Edward Watkin Colver was the youngest son of Robert Colver, J.P. and Elizabeth Pearson Colver [née Dransfield] and was born in Ecclesall Bierlow, Sheffield, Yorkshire on 22nd October 1891. He had ten siblings, two of whom died at a fairly early age. His father, a Master Cutler, ran a well-known Sheffield steel firm [Jonas & Colver Ltd] with his partner Joseph Jonas and was affluent enough to employ a large domestic staff.
Edward, or “Ted” as he was known within the family, was educated at St Anselm’s preparatory school and Wellington College. After leaving school he worked as a clerk, most likely in his father’s business, and took up a commission in the 455th (West Riding) Field Company, Corps of Royal Engineers, which was part of the Territorial Force.
In early 1915 the War Office formed three more regular Divisions made up from the last units recalled from overseas. As all the regular Field Companies had been allocated, arrangements were made for nine Territorial Field Companies [of which the 455th was one] to fill the places in the three new Divisions. Consequently the 455th found itself allocated to 29 Division as 1st (West Riding) Field Company.
By February Ted was with his unit in Kineton, Warwickshire. An extract of an undated letter1 he wrote to his eldest sister Charlotte, known as Lottie or Tots in the family, [1879-1971] gives a flavour of life at the time.
Can you do me a favour and try and get me a Map Case somewhere in Town like the enclosed sketch. It should be about 8” or 9” square. Leather outside and the maps show when open just like a music case. Also can you get me from Burroughs and Welcome’s a small case of active service medicines. I believe they are making up small sets of useful things such as Veg Laxatives, Dover’s (?) Powders, Opium or Morphia Tablets (in case of wounds) Quinine and Formamints etc.
We like this place immensely as it is in the heart of the Warwickshire hunting district and as we have been favoured with lovely weather we have been able to go several long Route Marches round by Edge Hill. We are very busy equipping and hope to be ready early next week, when we expect the King will inspect us somewhere near Stratford.
I will let you know when so that if you like you can come over and see us then. We are going to have dinner with Lady Willoughby de Broke this evening and on Saturday with the M.F.H. of the Warwickshire Hunt.
I must end now with love to Joe and the kiddies.
Ever your loving Brother,
His sister obtained the map-case and medicine chest for him and so Ted wrote to offer his thanks.
My dear Tots,
Please excuse my not having written before to thank you for getting me the map case and medicine chest which are exactly what I wanted, but I hope I shall have no occasion to use the latter.
We have had a very busy week equipping and I spent all my spare time with Evelyn2 in Stratford. Unfortunately our car broke down on Sunday and wasn’t right until Tuesday so they couldn’t see as much of the country as they should have liked.
On Wednesday we went on a long Route March with all our new vehicles and Margery got some very good photos of us. Tomorrow we are going out all day and shall have a sandwich lunch in Mr King’s (Eric’s uncle) park. Mrs Scott, Monica and Nell are staying there the weekend and will be taking photos of us in all our paraphernalia of war. The inspection by the King didn’t come off last Thursday much to everyone’s disappointment but we expect it will take place just before we move off, and we don’t know when that will be as several of the Regiments which have come from India are down with ‘Flu’.
I hope Joe brings out something good in the trench periscope, we have one here which is quite good and very simple but it might be improved by having the frame made telescopic like camera tripod legs. Two mirrors about 2” × 3” are quite big enough; if they were made of Nickel Silver like a small pocket mirror I have, it would be a great improvement as the great trouble is that the mirrors get so easily broken, and are very hard to replace.[Small diagram of periscope in right-hand margin]
If he brings out a good one tell him I will send him an order immediately. We are having simply glorious weather just now and yesterday I took my Section Cyclists out map reading and had a most enjoyable and instructive ride round Edgehill and a Windmill from which Oliver Cromwell watched the battle from.
I’ll let you know if the Inspection, when it does come off, is public or not and then perhaps you could come up and see it.3
With love to the children
I remain your loving brother
The final letter in the collection, written whilst Ted was still in England, was dated 28th February 1915.
My dear Tots,
I am so sorry to hear from home that Pamela has been so very ill and do so hope that the dear little girl is now well on to recovery. I hope Antony is keeping fit and well and being very good and that Joe is finding trade a bit better.
