Edwin Slater was born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire on April 13, 1892. In 1911 he was employed as an Iron Turner at Platt Brothers & Company in Oldham, as was his father. Platt Brothers had established itself as the world’s largest textile machinery manufacturer.
He is shown below in “early 1915”, taken from a group photo with his brother Arthur, of the 1/9th Manchesters, and his sister Eleanor.
There are no Army service or pension records for Edwin; we only have his Medal Index Card, his 1915 Star Roll and his British War Medal and Victory Medal Roll entry.
His Medal Index Card (MIC) gives us his regimental number (22754) and tells us that he was in the 11th Battalion Royal Scots (Lothian) Regiment and that he was entitled to three medals: 1915 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal. It also tells us that his first date of entry of overseas deployment was August 11, 1915 to France. Finally, it indicates that he was demobilized on March 22, 1919 to the Class Z Reserve.
The Class Z Reserve was a Reserve contingent of the British Army consisting of discharged enlisted soldiers. The first Z Reserve was authorized by an Army Order of December 3, 1918 and was abolished on March 31, 1920 when the expected problems with violations of the Armistice did not materialize.
His 1915 Star Roll matches the information on his Medal Index Card (which is not always the case). The Star Roll is a crucial document because it also records all the other men of the 11th Battalion Royal Scots with the same disembarkation date as Edwin. By researching those men, several of whom have surviving service records we can deduce many things with a very high degree of certainty.
Below is a B.103 form from one of the men Edwin deployed with (Pte. DAVID CRIGHTON, 21179). It is identical to all of the surviving Service Records and it clearly shows their arrival in France and their assignments in the initial few weeks there.
Consequently, we know that Edwin Slater was part of a draft (the third draft) of at least 40 men who arrived at Boulogne on August 12, 1915. Almost all of these men attested and joined the Royal Scots in April/May 1915. Many of them attested at various locations throughout the UK and then traveled to Glencorse Barracks in Scotland joining the Royal Scots one or two days later. They went through basic training and then shipped out to France on August 11, 1918 arriving in Boulogne the next day. From there they were immediately assigned to the 5th Entrenching Battalion of the First Army. Entrenching battalions were temporary units and allocated at a Corps level. They were used as pools of men, from which drafts of replacements could be drawn by conventional infantry battalions.
Note: An analysis of the enlistment dates of the 10 men that joined the 11th Royal Scots with service numbers +/- 10 digits from his shows that he must have joined around May 10, 1915.
The following men were posted to the 11th Battalion Royal Scots, in the field, on September 18, 1915.
On this date, the 11th Royal Scots were at Cambrin (near Bethune) and engaged in training, having recently been relieved in the line. They went back into the trenches on the 25th and were involved in a significant action between 25-28th in the opening phase of the Battle of Loos resulting in 381 Officers and Other Ranks killed, missing or wounded.
It is sobering to discover that of the 40 men listed in this draft, fully 17 would be Killed in Action and a further 8 would be discharged due to wounds or sickness and awarded the Silver War Badge. Two men won the Military Medal, one was Mentioned in Despatches and one man deserted.
Edwin Slater’s Service Medal and Award Roll entry also shows us that he at some point was transferred to the 16th Battalion Royal Scots Regiment.
The final piece of surviving information we have is the picture below (Edwin Slater is front row, right):
There is some indistinct writing on the photo but careful examination shows that it reads: “Loos 1915, Somme 1916, Ypres 1917, Arras 1917, Soissons 1918, Blicquy 1918, The Quarries 1918”. Also, at the bottom it says “5 Tanks, December 12, 1918”. This photo is a so called “survivors photo” taken after the Armistice with men about to be demobilized and celebrating their comradeship, service and, more importantly, their survival.
Edwin is wearing a medal ribbon:
The ribbon is for the Military Medal (MM) and Edwin Slater’s Military Medal (MM) was announced in the London Gazette on the 19th November, 1917 and in the Edinburgh Gazette on 21st November 1917. The action for which it was awarded would have been some time prior to this publication date. The gazette, simply says “22754 Pte E. Slater, R. Scots (Ashton-under-Lyne)”. Other documents show that Edwin was attached to the 11th Royal Scots at this time.
Additionally, we have a short article in his local newspaper, the Ashton Reporter, regarding his award but unfortunately it provides no additional details except that it was published on October 20, 1917 a month before the official listing in the London Gazette.
