South Oxford Community Centre

Lake Street, Oxford, OX1 4RP 01865 242666

66 men - Ernest Webb

[Webb A from gommecourt website]

Photo courtesy of Bill MacCormick, www.gommecourt.co.uk

Ernest WEBB

Ernest Webb was born in the summer of 1889 in Oxford. He was one of ten children; his father, Frederick, had been born in 1853 in North Leigh near Witney, and his mother, Annie Elizabeth (née Norridge), had been born in 1853/54 in Combe near Woodstock [though the 1881 census gives her birth place as Kirtlington]. Frederick's father was an agricultural labourer; Annie's father was a mason and her mother was a glove-maker, a very common occupation for women in Woodstock and the surrounding villages. Frederick had done his apprenticeship as a blacksmith with a man called James Barnes, in Standlake, near Witney. He and Annie married in the summer of 1879 in Oxford. By 1881 they were living at 16 New Street in St Ebbe's [a street which no longer exists]. Frederick, now aged 28, was working as a blacksmith and the couple had two sons, Frederick junior (aged 1) and baby John.

By 1891 the family had moved a few doors down to 6 New Street, and in addition to Frederick (now age 11) and John (now 10), six more children had been born: George (9), Edith (7), William (6), Jesse (4), Ernest (1), and an unnamed child who had probably been born between Jesse and Ernest but who had died as an infant.

Two more children were born soon after: Ellen, (also known as Nellie) in 1891/92 and Lizzie in 1893/94. By 1897 the family had moved to 19 Edith Road in Grandpont. Webb is a common surname in Oxford and there were at least three other Webb families living in Grandpont around this time, in Marlborough Road and in Western Road (as well as others in New Hinksey) possibly all related.

Ernest's older sister Edith was baptised at St Matthew's church in Marlborough Road in May 1897, when she was 13. She was not at home when the census was taken in 1901 (possibly she had left to go into service) but the other surviving six brothers and two sisters still were: Frederick (now aged 21 and working as a carpenter); John (20 and working as a coach painter); George (18, a draper's assistant); William (15, a clerk); and Jesse, Ernest, Ellen and Lizzie (14, 11, 9 and 7 respectively) who were still at school.

In 1911 the Webbs continued to live at 19 Edith Road; father Frederick (now 58) was still working as a blacksmith, though now in a brewery (of which there were several in nearby St Thomas's parish). Six of his and Annies' children were still living at home: oldest son Frederick (now 31) was still working as a carpenter; John, aged 30, was still a coach painter; Jesse, 24, an accountant's clerk; Ernest, 21, now working as a coal merchant's assistant; and Ellen (or Nellie), 19, and Lizzie, 17, both drapers' assistants.

Ernest enlisted and became a Private with the 1/14 Battalion of the London Regiment (London Scottish), 'C' Company, service number 6406. The battalion was sent to France and Ernest was killed on 1 July 1916, aged 27, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The 1st/14th were part of 56 Division’s attack on the village of Gommecourt on the battlefield’s northern sector, designed to pin the Germans away from the main assault further south. Purposely the preparations for the attack in this area were not kept a secret, resulting in very high casualties.

Ernest's body was never recovered but he is named on the Thiepval Memorial. This is the memorial to the Missing of the Somme, which bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector and have no known grave.

Ernest's older brothers William and Jesse also fought in the War but survived; William was a Gunner with the Royal Field Artillery, service no. 128317 and Jesse was a Private with the Army Service Corps, service no. S/344063.

Ernest's father Frederick died in December 1933, aged 81, and was buried at Rose Hill cemetery.

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