Edward William Deutschmann (1889–1918)

13742 Private Edward William Deutschmann
2/South African Infantry Regiment.
Killed in action 12 April 1918,
Commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

Edward William Deutschmann lost his life just under three weeks after the death of his cousin, Herbert William Deutschmann, during the first week of the German Spring Offensive of 1918.  Both men had enlisted in the 2nd South African Infantry Regiment (2/SAIR), which raised some of its soldiers from the Kaffrarian Rifles, a territorial unit.  Both men were grandsons of Wilhelm Friedrich August Deutschmann (1832–1903), who, in 1858, had emigrated from Prussia to the Crown Colony of Kaffraria, with his first wife, Emilie Auguste Fiebige (1831–c.1859) and their two children.

Herbert transferred to 4/SAIR, for reasons we can only speculate, but both regiments were part of the same brigade, the elite First South African Infantry Brigade.  In the month before his death, Edward would have been involved in the defence of a stretch of the front line, and the Brigades desperate attempts to delay the German advance.  After the loss of Marrières Wood to the Germans, after a staunch defence almost to the last man,  Edward would have heard of the devastating losses of Herbert’s regiment and is likely to have learnt that his cousin was classified among the missing.

Edward William Deutschmann was born at Green River in the King William’s Town District in about October 1889, the second of the five children of Eduard (1861–1911) and Emma (1860–1927) Deutschmann.   It is perhaps an indication of the importance of the first names Wilhelm and Eduard to this family because the couple had given both names to their eldest son, Hugo Edward William.  As naming goes, they were perhaps ensuring an heir and a spare.

Edward was named after his father, Eduard, who was the eldest child of Wilhelm Deutschmann and his second wife, Ernstine Wilhelmine  Ninnemann (1842–1908). Eduard had been named Carl Heinrich Eduard after his paternal grandfather Carl Friedrich Deutschmann.  Quite early on, Eduard chose to spell his name in the English way, but here I will spell it in the Germanic way, to avoid confusion between ‘our’ soldier, Edward, and his father Eduard, who, to add to any confusion was also known as Edward Carl.  Heinrich lost out.

Whereas Edward’s paternal grandfather had emigrated as a farming settler, his maternal grandfather had emigrated as a military settler.  Edward’s mother, Emma Esprey (1860–1927), was the daughter of Adolph Esprit (c.1833–1916) one of the group of German Military Settlers of 1856,  who had been offered land in the Crown Colony of Kaffraria.  In Adolph’s case, this land would be at Greytown where men of the 3rd Regiment of the King’s German Legion—a British force—would be settled.

The German Military Settlers
These were soldiers of the King’s German Legion, who had been recruited and trained, to form part of the British Army, in order to fight in The Crimea, but by the time this training had been completed and the battle zone reached, the war was all but over.  The soldiers were given the choice between being discharged from the Army, or of continuing to serve, but as military settlers, in Kaffraria.  They would serve part time for seven years from the date of their arrival there. Those who chose the military settler option, were given uniforms, arms and ammunition, free passage to the Colony, a piece of land on arrival and a building allowance towards their accommodation.  They would be on half pay for seven years, and in exchange would undergo up to 30 days military training per annum for the first four years, and 12 days per annum for the remaining three.  In time of need, during the seven years, they could be called to defend the colony, for which they would receive full pay. What they were told about the environment in which they would be starting their new lives did not match what they found when they arrived, and many of them did not settle in, some deserting, and many of them signing up to quell the Indian Mutiny. (The latter would also arrive in India too late for most of the action.)

Sir George Grey specifically requested married soldiers, and most of the men were single.  There were mass marriage ceremonies in England for the unmarried men who were able to find a willing wife.  (Grey was furious when he found that the majority of the arriving soldiers were unmarried.)  It appears that Adolph Esprit was one of those who found a wife, because there is a military record for his marriage to Sarah Gall, at Colchester—probably at the Old Garrison Church—on 19 October 1856.  Prior to departing for South Africa, the men of the King’s German Legion had been stationed at Browndown Camp, Aldershot and Colchester and it is presumably at Colchester that the couple met.  Emma appears to have been the eldest surviving child of this marriage.