Since he was a Private, and it is not a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), there is no explanation or description of his gallantry in the Gazette. However, we can deduce some things from the Battalion war diary. The battalion War Diary describes an attack on 5th June 1917 in the neighbourhood of Greenland Hill, Arras, which was successful at the cost of 130 Other Ranks (ORs) and 11 Officer casualties. There are no other obvious battalion actions in the summer of 1917, although this does not preclude an act of individual bravery at any time in the course of a raid, patrol or some other aspect of life in the front line. The next major action was an assault at Railway Wood in Flanders in horribly wet conditions on 20th September 1917, with approximately 100 OR casualties. Finally, on October 12, 1917 the 11th Scots were involved in an attack in atrociously wet and muddy conditions, that saw some men actually drown in shell holes filled with water. On October 29, the war diary notes that “5 men, out of six recommended, received honours for gallantry in the action of October 12th”.
No OR names are mentioned anywhere in the diary, but it is not unreasonable to presume that Edwin Slater won his MM in one of these three attacks. Based upon the date of the article in the Ashton Reporter it is unlikely that it was for the actions of October 12, 1917.
11th Royal Scots
The 11th were attached to the 27th (Lowland) Infantry Brigade, of the 9th (Scottish) Division and moved to Bramshott in the Bordon area of Hampshire. In late April, 1915 whilst located at Bramshott, the Battalion received orders to move to the front and on the 11 May, 1915 the main body of men boarded the S.S. Invicta and crossed the English Channel landing at Boulogne, France later that same day.
The Battle of Loos (Sep 25 – Oct 15, 1915)
As already noted, the 11th Royal Scots, as part of the 9th Division of the First Army, fought in the front line during the opening phases of the Battle of Loos between September 25th to the 28th. Edwin Slater had been in France for just a few weeks and had arrived there after just a few short months of basic training. All of these newly arrived men were ill equipped to be thrust into the front line of a major offensive. From this draft of 40 men, Pte. WILLIAM BLACK (22764) was killed in action on the last day of the battle; less than a month after joining the Battalion in France. By the time it was over, the 9th (Scottish) Division had lost a staggering 6,058 casualties including 190 Officers.
Wounded in Action
After approximately 4 months of treatment and rest in the UK, Edwin returned to the front lines in France on February 1, 1916.
Two more men from this draft of 40 lost their lives in November and December 1915. Pte JOHN BARLAS (22721) was severely wounded in the face on November 11, 1915 and a week later was repatriated to the UK on the HM HS ANGLIA. Unfortunately, on November 17, 1915 the ANGLIA struck a mine and sank 1 mile off the coast of England, going down in just 15 minutes. 134 people drowned; Pte. BARLAS was one of them. Later, Private DAVID CRIGHTON (21179) was killed in action on December 12, 1915 while the 11th Royal Scots were once again in the front line.
The Battles of the Somme (Jul 1 – Nov 18, 1916)
The Somme was an Allied offensive that changed its nature due to the German attack against the French in the epic Battle of Verdun, which lasted from late February to November. Huge British losses were inflicted by the Germans on the first day followed by a series of fiercely-contested phases that became attritional in nature. September 15, 1916 saw the first-ever use of tanks in the phase known as the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. The British army in France was now approaching its maximum strength in numbers but was still developing in terms of tactics, technology, and command and control.
The British Fourth Army faced three separate very formidable German defensive systems of trenches, dugouts, underground shelters and deep barbed wire defences.
At this time, the 11th Royal Scots were in the 27th Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division attached to the XIII Corps of the British Fourth Army.
Somme: Battle of Albert, (1 – 13 Jul, 1916)
In this opening phase, the French and British assault broke into and gradually moved beyond the first of the German defensive systems. For the British, the attack on 1 July proved to be the worst day in the nation’s military history in terms of casualties sustained.
The 11th Royal Scots were in the reserve line moving up at 8pm on the 2nd to relieve the front line troops which was achieved by 3am on the 3rd. They remained in the front line suffering casualties every day from intense enemy shelling. Trenches were consolidated and patrols sent out until July 8th when they moved to Bivouac in the rear to rest and refit.
Somme: Battle of Bazentin, (14 – 17 Jul, 1916)
The 11th Royal Scots were in the front line and attacked the German line in the early hours of July 14th. They quickly achieved their first objective, capturing 63 German prisoners in the process, but their success came with a high cost of casualties. Three men from the draft of 40 lost their lives that day:
More frontal attacks of the German lines were undertaken by the 11th Royal Scots on the following days, as the 9th Division attempted to secure all their objectives of the initial attack. The Battalion was relieved from their front line duties at 8pm on the 17th July.
Wounded in Action
Pte. Edwin Slater (22754) Royal Scots was listed in the Daily Casualty List published in The Scotsman newspaper on August 24, 1916.
