6132 Sergeant Ernest George ADAMS

Ernest Adams was born at Kingsland, Southampton in February 1883, the eldest of six children born to George, an itinerant labourer, and his wife Charlotte.

By 1900 the family had moved to Freemantle, Southampton, where the seventeen-year-old Ernest worked as a Cellar man for Strong & Co brewery.

Already a member of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, shortly after Christmas 1900, Ernest joined the local part-time Militia attesting in the 3rd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. Men would enlist into the Militia for six years and had to accept the possibility of being called up in the event of a general mobilisation. Their period in the Militia started with six months’ full-time training (being paid at the same rate as a regular soldier) and they would thereafter receive 3 – 4 weeks’ training per year.

The attestation papers for Ernest survive and we know that on enlistment, he was five feet, eight inches tall, had a fair complexion, brown hair, and blue eyes. Military life obviously agreed with Ernest for after 47 days in the Militia, he joined the Regular Army on a Short Service attestation (seven years with the Colours and five years in the Army Reserve) in the Hampshire Regiment. The April 1901 Census places Ernest at the Hampshire Regiment Depot in Winchester completing his initial training.

Posted to the 2nd Battalion during the later stages of the South Africa campaign, Ernest was most likely one of the sixty men who arrived in a reinforcement draft at Barberton from England early in February, 1902.

On the conclusion of hostilities in South Africa, 2nd Hampshire arrived back at Southampton in late September, 1902 and took up quarters in Victoria Barracks, Portsmouth. For his involvement in the campaign Ernest was award the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps ‘Cape Colony’, ‘Orange Free State’, ‘Transvaal’, and ‘South Africa 1902’.

If his wish had been to travel and see the world, that wish was about to be granted as Ernest was subsequently posted to Malta (1903), Bermuda (1905) and then, in 1907 back to South Africa.

The first mention we have of Private Adams in the Regimental Archive is in the August 1906 Hampshire Regiment Journal, when 2nd Hampshire were stationed in Bermuda.  He was evidently a good marksman as he is recorded as being the best shot (Company Shot) in “A” Company. This is a position he still held in March 1908 when 2nd Hampshire were back in South Africa.

In a photograph, Ernest is with his gun crew for the ‘Maxim Gun Championship’ at the South African Army Championship; the picture is taken from the Regimental Journal for July 1908 with a short write-up of the event.  It reads as follows:

“Although dealt with elsewhere more fully, a few lines must be devoted here to chronicle our successes in the South African Army Championship meeting, just completed here.  The championship, and indeed all the events of the meeting were distinctly up to date.  Poor old ‘Bulls-eye’ was totally ignored. Such being the case, the more credit reflects on Sergeant S Gils, who carried off the championship, winning the Gold Jewell and £10, and on Private G Lintott, who won the Bronze Jewel and £5.  An-if-possibly-greater-success-fell to our share, in that our Maxim Gun Team (Sergeant G Edney in charge), were also proclaimed the winners of the Maxim Gun Championship, which carries with it a magnificent cup presented by Major General Dorward, and a money prize of £10″.

In March 1909, the Regimental Journal records that on 3rd February, 1909, Private Adams embarked for England with other soldiers and NCO’s on HMS ‘Soudan’. The Journal does not give an indication of why he was returning to England but it was almost certainly for discharge having extended his service whilst overseas to complete 8 years with the Colours.

On completion of his service in the regular army Ernest was transferred to Section B of the Army Reserve to complete his remaining four years’ reserve commitment. Although his regular army service papers do not survive we can surmise from his term of engagement that having completed his time in Section B, Ernest elected to extend his time in the Army Reserve for a further four years, being placed in Section D Reserve. Thus, when the Army Reservists were mobilised in early August 1914, Private Adams would have been one of this number.

In 1911, Ernest, now aged 28, was employed as an Ironworker and living with his brother-in-law George Tanner, Sister Alice and their family in Freemantle, a short distance away from his parents.

