Edmund George Durnford was born in the spring of 1881 in the Somerset village of Pitcombe. The second oldest of twelve children, he was the oldest son to Edmund and Eliza Durnford. Edmund Sr was an agricultural labourer who travelled with the work – the 1891 census recorded the family living in Mells, near Frome.
When Edmund Jr left school, he found work at an ironmonger’s. He moved to Midsomer Norton and, in 1907, he married local carter’s daughter Bessie Welch. The young couple set up home in a terraced house on the road to nearby Radstock, and went on to have two children: Ian, who was born in 1908, and Ronald, born the following year.
War came to Europe, and Edmund was keen to play his part. He enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corps as a Driver, and was assigned to the 827th Company. Full details of his service are not available, but he remained part of the territorial force and was promoted to Lance Corporal.
The local newspaper of the time reported on what became of Edmund:
Lance Corporal Edward [sic] G Durnford, Army Service Corps… son of Mr and Mrs EG Durnford… died suddenly on April 18 at Duston Hospital, Northampton, from shell shock and hemorrhage [sic] of the brain, was 38 years of age. The body was brought back from Northampton, and the deceased accorded a military funeral at Midsomer Norton last week.Somerset Guardian and Radstock Observer: Friday 3rd May 1918
There are a couple of inconsistencies with the report. The newspaper has Edmund’s name wrong, while his pension record does not mention shell shock as the cause of death (it confirms the cerebral haemorrhage, but also cites a granular kidney). Given that Lance Corporal Durnford did not serve abroad, it seems unlikely that shell shock was a contributing factor.
The same article also places three of Edmund’s brothers in the war, and gives an insight into what had become of them before the conflict. Gunner Percy Durnford was with the Canadian Field Artillery, training in the South of England; Sergeant Major Arthur Durnford, of the Australian Light Horse, was based in Sydney; Bombardier Horace Durnford, of the Royal Garrison Artillery, had served in France, where he had been gassed, but was, at the time of his oldest brother’s death, based in Egypt.
Edmund George Durnford died in Northampton on 18th April 1918. He was 38 years of age. His body was brought back to Somerset, and he was laid to rest in the graveyard of St John the Baptist Church in Midsomer Norton.
Edmund’s younger son, Ronald, served in the Second World War. He joined the Royal Artillery, reaching the rank of Lance Bombardier. Ronald was serving in the Far East early in 1942, and for the next year, no news was heard of him.
However, contact was made in March 1943, confirming that Ronald had been captured by the Japanese, and was a prisoner of war in Borneo. Three months later, his wife, Kathleen, received a postcard from him, confirming he was a prisoner of war, well and unwounded.
Tragic news was quick to follow, however:
In last week’s issue it was stated that Mrs [Bessie] Durnford… had received through her daughter-in-law news that her son, Lance Bombardier Ronald Durnford, was a prisoner of war in Jap hands and was unwounded.
On Saturday she received the sorrowful news that he was dead in the following messages, which her daughter-in-law had sent on:
“I deeply regret to inform you a report has been received from the War Office, that [Ronald], who was reported a prisoner of war in Borneo Camp, had died from dysentery. The date of his death is not yet known, but you may rest assured as soon as any further information is received, I will immediately let you know.”Somerset Guardian and Radstock Observer: Friday 30th July 1943
Lance Bombardier Durnford was laid to rest in the Labuan War Cemetery in Malaysia.
Further family tragedy, albeit with a life well-lived, was to follow as, on 6th September 1943, Bessie too died at the age of 86. She was laid to rest alongside Edmund in the family plot. Her obituary confirmed that “She leave a husband, seven daughters, and four sons to mourn her loss. One son and one daughter are in Canada, and one son in Australia, and one daughter and son in London.” [Somerset Guardian and Radstock Observer, Friday 17th September 1943]
Bessie had not, in fact, remarried: the husband was, in fact, the one who had died some 25 years before.