WW1 Alumni

Eden, GF

G.F Eden

Rifleman, 21st Co of London (1st Surrey)

G.F Eden wrote a letter to the School which was published in the July 1916 Edward Alleyn Magazine thus:

"I have been at the front for fifteen months, my battalion being the First Surrey Rifles.

We had just finished six days at ______. We were relieved on Saturday night, May 20th [1916] and went back about seven miles for a six days' rest. We reached our destination on Sunday morning at about 2.15am, had breakfast at 10.00am, church parade at 2.00pm and then had to 'stand-to'. At 6pm we packed up, moved off in fighting order, and at 9pm arrived at a spot about two or three miles from the line. After a rest of two hours in a field we moved up nearer to a reserve trench where we stayed for a day, and learned that the Huns had taken our front and communication trenches. Just as we drew nearer still in the evening the Bosches strafed us with gas shells. It was most awful. Our eyes were streaming, we were coughing and practically vomiting. We relieved the battalion that had taken our places two nights previously. The following day we were heavily shelled and were told we were going over the bags that night at 8.25. All this was taking place during the six days through which we were supposed to be resting!

Well, the time came and over we went. I got caught in the wire, ripped my trousers to pieces, freed myself and dashed for the trench. We took it. It is almost impossible to describe the scenes; it is marvellous that anybody won through in face of the terrible firing of heavy guns, machine guns, mortars, bombs and other death-producing implements. While holding the trench I saw a German flinging bombs about. He flung one at me. It fell short. I let him have a couple of rounds. He then threw a bomb, which just passed over my head, fell behind me, exploded and wounded me in the back, leg and arm. I felt as if someone had presented me with a very hard kick in the small of the back. I crumpled up but knew what was happening. Leaving my rifle and bayonet where they fell, I clambered up the side of the trench, took off my equipment, gas helmet and spare bandoliers, crawled, rolled and somehow managed to gain our support line in spite of the wire, which appeared to me to be everywhere and several times entangled me. Walking for me was an impossibility. After I had been bandaged I had to lie for six hours on my stomach until the stretcher bearers took me to the dressing station. Eventually I got to the hospital ship Asturias. The King and Admiral Jellicoe came on board when we reached our English port.

I am now feeling a lot better, but cannot sit up, lie on my back or walk. One of the wounds in my back is very severe. My spine narrowly escaped injury which, they tell me, would have left me paralysed for life"

Editor's note: This letter is particularly poignant when read in conjunction with Leonard Anthony Coe's biography. On the weekend of 20th-21st May 1916 two Alleyn's boys were experiencing radically different life events. While G.F Eden was being gassed, attacked and injured, Leonard Coe was in Falmouth for his wedding day. It shows how WW1 was not one event in history but a series of multiple and entwined personal stories which added up to one bigger whole.