EDGAR TOWERS 1893 – 1915
14525 Serjeant Edgar Towers, 15th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 25 September 1915 and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial, France. He was 22 years old and is commemorated and Evenwood War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood.
- Edgar born 1893 at West Auckland
- May bc.1894 at Evenwood
- James Arnold bc.1899 at Evenwood
- Louisa bc.1902 at Evenwood
- Thomas bc. 1905 at Evenwood
- Alice Linda bc.1908 at Evenwood
- Harry bc.1911 at Evenwood
In 1901, the family lived at 8 Front Row, the Oaks and 30 year old Robert worked as a coal miner (hewer). By 1911, the family lived at 19 Rochdale Street and Robert then worked as a coal miner (stoneman). 17 year old Edgar was a coal miner (putter). 
William Gray of Evenwood Gate, the Hon. Secretary of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Fund provided Rev. G. J. Collis, vicar of St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood with a complete list of those who had enlisted in His Majesty’s Forces. The Evenwood Church Magazine contained the following entry: 
“Edgar Towers, Rochdale Street, D.L.I.”
Edgar Towers attested 8 September 1914 aged 20 years 11 months at Bishop Auckland into the Durham Light Infantry and joined the 15th Battalion being given the regimental number 14525. He was 5’4½” tall and weighed 136lbs. He underwent a medical examination 8 September 1914, had a fresh complexion, grey eyes and light brown hair and was considered fit for army service.  Private E. Towers was promoted to Lance Corporal 1 November 1914, acting Corporal 4 February 1915, acting Serjeant 10 September 1915 and this rank was confirmed 11 September 1915.
The 15th (Service) Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was formed in September 1914 as part of K3, Kitchener’s New Army and came under the orders of the 64th Brigade, 21st Division. At this time, the 64th Brigade comprised:
- 9th Bn., the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI)
- 10th Bn., KOYLI
- 14th Bn., Durham Light Infantry (DLI)
- 15th Bn., DLI
Advanced parties embarked for France 2 September 1915 and the main body began to cross the Channel five days later. Units moved to assemble near Tilques, completing concentration 13 September.  Serjeant E. Towers entered France 11 September 1915. 
The Division’s first experience was truly appalling. Having been in France for only a few days, lengthy forced marches brought it into the reserve for the British assault at Loos. GHQ planning left it too far behind to be a useful reinforcement on the first day, but it was sent into action on 26 September, whereupon it suffered over 3,800 casualties for very little gain. 
The Battle of Loos: 25 September – 8 October 1915 
The Battle of Loos formed a part of the wider Artois-Loos Offensive conducted by the French and British in autumn 1915, sometimes referred to as the Second Battle of Artois. The Artois campaigns comprised the major allied offensive on the Western Front during 1915. Along with the attack against Loos by the British, French troops launched offensives at Champagne (the Second Battle of Champagne) and at Vimy Ridge near Arras. 
The strategy involved:
- A four day artillery bombardment of the German positions
- Full scale infantry attack in the area between Loos and the La Bassee Canal
- Diversionary attacks to the north at Bois Grenier and Pietre (between Armentieres and La Bassee Canal).
- Once the German positions fell, reserves aided by cavalry, would pass through the gap and attack the German second line.
The following British units took part in the battle:
- The I Corps: 2nd Division, 7th Division, 9th Division, 28th Division
- The IV Corps: 3rd Cavalry Division, 1st Division, 15th Division, 47th Division
- The XI Corps: Guards Division, 12th Division, 21st Division, 24th Division
- Indian Corps: 19th Division, Meerut Division.
Subsidiary attacks 25 September 1915
- Indian Corps: Meerut Division
- III Corps: 8th Division
Second attack on Bellewaarde
- V Corps: 3rd Division
- VI Corps: 14th Division
Subsequent action of Hohenzollern Redoubt: 13 -19 October 1915
- IV Corps: 1st Division, 47th Division
- XI Corps: Guards Division, 2nd Division, 12th Division, 46th Division
Two “New Army” Divisions, the 21st (which included 15/DLI) and 24th were the reserve forces. They had only recently arrived in France, had not seen the trenches and were untested in battle.
