Edmund Deacon was born in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire in 1872, the eldest son of Edmund Deacon Snr., a tea broker, and his wife Amy. By the time of the 1881 census, the family were living at No.46 Broadwater Road, Frant near the Sussex/Kent border. The Deacons were clearly wealthy, and 9-year-old Edmund lived in a busy household with his mother, an elder sister Alice, and two younger sisters, Amy and Hilda. Amongst the family’s servants were a governess, Annie Cummings and a butler, John Allan. The census record also records a number of visitors including a number of well-to-do ladies, and rather bizarrely two merchant seamen who spent the night of the 3rd April 1881 at the house. From 1885 to 1888 Edmund attended Charterhouse School, and also attended Malvern College.
By 1891 Amy had been widowed and was living at Newick Lodge, close to the church. Hilda was still living at home and there were four servants. Edmund’s whereabouts remain uncertain, although he was probably in the army. On the 5th April the following year Hilda died of pneumonia at an address in Hove. She was 16 years old. Edmund was present at her death, his address given as Newick Lodge, and she was buried in the churchyard that backed onto the family house. Her grave is located close to the south wall of the churchyard, close to the Barn Centre. Her mother, who died in 1894 is buried in the same plot. Edmund also held the lease on Beechlands, Cornwells Bank between 1895 and 1899
On 16th March 1899 Edmund married Harriet Sybil Egerton Green in the British Hotel, Jermyn Street, Westminster under the terms of a Special Licence. Edmund was listed as a Lieutenant in the King’s Dragoon Guards, suggesting his whereabouts in 1891. He left the army later that year. A daughter was born in April 1900 and named Hilda, presumably after Edmund’s sister. By the time of the 1901 census the couple were living in Sloe House, Halstead, Essex. Edmund was described as ‘living on own means’, which were clearly substantial as the family employed four live-in servants, including Hilda’s nurse, Sarah Haddingham. By 1911 another son, named Edmund Jnr. had been born, and the family were still living at Sloe House, employing four servants. Edmund Snr. had clearly re-enlisted as his trade was described as ‘Lt. Colonel Comdg. Essex Yeomanry’.
The Essex Yeomanry mobilised on 7th August 1914, with Lieutenant Colonel Edmund Deacon in command. Three squadrons of cavalry mustered at Melton, Suffolk in late November 1914 and entrained at Woodbridge for the journey to Southampton. The strength on arrival was 25 officers, 468 other ranks, 513 horses, 6 vehicles, 18 wheeled transports and 15 motor cycles.
The regiment sailed for France on-board the SS Anglo-Canadian and disembarked on the morning of 1stDecember 1914 and moved to a nearby camp. The unit was joined by four further horses and four interpreters, and unserviceable horses and harnesses were exchanged on the following day. The squadrons entrained on the 3rd December and arrived at rain-soaked Wardrecques near the Belgian border the following day. In a somewhat ironic, if tragic, incident the War Diary records that one of the interpreters was killed by a train during the loading process (a court of enquiry was held on 20th December, although the outcome is not recorded).
The next few days were spent in musketry practise, trench digging and inspections, before the men moved to new billets at nearby Grand-Sec-Bois. Further inspections and a church parade on 13th December were followed by a move to Dranoutre. where the unit watched ‘an artillery duel’ before moving to billets at St. Jans Cappel. By 16th December the men were back at Grand-Sec-Bois. The rest of the month was spent in practising trench digging and dismounted attacks, improving billets and at regular church parades. The weather was reported as wet and cold and a number of horses either died or were destroyed during the month. A trickle of men were also send to hospital.
The weather did not improve with the turn of the year, and a parade on 2nd January was abandoned owing to heavy rain. The rest of January was spent in the rear but orders were received in early February to proceed to Ypres. Seventeen officers and 259 other ranks took motor buses to Ypres on the 3rd February, and one squadron went straight to the frontline trenches. The three squadrons of the Essex Yeomanry rotated between billets at Ypres and Blaringhem and the trenches and took their first casualties of the war, including a fatality, No.805 Private Roberts killed near Hooge on 8th February.
The squadrons were withdrawn from the front line on 13th February and were billeted back at Blaringhem and then at various other locations through the spring of 1915, with occasional forays within range of the German artillery around Ypres. The War Diary reports that Edmund Deacon returned to England on leave during this respite. However, the Germans launched a major offensive at Ypres on 22nd April 1915, supported by the first use of poison gas, and the Essex men were soon busy digging communication trenches at readiness to go into the front line if needed.