Generally speaking, it would take approximately one month from a soldier being wounded for them to appear in the casualty list. This was in part to allow the next of kin to be officially notified before finding it in the newspaper.
An analysis of the other men appearing in this Casualty List from the 11th Royal Scots shows that they were all wounded on July 14, 1916; the first day the 11th were in the line at the Battle of the Somme. As noted above, it could have been much worse.
It is almost certain that he was repatriated to a Hospital in the UK for some months before he returned to join the Battalion again.
Somme: High Wood
On the 18th October, the 11th were back in the Somme front lines again, involved in actions to secure the feature known as The Butte de Warlencourt. The attack was undertaken under extremely difficult conditions of heavy rain, mud and intense cold, leading to large numbers suffering from exposure and trench foot in addition to considerable losses in action. Pte. JAMES FINNIGAN (22776) of the draft of 40 was wounded on the 20th, dying of those wounds on October 24, 1916.
Arras Daylight Reconnaissance (March 21, 1917)
By February 1917 the Allied Forces were planning and rehearsing the Arras Offensive which was scheduled to commence on April 9th. In March, intelligence was received that the Germans were withdrawing from certain positions and so Sir Charles Fergusson, (VXII Corps Commander), resolved to test the enemy’s strength in front of Arras by means of a daylight raid. The 11th Battalion Royal Scots were selected. The “raid” was a frontal assault on the German trenches carried out by approximately 200 men and resulted in a loss of 7 Officers and almost 70 Other Ranks killed, missing or wounded. Nevertheless, they had fulfilled their mission by proving that the Germans had in fact held themselves in full strength in their line opposite XVII Corps. Reports from the raid estimated that perhaps as many as 100 Germans had been killed or taken prisoner.
The efforts of the 11th Royal Scots that day elicited a letter of praise from the Third Army Commanding Officer.
Pte. WILLIAM SOUTH (23664) of the Draft of 40 also lost his life that day.
Now confident that the Germans had not withdrawn and were still at full strength, the Arras Offensive was put back into motion.
The Arras Offensive (9 Apr – 16 Jun, 1917)
The British were called upon to launch an attack in support of a larger French offensive: the battles of the Chemin des Dames and the hills of Champagne. The opening Battle of Vimy and the First Battle of the Scarpe were very encouraging, but once again the Offensive bogged down into an attritional slog.
The Battalion moved into the trenches on April 4th and endured heavy shelling from the enemy resulting in 4 men killed and 7 wounded. One of the men killed that day was Pte. HUGH O’DONNELL (21128) from the Draft of 40.
Arras: First Battle of the Scarpe, (9 – 14 Apr, 1917)
Once again, the 11th Battalion Royal Scots were in the thick of it.
[more to follow]
Actions of June 5, 1917
[more to follow]
From June 13 to July 26, 1917 the 9th Division had remained out of the front line for a much needed rest and refitting. On July 25, 1917 the 9th Division was transferred to IV Corps, east of Bapaume.
Third Battle of Ypres – (Passchendaele), 31 Jul – 10 Nov, 1917
The British finally got what they had wanted since 1914: the opportunity to attack at Ypres and breakout of the confines of the salient of trenches around it. The offensive began with encouraging gains but terrible summer weather soon bogged it down. By August the offensive was clearly failing in its objectives and had descended into attritional fighting. New techniques by both sides led to agonisingly slow forward movement for the British, at enormous cost in casualties to both sides. Bad weather in October led to the battlefield becoming an impossible quagmire.
Actions of September 20, 1917
The next phase of the battle was planned for September 20th.
[more to follow]
First Battle of Passchendaele, 12 October 1917
[more to follow]
Class Z Reserve
Pte. Edwin Slater was demobilized to Class Z reserve on March 22, 1919.
The Class Z Reserve was authorised by an Army Order of December 3, 1918. There were fears that Germany would not accept the terms of any peace treaty, and therefore the British Government decided it would be wise to be able to quickly recall trained men in the eventuality of a resumption of hostilities. Soldiers who were being demobilised, particularly those who had agreed to serve “for the duration of the War”, were at first posted to Class Z. They returned to civilian life but with an obligation to return to military service if called upon. The Z Reserve was abolished on March 31, 1920.
Edwin Slater died in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire on November 23, 1945. He was 53 years old.
The History of the 9th (Scottish) Division, 1914 – 1919
Major John Ewing, MC
The Royal Scots, 1914-1919, Vol I 1914 – May 1919
Major John Ewing, MC
The Royal Scots, 1914-1919, Vol II May 1917 – May 1919 and Appendices
Major John Ewing, MC