20 September: The Divisions started moving from St. Omer with marches of over 20 miles throughout successive nights and finally, moved by a night march into the Loos Valley. Progress was slow and exhausting. They had been on the move constantly for several days. The ground was unfamiliar, roads and tracks were jammed with transport going in both directions and communication trenches were flooded and packed with men.
25 September: The Loos offensive began following a 4 day artillery bombardment in which 250,000 shells were fired including 140 tons of chlorine gas discharged from more than 5,000 cylinders. 75,000 British infantry made the initial attack.
The southern section of the attack, conducted by the IV Corps made significant progress, capturing Loos and moving forward towards Lens. However, the need for supplies and reinforcements brought the advance to a halt at the end of the first day. Delays whilst travelling meant that the reserves arrived at night time.
Fortunes on the first day of battle were mixed, to the north, the I Corps made less progress than the IV Corps but the 7th and 9th Divisions managed to establish a foothold on the Hohenzollern Redoubt.
There was some “bad luck”, for instance poison gas released with smoke into light winds before the infantry went forward, hung between the lines and in some places blew back at the British forces! Along the length of the front advancing masses of troops emerging from the smoke screen were met with devastating machine gun fire. Losses were appalling and the worst yet suffered by the British Expeditionary Force – there would be 8,500 dead by the end of the first day.
The delay in bringing up the reserves was a critical failure as the Germans were able to pour in their reserves and counter-attack the following day. Thus, any realistic chance of success had been lost on the first day.
The 21st and 24th Divisions saw action in front of the formidable second line defences at Hulluch and Hill 70. The British infantry advanced without any preliminary artillery bombardment and were decimated by German machine gun fire. The inexperienced New Army divisions, already exhausted by their long march, fought hard but were driven back.
27 September: The arrival of the Guards Division stabilised the line thereafter the offensive disintegrated. After several days of sporadic fighting, the British eventually were forced to retreat and Fosse 8 and the Hohenzollern Redoubt were lost in the following days.
13 October: The Loos attack was renewed and further heavy losses, more than 2,000 killed, combined with poor weather caused the offensive to be called off.
19 October: offensive called off.
During the battle the British suffered 61,000 casualties, (20,000 dead) 50,000 of them in the action between Loos and Givenchy and the remainder in the subsidiary attacks. Many New Army units, rushed into the battle area for the first time only a matter of days after landing in France were devastated. German casualties were estimated at half the British total.
15/DLI: in action.
12 September: train to the St. Omer district, 14/DLI went to Nielles-les-Ardres and the 15/DLI to the Ardres-St. Omer road.
19 – 24 September: 15/DLI also marched at night through Houchin and reached their destination on the 24th and 19 – 25 September: 14/DLI marched at night through Arques, Lambres, Esquedecques to Noeux-les-Mines then bivouacked on the afternoon 25 September.
“The concluding march of both battalions was particularly wearisome by reason of the frequent delays at level crossings.”
25 September: 7.15pm, 64th Brigade moved off through Mazingarbe and Vermelles, in support of the 63rd Brigade.
“The men were wet, tired and hungry, for all had been sacrificed to get the division into battle with the least possible delay.”
25 September: 9.00pm, 64th Brigade prepared for their advance into the line – unloading of Lewis guns, ammunition, bombs and tools. There was no time to reconnoitre the ground. At midnight, the 64th moved forward – 14/DLI and 15/DLI leading the column.
