Date/Place of Birth: 1897, Penrith, NSW
Date/Place of Death: 29 May 1918, Bournemouth, England
Biographical details: Harold Edwards was born in Penrith in 1897, the son of George and Melvina H (nee Player) Edwards. After attending Penrith Superior Public School, Edwards worked as a baker and had served six months in the cadets before enlisting on 18 April 1916. A brother James Edwards, enlisted on 27 September 1915 and served with the 30th Battalion. He returned to Australia on 22 May 1919.
Service details: On enlistment, Edwards served with the Depot Battalion at Dubbo, NSW from April until 6 July 1916, when he was allocated to the A Company, 54th Battalion at Bathurst. He was hospitalised on 29 August 1916 with influenza before being discharged to duty on 1 September 1916. On 30 September 1916, Edwards, along with the 5th Reinforcements of the battalion, left Sydney aboard A60 HMAT Aeneas arriving in Plymouth on 19 November 1916. After a brief period of training in England, Edwards boarded the Princess Victoria at Folkestone on 21 December 1916 for the brief trip to France and marched into the 5th Australian Divisional Base Depot at Etaples the following day. Edwards was taken on the 54th Battalion’s strength on 8 January 1917. The battalion took part in the 2nd Bullecourt and Polygon Wood offensives during 1917. In April 1918, the 54th Battalion, part of the 14th Brigade, 5th Division AIF took part in the Villers Bretonneux offensive. On 8 December 1917, Edwards was absent from fatigues between 2 am and 8 pm and was awarded 5 days confinement to barracks. On 11 January 1918, Edwards was promoted to Lance Corporal. Edwards went on leave to England from 1 – 15 March 1918. After his return, the 54th Battalion took part in the Villers- Bretonneux offensive. On 17 April 1918, the 54th Battalion was lying in readiness when the Germans unleashed a concerted gas barrage of an estimated 12,000 gas shells (including mustard, “sneezing gas” and phosgene) on the villages of Villers-Bretonneux and Bois l’Abbe. Edwards, suffered exposure to mustard gas and was admitted to the 55th Field Ambulance before being transferred to the 61st Casualty Clearing Station. On 18 April 1918, Edwards was transferred to the 5th General Hospital at Rouen. His condition did not improve and the decision was made to transfer Edwards to England for further treatment. On 23 May Edwards embarked on the hospital ship Essequibo and was admitted to the Military Hospital Boscombe the following day. On admission, his condition was listed as dangerously ill. Edwards died as a result of his exposure to mustard gas on 29 May 1918. He was buried on 3 June 1918, at 2 pm. His brother, Private James Edwards, who was a patient at the 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Dartford, attended the funeral.
Memorial Details: Edwards is commemorated on Memorial Panel 159, East Bournemouth Cemetery England and on the Honor Roll, Memory Park, Penrith.
National Archives of Australia Search: B2455 EDWARDS H
Nepean Times 8 June 1918, p3 c3
Our Soldiers: The sad news came to hand during the week that Corporal Harold Edwards, of the 54th Battalion, and fifth son of Mr and Mrs George Edwards of Henry Street, Penrith, who was recently severely gassed (second time) in France, had died on May 29, in the 5th General Hospital, Rouen. The late heroic soldier was born in North Street, Penrith, and his age was 21 years and 5 months. He enlisted at Parramatta, and left Australia on 30th September, 1916. He went direct to England, where he was in training for six weeks, when he volunteered as a bomb thrower and was accepted. Corporal Edwards was a baker and pastrycook by trade. His brother, Private Jim Edwards (who was recently wounded) was fighting in France when he crossed the Channel, and the two brothers met on several occasions. The late Corporal Edwards was a strong muscular lad, and of a cheery and bright disposition.
Nepean Times 9 November 1918, p3 c4
Late Lance-Cpl H Edwards: Mr G Edwards, Henry Street, Penrith has received the following from Base Records Office, Melbourne: With reference to the regrettable loss of your son, the late No 2397 Lance Corporal H Edwards, 54 Battalion, advice shows that he died from the effects of gas poisoning on 29/5/18 at the Military Hospital, Boscombe, Bournemouth, and was buried at 2 pm on 3/6/18 at East Boscombe Cemetery, Bournemouth, consecrated ground, grave No P 1143, Church of England section. The late soldier’s brother, Private J E Edwards, 30th Battalion, AIF (patient at 3rd Auxiliary Australian Hospital, Bedford) was present at the funeral. The coffin, which was of good polished elm, was mounted on a gun carriage, and draped with the Union Jack. It was surmounted by several beautiful wreaths. Firing party, bugler, and pallbearers were present. Prior to the interment the officiating chaplain, the Rev C F Stead, conducted a service in the chapel of the cemetery. The grave will be turfed later, and an oak cross will be erected by the AIF, London. Administrative headquarters, London, were represented at the funeral. The utmost care and attention is being devoted to the graves of our soldiers where possible. It is understood that photographs are being taken as soon as is possible, and these will be transmitted to the next-of-kin when available.