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Lance Corporal Edwin Harry Overton
Date of death 1 October 1917 Age 18

Harry  was one of nine children in the Overton family recorded on the 1911 census. Father, George, was born in 1866 and he had married Fanny Elizabeth Bickley in 1886 at Atcham. Their eldest child, Amy, was born in 1887 but by 1891 Amy had a sister, Florence, and the family were living in Cressage. Ten years later,  in 1901,  the number of children  had grown to six through the addition of another girl and three boys the youngest of which was Harry aged one. 

In 1901 George was described as a telegraph labourer and the family was living in the St Mary parish of Shrewsbury although Harry’s birth had been registered in Atcham in the second quarter of 1899. By 1911 a further three boys and one girl had been added to the family and their places of birth indicate the movement of the family. Harry was 12, Beatrice 10, Herbert 9, Albert 6 and they had all been born in Shrewsbury whereas Malcolm aged 3 had been born in Church Stretton which suggests that the family left Shrewsbury around 1908. On the 1911 census the family were living in the tied cottage in Minton Lane, Little Stretton which was a part of Church Stretton Urban Council’s  newly built sewage works.  George was the ‘sewage farm caretaker’ and his eldest son, William aged 20 was  a ‘sewage farm assistant’ He had obviously  joined his father in the business.


Life in the house in Minton Lane must have been interesting as the original building was very modest in size and in 1911 it had to accommodate 3 daughters aged 22 to 10, 6 sons aged 20 to 3, two parents and, as a bonus, a visitor from Manchester from mother Fanny’s family, aged 8. No photograph of the house has been included  in this account as about 2008  it was  radically altered with extensions on all four sides leaving only a tiny part of the original still visible.


Although the house would have been exceedingly crowded the family may have been less economically challenged than some as four wages were coming in each week – two from the sewage farm and Ernest was a vanman at the steam laundry where his sister, Edith also worked. The steam laundry was on Laundry Bank next to the A49 on the edge of Church Stretton where Continental Fires now have their showroom. Harry was still at school.


The next recorded point in Harry’s life is his death on 1 October 1917 although the memorial plaque in Little Stretton Church has 3 October 1917. At that time he would have been aged , at most, 18 years and 5 months having had his birth registered between April 1 and the end of June 1899. Taking into account the  length of  time recruits spent in training before deployment it appears that Harry may have managed to enlist before his eighteenth birthday and thus be killed between  5 and 3 months after he was 18.

Harry enlisted into The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry but was later transferred to the Royal Welch Fusilliers. On the day that he died his regiment was engaged in the Third Battle of Ypres otherwise known as Passchendaele. On September 30, in defence of their position at Polygon Wood,  the Germans launched a counter attack which continued for two days.

Edward Harry Overton map.jpg

 Map courtesy of The Commonwealth War Graves Commission 

At 4:00 a.m. on 30 September, a thick mist covered the ground and at 4:30 a.m. German artillery began a bombardment south of Polygon Wood. At 5:15 a.m., German troops emerged from the mist on an 800 yd (730 m) front. The attack was supported by flame-throwers and German infantry throwing smoke- and hand-grenades. The British replied with small-arms fire and bombs, forcing the Germans to retreat in confusion but a post was lost south of the Menin road, then retaken by an immediate counter-attack. SOS rockets were not seen in the mist and the British artillery remained silent. The Germans were repulsed again at 6:00 a.m. but German artillery-fire continued during the day.

On 1 October, at 5:00 a.m., a German hurricane bombardment began from the Reutelbeek north to Polygon Wood and Black Watch Corner. The British front line was cut off and German infantry attacked in three waves at 5:30 a.m. Two determined German attacks were repulsed south of Cameron Covert, then at 7:00 p.m. German troops massed near the Menin road. The German attack was defeated by small-arms fire and the British artillery, whose observers had seen the SOS rockets. The British were forced out of Cameron Covert and counter-attacked but a German attack began at the same time and the British were repulsed. Another German attack failed and the German troops dug in behind some old German barbed wire; after dark, more German attacks around Cameron Covert failed. North of the covert near Polygon Wood, deep mud smothered German shells before they exploded but they still caused many casualties. Communication with the rear was lost and the Germans attacked all day but British SOS rockets remained visible and the attacks took no ground; after dark German attacks were repulsed by another three SOS barrages.


It was probably during this action that Harry died and he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. A War Gratuity of £5-17-9 was paid to his father on 4 April 1918 and £18-0-0 on 1 December 1919. The fact that the later payment was paid to Fanny and not George may be an indication that George had died. This may explain why  the remaining Overton  family were living at Orchard Cottage, Little Stretton and not in the tied cottage at the sewage farm. George would have been 51 at the time of Harry’s death so could not have retired. It is possible that he had become ill and had to resign his employment and accommodation but conversely he may have simply changed his job. Whatever the explanation the fact the family was living in Little Stretton explains why Harry’s name is on the memorial in the village church.


The Church Stretton parish magazine in 1917 carried Harry’s obituary:

‘Harry Edwin Overton from a very early age intended to be a soldier, as soon as he was fifteen he went into the band of the KSLI. He was sent to Tipperary and because he had made great progress in music he was sent to Kneller’s Hall near London, where the military bands are trained, he passed all the examinations he could there and returned to Shrewsbury to be in the band of the KSLI and to continue his education; he passed his examination for bandmaster just before he was eighteen. He too felt that he must do his share in going to the Front, and at his own wish he was sent to France with the KSLI, in July, 1917, there he was made Lance Corporal and transferred into the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He was killed near Ypres, on October 3rd, 1917.’

Little Stretton, Church Stretton, All Stretton

Stretton WW1 Soldiers on War Memorials

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