Jack Edwards is a lifestyle blogger and university You Tuber, who has amassed a huge fan following thanks to his weekly videos sharing his experiences of studying English Literature at Durham University.
Here’s what Ancestry UK found when they traced Jack’s ancestors to see if she any First World War connections.
Jack Edwards’ great-grandfather Frederick “Rusper” Edwards didn’t fight in the First World War due to his age, but his older brother, and Jack’s great, great uncle, William James Edwards did serve and gave the ultimate sacrifice.
William and Frederick were brothers, born only one year apart, and grew up in the village of Charlwood in Surrey, the two oldest sons of a large family.
In early 1915, the family received a harrowing blow. The family patriarch, Frederick Edwards Sr. (Jack’s great, great-grandfather) died, leaving Emily Peters Edwards (Jack’s great great-grandmother) to fend for herself and the children alone.
With the Great War raging on, William turned 18 and was finally able to enlist, joining as a private with the 11th battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment in February 1917, just two years after the death of his father. Frederick, however, at the age of 17, was left at home, separated from his older brother.
William and his battalion were shipped to France in August 1917. Some of the significant conflicts that his regiment were involved in during this time included the Third Battle of Ypres (including the Battle of Passchendaele and the Battle of Menin Road), First Battle of the Somme, and the Fourth Battle of Ypres (Battle of the Lys, April 1918).
In March 1918, the German Army launched what has become known as the Spring Offensive. This was a last, desperate effort to win the war in the European theater before the large numbers of men and materials from the United States forces were deployed.
William was positioned in France at the heart of this critical time, and by April 1918 his battalion was stationed at Elzenwalle Chateau, Ypres, on the front lines. The war diary for his battalion outlines the events of their last few days of fighting before they were relieved.
Jack with genealogist Simon Pearce
On 25 April 1918, the battalion’s Captain Drew reported “violent artillery activity” and “casualties very heavy” on the British forces, as well as, “very heavy enemy shelling” on 26 April, continuing into the next day. On the night of 27 April, the 11th battalion were relieved by the King’s Liverpool regiment and moved to support positions.
The heavy shelling of the front lines continued and sadly on April 29 William was killed at the age of 19.
The night of William’s death, his battalion were relieved by the 2nd battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment, and spent a day of rest at the Devonshire Camp on 30 April.
William died on the last day of fighting and just one day before liberation and the chance to be reunited with his family. He was likely killed in the trenches.
After his death, his effects were given to his mother, including a total of roughly 13 pounds, which equates to roughly £700 today.
William James Edwards was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal and is commemorated at the Tyne Cot Memorial in West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, a few miles to the north-east of Ypres. The memorial is dedicated to men for whom there is no known grave, William is listed on stone 87.
With his father and older brother gone, Jack’s great-grandfather Frederick was now the “man of the house.” A young man of 18, trying to make his way in a post WWI world, the weight of helping his mother with their large family.
After finding out about his First World War ancestry, Jack said: “Unfortunately the story is quite tragic and William my ancestor, who was involved in the war and fought for our country, died at the age of 19, which is poignant for me as a 19 year-old to think how different his life was in direct comparison to mine.”
“It’s quite emotional actually finding out about that kind of thing and really comparing myself to him and his lifestyle.”
We would like to say a big thank you to the National Army Museum for allowing us to film at their amazing location.
Visit our YouTube Channel for more videos in our WW1 ancestry series featuring Beckie Brown, Jay James and Kate Jamieson.
Beckie Brown with genealogist Simon Pearce