Edward Lawton was born in Runcorn, Cheshire, on 28 February, 1888, the son of John Henry and Emma Lawton. At the age of about four or five, he settled with his family in Birkenhead. In later life he became a bricklayer's labourer, and on 13 February 1909, he married his pregnant girlfriend, Anne Aspinall, at St Laurence's Roman Catholic Church (even though he was Church of England), Beckwith Street, Birkenhead. The couple went on to have six children: James (born 29 October, 1909), Hannah (born 1910, died in 1912), John (born 30 June 1912), Harriet (born 13 May 1916), Robert (born 30 July 1917, died in 1918), and Edward (born 21 July, 1918). By 1914, Edward Lawton was working in his trade with the Birkenhead Corporation, in which capacity he had been employed for 12 months.
On 29 December, 1914, he presented himself for enlistment into the 13th Bn Cheshire Regiment. This battalion had been raised in September 1914, and formed up for the first time at The Castle, Chester, on 7 September 1914; the majority of the recruits had been raised from the towns and villages of the Wirral. The battalion was sent to Codford St Mary, Wiltshire, where it was to begin training. During the course of the next couple of months it was realised that more recruits would be needed to bring the battalion up to full strength (approximately 1,250 men), and so another call went out for further recruits. Edward Lawton was part of this batch of men to enlist and, on passing his medical for joining the army, he joined the battalion in training on 6 January 1915, and was posted to No 1 Coy. He continued to train with it at Codford, Bournemouth, and at Malplaquet Barracks, Aldershot. On 25 September 1915 he embarked with his battalion at Folkestone, and sailed for France.
Private Lawton went on to see active service at: the Le Touquet Salient, just on the border with France and Belgium; Zouave Valley, on the slopes of Vimy Ridge; through the bloodiest battles on the Somme at Ovillers, Thiepval, Stuff Redoubt (Grandcourt); and, finally, on the battalion's return to Belgium, at Ploegsteert (Plugstreet) Wood. It was here on 7 November 1916 that evidence points to their positions being lightly shelled, as one man was killed (52070 Private Albert Griffiths) and another soldier wounded. I have reason to believe that the wounded man was W/1239 Pte Edward Lawton as he was evacuated from the trenches on the same day with shell-shock, which caused a cerebral haemorrhage. He was eventually invalided home and, following medical board after medical board, on 2 May 1918 he was discharged to an army pension as being unfit for military service. Sadly, he contracted influenza which developed into pneumonia, and he died on 16 October 1918. He was buried in an unmarked public grave.
For the past 95 years, Edward Lawton had been lying in this grave without any recognition that he ever existed, never mind served his country. Having been researching the story of the 13th Cheshire's for many years, I had come across his name mentioned, but had nothing to confirm that he was my relative. About three years ago, Judith Beastall (Branch Editor, Merseyside WFA) discovered him in my family tree. She told me that he had died in 1918, aged 30, which got me thinking that he may have served his country. Judith came back with the startling information that he was indeed the Edward Lawton which I had come across in my researches. I cross–referenced his home address with that on his battalion nominal roll, and it confirmed that it was him. After all these years of researching the 13th (Wirral) Bn Cheshire Regiment, I actually had a relative who was an original Wirral Pal serving in that battalion. Judith informed me that there were no service papers for him, but there were pension papers.
Over the next two and a half years, I communicated with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to see if I could get a war grave for my relative. I had to provide information to prove that Edward served, and my relationship to him. They also asked for photographs of the site where he was buried. I was then told that the evidence had to go to a board of representatives from the MOD, for the final yes or no for him being entitled to the a war grave. Thankfully, they agreed to it, and the CWGC notified me of the decision, and informed me that the process to have the grave engraved in France, transported over to the UK, and put in place would take about 12 - 15 months. I waited for over two years, and then re-contacted them. The lady who I originally dealt with had gone off on long-term sick leave, and her replacement told me she was aware of my case, and that I would have to wait a further 15 - 18 months. I told her how desperately disappointed I was with this, as I had already been waiting two years. To cut a very long story short, she said that there was nothing she could do, except she would try and put a hastener on the job, but could not promise this. I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to wait longer. However, my wait was abruptly stopped within a couple of months when I received an email on 4 September, 2013, informing me that the new war grave for Private Edward Lawton had been put in place. I was beside myself with excitement.
There followed a whirlwind journey of phone calls, e-mails, and conversations with the Secretary of the Cheshire Regimental Association (Major (ret'd) Eddy Pickering), who managed to get me a Captain, a Bugler, and three men from the Mercian Regiment, as well as standard bearers from the regimental association. For that, I am forever in his debt. I was also able to secure the services of the Padre of 75 Engineer Regiment, Padre-Captain Paul Robinson, who jumped at the chance to perform the dedication. Then I was able to speak to the very helpful staff at the Higher Bebington British Legion, and spoke to the Warden, Diane Witty. When I explained why I needed the room for the after-dedication buffet, she gave me a room for free. I also spoke to a member of staff at "The Wirral Globe" (a local free newspaper), and they said that they would cover the story of the dedication.
Now that all the administrative things had been put in place, the only thing to do was to go to the dedication. After dropping off the buffet food at the British Legion, I picked up my wife, Joanne, and my two sons, Nathan and William, and then headed down to Flaybrick Hill Cemetery, Bidston, Birkenhead. Already there were people arriving, and I met Major Pickering and three soldiers from the Mercian Regiment. Major Pickering and I greeted other people who were turning up. These were: the Padre; friends and members from my branch of The Western Front Association; a distant relative, Ian Sant and his wife, Rosemary; Captain Steven Pope and a Bugler from the Mercian Regiment; members of the Cheshire Regimental Association; and other friends and relatives. The procession moved to Edward Lawton's graveside and, having had a brief chat with the Padre, we proceeded with the dedication.
The two standard bearers hoisted their flags by Edward Lawton's grave as Padre Robinson welcomed everyone and gave his introduction. I related Edward's brief life story, including his short military career and his sad demise. The Padre followed with a reading from the Bible. I also read from Mattew 5:1-12; the Padre from John 15:9-17, and the Lord's Prayer. Then I read The Act of Remembrance, which was followed by the hauntingly sound of the "Last Post" from the Mercian Bugler and, as this was being played, the standard bearers lowered their flags in tribute. Two minutes silence was then observed, and was followed by "Reveille" by the Bugler. I concluded with a reading of the Kohima Epitaph, and the final closing prayers were given before I gave thanks to everyone prior to departure. I stayed by Edward Lawton's grave, and spent a few quiet moments in quiet contemplation, and a quiet and deep-seated pride in what I had managed to achieve.
There are a number of people whom I would like to thank for everything they have done to make the dedication service possible. Firstly, my wife Joanne, for her support; Major Eddie Pickering for contacting the men of the Mercian Regiment; the standard bearers of the Cheshire Regimental Association; Padre-Captain Paul Robinson; my distant relative Ian Sant and his wife Rosemary for coming all the way from Aberystwyth; family; friends; and members of the Merseyside Branch of the Western Front Association. Finally, and above all, I would dearly like to thank Judith Beastall for confirming Edward as my relative, and for doing a lot of the background research into his life. Without her assistance, the dedication of the proper headstone to Private Edward Lawton would not have happened.
Article and images contributed by Peter Threlfall, Chairman WFA Merseyside
Top image: W/1239 Private Edward Lawton's new grave in Flaybrick Cemetery, Birkenhead
Above: standard bearers preparing for the dedication service
Above: Peter relates Edward Lawton's Army career and sad demise
Above: The Mercian Bugler sounds "The Last Post"