26 September: 1.00am, the rain stopped, trenches could be jumped or bridged by planks – further delays!
2.00am – “Now and then shells burst near….Patrols went out in search for the 63rd but could find no trace of them…The 15th settled down in a trench about a quarter of a mile in rear but there was not room for all of them so one company fell back to the la Basse road on the northern outskirts of Loos…The whereabouts of the enemy and the dispositions of the British troops in this portion of the field was as yet unknown.
Daylight: The congestion of traffic during the night was the cause of the delay and when the sun dispersed the morning mists the German shell fire stopped all movement on the road. The enemy batteries soon began to take their toll of the brigade, casualties including Lieut. V.B. Odhams, of the 15th, who was mortally wounded about this time…Orders had been issued for an attack by the 21st and 24th Divisions.
11.00am – the 24th Division advanced …the 15th Battalion in support now linked up the right of the 63rd Brigade with the troops advancing from Loos…the Durhams were pulled round towards Hill 70 and suffered heavily through enfilade machine-gun fire from Chalk Pit Wood. Lieut.-Col. E.T. Logan had already fallen, mortally wounded, while gallantly leading the 15th…Soon the troops on the right of the Durhams began to retire.”
12.30pm: the whole line was in retreat.
2.00pm: another advance by the survivors of the Durhams and the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry of the 64th Brigade.
“Heavily punished in flank by shrapnel and machine-gun bullets and unsupported by the British gunners…the infantry had no chance of success. The inevitable retreat was conducted under intense shell fire and the German bombardment continued till dusk…Many of the severely wounded had to remain where they fell. The exhausted survivors suffered torture from thirst – they had no chance of refilling their water bottles – remained in the old German trenches till they were relieved by the Guards in the early morning of September 27th.”
“The losses of the Durhams were very heavy…Besides the officers already mentioned the 15th Major R.B.Johnson; Capts. L.A. de V. Carey, H. Wardell and G.T.Fitzgerald; Lieut. E.M. Carter; 2nd Lieuts. J.W.L. Birbeck, E. Partridge, H.A.Boulton, C.H. Readman and O.de Putron wounded. There were no less than 450 casualties in the ranks.”
A first-hand account 
The following details are from an account provided by W. Walker, 13/Northumberland Fusiliers, 62nd Brigade, 21st Division.
“The 21st Division landed in France in the early part of September 1915. For a solid fortnight we marched over many a dusty mile of white road and doubled over the green fields towards an imaginary foe…the places we passed through I have forgotten all but Noeux-le-Mines and Bethune…No one seemed to know where we were bound for. A push, we understood, was about to begin and we were going up to chase the enemy from the field…When I opened my eyes on Saturday morning, September 25th, I could see an aeroplane flying high…we hastened on…We had not gone many kilometres when a new though distant sound could be heard, like a far-away thunder with now and again a louder boom…The roadside gave evidence of our near approach to the battle. All possible and impossible litter of war – old wrecked wagons, chairs, bedsteads…and in the ditch a dead mule lay, feet in the air, its belly torn out by shell fire…A Scots division had been heavily engaged with the enemy; they had suffered tremendous losses. For an hour or two a continuous stream of their wounded had trickled past us on their way to the rear. Most of them were hit about the arms. They looked grim and bloody.
We trampled on…After stumbling on for another half-hour sometimes up to the knees in liquid mud I could observe by the lights of the sky signals the ruined outline of a village. It was Loos….The village was slowly vanishing under the pounding of the guns… My company halted in the village street. It began to rain…Suddenly zip!…A bullet sang past us viciously and buried itself in the crumbling wall behind…Ping!…this time finding a bullet in the thigh of a chap in No.1 Platoon…That was the first drop of blood shed by the 13th NF’s so far as I’m aware. Sure enough it was a sniper…Then there began to burst above us some kind of shell. We flopped on our stomachs when this began. The ground was a quagmire but mud was better than blood…So far we have seen no enemy…Bullets started dropping all around us like heavy thunder rain…It was Sunday…In the early light an appalling scene lay before us. The ground was strewn with dead and dying men…Pieces of horse and gun equipment and the motley gear of war lay everywhere…Behind the blackening cocks of hay lay men in the attitude of firing, now dead. One lay not 2 yards from my feet, a giant Scotsman stretched out in the posture of crucifixion. Leaning against a wall was a young fair lad of the Lincolnshire’s, kneeling as if in prayer; his hands clasped, his twisted face crimson from an ugly gash in his temple. ”
W. Walker, 13/NF was wounded in the attack 26 September – a machine gun bullet through the elbow joint and underwent 10 months hospital treatment before being deemed to be unfit for further active service.
