Search our records : Herbert Edmund Westlake

Surname: Westlake
Forename(s): Herbert Edmund
Service Number: 26706
Force: British Army
Unit: B Company 8th Battalion Devonshire Regiment
Date of Death: 4th October 1917
Where Buried / Commemorated: Commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial Zonnebeke Belgium
Civilian Occupation: Gardener
Parents: Johna and Louise Westlake
Home address: Spring Gardens, Beer, Devon
Herbert Westlake was born in Beer in 1880, the second of the seven children of John and Louisa Westlake.  At the time of the 1881 census the family lived in Short Hill [sic], Beer.
In the 1901 census the family was living at The Cross, Beer.  John Westlake was a farm labourer and Herbert was a gardener, while Herbert's younger brother, Tom, aged 14, was a grocer's assistant.  Alfred, the eldest child, aged 22, was in the Royal Navy by this time, and on census night he was on his ship, HMS Colossus .  The remaining children were Lilian (aged 12), Charles (10), Dorothy (8) and Hilda (3).  All the members of the family were born in Beer .
Herbert married Charlotte Haley, the daughter of an ornamental plasterer from Chelsea, in the summer of 1907.  By the time of the 1911 census they were living at No. 3 Upton Cottages, Bakers Hill, Brixham, with their two year old son, Alfred, who was born in Brixham .  Herbert's occupation was again given as gardener. 
Herbert was still living in Brixham when he enlisted (in Newton Abbot) in the 8th (Service) Battalion, Devonshire Regiment .  However the address given in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records (Spring Gardens, Beer) suggests that his wife Charlotte may have moved to Beer while Herbert was in the army. 
Herbert joined the 8th (Service) Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, which was formed in Exeter on 19th August 1914, just over a fortnight after the outbreak of war.  It was known as a 'Kitchener battalion' because it was formed of volunteers who responded to the appeal by Lord Kitchener, the Minister of War, to create a 'New Army' to supplement the pre-war regular army.  After basic training in England, the  battalion was sent to France, and landed at Le Havre on 26th July 1915.
The regimental history describes how the 8th Battalion moved into the front line, and then attacked on 4th October 1917:
'The 8th's move to the front had been a most unpleasant experience.  Leaving their bivouacs at Chateau Sigard an hour before sunset on October 2nd, they had a threaded their way to Hooge Crater, first along pave roads and then by corduroy tracks.  After passing Hooge it was, as one account says, " a question of sticking to the corduroy or duck-board tracks, or sticking in the pools of mud and water which otherwise monopolised the scene".  The whole place was an ocean of mud, in which every other feature seemed to have been obliterated except the pill-boxes and the Butte in Polygon Wood, at which Battalion headquarters were eventually established.  As the Battalion neared the Butte it had to go right through a German barrage which there was no avoiding.  Luckily, the mud did at least minimise the effect of the shells, and the 8th reached their positions with about 25 casualties.
Early on October 4th, A and C companies lined up on a tape corresponding approximately to Jubilee Trench.  When they were ready B and D fell back through them from the outpost line and took station, B in readiness to mop up behind A and C, D in reserve. Both A and C companies reached their objectives with few casualties.  The regimental  history continues the story:
"Meanwhile B [Herbert's Company], under Captain Roper, following hard behind A and C, "mopped up" most effectively: a strong point just behind Captain Frood's first pillbox was dealt with by a Lewis gun, 20 Germans being killed here; some hutments further to the left yielded 50 prisoners, and a machine-gun just in rear which opened fire was put promptly out of action........ Altogether the attack had been a brilliant success, especially as the smoke and the total absence of landmarks made keeping direction most difficult.............. indeed, casualties had been extremely light, far fewer than the prisoners, who numbered nearly 250........
At 8:10 am the Borders and Gordons [two other battalions in the same brigade] came through the 8th, to be equally successful in obtaining their objective......................It was now that the 8th's worst trials were to come.  As the day wore on the German shell fire, observed and directed by aeroplanes, increased in intensity............... The almost incessant rain complicated matters, not merely by reason of the discomfort and additional fatigue, but because it interfered greatly with trench digging.  Directly men got down a couple of feet the trenches filled with water.  Mud clogged rifles and Lewis guns -- had the Battalion been counter attacked in force half its rifles would have been out of action -- and casualties mounted up".

It is not clear at what point Herbert was killed, but it is likely to have been by shell fire.  In the battalion war diary for the period 2nd to 7th October 1917, the section headed 'Casualties' makes this comment:
Nearly all of these occurred from shell fire before and after the attack, and very few during the attack itself' .
Herbert's body was not identified, and he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, which bears the names of 35,000 British and Commonwealth troops who died in Flanders and who have no known grave.
Another Beer man serving in the same battalion, 2nd Lieutenant Leonard Harding from Bovey Farm, was wounded on the same day, hit in the foot by a shell fragment.  He survived, and was awarded the Military Cross.

By the time the battalion was relieved on 7th October 1917, after four days in the front line, they had suffered almost 50% casualties.  Six officers and 57 men were killed, eight officers and 198 men were wounded, and 11 men were missing.