We are still very busy training and equipping and don’t know when we shall go out as they are keeping the Infantry back to get properly acclimatised as the last lot of troops from India went across to France too soon and suffered badly from Malaria and chills.
Yesterday afternoon just as we were finishing work the hounds came near the village so the Major, Eric, Bertie and I had our horses saddled and went off for an enjoyable afternoons hunting which we hope to be able to repeat again in the near future. The people round here are awfully nice and we get scores of invitations to dinner and tea but as we are doing a lot of night digging and marching we have to refuse most of them.
We were out on a “Road Report” March the other day and the Map Case proved most useful and so much handier and more inconspicuous than the one I had before. Hugh wants to know where it came from as he says he must order one. Hugh and I always compete as to who is the more up to date in equipment etc. He has got a Medicine Box exactly like the one you sent me.
I am so pleased to hear from Mother that Papa4 is showing marked signs of improvement and hope it will continue.
I must end now as I have to go and inspect the Guard before going to bed so love to all and hoping to hear that Pamela is quite well again.
I remain, Your loving Brother
Not long after this letter was written Ted left Avonmouth in March 1915 and went via Malta to Alexandria. On 7th April they began to re-embark for the move to Mudros, the deep water harbour at the island of Imbros that was going to be used as a forward operating base [FOB] for what later turned out to be the ill-fated campaign at Gallipoli.
On 25th April 1915 Ted took part in the original landings from the “SS River Clyde” on what was termed “V" beach, (Cape Helles-Seddul Bahr Camber, Seddul Bahr). An account of what happened on that day, of which this is an extract, is set out in a despatch written by Vice-Admiral John de Robeck, (commanding the fleet operations at Gallipoli), to the Secretary of the Admiralty. It dealt with the landings and early operations on Gallipoli from a naval perspective.
Sir, I have the honour to forward herewith an account of the operations carried out on the 25th and 26th April 1915, during which period the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force was landed and firmly established in the Gallipoli peninsula. The landing commenced at 4.20 a.m. on 25th.
Landing at "V" Beach.-
This beach, it was anticipated, would be the most difficult to capture; it possessed all the advantages for defence which "W" beach had, and in addition the flanks were strongly guarded by the old castle and village of Seddul Bahr on the east and perpendicular cliffs on the west; the whole foreshore was covered with barbed wire entanglements which extended in places under the sea. The position formed a natural amphitheatre with the beach as stage. The first landing here, as at all other places, was made in boats, but the experiment was tried of landing the remainder of the covering force by means of a collier, the "River Clyde."
This steamer had been specially prepared for the occasion under the directions of Commander Edward Unwin; large ports had been cut in her sides and gangways built whereby the troops could reach the lighters which were to form a bridge on to the beach. "V" beach was subjected to a heavy bombardment similarly to "W" beach, with the same result, i.e., when the first trip attempted to land they were met with a murderous fire from rifle, pom-pom and machine gun, which was not opened till the boats had cast off from the steamboats. A landing on the flanks here was impossible and practically all the first trip were either killed or wounded, a few managing to find some slight shelter under a bank on the beach; in several boats all were either killed or wounded; one boat entirely disappeared, and in another there were only two survivors.
Immediately after the boats had reached the beach the ''River Clyde'' was run ashore under a heavy fire rather towards the eastern end of the beach, where she could form a convenient breakwater during future landing of stores, etc. As the "River Clyde" grounded, the lighters which were to form the bridge to the shore were run out ahead of the collier, but unfortunately they failed to reach their proper stations and a gap was left between two lighters over which it was impossible for men to cross; some attempted to land by jumping from the lighter which was in position into the sea and wading ashore; this method proved too costly, the lighter being soon heaped with dead and the disembarkation was ordered to cease. The troops in the "River Clyde" were protected from rifle and machine-gun fire and were in comparative safety. Commander Unwin, seeing how things were going, left the "River Clyde" and, standing up to his waist in water under a very heavy fire, got the lighters into position.
The bridge to the shore, though now passable, could not be used by the troops, anyone appearing on it being instantly shot down, and the men in “River Clyde" remained in her till nightfall. At 9.50 a.m. "Albion" sent in launch and pinnace manned by volunteer crews to assist in completing bridge, which did not quite reach beach; these boats, however, could not be got into position until dark owing to heavy fire. It had already been decided not to continue to disembark on "V" Beach, and all other troops intended for this beach were diverted to "W". The position remained unchanged on "V" beach throughout the day, men of war and the maxims mounted in “River Clyde “doing their utmost to keep down the fire directed on the men under partial shelter on the beach. During this period many heroic deeds were performed in rescuing wounded men in the water.