According to Capt. Miles, 15/DLI did not attack the German lines until 26 September therefore given that Serjeant E. Towers is recorded as killed in action 25 September this seems unlikely unless:
- The advancing reserve battalions were subject to bombardment from German artillery prior to taking up their position in the front line.
- He was the victim of sniper fire (as witnessed by the correspondent, W. Walker) whilst on the way to the front.
- Or perhaps some other unfortunate accident occurred during the night march, 24/25 September.
Given the obvious chaos of the situation, perhaps there was an administration error which would be perfectly understandable. With so many casualties, killed, wounded and missing, was it possible to compile accurate reports?
Serjeant E. Towers was recorded as “missing” and a letter dated 2 April 1916 from his mother received by the Infantry Records at York enquired about his whereabouts. 31 August 1916 it is recorded that Serjeant E. Towers was, “Regarded for official purposes as having died on or since 25 September 1915”. Serjeant E. Towers serviced a total of 1 year and 18 days, 15 of which were on active service in France:
Home: 8 September 1914 to 10 September 1915…………………..1 year 3 days
France: 11 September 1915 to 25 September 1915……….…………………15 days
…………………………….…………….…………………………..…1 year 18 days
Serjeant E. Towers was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War and Victory medals.
15/DLI suffered 462 casualties including Lt-Col. E. T. Logan Officer-in-Command who was killed in action. Later research records that 1 officer and 69 other ranks were killed in action 25 September. There were 3 men from the Gaunless Valley area killed in action and commemorated on the Loos Memorial: 
- Private William Brown of West Auckland
- Serjeant Edgar Towers of Evenwood
- Private Fred Thompson of Butterknowle
Between 25 September and 8 October, 3 officers and 100 other ranks were killed in action or died of wounds. 
The New Army units had taken part in an offensive action for the first time and suffered heavily. The typical attacking strength of a battalion at the time was 650-750 men, casualties were approximately 66%.
The battle witnessed some significant “firsts”:
- the first “Big Push.”
- the first blooding of Kitchener’s New Army.
- the first use of poison gas by the British army.
It had been a costly failure and consequently, Field-Marshal Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force resigned 10 December 1915. General Sir Douglas Haig was appointed as his successor. Little operational analysis was carried out and regrettably, many lessons of the failure at Loos were not learned. Many mistakes were repeated with uncanny similarity on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916.
Reports of “Missing”
News of Edgar Towers was reported in the Evenwood Church Magazine: 
“I have also heard from Percy Brass, who with several others of our local lads, viz. G. Featherstone, J. Carling, E. Towers, A. Bainbridge, Lands and others who I cannot mention for certain, have taken part in a battle, probably the big battle began on September 25th, in the region of Loos… Edgar Towers is also believed to be wounded and has not been heard from (by his friends at home) for several weeks. However there has not I am told been any official confirmation of anything worse having befallen him. I trust and pray that Edgar’s friends will soon have their anxieties relieved by hearing more cheering news of him.” )
No news was forthcoming and the following update was given:
“Nothing, I am afraid, has been heard lately of Edgar Towers. He is known to have been wounded. The best that we can look for in his case, I think, is that he is a prisoner of war and that in due course he will return home again safe and sound. Uncertainty of course is dreadful but this at any rate is uncertainty which leaves room for hope.”
