Sunday 19 October 2014

Ernest George Pullen 1895-2014

Ernest George Pullen

1895-19th October 1914

Ernest George Pullen is a second cousin twice removed. His grandfather Charles Coombes was the eldest brother of my great-great grandfather Eli Coombes.

Ernest was born in Croydon in the autumn of 1895, the fifth child of eight born to Thomas Pullen and Liza Coombes. Thomas and Liza were married in the spring of 1882 in Lurgashall, a small village near Midhurst in Sussex, where Thomas was working as a farm labourer and where they both grew up.  Their first child, Charles Henry was born later that year. By the spring of 1885 the family had moved to Uckfield, where second child Thomas Richard was born. By the time the third son William John arrived two and a half years later, they were back in Sussex at Lodsworth, another small village near Midhurst and were still there two years after that for the birth of their first daughter Winifred Agnes. By the time the 1891 census was taken they had returned to the family roots in Lurgashall.

Sometime in the next four years, Thomas and Liza embarked on a bigger move into the suburbs of London where Ernest George arrived at the end of 1895. The family was rounded off by Edith Violet in 1898, Victor in 1899 and Stanley Herbert in 1903. All three give their birthplace as South Norwood, and in 1901, the family were all living in Elmers Road in Croydon. Thomas was working as a Woodbroker’s carman, presumably driving a cart delivering wood.

Elmers Road is a road of terraced houses, which appears today to be fairly unchanged, apart from wheelie bins and parked cars everywhere. The area is known as Woodside and Ernest and his siblings attended Woodside Board School, now Woodside Primary School.

When he left school, Ernest found employment at a tin factory as a labourer. His father Thomas died in 1910 at the age of 55 and by 1911 Liza had moved the children who were left at home, Ernest, Edith, Victor and Stanley, to a smaller house in Alderton Road, Croydon. Ernest was the only one working to support the family at this time.

Sometime in the next three years Ernest joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers so I believe he was a reservist as they were the first men to be mobilised and were sent to join whichever regiment need them. This would explain why a man from Croydon joined a Welsh regiment.

In the summer of 1914, The 1st Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers were a battalion of the regular army based in Malta before returning to England at the beginning of September. They then became part of the 7th Division which formed during September 1914, assembling at Lyndhurst in the New Forest before travelling to Belgium, landing in Zebrugge on October 7th. They were sent to Antwerp to assist in the defence of the city and defended various bridges and other infrastructure before moving westwards to Ypres as part of the British Expeditionary Force. They were sent under the command of Field Marshall Sir John French to supplement the French and Belgian troops already in place trying to stop the German troops from taking Ypres and heading for the coastal towns of Dieppe and Le Havre. There appears to have been very effective communication between the French and British commander and they worked together well, although Sir John does mention in his despatch that the road running from Bethne to Lille was to be the dividing line between British and French forces. The General remarks that the terrain was very difficult, “the ground upon which they were operating, was similar to that usually found in manufacturing districts and was covered with mining works, factories, buildings, etc. The ground throughout this country is remarkably flat, rendering effective artillery support very difficult.”

At 2:30 in the morning of October 10th 1914 the Brigade moved south from Ghent in Belgium to Meirelbeke again to support Belgian and French troops already in place. They did not come upon any German troops during the morning, but heard some firing in the distance to the South and South East. Later in the day, the British troops positioned themselves in a trench south east of Meirelbeke covering French and Belgian positions in front and although they heard firing, it was thought to be from allied soldiers and there were no sign of attacks by the Germans.

Over the next two days the battalion repositioned several times to back up the French and Belgians and on the 19th came the first attack on enemy positions at Menin, Gheluwe and Kleythoek. The Welsh troops attacked uphill towards the ridge near a windmill but were held back by enemy fire. They received no support and in the middle of the day were ordered to withdraw whereupon they retreated along the road to Dadizeele and regrouped. They joined up with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment to hold some high ground to cover the retreat of two other regiments. The Welsh battalion fought closely with the enemy and suffered losses. At 6pm they again took cover in the trenches they had occupied three days earlier. In the course of the fighting that day, October 19th 1914, 3 officers and 15 men were killed. One of those men was Ernest George Pullen. He was just nineteen years old.

He was buried at Harelbeke New British Cemetery close to where he died. The small cemetery at Harelbeke about 10 miles south of Ostend was erected after the war and soldiers were reburied here. Those who died in 1914 are together in one corner of the cemetery and marked with the traditional white headstones.

Ernest’s mother Eliza never remarried and stayed in Croydon until her death in 1938. All of her twenty-two grandchildren were born there. His brother Thomas was killed in France in 1918.

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