‘Hard as Nails’ at the Somme

Eric Francis Howard Taylor

Title: Eric Francis Howard Taylor
Description: From the Jesus College Roll of Honour - http://www.jesus.cam.ac.uk/about-jesus-college/history/first-world-war/the-roll-of-honour/taylor-eric-francis-howard/ by-nc

Eric was 25 when he was killed at the Somme.

Born on 1st January 1891, he was the eldest child and heir of Charles Howard Taylor and his wife Gertrude. Charles was Lord of the Manor of New Hall in Darfield and a Justice of Peace for the West Riding.

Eric and his 3 younger siblings, Phyllis, Ronald, and Harold, spent their time between the families two estates in Darfield: New Hall and Middlewood Hall. It is not clear whether the family purchased or built New Hall, or at what date. Middlewood Hall was bought by Phyllis’ Grandfather, Thomas Taylor in 1845 and kept in the family until 1970 when it was sold to a Mr and Mrs Wainwright who were professional photographers.

Eric and his 2 brothers were sent away to boarding school when they were of school age. At 10 years old he was a student at Oatlands Boys’ Preparatory School in Harrogate. From there he went to Jesus College, Cambridge to read agriculture in 1909. It is thought that he left between completed his course sometime between 1909 and 1910 though he does pop up in a photograph of the Jesus College 2nd Hockey team in 1912.

At the outbreak of war Eric enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers 23rd Battalion (Sportsmen’s) as a 2nd lieutenant. The 23rd Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers was raised at the Hotel Cecil in the Strand, London 25 September 1914 by Mrs Cunliffe-Owen. They were initially known as the “Hard as Nails Battalion”.

In June 1915 they went to Clipstone Camp near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. It was one of the largest training camps in England. In August they moved to Salisbury Plain for final training and firing practice. In November they received orders to prepare to proceed to France. Later that month they arrived in Boulogne.

They took part in the Winter Operations 1914-15. Then in 1915 they saw action at the Battle of Festubert and the Battle of Loos.

In 1916 they fought in the Battles of the Somme.

Eric died 27 July 1916. His cause of death has just been recorded as ‘killed in action’. He was 25 years old.

In his obituary in the Jesus College Society Cambridge Annual Report 1917 there is a message from Lieutenant Colonel H.A. Vernon, that Eric “was an extremely good officer and very popular with the men.  He showed great courage and coolness in the attack”.

In 1917 his father erected a War Shrine in his memory and for all the soldiers and sailors from Darfield who had died in the war. It is situated A635 Doncaster Road, Darfield and can still be seen today.

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