Edward James Phillips was born on 22nd January 1900 in Bedminster, Bristol, and was the oldest of two children to Ernest and Emily Phillips. Ernest was a bit of a jack of all trades; the 1901 census recorded him as being a shop keeper of glass and china, while by 1911 he was working as an architect’s clerk.
By this point, the family had moved to Chard, Somerset, and had set up home in a small, terraced house near the centre of the town. Storm clouds were gathering over Europe, and, while he was too young to enlist at the start of the war, it is clear that Edward wanted to play his part.
While details of his service are unclear, Edward joined the Merchant Navy. By the summer of 1918 he was on board the SS Polesley, working as a Wireless Operator. A newspaper report expanded on what became of him:
On the 21st September the SS Polesley was torpedoed off the Cornish coast by a German submarine and sunk. Later two bodies wearing life belts of the SS Polesley were washed ashore at Penreath, Cornwall. One of the bodies was identified as that of the mate of the ill fated vessel; the other was not recognised and was buried as unknown, both the gallant seamen being interred in one grave.
On learning that the bodies had been washed ashore form the torpedoed vessel, Mr EE Phillips… forwarded a photograph of his son, Edward James Phillips, who was wireless operator on the vessel, to the police at Penreath, and the undertaker and the person who recovered the bodies were able to identify the unknown remains as Wireless Operator Phillips.
Since then their sworn statements have been forwarded to the Home Office, with the result that the remains have been exhumed, and on Wednesday Mr EE Phillips, the father, went to Penreath and received the remains of his gallant son and brought them to Chard, where they will be interred.Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser: Wednesday 29th January 1919
Edward James Phillips, who was just 18 years old when he died, was laid to rest in the family plot in Chard Cemetery.