During the night of the 25th-26th the troops in "River Clyde" were able to disembark under cover of darkness and obtain some shelter on the beach and in the village of Seddul Bahr, for possession of which now commenced a most stubborn fight. The fight continued, supported ably by gunfire from H.M.S. "Albion," until 1.24 p.m., when our troops had gained a position from which they assaulted hill 141, which dominated the situation. "Albion" then ceased fire, and the hill, with old fort on top, was most gallantly stormed by the troops, led by Lieutenant-Colonel C. H. H. Doughty-Wylie, General Staff, who fell as the position was won. The taking of this hill effectively cleared the enemy from the neighbourhood of the "V" Beach, which could now be used for the disembarkation of the allied armies. The capture of this beach called for a display of the utmost gallantry and perseverance from the officers and men of both services-that they successfully accomplished their task bordered on the miraculous.
J. M. DE ROBECK, Vice-Admiral.
A Captain Guy Nightingale who was on the “River Clyde” wrote in a letter dated 1st May 1915:
The water was shallower than they thought and the Clyde was stuck about 80 yards out. None of us felt it, there was no jar. As she beached 2 Companies of the Dublin’s [Royal Dublin Fusiliers] in "Tows" came up on the port side and were met with terrific rifle and machine gun fire. They were literally slaughtered like rats in a trap. Many men sank owing to the weight of their equipment and were drowned. The carnage on 'V' Beach was chilling; dead and wounded lay at the water’s edge tinted crimson from their blood. After being set adrift by their steam pinnaces, the boats had to row the last few hundred yards to the shore. The Turks waited until the men tossed their oars and were within 20 yards of the shore and swept them with fire.
For his gallant actions on that day First-Lieutenant Edward Colver was subsequently recognised with a ‘Mention in Despatches’.
On 9th May Ted wrote to his sister from ‘somewhere in Turkey’ giving his account of some of the events of the day in question.
My dear Lottie and Joe,
Very glad to hear that both you and the children are fit and well again and that a change will do you all good. As you most probably know we have now been fighting for two weeks, having landed on Sunday April 25/15, and we did have a time of it. The noise and smell from the naval guns, which were quite close into the shore, was appalling and everyone of us had a headache. But now we have grown quite used to the racket and even go to sleep with guns firing quite close.
It is fearfully hot here during the day, but bitterly cold at nights and for the first few days on land we didn’t manage to get much sleep, but now we have got our vehicles on land we can make ourselves more comfy in dugouts. We are at present road making on the sides of a deep ravine and have built ourselves a grand home in the cliff side, sheltered from the flying shells and bullets. We’ve covered it with pine branches to give us shade and generally made it as comfy as possible.
We have been doing our cooking in our mess tins over our ordinary wood fire, but expect my ‘primus’ up today. We are very well fed indeed, drawing exactly the same rations as the men. Breakfast consists of tea, sugared, without milk, bacon and biscuits (very hard but jolly good). Dinner; tea again, Bully, biscuit, cheese. Tea; Bully biscuit, jam, tea. Rum, lime juice and cigs are provided once a week. So you can see we don’t do badly even on active service. And we are hoping to get bread issued in a day or two. Of course we supplement it with a little chocolate but our supply is running very short indeed. We allow ourselves one 1d bar of Mexican per officer per day. But look forward to being able to increase the ration when our supplies arrive from England.
We are hoping that some will arrive in the mail of which part was delivered today. We had a great luxury the other day in a piece of cake which we bought while in Alexandria a month ago and which we found in our mess basket the other day. It tasted none the worse for being stale. How I should just love a mouthful of Moscar Bun.
We get absolutely tired of […] and hearing aeroplanes overhead as there is nearly always one patrolling somewhere near. German tanks occasionally come over and drop bombs on the shore but are quickly driven off by our machines. We saw quite an exciting chase the other morning, but unfortunately our Biplanes were not quite fast enough for the tank, so they didn’t do him in.
