Bedales 1910 – 1912. 2nd Lieut. 7th Battalion of The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry

Eric was born in Bushey, Hertfordshire, the son of Ernest Henry Lillywhite Lailey and his wife Leah Weeks née Lillywhite.  She had been born in East Meon and was recorded as the niece of Helen Lailey who had been born in Ropley.  It could be this local connection which eventually brought Eric to Bedales.  Helen and her husband James were farming 400 acres in Hambleden in Berkshire when Ernest was born.  In 1881 he was a pupil at Linden House School, Littlemore, on the outskirts of Oxford and he continued his education, qualifying as a Civil Engineer. On census day 1891 he was at home with his parents and his elder brother, a barrister-at-law – and Leah was a guest in the house: less than a month later they were married in Bishop’s Stortford.

On census day 1901 six year old Eric and his younger sister Joan were at home with their parents in Bushey.  I haven’t discovered where Eric went to school until, in 1910 at the age of fifteen and a half, he came to school at Bedales.  His stay was quite brief (January 1910 to July 1912), but during this time he saw a significant building added to the school – the New Hall, designed by Ernest Gimson and built by Geoffrey Lupton OB – completed by the end of 1911.

Eric has left only a slight mark on Bedales publications.  In his first term, in the Spring Show of 1910, he was awarded 2 stars (5 was the maximum) for drawings of wild flowers. The following Spring he achieved only 1 star for his prowess in Boxing and another for more drawings of flowers, but the 1912 Show (his last) gave him the best result - 3 stars for his leather work and a favourable comment on its quality in the general report on The Show.  For sporting achievement there is little evidence: in July 1911 he played for the cricket 2nd XI but unfortunately was bowled for a duck!  He achieved a good result in gymnastic exercises in March 1912. I haven’t come across the evidence for his prowess but, in July 1912, Eric was awarded his 2nd XI colours (I think for football).  More significantly, there is some evidence for his future career as an engineer.  In the 17th March 1912 edition of The Bedales Chronicle a poem appeared “The Song of the Library Clock” bewailing the fact that it didn’t work.  Two weeks later “News in Brief” reported, “Thanks to Lailey ... the library clock has been repaired and has actually been going for three days”.

Eric left Bedales at the end of the Summer Term 1912 and passed on to University College, London to study Civil Engineering.  Apparently he had completed his academic studies and was about to embark on a practical career when war was declared on 4th August 1914.  On 15th September 1914 he made his Attestation, applying to serve in the Territorial Force for four years.  He was 5 feet 9 inches tall, of good physical development and with perfect eyesight and was recommended for service in the 28th (County of London) Battalion – the Artists’ Rifles.  This fact was recorded in the October and November editions of The Bedales Chronicle.  He served there only two months, on 2nd November applying for a commission.  In answer to a question about his education he recorded only Bedales and UCL, stating if required certificates of his competence could be obtained from both of them.  He was released from the Artists’ Rifles on 17th November, commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, enlisted for the duration of the War.  This was reported in The Chronicle’s account of OB War service from December 1914 – July 1915.

The 7th Battalion had been formed as part of The New Army at Bodmin in September 1914; by the time Eric joined it the battalion was based at Pirbright, whence it moved to Aldershot then to Woking before being posted to France on 25th July 1915 as part of the 61st Brigade of the 20th (Light) Division (incidentally Harry Patch who died in 2009, the last survivor of WW1 trench warfare, served in the same battalion).  I have no certain information of Eric’s war experiences until the last month of his life.

The 7th Battalion’s War Diary records that at the beginning of February they were in billets at Wormhoudt following training exercises.  On 9th & 10th the battalion was inoculated against enteric fever (the author of the War Diary recorded that the health of the Battalion was excellent due to “a plentiful and varied dietary, good system of hygiene and inoculation at home”).  The 12th February found them on the march, stopping for the night at Camp A near Couthof; on the 13th they continued via Poperingue to Camp G near Peselhoek.  This move was followed by days of rest and training culminating in a bathing session at Poperingue (17th) and disinfection of their blankets on 18th February.  By 24th February they had moved to the bank of the Ypres Canal near Brielen and were in the front line trenches.  There is no indication of the extent of fighting until the entry for 29th February.

“2/Lieut. E.L.Lailey killed by machine gun fire of enemy whilst wiring in front of his post.  Body brought in by 2/Lt. Lonsdale.  Enemy very active against our front trenches with trench mortars and aerial torpedoes.  Lieuts. Fleming and Thomas wounded: 4 men wounded by bomb accident.”

A telegram was despatched to his father on 2nd March.

“Deeply regret to inform you that 2nd Lieut. E L Lailey Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry was killed in action 29th February.  Lord Kitchener expresses his sympathy.”

The Editor of The Chronicle appears to have been ignorant of the fact of his death: there is no mention until it is recorded in the September 1916 list of OBs currently serving and those already killed.  However, Mr. Badley must have known for a brief comment appears in his “In Memoriam” section of The Bedales Record for 1915-1916 and includes the following extract from a letter sent (presumably to his parents) after his death.

"He was holding a bit of trench on his own with ten men, at a spot which his captain describes as one of the hottest spots on the whole of the British front; they had been subjected to a pretty severe bombardment, and it became necessary to examine the wire nearby.  He started off alone, but had not got very far before a machine-gun opened on him.  His corporal dashed out at once, but all was over, and I believe death was instantaneous."

On 7th June 1916 his father was informed by the War Office that his son had been buried in Lodi Cemetery.  In response to his father’s anxious request, on 13th June 1916 the Military Secretary reassured him:- “that durable wooden crosses treated with creosote are already in position on all known graves, and all known graves are carefully registered.”  Either the name of the Cemetery was given in error or, more likely, after the war it was moved: he now lies in Grave I F 14 in Bard Cottage Cemetery with one of the standard CWGC headstones.

I cannot account for it but, so far as I can see, Eric Lailey’s name is not inscribed on any panel in the Library: consequently it is more important to acknowledge him today.

Sources: Bedales publications: Service record at The National Archives: genealogical sites for family material