The anguish for his family and friends continued and the April 1916 edition of the Church Magazine makes the following reference: 
“Our sympathies and prayers must be with him (Joseph Bowman) and his people too. Also with Edgar Towers who has not been heard of since last September.”
Memorial Service 17 September 1916
Sunday 17 September 1916, the congregation of St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood held a Memorial Service for Edgar Towers. It was reported as follows: 
“On Sunday, 17th ult., we had another stately and solemn Memorial Service. This time it was for our young friend Edgar Towers, who was one of the first of our local recruits. He is officially presumed to have fallen at the Battle of Loos, on September 25th last year. For many anxious months after that battle friends had not heard from him but as nobody seemed able to give any definite information to what had become of him, we all hoped that he was alive, though we thought he must be a prisoner of war in Germany. However, the official information received quite recently, although giving no particulars of his fate, reported him as presumably dead, so I’m afraid we must accept the fact a definite. How the sympathy and love of the people of Evenwood and round about, went out to his sorrowing relatives, was plainly shown by the great congregation that assembled at the service in spite of inclement weather. There was a very deep solemnity about proceedings and many evidences of sincere and heartfelt sorrow for one whom nearly all of us knew and liked. The Evenwood Sliver Band was with us helped by the West Auckland Band also by the Boy Scouts under the charge of 2nd. Lieut. P. Brass D.L.I who enlisted about the same time as Edgar, did his training with him, was himself at the Battle of Loos and was probably one of the last people to see him alive. The choir of course was at the service and Mr. Bird presided ably at the organ. The Dead March in Saul by a combined Bands and the Last Post sounded on the cornet were unusually impressive items of an impressive occasion. The service was in every respect similar to the Memorial described in the July Magazine.”
Sadly, his family were reluctant to accept the inevitable and a brief notice together with a photograph appeared in the Northern Echo, 23 November 1916: 
“Sergt. E. Towers (D.L.I) of 19 Rochdale Street, Evenwood missing. Any news of him will be welcomed by his parents.”
Serjeant Edgar Towers is commemorated on Panel 106 and 107 the Loos Memorial located in Loos-en-Gohelle, Pas de Calais. The memorial forms the side and back of Dud Corner Cemetery. It commemorates over 20,000 officers and men who have no known grave who fell in the area from the River Lys to the old southern boundary of the First Army, east and west of Grenay. Loos-en-Gohelle is a village 5 kilometres north-west of Lens and Dud Corner Cemetery is located about 1 kilometres west of the village. The name “Dud Corner” is believed to be due to the large number of unexploded enemy shells found in the neighbourhood after the Armistice. On either side of the cemetery is a wall 15ft. high to which are fixed tablets on which are carved the names of those commemorated. At the back are 4 small circular courts open to the sky in which the lines of tablets are continued and between these courts are 3 semi-circular walls or apses 2 of which carry tablets while on the centre apse is erected the Cross of Sacrifice. There are 20,597 identified casualties. 
 Commonwealth War Graves Commission
 Selected Births & Christenings 1538-1975
 1901 census records that he was born at Etherley, the 1911 census at West Auckland & Soldiers Died in the Great War records Evenwood
 1901 & 1911 census
 1901 census
 1911 census
 Evenwood Church Magazine April 1915
 Army Form B.2065 & SDGW
 Army Form B.178 Medical History
 Description on Enlistment
 Statement of the Services
 Medal Roll card index
www.1914-1918.net/BATTLES/bat13_loos/bat13_oob.htm: CWGC 1915: The Battle of Loos leaflet
 “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-18: the Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry” 1920 Capt. W. Miles p.20-24
 Statement of the Services
 Military History Sheet
 Medal Roll card index
 Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War
 Evenwood Church Magazine November 1915
 Evenwood Church Magazine December 1915
 Evenwood Church Magazine April 1916
 Evenwood Church Magazine November 1916
 Northern Echo 23 November 1916