World War 1: Edward Barber VC

If you’ve seen The Gazette’s ‘Find your hero’ video, you may be interested in finding out a little more about the heroes that it name-checks. Here, we explore the life of Edward Barber.

Edward Barber was born on 10 June 1893 in Tring, Hertfordshire. He was the third of 4 sons of William Barber, a blacksmith, and Sarah Ann, his wife. After being educated at the National School in Tring, Barber worked as a bricklayer's labourer, before joining the Grenadier Guards in October 1911, age 18.

After 3 years in the army, Barber considered joining the Buckinghamshire police. However, when war was declared (Gazette issue 28861), he was posted to France with the 1st battalion of the Grenadier Guards. In the last letter he sent his parents, which was received in early March, Barber said he was training Canadian troops, who he described as ‘very nice fellows indeed’.

On the 12 March, Barber was involved in the offensive to capture Neuve Chappelle from the German army. According to Gazette issue 3815, Barber ‘ran in front of the grenade company to which he belonged, and threw bombs on the enemy with such effect that a very great number of them surrendered at once’. When the grenade party reached Private Barber, they ‘found him alone and unsupported, with the enemy surrendering all about him’.

Just 2 days later, Barber was shot by a sniper and fatally injured. The news of his death, and of his award, was sent in a letter from Corporal Fuller to Barber’s cousin in Slough.

‘As I was a great friend of Ted, and also the NCO which he was under, I think it my duty to write and let you know what has happened to him. He was a great favourite in the Grenadiers, from our officer to the ranks he was highly respected. He had won the highest honour that could be won, the Victoria Cross, and by doing his duty was picked off by a German sniper, and a bullet penetrated through his brain, his death being instantaneous. Your cousin feared nothing, and he was the finest man in wit and courage, the Grenade Company send their deepest sympathy.”

The War Office sent official confirmation of his death on 16 March.

Talking to a reporter at the time, his mother is quoted to have said: “Of course we are very proud, but I can’t bear to lose my boy. What is the Victoria Cross to the loss of my son?” She went to Windsor Castle on 16 November to receive his medal from the King.

Private Barber has no known grave. He is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France, and his Victoria Cross is on public display at the Guards Museum, London.