 11 September 1914 by the Public Schools and University Men’s Force.
26 June 1915 : came under command of 98th Brigade, 33rd Division.
Landed in France in November 1915.
27 November 1915 : transferred to 19th Brigade, 33rd Division.
26 February 1916 : transferred to GHQ; disbanded on 24 April 1916 with many of the men being commissioned as officers.
We know quite a bit about his time on the Western Front, as his personal biography was included with his medals.
Here is his account of his time at “High Wood”, this is an account of going over the top in the words of someone who was there, and witnessed it first hand….
“I was wounded on July 20th [Editors note: During the Battle of “High Wood” which was between 14 July to 15 September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme] which was when I was in the Public Schools Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, and before I was commisioned.
The attack by the British was intended to break the German line, and to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun.
It started on the first of July, and there was trememndous fighting and very heavy casualties on both sides, necessitating fresh troops continually being brought in. Our division was in trenches covering Bethune. On July 12th we were entrained for Amiens, and gradually moved up into the fighting area through shelling, which grew severe. Abouth the 17th our Brigade was to attack and break through the German lines; of three battalions, the first was to attack and capturevthe lines, the second was to follow and consolidate the position, and the third, of which I was a member, was to pursue the retreating Germans. The British barrage was perhaps one of the heaviest of the war, and as we watched we pictured the Germans trenches and their occupants being completely demolished. The Germans, however, had unusually deep and strong dugouts, filled with machine gunners, who poured devastating fire on our men when the barrage lifted and they advanced. As I watched, they all went down like ninepins. After a pause the second battalion advanced, to receive exactly the same treatment. We watched with considerable concern as we knew we were next. Fortunately the attack was abandoned for the time being.”
Next time, we continue to his experiences of digging in after the attack, and hear his own account of him being wounded for the first time.