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  • Claire Jordan

Steady the Buffs

Woolwich-born William Aldridge was just 18 when he joined the Army in 1884; he was posted to the Medical Corps and trained as a Cook.

He served in the UK and married the melodiously-named Emma Lark in Gravesend in 1889. They settled in Chatham.

William served with the Colours for 15 years and was discharged, but then swiftly recalled when Britain went to War to fight the Boers in South Africa in 1899.

William was sent out to South Africa in February 1900, leaving his wife Emma expecting a baby girl.

When she was born in the summer of 1900, her father was a very long way away, but England was rejoicing in the news that the Boer Republic’s capital Pretoria had fallen to the British Army. Emma decided to name their new baby Pretoria May in celebration and to honour her father's service.

Sadly, little Pretoria May did not quite make it to her 1st birthday and was buried on 11th July 1901 in the Maidstone Road Cemetery at Chatham.

William was already on his way home from War, landing in England the week after his daughter was buried; he never had the chance to meet her. William was discharged finally the following month, and eventually found work as a labourer at the Chatham Dockyard.

By 1911, the couple had lost two other children beside little Pretoria, which left four of their seven children still alive.

That year, middle son Ernie was an 18 year old shop-boy, still living at home with Mum & Dad and his surviving brothers Albert, Sidney and little Edward.

But it would not be long before Ernie decided to join the Army as a Regular soldier like his Dad, which meant that when War was declared in August 1914, he and his 1st Battalion of the Buffs (East Kent Regiment) were rushed back from their station in Fermoy, and embarked for France on 7th September 1914, racing to meet and halt the German advance.

Private Ernest Sidney Aldridge would die of wounds received in action on Wednesday 4th November 1914.

His Dad had managed to survive 15 years as a peace-time soldier, and the fourteen months at War in South Africa. His boy had gone eagerly to a later War, wanting I am sure to do his Dad proud, but was sadly gone within eight weeks of landing in France, aged only 21.

During those first horrifying months of the Great War, the British Army fought the Germans to a standstill along the 400-mile line that would become the Western Front, despite being outnumbered ten to one.

Ernie Aldridge was one of those brave lads lost in that maelstrom, part of Britain's 'contemptible little army' (as the Kaiser sneered) of 250 000 men which stopped 2 million German soldiers in their tracks.

Ernie is very much Not Forgotten by his Great Nephew, who keeps a poppy for him fresh, all year round, and is rightly proud of his family war hero.

Ernie, you are always loved, always remembered, never forgotten. Steady the Buffs.

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