Today is the hundredth anniversary of the death of Private Ernest Bailey of Seal Chart near Sevenoaks aged just eighteen. His great nephew, David Lambourne and his family will be visiting the church of St Lawrence where their family once worshipped, to remember their ancestor, who is remembered on the war memorial inside the church.
Ernest was born on the 27th December 1899 and lived at ‘Larchwood’, Seal Chart, Sevenoaks. He was the youngest child of local carpenter and cabinet maker Thomas Bailey and his wife, Caroline. He had three brothers and seven sisters. His sister Emily was David’s Grandmother.
‘Larchwood’, the Bailey family home
Private Ernest Bailey 50987, 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry
Ernest went to St Lawrence School, Seal Chart and was a member of the congregation at St Lawrence Church next door, where he had been baptised on 11th March 1900.
Church of St Lawrence, Seal Chart
David started to research the life of his great uncle after inheriting some family photographs and has set out what he discovered:
Ernest was a boy scout before joining the army. Unfortunately his Army Records have not survived and the National Archives only hold records of his Medals Index and Medal Rolls Book entries. Therefore I do not know exactly when he joined up and went to France. Trying to calculate from his War Gratuity Payment of £7 it seems that he may have enlisted as early as September 1916 and joined the Highland Light Infantry.
I have found information from War Diary entries for the 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry and the included Operational Order and a subsequent account by D M Murray-Lyon Lt. Colonel Commanding 2nd Bn. Highland Light Infantry. In April 1918, the Highland Light Infantry were at the front near Hendecourt and Boiry St. Martin.
The diary records on the 20th April “Quiet day. Preparations in progress for a raid on enemy posts opposite the left Company front of the Right Sub Section. It was decided to have a short shoot on 21st against a suspected post but no artillery preparation or cover for the raiding party was contemplated.”
On the 21st April the diary records that the “Raiding party is ready for their work, Lt Thorburn MC, 3 NCO’s and 30 men had been selected. The Orders for the raid are attached as Appendix A.”
On the 22nd April the diary records ”Zero hour for the raid was 3.45am. The posts visited were found to have been vacated by the enemy, but an identification was obtained. Our casualties were one killed and two missing. The narrative of the operation is attached as Appendix B.“
In the Operational Order (the Appendix A) it states the men should be divided into three parties and rush enemy posts with the object to kill the enemy and take prisoners. It goes into some detail about how the operation should be executed. Their dress for the operation would be as follows — “Equipment will not be worn. Every man will carry a rifle and fixed bayonet and 9 rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber. One bomb per man will be carried in the right hand bottom pocket of the jacket. Cap conforters – not Steel Helmets – will be worn. Box respirators will be worn.” It goes onto say “All identification marks – e.g. identity disc’s, papers, pay books etc will be removed before leaving the Assembly Positions.”
The account of the raid (the Appendix B) it states that the 3 groups past through their wire and progressed to the enemy posts and on finding them all but empty, because of British heavy bombardment the previous day, they pressed forward onto further targets as per the Operational Order and came under fire. As it was getting too light they could not get any further forward and withdrew back to the their lines under heavy fire from enemy guns. One man was mortally injured and two men went missing, but because it was getting too light, it was decided that they could not be searched for as this would have risked further casualties. Ernest Bailey is one of those two men missing who were out of sight over the crest on the enemy side of a slope.
The war memorial inside the church of St Lawrence
Ernest is remembered on the church war memorial, alongside other local men, two of whom (Alfred Hope and Herbert Hodder) are buried in the churchyard.