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Edgerton, Eric Henry Drummond (1897–1918)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Eric Henry Drummond Edgerton (1897-1918), soldier, was born on 1 April 1897 at Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, third son and fifth child of James Edgerton (d.1946), secretary of an iron-rolling mill, and his wife Florence Grace, née Shacklock (d.1943), both Victorian-born. He was educated at Hawksburn State School and from 1911 at Wesley College, where he was very active in life-saving activities. In 1915 he passed the leaving certificate and on 14 April, describing himself as a student, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a private.

Edgerton left Australia on 25 June with the 1st reinforcements to the 24th Battalion, 6th Brigade. After training in Egypt he saw active service at Gallipoli where, for daring patrol work in the defence of Lone Pine, he was promoted corporal in November and awarded the Military Medal. He served at Anzac until the evacuation and then, after a short time in the Suez Canal zone, embarked for France in March 1916. In August, amid the great confusion at Pozières Ridge, he again distinguished himself by his cool and courageous conduct; in November he was promoted sergeant. Next February, at Warlencourt on the Somme, he was awarded a Bar to his M.M.—the first in the 6th Brigade—for a daring and valuable patrol; on 8 March he was commissioned in the field.

In August 1917 Edgerton went to England to attend bayonet-fighting and physical-training schools. On 5 September he was promoted lieutenant and before rejoining the battalion in France in April 1918 went with his father and brother James on a short tour of Scotland and the English Lakes district. In May he led several patrols to the River Ancre and on the 19th he and his men—rushing and silencing enemy strong points—played a key part in the capture of Ville-sur-Ancre. For cool initiative, courage and brilliant leadership on this occasion he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. On 14 July he commanded the Australian troops in the march through Paris.

Three days after the great advance on 8 August the battalion went into the front line between Rainecourt and Framerville. On the night of 11-12 August, while standing talking to his men on the post, Edgerton was killed by a stray bullet from out of the darkness. He was buried first at Blangy-Tronville and later in the military cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux: no man in the 24th was more deeply mourned. He was just 21 and unmarried. On 8 November he was mentioned in dispatches.

Very boyish-looking, lithe and powerfully built, Edgerton combined a sunny, generous and unassuming nature with extraordinary energy, courage and leadership. Clear-headed in danger, he quickly saw his duty which he performed with directness and singleness of aim; to his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel W. E. James, who had recommended him for the Victoria Cross, Edgerton was 'the “show” boy of the battalion'. According to a digger, he often carried up to three rifles and the packs of men who had knocked up on the march, and 'would have carried the burdens of the whole A.I.F. if he could'.

Edgerton's letters home reveal a sensitive nature, love of beauty and a strong Christian faith: a padre wrote that the war's effect was to deepen his character and make him 'a true representative of the Master'. He is commemorated by a stained-glass window in the Cato Uniting Church, Elsternwick, Melbourne. Of his four brothers William became headmaster commander, Royal Australian Naval College; James was an industrialist and founder of the Australian Institute of Metals; and Clive, who joined the Royal Australian Air Force, was killed in a flying accident in 1935.

Select Bibliography

  • W. J. Harvey, The Red and White Diamond (Melb, 1920?)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1918 (Syd, 1942)
  • G. Blainey et al, Wesley College. The First Hundred Years (Melb, 1967)
  • Wesley College Chronicle, Easter 1911, Dec 1914, Dec 1915, Dec 1918, May 1919
  • London Gazette, 27 Oct 1916, 11 May 1917, 16 Sept, 31 Dec 1918
  • Reveille (Sydney), May 1938
  • E. Edgerton diary, 1915-18, and letters (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Edgerton, Eric Henry Drummond (1897–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/edgerton-eric-henry-drummond-6087/text10427, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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