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The military service career of Edgar Wilfred Owen

26888 Lance Corporal, Machine Gun Corps

(My Grandfather)

 

 

Edgar Wilfred Owen is known to have served as 26888 Lance Corporal, Machine Gun Corps, after originally joining the 15th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment. Edgar was wounded in France, and became a gunnery instructor. He earned the British War Medal and Victory Medal. He was born 7th May 1895 in Bristol, to William and Alice Edith Owen.

 

Additional research carried out at the National Archives by:

fourteeneighteen/research

Milverton Associates Limited, 8 Overell Grove, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire CV32 6HP

 

Official documentary evidence

1. Military service file

All of the archives where Edgar’s papers might have been have now been searched: they included the WO363 “Burnt Series”, WO364 “Unburnt Series” and PIN26 pensions archives at the National Archives, formerly called the Public Record Office.

His service file was found, and is in good condition. In terms of enabling a better understanding of his career during the Great War this can be considered very fortunate indeed.

In common with all surviving soldiers files, it includes only a part of what was originally there, as many of the original papers were removed in various exercises to thin out the files, in the 1920’s and 30’s. In addition, some of the original pencil and blue ink handwriting has faded and transfer to microfilm has further reduced legibility. However, his papers include some very useful documents and details that have allowed us to chart his career.

The file includes

Army Form B2505: Attestation Form (5pp including description on enlistment, statement of services and military history sheet)

Army Form B178: Medical history (part)

Army Form W3030: Next of Kin

Army Form B103: Casualty Form Active Service (2pp)

Army Form B103: Temporary Service and Casualty Form (3pp)

Hospital admission record (part)

Index card, unidentified

Army Form B120: Regimental Conduct Sheet

Conduct Sheet (part)

Army Form W3016: Leave notice

Army Form Z22: Statement as to disability

Army Form Z11: Protection Certificate

 

2. Medal entitlement documents

Edgar’s medal index card shows that he was entitled to wear the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. It confirms that he had been 26888 Private Edgar W. Owen in the Machine Gun Corps (MGC).

The system of coding against the medal entitlement enables a researcher to find the original Medal Rolls. The roll of the British War Medal and the Victory Medal gives his second name as Wilfred, and gives 14 March 1919 as the date when Edgar was discharged to Class Z Army Reserve. This in theory meant that he was subject to recall at any time up to twelve months later, but in the event this was not required.

In common with all MGC medal rolls, it does not give his unit.

 

Reconstructing Edgar’s military service from official documents

Edgar’s army career has been re-assembled by arranging the facts from the official documents into chronological sequence, and where necessary adding explanatory notes and other information. It can be assumed that, other than where indicated below, he remained with his unit at all times. A summary history of their movements follows later in the report.

Edgar Wilfred Owen was aged 20 years and 6 months when he attested to join the army on 13 November 1915. (Family anecdote; he attempted to join a year earlier alongside Alfred Stone but failed the medical due to having bad teeth which as a result he had removed.)

He agreed to join for duration of the war. At this time, he lived at 20 Braunton Road, Bedminster, Bristol and was employed as a factory hand (a later entry says he was a chocolate moulder). This address was also given for his father William Owen, so it is likely that he was still living with his parents at this time.

A brief medical examination revealed that he stood 5 feet 2 ½ inches tall, weighed only 99 pounds, and had a 32 ½-inch chest. He was found fit for service.

Edgar was posted as 25436 Private to the 15th (Reserve) Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment at Gosport in Hampshire.

On 8 March 1916, he was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, and renumbered 26888.

He crossed the English Channel from Folkestone to Boulogne on 6 August 1916, and arrived at the MGC Base Depot at Camiers next day, where he awaited a posting to a Company in the field. Just under a week later on 13 August, he joined 13 Company MGC on the Somme.

 

13 Company, the Machine Gun Corps

This Company was formed in the 13th Infantry Brigade of 5th Division on 24 December 1915, initially by pulling the regimental machine gun sections from the battalions that comprised the Brigade. These were the 2nd King’s Own Scottish Borderers, 2nd Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment), 1st Royal West Kents, and 2nd King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, all battalions of the regular army.

By the time that Edgar joined as a replacement draft in August 1916, this was already a very experienced Company. It had been involved during late July and early August in attacks on the Somme, in the area of High Wood. After a brief rest, it returned to action on the Somme, but this time in the area of Ginchy, recently captured, facing the slight rise on which stood the village of Morval.

 

 

On 4 September, Edgar was admitted to the nearest Field Ambulance, where he was apparently suffering from “trench fever”. The army called it PUO, Pyrexia of Unknown Origin, an undiagnosable condition relating to living in the squalid conditions of trench warfare. After a period of rest and treatment, he rejoined his unit on 17 September 1916.

Six days later, Edgar suffered multiple wounds to his face, left arm and leg caused by the explosion of a shell. He was moved back down the line of casualty evacuation through No 14 Dressing Station, to No 21 Casualty Clearing Station, then at Corbie. By 26 September he was in No 6 General Hospital at Rouen.

The Company moved into the line, according to the war diary, on 22 September 1916. This was to prepare for an attack on Morval, which actually took place on 26 September. Company HQ was established near Arrow Head Copse, between the southern edge of Trones Wood and Guillemont and while the guns were being moved into position, 1 man was killed and 5 wounded. This is presumably the incident in which Edgar was wounded.

 

The site of Guillemont village. Photo: Vise Paris

 

The war diary does not name these casualties, but by using a combination of the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and “Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-19”, we believe the man who died was 16207 Lance Corporal Joseph McKniff MM. He has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial to the Missing. Six men is a Vickers gun team, and we wonder if Edgar was part of McKniff’s team. Interestingly, the CWGC records give 23 September as the date of his death (same as shown on Edgar’s medical papers as when he was wounded). It would appear that the Company war diary was written up after the event, and the diarist got the day wrong when he noted the loss of these men.

 

A total of 170,500 officers and men served in the MGC, of which 62,049 became casualties.

 

Evacuated to England on 27 September 1916 on the hospital ship “Austrias”, having been in France for just 53 days. He was admitted to 2nd Western General Hospital, Whitworth Street, Manchester, and appears to have been released when going on a period of home leave starting on 22 December 1916.

On 21 January 1917, Edgar was posted to No 4 Battalion, a reserve and training unit of the MGC, at Clipstone Camp near Nottingham. He was at least for some of his time with 22 Company.

He was appointed paid Acting Corporal on 2 February 1918, but reverted to Private on 22 May 1918. This was the result of a minor misdemeanour when he allowed a guard to fall out without permission.

On 8 July, he was appointed unpaid Lance Corporal, when posted to join the Machine Gun School at Grantham. Various postings to reserve and training units at Grantham and Belton Park took place during the remainder of the year. From 3 October 1918, he was formalised as a Lance Corporal and got an increase in pay, despite some additional but very minor troubles when he overstayed a leave pass and on one inspection his gun was found not to be clean.

Edgar married Daisy May Allen at the Baptist Chapel in Bedminster on Christmas Day 1918. His official address was altered to 87 St. Luke’s Crescent, Totterdown, Bristol.

On or just before 1 January 1919, he was posted to the 5th Reserve Battalion at Rugeley Camp in Staffordshire, and on 13 February he went to the Dispersal Centre at Fovant for the process of demobilisation. He was at this time in A1 medical category and had no disability arising from his military service.

Edgar was finally discharged on 14 March 1919, and spent the next year in civilian life while still being in Class Z reserve.

 

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