Private Elijah LABAN
(It seems likely that Elijah was made up to Lance Corporal the day before he was killed)


Regiment/Service:
Royal Fusiliers
Unit:
20th (Service) Battalion
(3rd Public Schools)
Service Number:
7429
Date of Death:
20 July 1916 - Killed in Action
Age:
26
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Reference:
III. D. 8.


Personal History:

Elijah was born in 1890 at Proffitt Street, Walsall, Staffordshire, the son of  George (Engine Driver) and Hephzibah (née Page) Laban (1891 Census RG 12/2257). He had three older brothers, Joseph, James and William, an older sister, Hephzibah, and younger siblings, Edward, Elsie and Florence. [see Footnote below]
In 1901 they lived at 18 Chapel Street, Walsall. (Census RG 13/2703). By 1911 (Census RG 14/17180) the family
had moved to 59 Lord Street, Walsall, and another brother, Arthur, had been born. Elijah's father had by then retired
from his employment as a railway engine driver. As a boy Elijah attended Hillary Street School. He began work
employed as a "Grocer's Assistant".

At some stage he moved to Buxton as when he enlisted in the Army during June 1915 he was working at J. Burton
and Sons, Spring Gardens. [Advert on the right is from 'Buxton Directory - 1915'.]

Military History:
As stated above, Elijah enlisted at Buxton in June 1915 and was posted to France on the 15th November 1915. One
photographic source (right) gives his Regiment as the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, but the cap badge is the same as that
in the main photo above, although the two Regiments' badges are similar.

The 20th Battalion (3rd Public School) had been raised at Epsom by the Public Schools and University Mens' Forces
on the 11th September 1914 and located at Leatherhead from October 1914 to March 1915. The Battalion originally
landed in France in November 1915 and was attached to the 19th Brigade, 33rd Division, so clearly Elijah was sent out
with the initial draft. Many of the original members of the Battalion went off to take commissions, but Elijah remained a
Private until the day before he was killed.

Just prior to Elijah's death his Battalion moved into trenches between Bazentin-le-Petit and High Wood. In a prelude to
the attack on High Wood, the 20th Battalion is mentioned in the Regimental History (pps. 119 - 120) as follows:

"A few days later (after 8th July) the 20th Battalion were sent to hold the front line in Bazentin, and, later, supported the 19th Brigade attack on High Wood. As the Brigade cleared the southern end of the wood the Battalion cleared up and consolidated in the rear, and at least this part of the wood was securely held that night. They organised a front and support line across the wood from east to west, with a strong post in the support line, and held on to the position until relieved at midnight. Their task cost them dearly."

The History then lists the Officers killed, missing and wounded, and: "The casualties in other ranks were 375 killed, wounded and missing.".

At 3.25 a.m. on the morning of his death (20th July 1916) Elijah's Battalion attacked High Wood, between Martinpiuch and Longueval, in support of two Scottish Battalions. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting took place before the southern end of the wood was cleared. Just before dusk, as relief was awaited, the Germans used gas and artillery against the attacking troops. The Battalion was eventually relieved at midnight with casualties amounting to some 390 men.

The War Diary records,
18 July 1916 - Bazentin. 5pm Moved up to relieve 5th Scottish Rifles front line from Quarry to Windmill.

19 July 1916 - Relieved by 4th Kings about 9pm withdrew to bivouac just below Bazentin-le-Petit Wood preparatory to attack. Lt. Ziegler, Lt. Blaauw and 2nd Lt. Everard wounded 28 other ranks casualties.

20 July 1916 - High Wood. 19th Brigade attack at 3.25 a.m. on High Wood: attack by 1st Cameronians and 5th Scottish Rifles. 20th Royal Fusiliers in support. 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers in reserve. North corner and north west corner of wood not taken rest taken and consolidated 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers came up about 12 noon. A front and support line consolidated across wood from east to west about with a strong point about 5.4.d.2.8 in support line.

Held onto this position until relieved by 100th Brigade at midnight then withdrew to old bivouacing position Mametz Wood.

Casualties, Lt. Col. Bennett wounded, killed Lt. Rawson, Lt. Palmer, 2nd Lt. Price, 2nd Lt. Coventry, missing 2nd Lt. Hine, missing believed killed Capt. Toller, Lt. Walworth, Lt. Evans, wounded Capt. Hollingworth, 2nd Lt. Bell, 2nd Lt. Cook, 2nd Lt. Brooke, 2nd Lt. Fabricius, 2nd Lt. Ives, 2nd Lt. Herbert. Other ranks killed, wounded and missing 375.”

Elijah is buried in Bouzincourt Ridge Cemetery, Albert, in Grave III.D.8, the plot being made after the Armistice from battlefield burials and smaller cemeteries. According to the CWGC database 137 Officers and men of the 20th Battalion were killed in action on the 20th July, 104 of them are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. (According to SDGW database, there were 7 Officers and 142 other ranks died on the 20th July 1916)
                     

Footnote:
· Elijah's brother, Gnr. 129955 Edward LABAN, served in the Royal Field Artillery and was severely wounded on Thursday, 4th October 1917
   but survived the war. Another brother served in the Army Service Corps.
Sources:
· Royal Fusiliers in the Great War - by H.C. O'Neill (ISBN-10: 1843421739)
· I am grateful to Colin Taylor and Graeme Clark of the Great War Forum for the War Diary and photos
· I am grateful to Buxton Library for access to the Buxton Directories

Link to CWGC Record
Elijah Laban's grave
L/Cpl. Elijah Laban
Advert for Burton's from Buxton Directory 1915
poppy