E V Bates and brothers

E V Bates and brothers

The Bates Brothers

My name is Edward Victor Bates and this here is my resting place. Under my name is not a cross, like you see on most of the other Commonwealth war graves, but the names of my two brothers who also died in the war but in different places and were unable to be buried here.

So let me tell you my story: My father was called William George Bates and my mother Emma. I had five other brothers and sisters so you can imagine our house was very full! We lived on West Wycombe Road; the house is still there, just beyond the White Horse pub. There was my oldest brother Reuben, then my sister Rose, then Arthur William who we all just called William, Annie, then my brother Gilbert, and finally me the baby of the family. We werenít much different to others in High Wycombe in the early 1900s.

By 1911 it was just Gilbert and me living at home with my mother and father. Reuben had got married and was living just round the corner with his wife Kate and his young son, Clifford. My two sisters were earning a living in domestic service and finally my brother William had joined the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in 1905. My Father was a chair maker which was a very common occupation in High Wycombe, my mother was the unsung hero of the household doing all the jobs us boys didnít want to do. Both Gilbert and I also went into the local chair trade when we left school; in 1911 when I was only 13 I was already an errand boy at the factory and Gilbert was a machinist in the same factory.

When the war broke out William was already in the army, in fact he was a sergeant, and he was deployed in Mesopotamia, or Iraq as itís called today, with the 1st Battalion of the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry to fight the Turks. He was told he was there to protect India. At first we heard they were successful and had taken Basra and were heading for Baghdad. This is when it went wrong and the army retreated to a place called Kut and were then besieged by the Turks. The siege is now largely forgotten but should, even by the grim standards of the First World War, be a byword for the terrible suffering inflicted on British soldiers by the incompetence, arrogance and ignorance of their commanders. The officer in charge, General Townshend, forbade his troops from sending messages to their families so we didnít hear much more from William. The army finally surrendered at the end of April 1916. The tragedy did not end with Townshendís surrender. He went off to comfortable captivity on an island, showing more concern for the fate of his dog Spot than for the soldiers he left behind. Few officers stayed with their men, whom the Turks sent on a 1,300-mile forced march from Kut to Turkey. The soldiers died in their thousands of starvation, thirst, mistreatment and execution as well as diseases like typhus and cholera. My brother was amongst them as he died on September 24th 1916. He is buried at Baghdad North Gate war cemetery. This cemetery was well maintained until Britain joined the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when it became too dangerous to water the grass between the tombstones which became burned brown by the scorching sun. In Iraq are buried the remains of some 40,000 British and Indian soldiers killed in 1914-18.

Reuben, my oldest brother, was the only survivor of the war out of the four of us. He fought in France to start with, but he had club feet and could not walk very far. He was then put into the HSLC or the Home Service Labour Corps in England but he really struggled with his feet and before long he was completely discharged as unfit for service.

Gilbert joined the same regiment as William: the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and was put into the fifth battalion and was sent to France in 1915. He first saw action in the Battle of Hooge, which is near Ieper, where the battalion had the misfortune to be the first to be attacked by flamethrower. They then moved to the Somme ready for the big push. The battalion were involved in the battle for Delville Wood along with many South Africa units. He died during the main attack on Delville Wood on the 24th August 1916. His body was never identified and his name is on the Thiepval Memorial (170 men from the Battalion became casualties that day).

So what about me? When war broke out in 1914 I was only 16, I was not yet needed to fight. When I left school I got a job with the local railway company, Grand Central Railways, who had fairly recently opened a line from Wycombe into London. Although I was working Iíd suffered with my health for a number of years; in particular it seemed like I always had a cough. This didnít stop me signing up in 1916; Iíd moved to Willesden by this point and I signed up into the Royal Sussex Regiment. I spent almost a year in England before being allocated to the 16th Battalion which was being sent to Egypt. I arrived in Alexandria in August 1918 and joined the battalion who had been there since January. We were based near Gaza and things had reached stalemate with the Turks; we were in and out of trenches most of the time. Many people did not understand why we were there. Most people were either interested in the Western Front as it was closer to home, or the Mesopotamian campaign which my brother William was involved in, as that was trying to protect India. Interestingly the effects of this campaign have been long-lasting as it resulted in the creation of countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Iraq and even ultimately Israel.

I didnít spend long in Egypt as my cough got worse; I was coughing up blood and had lost a lot of weight, so after not much more than a month abroad I was sent back to England. I was evacuated to a hospital in Birmingham where they found tuberculosis in my phlegm. Although I was sent home to my mother in West Wycombe Road I never really recovered and died from the disease on August 14th 1920. As it was considered that my condition had been made worse by the war I was given a military burial and that is why you see me here.

So thatís our story and how I hope this explains why my headstone here in High Wycombe contains not only my name but also the name of two of my brothers.

Researched and performed by Josh Matovu

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