As we approach Armistice Day, this is the story of my Great Uncle Ernest Crouch.
Ernest Edgar Crouch was born in Stoke Newington in 1896 to Benjamin and Kate Crouch. He was the youngest of four children, with two elder brothers Alfred and Stanley who both survived the first World World war.
I first learnt of Ernest from a diary passed down from my Grandmother Kate, Ernest’s sister. There were sad entries such as ” Ernest has come home on leave. He’s suffering from gas poisoning and he’s not the same Ernest”
He joined the 4th London Regiment on the 24th of January 1917. He was sent to Ypres in Belgium. In September 2017, my wife and I went to Belgium to visit friends and to visit the battlefields of Ypres. This coincidently turned out be almost 100 years to the day of Ernest’s death.
We stayed just outside Ypres in a hotel in a place called Hooge. The surrounds of the hotel had been left as it was from the war with trenches and barbed wire still in place. We visited the Menin Gate where we stayed for the nightly service of remembrance. Ernest’s name is on the Menin Gate which commemorates the names of nearly 55,000 soldiers who died and who’s bodies were never recovered.
Ernest was engaged in an counter attack in September at the start of what was the third battle of Ypres or otherwise known as Passchendaele. A telegram sent to Ernest’s parents said he was killed in action in a place called St Julien on the 20th of September 1917. This was a field dressing station and a cemetery.
On our return to the UK, I managed to access Regimental diaries for his Battalion. It mentions that on the evening of the 20th of September, his platoon was involved in laying duckboards near St. Julien dressing station in preparation for a big attack the next day. This was done under heavy fire from the Germans. It had been raining for several days and land was a boggy. It also mentioned that his platoon was billeted in the stables of the Chateaux at Hooge. The Chateaux was destroyed in the battle. The exact place by coincidence which is now the Hotel that we stayed in.