William was born on 26th October 1884 in Newton Flotman and baptised on 30th November 1884. He attended Newton Flotman school. His parents were Alderman James (also written as Olderman) and Mary Ann Edwards ( nee Pearce). He was their only child. The 1911 Census shows that they had another child who died.
The family lived for many years on the Back Street, Newton Flotman and Alderman worked as a farm labourer. Between 1891 and 1901 the family moved to live in Saxlingham Thorpe on the main road near the water mill. By 1911 Alderman was running a market garden and his wife was employed in the business. Their son William aged 26 was still living at home and employed as a gamekeeper.
He enlisted in Norwich in March 1916 with the 4th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. He may have enlisted as a result of conscription which came in to operation in January 1916. In March 1916 he married Mary Jane Kedge. She came from Flordon and prior to her marriage had worked as a cook for a family in Attleborough. She was aged 31 years old. Their daughter Annie Mary Edwards was born in December 1916.
It is not known when William arrived with the regiment in France. The Battalion first arrived in France in July 1916 but it is likely that William would have been training in England for several months prior to serving in France.
William was killed in action on April 29th 1917.
From the end of March 1917 the 4th Battalion spent just over a week in rest billets undergoing training and helping to build a rifle range and bombing grounds. They then marched from 8th to 14th April to Maisnil Le Ruitz and Hermin from where they were taken by buses to the front line. Over the next few days the enemy were very active and they had several casualties.
The Battalion continued to be in the front or support lines for the following weeks suffering high numbers of injured or killed. On 24th April they were relieved and marched to St. Catherine to rest. Unfortunately after only two days rest they received urgent orders on 28th April that they had to return to the front line to take part in the British offensive at Arras. They were to attack the Oppy trench.
The attack began at dawn and they reached their objective. However a counter attack took place and they were driven back. They attacked again and successfully completed the operation by 11 a.m. They were subjected to heavy shelling throughout the day until they were relieved at night. Sometime during this battle William Edwards was killed along with many others.
He has no known grave. He is remembered with about 35,000 other men on the Arras Memorial in the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery in Arras, France.
This memorial commemorates those men who died between Spring 1916 and August 1918 in the area and have no known grave.
It is not known where William Edwards’ family were living when he died. He is listed as living in Saxlingham when he enlisted. His name is not on the main village war memorial but is listed on the memorial tablet, in the Church, of people connected with the village. He is also on the Newton Flotman war memorial. Many of the people living in Saxlingham Thorpe, which is separated from Newton Flotman only by the river, have in the past been more connected to that village.
His wife Mary Jane Edwards married Frederick Henry Cushion in 1927. She was 42 years old and he was 27 years old. Annie Mary Edwards, William’s daughter married Douglas P Colman in Norwich in 1945.
Census records: 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911
UK soldiers who died in the Great War 1914-18
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards 1914-1920.
Papers from Saxlingham Nethergate Church Chest now deposited at Norfolk Record Office.
Information from Photo Index of Men killed in First World War, Norfolk Studies Library, Norwich. ( Photograph is missing)
4th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment War Diary. Appendix. 1917. April. www.bedfordfegiment.org.uk/4thbn/4thbtn1917appendices.html
Photograph of William Edwards. Image courtesy of Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service. www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk