JOHN EDEN 1888-1914

Lieutenant John (Jack) Eden, 12th (Prince of Wales’s Royal) Lancers was killed in action 17 October 1914 and is buried at Larch Wood (Railway Crossing) Cemetery. Ypres.[1]  He was 26 years old and is commemorated on the Kirk Merrington War Memorial, the Eden family memorials in the vestry of St. Helen’s Church, St. Helen’s Auckland and a memorial panel on the front wall of the H. Hart Kerk, Kruiseke, near Wervik, Belgium.

Family Background [2]

The Eden family held the Baronetcy of West Auckland and of Maryland in the USA, united under a single holder since 1844.[3]  The manor of Windlestone was held by the Eden family from the 17th century and in 1835, the 5th Baronet replaced the manor house with a new mansion, Windlestone Hall which is situated to the west of Rushyford, County Durham. Sir William Eden [1849-1915], the 7th Baronet of West Auckland and 5th Baronet of Maryland succeeded him in 1873.  Sir William married Sybil Frances Grey [1867-1945] and they had 5 children who survived infancy:

  • Elfrida Marjorie [1887-1943]
  • John “Jack” [1888-1914] born 9 October 1888 at Windlestone
  • Timothy Calvert [1893-1963]
  • Robert Anthony [1897-1977]
  • William Nicholas [1900-1916]

In 1891, Sir William and Lady Sybil lived at Windlestone Hall with 3 year-old Elfrida Marjorie, 2-year old John and Sir William’s brother-in-law Spencer Grey.  They were supported by 18 servants at the Hall and another 3 gardeners living at Windlestone Cottage.  By 1901. 12-year old John was a boarder at school at Walton, Suffolk, following which he attended Eton College and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.

In the summer of 1911, Sir William and Lady Sybil celebrated their silver wedding and Jack’s “coming of age”.  The celebrations were a grand affair lasting 3 days.  On the first there was a large garden party for friends and neighbours, the second day was for tenant farmers and centred around a luncheon in a large marquee and the third day was for all those employed on the estate.  Much later in life, Anthony Eden wrote:

“As we celebrated Jack’s gay coming of age, in the brilliant summer of 1911, none of us had an inkling of the holocaust to come.”[4]

In 1914, Jack was engaged to Pamela Fitzgerald.  Sadly, she was not to have too much happiness during her short lifetime – in 1917, she married Eric B. Greer [5] but he was killed later that year [6] and she died in October 1918 during the influenza epidemic.[7]

During the summer of 1914, Jack was stationed at Norwich with the 12th Lancers, his brother Timothy was in Germany perfecting his language skills with the intention of joining the Diplomatic Service, [later to be interned at Ruhleben, Germany], [8] Anthony was at Eton College participating in the Officer Training Corps and the youngest brother Nicholas was a R.N. cadet leaving Osborne for Dartmouth.  His uncle [being his mother’s brother], Robin Grey was a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps.[9] Jack’s sister Marjorie, married to Guy Brooke [Warwickshire Royal Horse Artillery] would join “ a hospital train in France”.[10] Lady Sybil was to offer Windlestone Hall for use as a VA Hospital and convalescent home for wounded soldiers, [11] the 19th Durham Voluntary Aid Hospital where she would take the position as Commandant and Matron from 26 May 1915 [presumably until about May 1919].  She was awarded the OBE in recognition of her efforts.[12]

By the summer of 1915, Jack’s younger brother Anthony, when aged 18, was to become Second Lieutenant serving with the newly formed 21st Battalion, the Royal Rifle Corps [otherwise known as the Yeoman Rifles or the Sixtieth Rifles]. The first commanding officer being Lord Feversham, Duncombe Park near Helmsley, North Yorkshire, a family friend.  This battalion recruited many from County Durham. [13]

Sadly, 2 brothers were to fall in the Great War:

  • Lieutenant Jack Eden, 12th[Prince of Wales’s Royal] Lancers.
  • Midshipman William Nicholas Eden RN, lost at sea aboard HMS Indefatigable 31 May 1916 aged 16 during the Battle of Jutland. Nicholas Eden was educated at Sandroyd Preparatory School, the Royal Naval Colleges at Osborne, Isle of Wight and Dartmouth, Devon.  [14]

Brother Tim was to be repatriated in 1916 [15] and inherited the baronetcy.  After the war, Anthony Eden entered politics, being an influential Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1955 to 1957.

