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  • Christina Drummond

Second Lieutenant Clement John Byron, 2nd Battalion, the Honourable Artillery Company

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1917, Second Lieutenant Clement John Byron, 2nd Battalion, the Honourable Artillery Company, was killed during the fighting in France.

The youngest son of a wealthy ship owner, he was educated at Harrow and had secured a place at Magdalen College, Oxford. At the outbreak of the Great War he chose to not proceed with his studies, and enlisted as a private with the Honourable Artillery Company, eager and impatient to do his bit. In the obituary which appeared in The Oxford Magazine, he is referred to as: “Of good ability, diligent and very attractive, good too at music and games, he could hardly have failed to do well at Oxford”.

Promotion to the rank of sergeant was rapid, and in October of 1915 he was commissioned. He took courses in the use of the Lewis gun as well as the art of throwing hand grenades, and in October of 1916 his battalion set sail for France. They served on the front line, near Ploegsteert Wood in Belgium, and then moved to the battlefields around Beaumont Hamel. The trenches showed the devastation of the fighting and shelling, the ground having been churned up and further destruction caused by heavy rain and frost. In some areas there was no choice but to use the bodies of the dead as stepping stones through the mud. Enemy snipers and the extreme cold took their toll.

In November of 1916 Second Lieutenant Byron wrote home: “I note with surprise that you have been reading in the paper that conditions at the front are ‘awful.’ I can assure you that that was probably written by some terrified fool who had fallen into a shell-hole and got his trousers wet. The roads and paths, which in the past or so had become very difficult to traverse owing to the adhesive condition of the mud have now improved in consequence of the mud being converted into a creamy liquid.” Christmas that year was for him a time of unforgettable destruction and desolation.

On the day of his death, he and Private Frederick Scott were killed instantly when a shell exploded as they stepped out of their dugout. They are buried side by side in the Beaumont Hamel British cemetery, not far from where they died. The wooden cross which had originally marked Second Lieutenant Byron’s grave was taken to his village churchyard, and later into the church to protect it from the elements. Scant information could be found on Private Scott, other than that he was 24 years old and came from Walthamstow.

Clement, from Ringmer, near Lewes in East Sussex, was 21 years old.

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