We’ve got our horses with us but don’t get much chance of using them yet. The weather has been beautifully fine, only had one wet night and it just happened that we had to go into the trenches and had no greatcoats with us so got the full benefit of getting soaked thro’ and sitting in the cold for several hours, but funnily enough it doesn’t seem to have any ill effects.
In the landing I slipped off the gangway and fell into the sea and got wet thro’ but soon dried in the sun and last night tripped up when marching down this nullah and fell into a pool but fortunately had plenty of blankets etc, in the dugout so was able to sleep in comfort and found my clothes dry this morning when I wanted to get up. It’s the first time since we’ve landed that I’ve gone to bed without my boots and breeches on. We allow ourselves one wash a day if it is procurable and as we are near the sea can occasionally get a bathe, but as our valises with spare underclothing has gone astray we haven’t managed a change in that quarter.
Well, I must really end now so heaps of love to you all and hoping the children are keeping fit and good.
I remain, Your loving brother
A typewritten letter to his mother dated 14th May 1915 brings her up to date with the less unsavoury aspects of life out there.
My dear Mother,
Very many thanks for your letter of the 22nd, which arrived this morning together with Land and Water. Very pleased to hear that Papa is still improving and getting out now the weather is improving. You would like the weather here, it is lovely and fine every day, if a little too hot during the middle of the day for working. It has now turned warmer at night and as we have our new blankets with us and the Artillery fire is not so near it is quieter, we manage to sleep very well in our dugouts.
We’re up every morning with the sun and kept very busy road making and preparing water-supply. We are still feeding on Bully beef and biscuit but as they now issue us with dried veg: we have the lot made into a very excellent stew with the aid of an Oxo cube. We are looking forward to parcels of eatables from England by the next mail which should arrive any day now.
Very pleased to hear about Minnie Colver and hope both Mother and child are doing well. We have all written to Winnie Britain. Glad to hear that Lottie and the Children are all fit and well again. Tell Antony I will send him a Turkish bayonet sometime.
The Turks amuse themselves every morning by shelling the road on which we are working for about an hour, but as the whole place is just a huge human rabbit warren we drop into a neighbouring trench and watch the fireworks until it is over and then proceed with our work again.
The papers and illustrateds which are sent out to us are very acceptable indeed as it gives us something to read in the middle of the day when we are resting and also lets us know even if a little late what is happening in France.
Now that things have got fairly well going we have a daily pamphlet called the ‘Peninsular Press’, which contains the official news from England and France, but what is lacking in news etc is amply made up for by rumours and wonderful ones they are too; with the result that we daren’t believe anything unless we see it in writing from a reliable source.
I met some of Tom Wragg’s company the other day, who told me he was still in Alexandria with their base party.
As I must go and do some more work, I will end with love to all,
Your loving son
On 17th May 1915 Ted penned a letter to his sisters Gwladys and Margery.
Very many thanks for your two letters which arrived here today. As they send the letters up as they are sorted, we get bits of mail nearly every day. I got a letter from Mother about four days ago, and one from Evelyn yesterday, and I hear that there are still more letters to come and we hope parcels as we are now quite out of chocolate and other luxuries. Evelyn says she sent me some biscuits and with your chocolate we should be well off for a few days.
We are still having glorious weather and are enjoying ourselves as well as can be expected under war conditions. We are all quite used to the noise of the guns and are getting quite expert at knowing whether the shell is coming our way and if it is time to slip into the nearest dug-out. We have had a rest today, the first proper one since we’ve been on shore and as our valises turned up yesterday, we indulged in the luxury of a bath (the 2nd in 3½ weeks) and a change of underclothing (also the first since we’ve been ashore), so am feeling quite nice and clean for a change. I don’t know when we shall get another chance.
There’s really very little to tell you, as anything of real interest would be deleted by the censor. We are still keeping very fit except for Eric, who has had to go to Alexandria into hospital. We are wondering if Simpson will have left England with his detachment to join us.
I wish I could paint, with all the different troops and uniforms amid the beautiful scenery. The orchards and fields and blue sea beyond and the towering mountains of Asia and the islands showing above the horizon are a wonderful setting for the drama of war. It’s rather different I should think, to the mud and dirt of Flanders, but the fighting is none the less severe here though it’s nothing like as hot as it was at first.
Glad to hear that the Girl-Guides are flourishing. Shall I send them a War souvenir as a mascot?
Give my love to all at home and remember me to everyone in Sheffield.
your loving brother