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Back to The Story of Edward Bretland: Part 1

By Jonty Wild

Article title graphic: Edward Bretland

Edward's Death

In uniform

Edward in uniform (2)

Although they received a draft of seventy men, they would normally have been withdrawn from the front line, but such were the losses elsewhere that they were back in the trenches on September 12th and did not leave again until the 30th.

October started quietly out of the trenches and in Bertrancourt and then Hedauville. On the 5th they relieved the 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment in the Thiepval Sector manning the trenches and providing support. The war diary records heavy bombardment by both sides on the 6th and 7th. On the 8th the Germans attacked the left flank with bombs (hand grenades) and the Sherwood's bombing post using flammenwerfer (flamethrowers), while firing a heavy barrage on the front support and reserve lines. The Sherwoods bombing post was driven out, but their counterattack captured 13 Germans and killed 25 more. They noted the Germans were from the 110th Regiment of Baden-Baden (probably the 10th Baden Grenadier Regiment). On the 9th at 4:30am a platoon (approximately 30 to 50 men) took part in an attack on the infamous Schwaben Redoubt in conjunction with 16th Sherwood Foresters. They secured their objective: "with a great dash and gallantry our men accounted for a considerable number of the enemy." They stayed for over an hour, but the troops on their left flank failed to achieve their objective, as a result, and with the Germans counter-attacking in force, they were forced to withdraw. The war diary reads "It was a splendid fight and good leadership was shown by the officer in Command."

October 10th 1916 is officially recorded as the date of Edward Bretland's death. The war diary records that on the 10th there were intermittent bombardments and that the Sherwoods were relieved by the 1st Herts. It does not specifically mention casualties on that day, but if there were any they are included in the numbers given for the 'last five days'; 1 officer wounded, 29 other ranks killed, 72 other ranks wounded, 1 other rank missing and 2 other ranks wounded, but remaining at duty. As Edward's body was never found, the obvious conclusion would seem to be that Edward was the missing man, however it is not that simple. The local papers were investigated at the British Library; and although, sadly, no photograph of Edward was found, three snippets of information were; two newspapers, the Nottingham Daily Express and the Nottingham Guardian record, under "last night's list, Bretland 30988 E (Nottm)", as wounded. Both of these papers are dated October 9th, the day before the date recorded for his death.

It is possible that Edward was wounded on the 8th and did die on the 10th, but what is unlikely is that the news of his being wounded would have reached the local papers so quickly. It was common for such news to take weeks to reach home and the newspapers, but perhaps Edward had friends in the right place to be able to telegram the news to England. Whatever the case it must be true that the events that led to his death were certainly before the 10th. Having received the news, and seen the papers, which on the 9th alone listed 356 casualties amongst the Sherwoods (all Battalions), Edward's family must have been greatly relieved and very happy that he was alive. Sadly that was short lived, they received the news, which was reported in the Nottingham Evening News on the 17th, "News has been received by Mr. E. C. Bretland, Bridgford House, West Bridgford, a well-known Nottingham lace manufacturer, of the death in action of his second son, Signaller Edward Bretland."

Death plaque

Left: The Britsh War and Victoria medals
Right: The Next of Kin Memorial Plaque

As explained, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions about what happened, and when, there is just not enough information. The fact that his body is missing complicates matters even more. In truth 'missing' is a rather inadequate description. It usually means that the body was left in no man's land and was never recovered or at least never identified if it was, or that it was destroyed by shell explosion or shrapnel and sometimes, quite literally, there was simply nothing left to find. Generally neither situation would apply to a man listed as wounded (as opposed to listed as wounded and missing) because they usually received treatment and if they subsequently died were buried some distance from the fighting. These men would usually be buried in named graves, but they too could become missing if the graves were later obliterated by shelling – astonishingly there are some 530,000 men from the British Army of the Great War who are still missing and have no known grave. The possibilities for Edward would seem to include the following:

1. He was indeed wounded around the October 8th and did die on the 10th and his grave subsequently lost.
2. He was misreported as wounded and his body was just lost and, given the length of time it would normally take for such news to reach England and the papers, this could have been days or even weeks before October 10th.
3. He is buried, but in a grave marked as 'Known Unto God'.

In Memoriam

Perhaps the exact date is unimportant; he died, and he died tragically at only nineteen and the 10th is as good as any other date to acknowledge his death. Edward was postumously awarded the British War and Victory Medals and a Next of Kin Memorial Plaque and a Scroll personalised in his name were sent to his family at the end of hostilities.

A poppy tribute from the author

A poppy

War Memorial about 1925
The War Memorial: cleaned and renovated 2011

The West Bridgford Memorial Left: 1920; Right: today

Continued in column 2...

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Added December 2nd 2011
Last updated April 10th 2016

Mundella School War Memorial detail

Bretland dedication

Private 30988 Edward Bretland may not have a grave, but his name is not forgotten. In West Bridgford, it appears on the Mundella School War Memorial in St Mary’s Church, Nottingham – on a bronze plaque listing 122 'Old Boys', from the school who died; on another bronze plaque to the West Bridgford fallen in St Giles' Church, which lists 168 names; and on the West Bridgford War Memorial sited on the junction of Musters Road and Bridgford Road, which records 190 names from the First World War.

He is also remembered in the family grave in Nottingham General Cemetery (grave number 20292). The grave contains Edward (senior), his wives, Louisa and Rose, and to their inscription another is added for Edward: "Edward Bretland Private 17th Sherwood Foresters, killed in France".

Thriepval monument, France

The Thriepval monument

In France it appears on the magnificent Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme (face 10C) and from 2011 on a plaque in St Georges Church, in Ypres. St George’s is a British church, but situated in Belgium and is dedicated to the service men who died around Ypres and on the Somme. Edward has his own personal plaque:

St George Church Plaque, Ypres

The St George plaque

140,000 men served in the Sherwood Foresters during the Great War, 11,409 of them died, including Edward. They are remembered on a number of memorials, but the Regimental Monument is the Tower and Grounds on the summit of Crich Hill, near Crich, Derbyshire and it is well worth a visit.

Regimental Monument, Crich Hill, Derbyshire

Crich Hill Monument


Battalion: comprised approximately 1000 men
British Army: numbers include commonwealth soldiers who fought in the campaign
Creeping Barrage: a moving line of artillery fire, intended to stay just ahead of the attacking force and act as a protective curtain by forcing the enemy to take cover.
Mine shafts: both sides dug mines towards and under the other side’s trenches, if successful they packed the end with explosives and blew them up with devastating effect.
Other ranks: all soldiers except commissioned officers
Redoubt: a fortified and heavily defended stronghold.

Further Reading

Records of the Sherwood Foresters are held by the WFR Museum (Sherwood Foresers Collection) in Nottingham Castle.


1. Family tree graphic: Freeware Graphics: Vintage Kin Design Studio Australia
2. Photographs of Edward in uniform and the Next of Kin Memorial Plaque (held by Martin Hopewell): Roll of Honour Nottinghamshire County Council

Associations and acknowledgments

Jonty Wild is the great nephew of Edward Bretland.

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