By early May, the Essex Yeomen were in billets near Steernewoorde, but received orders to move forwards on the 3rd May, leaving their horses behind. After a wet night march the men were then ordered back to where their horses had been kept, perhaps a symptom of the confusion following the continuing German attacks around Ypres. On the 5th May the men rode to Brielen via Poperinghe and Vlamertinghe. The horses were left there and 160 men proceeded across the Yser canal to dig trenches between 9pm and 1am. Despite shellfire falling near the trenching party and the horses, there were no casualties and the Yeomen returned to billets at Hootkerque.
Over the next week the squadrons were on a constant state of alert, and on the 12th May, the Yeoman were ordered to march to communication trenches north of Hooge, again leaving their horses in the rear. The following morning the Essex men were ordered to retake positions at Frezenburg Ridge that had been recently occupied by the Germans; the War Diary gives their strength as 17 officers and 285 other ranks. Following heavy shelling of their positions during the morning, the men attacked at 2.15pm and ‘doubled all the way to enemy trenches about 1000 yards distant. Germans retired before Brigade reached trenches’. The retaken positions were then heavily shelled and surviving elements of the Essex Yeomanry withdrew, leaving a small party in some ruined houses, who held off a German counter-attack during the afternoon. The group withdrew after dark and re-joined their comrades.
Although successful in driving the Germans from the position, the attack had been costly. Roll call on the following morning showed that of the officers, four had been killed, five were wounded and one wounded and missing, and of the other ranks 29 had been killed, 95 were wounded, 15 were wounded and missing, and eleven were listed as missing. The total of casualties for all ranks was therefore 160, from an initial ‘bayonet strength’ of 302. The officer listed as wounded and missing was ‘Lieut Col E Deacon’.
The survivors of the attack at Frezenburg Ridge were withdrawn to Vlamertinghe for rest and refitting. On the 16th March the men were paraded and read the following:
‘The Brigadier wishes to express his great admiration for the part played by each regiment in the attack made by the Brigade to regain lost trenches and his sympathy with the regiments for the loss of so many valuable lives in all ranks by driving the German out, who during the retreat suffered great losses from our artillery, and by preventing them from consolidating their position in the trenches that they had captured, the Brigade had undoubtedly saved the situation.’
Messages of congratulation were also read on behalf of the recently appointed commanding officer of the 2ndarmy, Sir Herbert Plumer, which described the ‘magnificent spirit shown by the troops’, and from Sir John French, the Commander-in-Chief of the BEF who passed on his ‘admiration and congratulations’. The following day a search party was organised to look for Lieutenant Colonel Deacon ‘and others missing, no result’. On the 16th June the surviving members of the Essex Yeomanry were inspected by Sir John French, who offered condolences for the loss of their Colonel.
All available military records give Lieutenant Colonel Edmund Deacon’s date of death as 13th May 1915. He was 43 years old. Despite the efforts of his men to find his body, he has no known grave and is commemorated on Panel 5 of the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
His name is also inscribed on the grave of his mother and sister in the churchyard in Newick, close to the Barn Centre; a personal inscription reads ’LO I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS EVEN UNTO THE END OF THE WORLD’, but he is not commemorated elsewhere in Newick, except at The Green. His name is listed on the church memorial close to his pre-war home in Halstead in Essex and on both the Charterhouse School and Malvern College WW1 War Memorials.
Edmund Deacon was entitled to a 1914/15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. Unlike other ranks, an officer’s next of kin had to apply for service medals; Sybil applied in March 1920. She was still living at Sloe House.
In an interesting postscript, an article published in the Chelmsford Chronicle of Friday 29th August 1919 reads:
‘The Yeoman's War Horse. Essex in general and the County's Yeomanry in particular with share in the pleasure that Mrs Deacon of Sloe House, Halstead, the widow of Col. Edmund Deacon, must feel in receiving back from the war her gallant husband's charger. It will be recalled that Col. Deacon was killed in the famous charge of the Essex Yeomanry in May 1915, through his fate until a month or so back, was held in some doubt, it being hoped that he was a prisoner of war. The vicissitudes of war are wonderfully exemplified in the preservation and restoration of the deceased officer's charger, for the horse has not only survived the terrible times suffered by both man and beast in France, but has been with the Forces in Salonika and South Russia, and apparently is none the worse for its experience.’
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