Military Career

 Jack Eden was gazetted Second Lieutenant, 12th Lancers 27 January 1909 and promoted to Lieutenant 25 May 1914.  He served in India between 9 March 1909 and 23 October 1910 and South Africa 24 October 1910 to 8 January 1913.[16]

At the outbreak of war, in August 1914, the 12th (Prince of Wales’s Royal) Lancers were stationed at Norwich and part of the 5th Cavalry Brigade.  It moved to France 6 September 1914.  The 3rd Cavalry Brigade then under 1st Cavalry Division and the 5th Cavalry Brigade, an independent command, were placed under orders of Brigadier-General Hubert Gough.  13 September 1914, they were formed into the 2nd Cavalry Division and other units required to make up the divisional structure were added as they arrived. [17]   The 5th Cavalry Brigade consisted of the following units: [18]

  • 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys)
  • 12th Lancers
  • 20th Hussars
  • E Battery R.H.A. joined 17 September 1914
  • 5th Signal Troop RE
  • 5th Cavalry Bde. Machine Gun Squadron MGC (formed 26 February 1916)

The Division remained on the Western Front in France and Flanders throughout the war.  In 1914, it took part I the following major actions: [19]

  • The Battle of the Aisne 12 – 15 September
  • The Battle of Messines 12 October – 2 November
  • The Battle of Armentieres 13 -17 October
  • The Battle of Gheluvelt 30 – 31 October, a phase of the First Battle of Ypres

Prior to these battles, the 12th Lancers were involved in action, 28 August 1914.  The following is an account: [20]

“On August 28th the corps was continuing its march towards La Fere and the cavalry found itself near Cerizy. At this point the pursuing German horsemen came into touch with it. At about five in the afternoon three squadrons of the enemy advanced upon one squadron of the Scots Greys, which had the support of ‘J’ Battery. Being fired at, the Germans dismounted and attempted to advance upon foot, but the fire was so heavy that they could make no progress and their led horses stampeded. They retired, still on foot, followed up by a squadron of the 12th Lancers on their flank. The remainder of the 12th Lancers, supported by the Greys, rode into the dismounted dragoons with sword and lance, killing or wounding nearly all of them. A section of guns had fired over the heads of the British cavalry during the advance into a supporting body of German cavalry, who retired, leaving many dead behind them. The whole hostile force retreated northwards, while the British cavalry continued to conform to the movements of the First Corps. In this spirited little action, the German regiment engaged was, by the irony of fate, the 1st Guard Dragoons, Queen Victoria’s Own. The British lost 43 killed and wounded. Among the wounded were Major Swetenham and Captain Mitchell of the 12th Lancers. Colonel Wormald of the same regiment was wounded. The excited troopers rode back triumphantly between the guns of ‘J’ Battery, the cavalrymen exchanging cheers with the horse-gunners as they passed, and brandishing their blood stained weapons.”

 Their action provided a boost to morale amongst the troops as the following passage indicates:

“During the march that day [30 August] while we were resting at the side of the road in a wood, during a 10- minute halt, the Scots Greys came along and the 12th Lancers.  They had had a very hard day of almost continuous rear-guard fighting about 3 days before, including a fine and very effective charge, and our men [1st Northampton Regiment] lined the road and cheered them lustily.  Men and horses looked as hard as nails but fine-drawn and worn-out.”[21]

In recognition of this event, the 12th Lancers commissioned a painting by George Wright (1860-1942) “The 12th Lancers at Moy, France on 28 August 1914”. [22]  The action is still remembered by the Regiment today and known as “Moy/Mons Day”.

Captain E.J. Needham, 1/Northampton Regiment in writing his diary, extracts of which were published to describe his thoughts during the great retreat, 28 August to 5 September, notes that on 3 September he spoke with Jack Eden:

“On our march from Meaux to La Ferte we had seen rather a fine sight: the entire 5th Cavalry Brigade (Scots Greys, 12th Lancers and 20th Hussars) riding in open country parallel to and on the left of our line of march.  They made a very inspiring sight.  They were acting as flank guard to the 1st Corps and had of course, their flanking patrols out to the left front….  As we were going through the town [La Ferte] my old friends the 12th Lancers came past and Jack Eden (who was one of my oldest and best friends at Eton and the eldest brother of Mr. Anthony Eden; he was killed at Mont des Cats in October 1914) reported that they had been almost into Chateau Thierry and had not seen a German though the latter town appeared to be in flames.”[23]      

The Ypres – Armentieres Battle

 General Sir John French provided a despatch 20 November 1914 which describes this action. [24] The following account is concerned with the 2nd Cavalry Division under General Gough.

The battle commenced 11 October 1914.  Some woods to the north of Bethune – Aire canal held by the German cavalry were cleared by the British Cavalry and they then pushed the enemy back through Fletre and Le Coq de Paille and took Mont des Cats just after dark following stiff fighting.

