‘A little bit of Letchworth at the Somme’ – Letchworth man to mark today’s centenary by walking in hero great-grandfather’s footsteps
- Credit: Archant
A Letchworth man whose great-grandfather died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme is set to walk in his footsteps today when he retraces his steps across the battlefield in France, exactly 100 years on.
Shaun Croft is the great-grandson of Lance-Corporal Edward Croft, who moved to the garden city in 1905 and has his name on the war memorial in Station Place.
The Crofts remain in Letchworth to this day, over a century on – and Shaun and his brother-in-law Shane Oates left for France on Wednesday with Shaun riding on the back of Shane’s motorcycle.
Edward Croft’s home in Letchworth was at 17 Cross Street, and a year ago Shaun and 10 other members of the clan took some soil from the garden out to the Somme and laid it on Edward’s grave.
Brian Croft, Edward’s grandson and Shaun’s father, said: “We took a little bit of Letchworth out to the Somme and left it there.
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“I thought that was a nice touch and I’d like to think my grandfather was looking down on us all. It was a moving weekend and very worthwhile.
“We will all be very, very proud to know Shaun is doing this for the anniversary.”
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Shaun and Brian have been researching Edward’s history and, with the help of Dan Hill from the Herts at War project, have been able to find very detailed records on Edward, such as where he went over the top and approximately where and at what time he fell.
With all the new information, the family decided that Shaun and Shane would pay their respects by walking in Edward’s footsteps exactly a century on.
Born in Great Wymondley on November 7, 1880, Edward married Sarah Pierce on August 4, 1902. He was a builder by trade and helped to build the garden city’s Exhibition Cottages. He had three sons – Arthur, Ernest and Herbert – and his grandson, great-grandson and great-great-grandson all still live in Letchworth today.
Edward enlisted at Hertford in July 1915, and left for France with the Bedfordshire Regiment’s 7th Battalion on September 3 that year. In France he was promoted from private to lance-corporal.
On July 1, 1916, the Battle of the Somme’s first day, the 7th Battalion was one of the two assaulting units in the Mametz sector.
It was the first major offensive of Lord Kitchener’s ‘New Army’ – a force of volunteers who, like Edward, left their wives, children and work to serve their country.
After an artillery bombardment through the night, the assaulting battalions went over the top at ‘Zero Hour’ – 7.30am – and assaulted the German first-line trenches.
About 116,000 British and Commonwealth troopers went over the top that day, of whom almost 20,000 were killed in action – one of them Lance-Corporal Croft. He was 35 years old.
Edward is buried near where he fell, at Dantzig Alley British Cemetery in Mametz.
While Shaun and Shane are at the Somme battlefield, the anniversary is set to be marked back home at war memorials across North Herts.
To find out more about the First World War, visit hertsatwar.co.uk.