We know that Edward was working as a Storeman/Trader’s Assistant when he volunteered for active service in 1917. I think it is possible he was working alongside his brothers, who all seem to have involved trading.   While there was no conscription in South Africa in either of the two World Wars of the 20th century, as bad news from France reached home, many men felt under pressure to enlist, particularly after actions, such as Delville Wood, in which many South Africans lost their lives.  We know, from his military records, that he was “taken on the strength” of his regiment on 23 March 1917, four months after Herbert had embarked at Cape Town en route to Europe.  Unlike Herbert, Edward may not have been a volunteer in the Kaffrarian Rifles, since the time between his enlistment, and his departure suggests he had to undergo basic military training. It was not until 13 September that Edward embarked, at Cape Town, on the freight ship, Dunvegan Castle, for the voyage north.

The actions involving 2/SAIR between Edward’s arrival in France and the end of March, can be followed in John Buchan’s History of the South African Forces in France.  (This can be read online—see the link under Sources.)  The staunch defence of Marrières Wood has been described as part of Herbert Deutschmann’s story.

A short lull in the fighting, following the action at Marrières Wood, allowed those who had become separated from the rest of the Brigade, during the general confusion along the British Front, to re-join their units. The “remnants” were collected together to constitute a composite battalion, and plans were made to reorganise the Brigade under General Tanner.  According to Buchan, every man who could be found was brought from England. 

On the night of 27 March, the South African remnants (about 500 men) were all withdrawn from the front line, and began a long march to Candas, with the rest of the 9th Division, reaching it on 1 April.

Earlier that year, on 4 February 1918, Edward had been appointed Acting Lance Corporal “without pay,” an appointment set to last until 31 May.  In the aftermath of Marrières Wood, however, Edward “reverted” to the rank of Private.  “Revert” may sound as if it was some demotion, after some kind of failure or lapse, but this is unlikely.  The timing suggests otherwise.  The decision occurred towards the end of a long march, which followed a desperate stand against the full might, well armed, co-ordinated actions of the enemy.  Many whom he had fought alongside for the previous six months, had lost their lives or suffered serious injuries at Marrières Wood.  Perhaps it was simply that Edward, himself, felt too exhausted to continue to carry the additional responsibilities of that temporary promotion.

On 9 April, Ludendorff broke through the line between the Lys and La Bassée in his attempt to capture Béthune and the Messines Ridge.  General Tudor ordered the transfer of the South African Brigade to the 19th Division, which, along with the 9th and 25th Divisions was holding the Messines Ridge.  (Thus ended their association with the 9th (Scottish) division, but not the strong attachment that the Scots held for them, and which is still remembered.)  The brigade was given orders to launch a counter-attack and to retake a section of the ridge.   A map showing the terrain on which the Brigade’s action took place can be found opposite page 198 of Buchan’s History.

“Backs to the Wall!”
On 10 April, the Germans broke through on a 4 mile front and captured Messines.  Of that day, Buchan would record, “the safety of the British front depended on the 55th, 19th and 9th Divisions.” (p.201.)  The South Africans put all their efforts into retaining their positions.

On the following day, 11 April, Haig issued a stern instruction: “Backs to the Wall!”   This became as memorable an order as “defend at all costs”.  On that afternoon, von Arnim attacked with fresh troops, and the situation on their section of the front became grave.  A strong and ferocious attack drove Edward’s regiment back about 600 metres.  Nearby, the famed Hill 63 had to be abandoned, and that, together with the loss of the Messines Ridge provoked a decision to re-arrange the Allied units on that section of the Front.  By dawn on 12 April, the South Africans were established on a new front.  Thus far the Germans had been relying on up to sixteen Divisions, and now they “threw in…[their] reserves at a furious pace.”  These fresh German troops managed to break through and reclaim ground they had lost.  The brigade’s historian, however, notes that nothing happened in the section held by the 9th and 19th Divisions on the 12th. (Buchan, p.204.)

This suggests that Edward probably lost his life on the 11th, not the 12th, in the desperate action when the 2nd Regiment was driven back.  It may not have been until the 12th, that a roll call revealed he was missing.  Edward was not “presumed dead” until 19 December 1918, so it would not have been until after that date that his mother would learn that his death had been confirmed.

