Ernest Edward Welch’s birth was registered in the second quarter of 1880 in Rugby to Edward Welch (b.1852 in London) and Harriett Welch (née Lack b.1855 in Rugby). Ernest Edward’s parents had married in Rugby in 1878. Ernest’s father, Edward, was a traffic guard with the LNWR railway in 1891 when the family were living at 48 Union Street, Rugby. They were at the same address in 1901 and his father was still with the LNWR. There were now five children Edith, Ernest, Florence, Ethel and Alice.
By 1901, Ernest Edward Welch was a bricklayer and his marriage with Bertha Elizabeth Lenton was registered in Rugby the next year, in the third quarter of 1902. In 1903 Ernest and Bertha had a daughter, Effie. Before 1911 they had moved to 54 Union Street, and later – and after the war – his widow and daughter were at 35 Union Street.
Ernest joined up as No.26321 in the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry [Ox. & Bucks.]. His record in the ‘Soldiers Died in the Great War’ states that he enlisted at Rugby, and the ‘Medal Roll’ indicates that he was at first in the 6th Battalion,
6th (Service) Battalion was formed at Oxford in September 1914 as part of K2 and placed under orders of 60th Brigade in 20th (Light) Division. The Battalion landed at Boulogne on 22 July 1915.
Whether Ernest was with them at that date is unknown but he may have still been in training. His Medal Card does not record the date he went to France, and there are no surviving Service Records, however, the absence of an award of a 1914 or 1914-1915 Star suggests it was some time in 1916 or later. At some date he was later transferred to the 2nd Battalion and possibly this was when he was promoted to Lance Corporal.
The 2nd Battalion had returned home from India in 1903 and was initially based in Chatham and in 1907 moved to Tidworth, Wiltshire. When World War I started the Battalion was stationed at Albuhera barracks, Aldershot, and was part of the 5th Brigade of the 2nd Division. On 14 August 1914 the Battalion mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne and was engaged in various actions on the Western Front including in 1914: the Battle of Mons and the subsequent retreat; the Battle of the Marne; the Battle of the Aisne; and the First Battle of Ypres. Then in 1915: the Winter Operations 1914-15; the Battle of Festubert; and the Battle of Loos.
It seems likely that Ernest would have been involved in some of the actions in 1916: the Battle of Delville Wood; the Battle of the Ancre; and other operations on the Ancre. A fuller summary of the campaigns can be found on Wikipedia, which also summarises the actions in early 1917 …
‘The New Year of 1917 brought with it a period of severe weather conditions on the Somme plain which led to an unofficial truce between the two sides. In March 1917, the Germans began the withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line (14 March – 5 April) and at the end of March the 2nd Ox and Bucks moved from the Somme to the back areas of Arras. The 2nd Ox and Bucks and other battalions of the regiment saw much involvement in the Arras Offensive (9 April – 16 May), including at the Battles of Scarpe and Arleux. The 2nd Ox and Bucks took part in the battle of Arras from 11 April and had a leading role in the battle of Arleux on 28-29 April: during the battle the battalion protected the right flank of the Canadian 1st Division which was critical to the capture of the village of Arleux and sustained more than 200 casualties.’
It seems likely that Ernest was one of those 200 casualties on 28 April 1917, during the attack on the Arleux-Oppy Line. Further details are provided in the Commanding Officer (Lieut.-Colonel Crosse’s) Diary.
April 28th.- 4.25 a.m. was fixed for “zero hour,” when the Regiment attacked in four Waves, … The whole attack was more successful on the left than on the right, the Canadian Corps taking and holding, apparently without difficulty, all their objectives. …
The feature of the operations … was the initiative, resource, and good leading of the Company and Platoon Commanders, … All their subordinate commanders seemed to realize the necessity for at once collecting together adjacent men – no matter to whom they belonged – and retelling-off and reorganizing them for immediate further action.
The casualties included … about 200 other ranks, of whom 130 were wounded, and the remainder either killed or missing.
The Regiment, in touch on either flank with the adjacent troops, continued to hold its front, approximately on the line of the “Blue Line” (2nd Objective), where extremely good work was done by the Lewis-gunners.
The trenches were very much shelled and badly provided with dugouts; a number of men were buried, and a certain number of casualties occurred, the exact figures it has not yet been possible to arrive at as regards separating them from those which occurred in the actual attack.
At some point during this action, on 28 April 1917, Ernest Welch was killed, either in the action or the subsequent shelling described above. Ernest’s body was not recovered or identified and he is now remembered on Panel: G. 11. of the Arras Memorial, located in the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery, to the west of Arras, near the Citadel.
The Arras Memorial commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between the spring of 1916 and 7 August 1918, the eve of the Advance to Victory, and have no known grave. The memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.
Ernest was awarded the Victory and British medals, and after his death, Ernest’s effects and money owing were paid to his widow, Bertha. She received £2-18-3d on 8 September 1917 and then a gratuity of £3 on 1 November 1919.
As well as the Arras Memorial, Ernest is remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate and on a family headstone in the Clifton Road Cemetery, Rugby.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM
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This article on Ernest Edward Welch was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by Anne Rogers and John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, December 2016.
 Diary, 2nd Bn. Ox. and Bucks. L. I., http://www.lightbobs.com/1917-arras-april-june.html.