On 4 May, 1913, Ernest married Edith Mabel Hayward, a domestic servant, in Southampton. Two children would be born to the couple; Ernest George Jnr on 12th March, 1914 and Frederick in October, 1915.

On the outbreak of war in early August 1914 the Army Reservists were mobilised. Many went to fill up the ranks of the regular army units to their war establishment. All those surplus to the immediate needs of the regular army battalions were posted to the Special Reserve. Thus the (usually) 3rd Battalion of each regiment was massively and very rapidly expanded. Very large numbers of men passed through the Special Reserve battalions before being posted to the regular units.

As a Section D Reservist Ernest followed this chain being mobilised and posted to the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. The 3rd Hampshire was initially based in Parkhurst (Isle of Wight) before moving to Gosport in January 1915 for duty with the Portsmouth Garrison.

Despite not being mentioned in the Regimental Journals in 1914 or 1915, no doubt, Ernest’s skill as a good marksman coupled with his competency in the Machine Gun team stood him in good stead as a potential instructor to the new recruits. It is also a reasonable assumption to support his promotion to the rank of Sergeant.

In November 1915, Ernest departed overseas to Egypt as part of a reinforcement draft to 2nd Hampshire who were shortly to evacuate the Gallipoli peninsula. After a brief spell in Egypt, the battalion moved to France landing at Marseilles on 21st March, 1916.  Much re-equipping was necessary during this period with instruction in gas-drill, a new feature to troops from Gallipoli, and other training.  Leave to England was given as freely as possible but there is no indication that Ernest benefited.

After a spell on the Somme front where the battalion was fortunate to avoid significant engagement on 1st July, Ernest was with 2nd Hampshire when it made its first acquaintance with the Ypres Salient, the battalion taking over the front-line trenches on 30th July opposite St Julien.  It was at this position on the night of 8th/9th August, 1916 that the battalion was subjected to the full force of a drift gas attack.  A subsequent report prepared by 88th Infantry Brigade details the events of that night:

“At about 10.30pm the gas alarm was sounded on the left by the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and taken up by the Hampshire Regiment, who at once put on their helmets.  As the alarm was given gas could be heard being emitted directly in front of the Hants Regiment, which began to reach their trenches in a minute or two.  This cloud lasted for about twenty minutes.  There was a pause during which no helmets were removed.  After about ten minutes another gas cloud came over, this time from a half-left direction, which also appeared to last about twenty minutes.  No further gas was emitted after 11.20pm.  There had been a few cases of gassing during this time, but not a large number.  At about twelve midnight, or shortly after, as no gas was apparent in the air, helmets were permitted to be raised and kept rolled up on the head.  The men were all standing on the fire-step as high as possible and a steady fire was being kept up on the enemy.  It was after this time that casualties from the gas began to be heavy.  Men, who had apparently been perfectly well, suddenly began to collapse.  These casualties continued to occur right up to after midday of the following day.”

The Battalion War Diary entry highlights the powerful effect of the gas used:

“The cloud took about one hour to pass and came in two waves.  During this time our supporting artillery opened a barrage of shrapnel fire and the enemy made no attempt to leave his trenches.  The enemy at the same time opened a fairly heavy shrapnel fire onto our front-line system and main communications.  The gas seemed to be of a particularly deadly kind and penetrated a considerable distance, the effect being felt some distance in rear.  It was noticeable that the gas corroded all metal that it came in contact with and killed many rats and birds.”

The effect of a light wind made the slow-moving gas much more effectual and between it and the German barrage, the battalion suffered terribly, having nearly 240 casualties, more than half fatal.  Ernest Adams was one of the gas casualties from the attack and he was evacuated to 87th Field Ambulance.

Ernest died from the effects of drift gas poisoning on 9th August,1916 and was buried in Asylum British Cemetery, Ypres. In 1924 as part of the post war concentration of graves, Ernest’s remains were exhumed and reburied at Bedford House Cemetery, Zillebeke, Ypres where he now lies in Enclosure No 2, plot IV, row C grave 5.

With acknowledgement to the Long Long Trail website www.longlongtrail.co.uk for some of the research information relating to this Case Study.