Edward is commemorated on the Ypres Memorial (at the Menin Gate through which the troops on their way to battle). There a Ceremony of the Last Post has taken place on every evening of every day of the year, since 1927—with the exception being the years of German occupation during the Second World War.

Why, you may wonder if you are following both Deutschmann cousins, when they died within three weeks of each other, in the same part of the Ypres Salient, was one of them commemorated on the Pozières Memorial and the other on the Menin Gate?  Here’s the answer from the CWGC site:  The battles of the Ypres Salient claimed many lives on both sides and it quickly became clear that the commemoration of members of the Commonwealth forces with no known grave would have to be divided between several different sites.  A bit ‘luck of the draw’ really.

A fellow soldier in 2/SAIR, killed aged 15
Among those from 2/SAIR who died on 11/12 April, and are commemorated with Edward on the Ypres Memorial, is 15 year old Private John Leonard Forsyth-Ingram, 2/SAIR.  John was one of five 15-year olds who died while on Active Service with the South African Forces during WW1.  He  gave his age, boldly and ambitiously, as 19, when enlisting in 1917.  His uncle, of Mooi River, was named as John’s next of kin.

And finally, can you help to flesh out Edward’s story?
I am hoping that some of the descendants of Eduard and Emma will come across this blog post, and contact me.  I’m hoping his family will be able to fill in the blanks in Edward’s life before he went to war, and how his widowed mother and her children coped after the loss of their father in 1911.  Out of interest, where were Edward and his siblings educated?  Were they involved in any of the German churches in the KWT area?  What do they know about Adolf, the military settler?

Adolph and his son-in-law, Eduard, were both masons, a trade they had in common with Eduard’s father, Wilhelm.  Who carried on the skill in the next generation?  It was usual to keep a trade in the family, because tools were expensive but could be passed down.  There would also have been a network with others in the trade.  Eduard’s sons seem to have concentrated on trading as opposed to acquiring a trade.

Eduard’s widow, Emma, lost three sons,  within three years.  Here’s what I know about them:
Hugo Edward William, b. c. December 1887, d. 13 November 1920, leaving two children, Douglas Hugo Edward Willian b. 15 June 1913 and Dulcie Beryl b. 10 July 1917.
Edward William, b. c. October 1889, d. 12 April 1918.
George, b. in the Transvaal in 1891, d. 28 February 1919, King William’s Town.  George died of malaria, heart disease and influenza, yet another of the many young men I have come across, who succumbed in the 1918 influenza pandemic.  He died at the family home, and his brother, Hugo, signed the death notice.
Frederick:  Frederick might be Frederick August Deutschmann, b. 1893, d. 1947, spouse Harriet Emily.
Was there a Robert?  The only trace I have been able to find of Robert, is on Edward William’s Death Notice.  This was signed by their mother Emma on 14 March 1919, exactly two weeks after George’s death, for which Hugo had been the informant. Could George have been George Robert?
Wilhelmina Dorothea, b. 30 April 1899, d. 21 March 1947. Wilhelmina would have to cope with the loss of her husband on Active Service in WW2.  I am deliberately not listing his name or those of their children, only one of whom had reached the age of 21 in 1947. (I am reluctant to release their names withoug their permission, or that of their children.)

Buchan, J., The History of the South African Forces in France, London, 1920.  There is a map showing the action of the Brigade opposite page 198.  This book is available to buy in various reprints via the specialist bookseller,  Peter Thackeray, of Crask Books, but can also be read online via the Open Library at https://archive.org/details/historyofsouthaf00buchrich/mode/2up, accessed 8/8/2020.
Schnell E.L.G., Germans in Kaffraria: 1858–1958, Pinetown, 1958.


About Margaret Frood

Margaret Frood is a Family and Local Historian with an insatiable curiosity about the partially told stories of a family's past. Her six war memorial blogs have been created in the hope that they will help to rescue from oblivion the stories of those listed on the war memorials of Petersham, Ham and Tur Langton, on War Graves that ‘catch her eye’ with an additional interest in Southern Africans commemorated in the UK and in Western Europe.
This entry was posted in 9th Scottish Division, First South African Infantry Brigade, German Spring Offensive, Kaiserschlacht and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Edward William Deutschmann (1889–1918)

  1. Pingback: Werner Deutschmann – Passersby Remember

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