Remembering a young Yarmouth man who died for this country in a foreign field

PUBLISHED: 07:01 30 December 2018

The Deir El Belah War Cemetery in Israel where Private Edward Bubbings is buried.

The Deir El Belah War Cemetery in Israel where Private Edward Bubbings is buried.


The year marking the centenary of the 1918 Armistice ends next Monday, but I doubt that it will bring final closure.

Private Edward Arthur Bubbings, the Great Yarmouth teenage soldier killed in the Middle East in 1917.Private Edward Arthur Bubbings, the Great Yarmouth teenage soldier killed in the Middle East in 1917.

The familiar “We will remember them” is a timeless pledge which disregards the calendar.

Mention the First World War and, although it was before any one of us was born, mental images spring into sharp focus of mud, rain, trenches and carnage... plus thousands of headstones of our forefathers buried in some foreign field, probably in France and Belgium.

Some of those headstones are in regimented rows in cemeteries, while others are in ones and twos, close to the spot where the servicemen were killed.

A few years ago Mrs Peggotty’s sister visited the grave of an uncle who died in the 1914-18 war.

The young soldier's niece, Hazel Long, and her husband, David.The young soldier's niece, Hazel Long, and her husband, David.

It was still immaculately tended, alone behind an isolated French farmhouse.

The scale of those war cemeteries is awesome. Two decades ago Mrs Peggotty and I were over-awed by the Vimy Ridge memorial in France, the final resting place of 3,000 Canadian troops killed while fighting in a 1939-45 war campaign.

Even today, work continues at Vimy Ridge to unearth and detonate buried mines. They have not lost their deadly potency and occasionally continue to claim the lives of disposal experts.

However, a Mercury reader reminds us that back in 1914-18, British troops were engaged in another war zone, not across the English Channel in Europe but in the Middle East.

One of its many victims was a Great Yarmouth teenager, Edward Arthur Bubbings, son of William and Alice Bubbings, of Harley Road in Newtown.

Edward Bubbings’s niece, Hazel Long, of Town Wall Road, Yarmouth, tells me: “He has had no peace!”

The patriotic Yarmouth youth was so eager to respond to the national call to arms that he lied about his age to enlist, claiming he was older than he was.

So he was in his khaki uniform at only 17-years-old, serving in the 1st/5th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, and posted to the Middle East war zone where he was stationed in Egypt.

In 1917 he was injured not once but twice. Edward returned to the front line trenches after recovering from the first, only to be mortally wounded.

According to pensioner Hazel, wife of David: “When Edward recovered, he was sent back into the trenches, only to be fatally injured, dying on July 14 1917, aged 18.

“He is buried in the War Graves Cemetery at Deir El Belah in Israel. Sadly, you can only visit the cemetery with an armed guard because it is still very dangerous.

“Edward died fighting the Turks in Egypt. I don’t think my grandmother ever got over it.

“It was happening at the same time as the war in Europe and with a heavy loss of life, but these brave soldiers don’t seem to have got much of a mention.”

Edward’s headstone includes a chiselled-out Norfolk Regiment badge and inscribed tribute from “his ever sorrowful mother”. It reads: “Until the days break and the shadows flee...”

Apparently the 4th and 5th Territorial Battalions of the Norfolk Regiment served in Gallipoli (a place forever linked in our minds with the First World War), Egypt and Palestine.

Pte Bubbings was probably among the many reinforcements brought in during June and July 1917.

In that Middle East theatre of war the Ottoman Empire, including Arab tribes and Kurds, was pitted against the British who were reinforced by Jews, Greeks, Assyrians, most Arabs, Indians, Russians, Armenians and French. There were five main campaigns.

During those two months, and continuing in August, the British troops were subjected to heavy shelling by the Turkish forces.

The Deir El Belah cemetery is the burial place of no fewer than 724 Commonwealth servicemen who perished in that area in the First World War.

The name of young Edward Arthur Bubbings is also engraved on the War Memorial in St George’s Park in Yarmouth.

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