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Clement John Byron

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Died: 10 January 1917
 

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Second Lieutenant Byron was one of only two officers named on the Village Memorial to die for their country during the Great War. He was born in Hackney, (London) on 23rd November 1895 and had two older brothers who both served as Captains during the War. The son of ship owner John Byron and his wife Clara, the family had two homes. One was at ‘Wyefield’, The Knoll, Beckenham, Kent and the other, ‘Downlands’ in Ringmer. Clement was educated at Harrow for four and a half years and had been selected for Magdalen College, Oxford. There he was to join the Officer Training Corps, but then war broke out. As part of his obituary, the Oxford Magazine of 26th January 1917 was to say,

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Downlands, Ringmer

…Of good ability, diligent and very attractive, good too at music and games, he could hardly have failed to do well at Oxford.’ However, he became impatient at the delay in beginning his military training and decided not go to university after all.

Young Byron enlisted as a Private with the number 2217 on 8th September 1914 in the Honourable Artillery Company (H.A.C.). Part of the Territorial Force since 1908, it is the oldest regiment in the British Army, having been granted a Charter of Incorporation in 1537 by Henry VIII. Clement rapidly became a Corporal and thereafter was promoted again to Sergeant. It was to the Second Battalion that he was commissioned on 2nd October 1915 and then posted to ‘C’ Company. Special courses were undertaken in the use of the Lewis Gun and the art of throwing hand grenades accurately. The Battalion marched out of the Tower of London on 1st October the following year and sailed for France. The sailing was delayed a day owing to the suspected presence of an enemy submarine.

Once overseas they joined the 7th Division, which was then stationed near Ploegsteert Wood, Belgium and took their share of front line duties in that sector. By 15th November the entire Division was to spend five days marching to the already devastated area of the Somme battlefields around Beaumont Hamel. The main assault for the capture of this village had already finished by the time the 2nd H.A.C. arrived, but the consolidation of the area fell to them among others. As the ground locally had been churned up by hundreds of thousands of shells ever since 1st July 1916, the state of the trenches can scarcely be imagined.

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Beaumont Hamel British Cemetery

The onset of the winter rains did nothing to improve their condition. It was almost impossible to move without being up to the waist in mud and water. In a few places one was compelled to use dead bodies stuck fast in the quagmire as stepping stones to traverse the worst of it. When the skies cleared the temperature dropped to twelve degrees of frost. In short it was a rather miserable existence. This sort of action with inevitable casualties from enemy snipers, shelling and the effects of the weather, is merely recorded by the Higher Command as, ‘holding the line’!

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Clement Byron's Grave

Despite the squalor, Byron’s sense of duty and humour never left him. As an officer he had to censor his men’s private letters yet had the ‘privilege’ of censoring his own correspondence. His honour never faltered and military details of the War were not divulged. All personal names are by initial letter only and places not identified at all. He belittled the hideous conditions in all his letters home. These letters, together with examples of his earlier writings, are embodied in a Memorial Book dedicated to his honour. In one dated 17th November 1916 he states, ‘I note with surprise that you have been reading in the paper that conditions at the front are ‘awful.’ I can assure you that that was probably written by some terrified fool who had fallen into a shell-hole and got his trousers wet.’ By 25th November he concedes that there were some [slight] difficulties and continues, ‘The roads and paths, which in the past or so had become very difficult to traverse owing to the adhesive condition of the mud have now improved in consequence of the mud being converted into a creamy liquid, which although obnoxious, does not impede progress to any great extent.’ Further on he remarks, ‘I have used one [towel] since we left England, but today have been obliged to indulge in a clean one, owing to the protective colouring which the first one has adopted, rendering it almost invisible when placed on the ground.’

Christmas 1916 was described as ‘unforgettable’ in the Regimental history, and they were not referring to any festivities. It was at this scene of destruction and desolation that on 10th January 1917 Clement John Byron was destined to die. He had just stepped out from his dugout when a shell burst at the entrance. It killed him and Private Frederick Scott from Leyton instantly, and wounded five others. 2/Lt Byron was due the British War & Victory Medals. The fact that he was an officer did not entitle him to any additional campaign medals. He is buried in the beautiful little British cemetery of Beaumont Hamel not far from where he fell. Today it is a perfect scene of peace and tranquillity, so utterly different from that experienced by our men who fought there back in those dark days.

 

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Clifford Byron's Original Grave Marker

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The Lychgate of Ringmer Church

Clement’s death was felt most strongly by his family. When the time came for his temporary wooden cross to be replaced by a Portland gravestone, that wooden cross was reverently carried home to Ringmer. For years it was in the Churchyard but finally the cross was brought into the Church to protect it from the weather. It now reposes in a place of honour in the South or Springett Chapel. His proud parents had the Lychgate erected in memory of their beloved son and a bronze plate on the inward side reads, ‘To the Glory of God and in Memory of Clement John Byron 2nd Lieutenant H.A.C. killed in action in France 10th January A.D.1917 aged 21 years.’

 
 
Adapted from Valiant Hearts of Ringmer by Geoff Bridger: Ammonite Press, 1993