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Ernest Whitehead


Claro Times  -  4th June 1915

Mr and Mrs Baldwin Whitehead, of 178 King's Road, Harrogate, who were formerly in business at Otley, have three sons serving with the colours. The eldest, Herbert Whitehead, is in the 10th Hussars; the next, Ernest Whitehead, is in the Royal Engineers at the Front; and the youngest, Frank Whitehead, is with the Royal Engineers in training at Northampton.

Recent letters from Herbert and Ernest tell of a happy meeting on the blood-sodden plains of Northern Flanders. Writing under date of May 17th, Ernest says : Herbert and I are quite well. I dare say you have received his letter before mine, telling you about our having met each other at last, after I had just about exhausted all enquiries for him, and ridden miles around the district to find him. How we found each other was as follows : On May 13th, very early in the morning, about 70 wounded cavalry men from different regiments were brought into the farm outbuildings where we are billeted. Amongst them were several of Herbert's squadron; in fact, some of his own troop, so naturally I was very worried about him, and felt sure that he was either wounded or killed. However, the next day I managed to find his transport column, and as he had not yet come back from the trenches I left a note with one of their men to give to him the same night when they came out, and directing him where to find me if it was possible to do so. However, he came up the following morning, and had dinner with me, and we spent the night together as well. I also saw him yesterday, and, all being well, I hope to see him again today. He is going back about fifteen miles for a rest in a day or two, and my cable section is going back, too, to a place quite near it, but I am sorry to say that I am not going back with them, as we are short of operators up here. Of course, I am all right here, but it is just because we could see more of each other down there. But as you know, none of us are out here for a picnic, and must stay where we are required.

In a letter dated May 27th, Herbert refers to a recent engagement in which he took part. He says : "Our regiment was in the second line of trenches, and the Germans shelled the first line to the extent that they had to retire on to our trench. About an hour later our brigade were ordered to retake them. This was about 11.30am. our maxim gun team had no sooner got into the open when a shell burst amongst them, killing three. We lost our squadron-leader and one sergeant about the same time. The squadron crept up the gutter at the side of the road for about half-a-mile, and then we went into the open in skirmishing order for another half-mile, and all the time we were under terrific shell fire. This was where we suffered the worst casualties. It was pitiful to hear their cries. The brigade eventually reached the lost trenches under heavy rifle fire. Our troop officer was hit in the groin. Myself and my section leader went to his assistance. He would not let us dress the wound, so my section leader left me alone with him in the open, where I stayed for about 30 minutes, and the shells were bursting all around us. Every time a shell burst anywhere near us, the troop officer would jump up and say "I have lost my nerve", so I kept asking him questions to try to keep his attention from the wounds. The Colonel passed later on, and he told me to try and get him into one of the dug-outs. This I eventually did with the assistance of another fellow. We had to drag him about fifty yards through the mud to get there, and every now and again we had to stop while he took a drink of brandy. After I had done this, the Colonel sent me back to headquarters with a message. This was rather a risky job, so he told me to take a man with me. In the meantime, our regiment had received the order to charge the Germans' first line, and by what the fellows say, the Germans got out of their trench and ran away when our chaps got within fifty yards of them with fixed bayonets. They do not like cold steel in the least. You will be sorry to hear that our Colonel and Adjutant were killed in this engagement. Our second-in-command was severely wounded, but he still went on giving orders".


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