Private Arthur Eden was one of the nine surviving children of John and Maria Eden who lived in New Street, Castle Bromwich. Six of his seven brothers also served in the war, whilst the remaining brother was previously a regular soldier and wasn’t fit enough to re-enlist. Two of the brothers died in the war, with Arthur being the first to be killed, on 26th May 1916, whilst serving as a Private with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. His younger brother, Frank, was killed two months later.
Arthur was born in Wroxall, Warwickshire, in 1885 and was the sixth child of the eight sons and one daughter born to parents John Eden, a domestic gardener, and his wife, Maria (née Whitmore), who had married in Rowington, Warwickshire in June 1871.
The family moved around quite a lot: moving from Rowington to Hatton between June 1873 and October 1874; then moving to Kingswood near Lapworth by 1879; and moving from Kingswood to Kineton between June 1881 and August 1883; then to Wroxall by 1885, Cliff near Kingsbury by 1888, and to Whitehouse Common, Sutton Coldfield by 1890; moving to Ward End by 1901, and settling in New Street, Castle Bromwich by 1911.
There was obviously a family tradition of service in the Army. The second son, Albert Edward, born on 17 September 1874, appears to have been the first to enlist, having previously worked as a groom. He joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in April 1894, giving his age as 18 years seven months (though he would actually have been aged 19 years and seven months). He served for 12 years, including in the Sudan Campaign 1896-1898. He received the Queen’s Sudan Medal, and the Khedive’s Sudan Medal with clasps for Sudan (1897), Atbara (8th April 1898) and Khartoum (2nd September 1898). His short service attestation notes that he had previous service with the 1st Volunteer Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment. After being discharged to the Reserves in 1903, he married Rose Helen Asprey at Castle Bromwich parish church in 1905. He was finally demobbed in 1906, but re-enlisted on 3rd October 1914, aged 39, as a Private with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. By this time, he had acquired some tattoos, including Lady Godiva on his chest, and beasts, birds and flowers on his back, which were noted on his record as identifying features.
In June 1915, having not served overseas since his re-enlistment, his service record notes that he was suffering from “melancholia” and that he had tried to take his own life by poisoning himself with some white lead. He described always feeling bad first thing in the morning, when the feelings of depression were very bad. He stated that he often had the impulse to make an attempt on his life but that, before this occasion, had always managed to control himself. The medical officer expressed his opinion that he did not believe the condition to have been caused by military service, and a Medical Board recommended that Private Eden should be discharged as permanently unfit for service. He was discharged to an address in Boot Hill, Rectory Road, Sutton Coldfield, where he lived with his wife and three daughters. His discharge papers are annotated “insane”. By 1939, he was still living in Rectory Road, with his wife and one daughter, and working as a pavior (i.e. laying paving stones).
The fourth son, Percy, enlisted with the Royal Field Artillery in April 1901, when he was 18. After service in India 1905-9, he was discharged in April 1913, and promptly re-enlisted after two weeks, finally being demobbed in April 1919. It seems that he spent a short period at home in 1915, suffering with frostbite.
The fifth son, Fred, was born on 1st August 1883 and joined the Royal Artillery in 1902. He was discharged to the reserves in 1905, and demobbed in April 1914. He re-enlisted as a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery in November 1914, aged 30, giving his occupation as a carter. His next-of-kin was his wife, Elsie Elizabeth (née East), whom he had married at Aston Register Office in 1906. He was admitted to the General Hospital, Rouen in June 1918, suffering from gas poisoning, and was transferred to the Military Hospital in West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire.
The eldest son, Henry John (known as Harry), previously a carter employed by the City of Birmingham Corporation, and having served with the 1st Volunteer Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment (which was based in Handsworth), joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1908, aged 35. He was re-engaged on 13th February 1912 for a further four years. On 22nd March 1915 he was posted to the British Expeditionary Force in France. In April 1917, he was transferred to Southern Signal Co., Royal Engineers T.F. and posted to 317th Road Construction Co. R.E. as a Pioneer. He was demobbed on 4th March 1919 to an address in Saltley, Birmingham.
John, the youngest of the eight sons, was listed in the Coventry Standard‘s roll call of men from Coleshill and district as being on active service on 18th September 1914. He was described as serving with the Rifle Brigade. Unfortunately, John’s service record appears not to have survived, so we don’t have any further details of his service record.
The sixth son, Arthur, joined the 2nd Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment in January 1915 as a Private, bringing to six the total of the Eden brothers serving, and prompting a photograph in the Birmingham Weekly Post the same month of Mr and Mrs Eden and their soldier sons. The couple also received a letter from the King, congratulating them on their loyalty and patriotism:
The King and the CottagerThe King’s letter to Mr Eden, of Castle Bromwich, congratulating him and Mrs Eden on having six sons in the Army… His Majesty, as he says, highly appreciates the loyalty and patriotism exhibited by the Edens. Their military ardour is certainly very creditable indeed. Of the eight sons, seven have been, and six still are, in the Army. The seventh, a time-expired man, is now engaged on one of the motor-bus services in Birmingham. He has tried desperately hard to re-enlist, owing to slight lameless in the leg. Another son – the eighth – is said to be contemplating enlistment. A correspondent who met Mr and Mrs Eden the other evening was greatly impressed with their enthusiasm, especially in the case of Mrs Eden. Said she, with radiant pride, “I shall soon have a regiment of my own!” Of the six sons now with the colours, five are in actual service at the front. One has been invalided home with frost-bite. He went to France almost immediately after his arrival home from India. It is curious that although, in the aggregate, the family has a record of army service amounting to nearly eighty years, only one of the sons, prior to the present war, had any experience of real fighting. He took part in the Soudan campaign.Birmingham Daily Mail 6th March 1915
The other two sons mentioned in the article were Ernest (the time-expired man) and Frank (considering enlistment in the Army). We haven’t been able to find any evidence that Ernest did manage to overcome his slight lameness and re-enlist. Frank did join up and was killed a couple of months after his brother, Arthur.
Arthur was killed in action and is commemorated at the Citadel New Military Cemetery, Fricourt. His name is also included on Castle Bromwich war memorials on The Green and inside St Mary & St Margaret’s Church.
If you have any more information about the Eden family from Castle Bromwich, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977
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