Lt. Jack Eden was the first to enter Bailleul, likely to have occurred 11 October 1914.[25]

On the 14th the high ground above Berthen was secured.  By now General Allenby was in command of the whole Cavalry Corps and he was ordered to advance eastwards and reconnoitre the line of the River Lys.  During the 15th and 16th the reconnaissance was carried out in the face of stiff opposition especially along the lower line of the river.  These operations were continued throughout the 17th 18th and 19.th   Strong enemy forces prevented the Cavalry Corps from securing a permanent footing on the eastern bank of the river.

 17 October 1914:

Lieutenant Jack Eden and Private Fred Hart were killed in action while on a patrol at America, to the south of Kruyseek near Gheluvelt.  The death of Lt. Eden is well chronicled in the regimental history and the diary of Captain Charrington.  The complete story can be found amongst the diaries of Corporal Snelling and Private Lawrence and the Distinguished Conduct Medal citation of Corporal Branch.[26]

“On the morning of 17th October 1914, C Squadron saddled up at 5.30am and took up an outpost line from GAPAARD to GARDE DIEU and was instructed to put its patrols well forward to watch the river Lys between COMINES and WARNETON.  B Squadron were sent forward to TENEBRIELEN, also with its patrols well forward.

The Belgian countryside was full of German cyclist and infantry patrols, who laid up behind hedges and buildings.  The countryside was very enclosed compared to the open fields of France.  The terrain was ideal for defence and provided great advantage over mounted men who had to stick to the roads as each of the fields was bounded either by deep and un-jumpable ditches and wire fences.

Lt. Eden’s troop was sent to clear up a very difficult situation near America [4.5km NE of Houchem] and was ambushed as they entered the village.  The Germans allowed the first 2 riders to enter the village and engaged the patrol at very close range with a Maxim Machine Gun.  Lt. Eden and one of his soldiers Pte. Fred Hart were killed instantly.[27]  The rest of the patrol escaped by jumping fences.  Pte. Wilmot was captured but the Germans after taking everything from him, chased him away.  The remainder of the patrol were collected together and returned home under somewhat difficult circumstances with Cpl. Branch.  For this action and an act of personal gallantry at Wyschaet the following month, he was awarded the DCM.

After much rumour as to the fate of Lt. Eden, a patrol of the 20th Hussars eventually found John’s body, the Germans having already removed his boots, cap and coat.  The Hussars buried him where he lay.  Memorial services were held by both the Regiment in the field and his family at the chapel at Windlestone.

 Report of his Death

The Auckland Chronicle 22 Oct 1914 reported Lt. John Eden’s death.

“He was in command of a patrol in the early hours of the morning, and during the fighting around Ypres the 12th Lancers had to bear the brunt of the German attack, and he fell victim to shrapnel.  Prior to that he had been involved in the battle of Mons, but managed to escape unhurt, although in the famous charge of the Lancers his horse was shot from under him, and his clothing was torn and burnt by shrapnel.”


 Initially, Lieut. J. Eden was buried in a battlefield grave but it seems that after the war he was located in the America Cross Roads German Cemetery near Wericq, named after a cabaret between Wervicq and Kruiseecke.  Thereafter, 5 UK soldiers including Lieut. J. Eden were reinterred at Larch Wood (Railway Crossing) Cemetery when the IWGC concentrated graves from isolated cemeteries and battlefield burials after the war.[28]

Anthony Eden wrote:

“These were miserable months for my mother.  My brother Jack was killed on a cavalry patrol near Ypres in October 1914, my father died in the following February and her brother Robin Grey had been shot down in his aeroplane and taken prisoner.” [29]

There would be more heartache for Lady Sybil, her youngest son Nicholas was to be killed at Jutland.


 St. Helen’s Church, St. Helen’s Auckland

The memorials to the Eden family were moved to the church from the mausoleum at Windlestone Hall, near Rushyford after the family vacated the property.  The memorials to John and William Nicholson Eden state:

 “In Memory of John Eden eldest son of Sir William Eden 7th Baronet of West Auckland and of Sybil Lady Eden born Oct. 9 1888, Lieut. 12th Royal Lancers.  Receive his commission Jan. 1909. Served in Flanders during the European War.  Was present in Retreat from Mons Aug – Sep 1914.  Was first of allied troops to enter Ballieul.  Killed in action and buried at America, near Ypres whilst on patrol duty Oct. 17 1914.  Aged 26 years and 8 days.  Dulce el decorum est pro patria mori”

 “In memory of William Nicholas Eden fourth son of Sir William Eden 7th Baronet of West Auckland and of Sybil Lady Eden born March 14th 1900.  Served as Midshipman Royal Navy from Jan 1916 on board H.M.S. Indefatigable.  Killed in action at the Battle of Jutland May 31st 1916 and went down with his ship in the North Sea.  Aged 16 years and 78 days.”

 Hart Kerk, Kruiseke, Wervik [30]

 After the war, a major re-building programme was entered into.  The following provides evidence that John Eden’s older sister Marjorie felt it appropriate to assist in rebuilding the church at Kruiseke near the place where Lieut. J. Eden fell.  The memorial states:

“This church, built with the help of a generous donation from Marjorie Lady Brooke, is dedicated to the memory of her brother Jack – Lieut. John Eden of the 12th Lancers – who was killed in action at Kruiseik on 17 October 1914.  Kruiseke dankt de engelse familie Eden hun milde schenking bij de bouw van deze kerk.” 

Kirk Merrington War Memorial [31]

The memorial located in the Church of St. John the Evangelist churchyard, unveiled 23rd July 1921 by Sir Timothy Eden Bart. of Windlestone Hall, dedicated by Rev. J. Duncan contains the names of 28 men who fell in the Great War including J. Eden and W.N. Eden.  Sir Timothy, was of course the brother of Jack and Nicholas Eden and inherited the title upon William’s death.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eden_baronets & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windlestone_Hall


[3] The 3rd Baronet Sir Robert Eden 1755-1794, 4th Baronet Sir John Eden 1740-1812 and the 5th Baronet Sir Robert Johnson Eden 1774-1844 and various members of their family are buried at St. Helen’s churchyard, St. Helen’s Auckland source: “St. Helen Auckland Monumental Inscriptions” Cleveland, North Yorkshire & South Durham FHS [Carol A. McLee] August 1993

[4] “Another World 1897-1917” Anthony Eden 1976 p.40

[5] England & Wales Marriage Index 1916-2005 Vol. 1a p.302

[6] CWGC Lieutenant Colonel E.B. Greer Irish Guards 31 July 1917 buried at Canada Farm Cemetery

[7] “Another World 1897-1917” Anthony Eden 1976 p.49

[8] “Anthony Eden” R.R. James 1986 p.35

[9] “Another World 1897-1917” Anthony Eden 1976 p.50

[10] “Another World 1897-1917” Anthony Eden 1976 p.54

[11] “Anthony Eden” R.R. James 1986 p.33 & “Anthony Eden” R.R. James 1986 p.36

[12] http://www.redcross.org.uk/About-us/Who-we-are/History-and-origin/First-World-War/Card?fname=sybil&sname=eden&id=67168&first=true&last=true

[13] “Another World 1897-1917” Anthony Eden 1976 p.63

[14] CWGC & www.durhamatwar.org.uk/story/12264 contributed by David D. Stanley

[15] “Anthony Eden” R.R. James 1986 p.46

[16] W.O. Form 388 Record of Services National Archives WO/76/9

[17] www.1914-1918.net/lancers.htm & http://www.1914-1918.et/2cavdiv.htm

[18] http://www.1914-1918.et/2cavdiv.htm

[19] http://www.1914-1918.et/2cavdiv.htm

[20] http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?/topic/174888-centenary-of-the-charge-of-the-12th-lancers-mo%C3%BF-de-laisne-28-au/  Attributed to Conan Doyle.  Also National Archives WO95/1140 & http://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/blog/my-tommys-war-an-eastender-in-the-lancers/

[21] The Great War: I was there” Part 3 edited by Sir John Hammerton p.112 “The Ending Days: red reaping and red tape” by Capt. E.J. Needham

[22] https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/the-12th-lancers-at-moy-france-on-28-august-1914-61506

[23] The Great War: I was there” Part 3 edited by Sir John Hammerton p.120 “The Ending Days: red reaping and red tape” by Capt. E.J. Needham

[24] The Sphere Supplement 12 December 1914 p.IV

[25] Family commemoration, St. Helen’s church, St. Helen’s Auckland, Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham

[26] ` Future Prime Minister’s Brother Dies With 12th Royal Lancers’ is by Major P A Watson and was published in the REGIMENTAL JOURNAL OF THE 9TH/12TH ROYAL LANCERS (PRINCE OF WALES’S) 2001 Vol XI No 4

[27] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War record that he and 417 Private F.J.J. Hart were KIA on 17 October 1914 but CWGC record that Pte. Hart was KIA 21 or 25 October.  He is buried at Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez some way to the south of Ypres

[28] CWGC

[29] “Another World 1897-1917” Anthony Eden 1976 p.59

[30] http://www.wo1.be/en/db-items/memorial-plaque-in-memory-of-lieutenant-john-eden

[31] http://www.newmp.org.uk/detail.php?contentId=7820


Lieutenant John Eden 12th (Prince of Wales’s Royal) Lancers.
Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205294184

Eden John

St. Helen’s Church

John Eden’s Memorial
St. Helen’s Church

Kirk Merrington
War Memorial


Wright, George; The Charge of the 12th Lancers at Moy, France, on 28 August 1914; The Regimental Museum of the 9th/12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales); http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-charge-of-the-12th-lancers-at-moy-france-on-28-august-1914-61505