Main CPGW Record
Place of Birth: Earby, Yorkshire
Service No: 766890
Regiment / Corps / Service: London Regiment
Battalion / Unit: 1/28th (County of London) Battalion. (Artists' Rifles)
Division: 63rd (Royal Naval) Division
Date of Death: 1918-06-01
CWGC Grave / Memorial Reference: III. E. 13.
CWGC Cemetery: VARENNES MILITARY CEMETERY
CWGC Memorial: ---
Non-CWGC Burial: ---
Local War Memorial: EARBY, YORKSHIRE
Local War Memorial: SKIPTON, YORKSHIRE
Edwin Firth (born 23 December 1888) was the son of Squire and Clara Firth, née Wright. Squire was born at Queensbury and Clara at Earby, Yorkshire.
1891 Skipton, Yorkshire Census: 67, High Street, Wheat Sheaf Inn - Edwin Firth, aged 2 years, born Earby, Yorkshire, son of Squire and Clara Firth.
1901 Skipton, Yorkshire Census: 67, High Street, Wheat Sheaf Inn - Edwin Firth, aged 12 years, born Earby, Yorkshire, son of Squire and Clara Firth.
1911 Elworth, Sandbach, Cheshire Census: Edwin Firth, aged 21 years, born Earby, Yorkshire. Professional Musician. [Edwin was boarding with John and Charlotte Elizabeth Mellor.]
Edwin was married to Doris Sophia Twemlow in 1916.
The British Army Service Record for Edwin Firth exists but may be incomplete. (The record lists a number of personal items belonging to Edwin that were sent home to his widow, amongst them was a cornet mouth piece in a case.)
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards: Pte Edwin Firth, 766890, 28 Lond. R.
British Army WW1 Medal and Award Rolls: Pte Edwin Firth, 766890, 28 Lond. R. Theatres of war in which served: 1(a) [France] 3.2.18 to 1.6.18. K. [in] A. 1.6.18.
Army Registers of Soldiers' Effects: Pte Edwin Firth, 766890, 1/28 Bn Lon. Regt. Date and Place of Death: 1.6.18 in action France. To whom Authorised/Amount Authorised: Widow and sole legatee - Doris S. £8 13s. 2d.
UK, WW1 Pension Ledgers and Index Cards, 1914-1923: card(s) exist for Edwin. Name(s) on card(s): Widow: Doris Sophia, born 31.1.93. Address: Springfields, Sandbach, Cheshire. Children: Edwin Twemlow, born 3.4.18.
Edwin is also commemorated on the War Memorial at Elworth, Cheshire.
‘Earby in the First World War’ by Stephanie Carter, published by Earby & District Local History Society (2014).
‘Our Finest Crop’ by Steven Marshall, published by Earby & District Local History Society (2020).
Data Source: Craven’s Part in the Great War - original CPGW book entryView Entry in CPGW Book
Entry in West Yorkshire Pioneer Illustrated War Record:
FIRTH, Rifleman Edwin, aged 29, [Earby], Artists’ Rifles, killed in action Jan 1, 1918.
FIRTH, Edwin, 1st June, 1918. [Additional]
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Private Edwin FIRTH
Regiment / Corps / Service Badge: London Regiment
Divisional Sign / Service Insignia: 63rd (Royal Naval) Division
Soldiers Died Data for Soldier Records
Born: Earby, Yorks
Residence: Sandbach, Ches
Regiment: London Regiment
Battalion: 28th (County of London) Battalion (Artists Rifles)
Died Date: 01/06/18
Died How: Killed in action
Theatre of War: France & Flanders
CWGC Data for Soldier Records
Country of Service: United Kingdom
Service Number: 766890
Regiment: London Regiment (Artists' Rifles)
Unit: 28th Bn.
Died Date: 01/06/1918
Additional Information: Son of Squire and Clara Firth, of Earby, Yorkshire; husband of Doris S. Firth, of Springfield, Sandbach, Cheshire. (CWGC Headstone Personal Inscription: HE GIVETH HIS BELOVED SLEEP)
View Additional Text For Soldier Records
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966
FIRTH Edwin of Hawthorn Villas Elworth near Sandbach Cheshire private 28th (Artists) battalion London regiment died 1 June 1918 in France Administration (with Will) London 22 March to Doris Sophia Firth widow. Effects £659 6s.
EDWIN FIRTH, ENGLAND’S CHAMPION CORNET PLAYER - THE HISTORY OF A BRASS BAND FAMILY (By Squire Firth)
(Courtesy of Squire Firth. This article appears in Gavin Holman’s website: IBEW - The Internet Bandsman’s Everything Within (www.ibew.org.uk/misc55.htm)
Edwin Firth, born in Earby on 23rd December 1888, was the eldest son of eleven children to Squire and Clara Firth. Squire Firth had come to Earby from Queensbury, Bradford, in 1885 at the age of 20, and was an accomplished musician and cornet player, some reports say he came as a wandering cornet player (busker) others say that he was invited to join Earby Brass Band. The band had just received its first new uniform and was keen to attract good players, it also had the services of William Rushworth the regular conductor of Black Dyke Mills Band of Queensbury for which Squire Firth and his father played.
On 6th February 1886 Squire Firth married Clara Wright, one of the seven daughters of William and Margaret Wright of Schoolfields, Earby, (Clara's brother, Fred, also played in Earby Band at this time). They did not stay long in Earby after they married and moved to Huddersfield where Squire Firth had been offered the position of Solo Cornet player and Bandmaster of the Lindley Brass Band. It was here that their first child, Alice was born (who was later to marry James Lindley the son of the Earby Schoolmaster) but Clara returned to her parent's home at Schoolfields, Earby for the birth of her second child Edwin, the main subject of this article.
After three years at Lindley the family moved to Skipton where after a short time in the Army in 1890 Squire Firth took over as Landlord of the Wheatsheaf Inn in 1891. The Inn, situated on the High Street where the Halifax Building Society is today, was a 17th century building with a long and colourful history. It had stables for 6 horses and a yard from the High Street that could accommodate 30 head of cattle. In 1899 it was advertised as "Ye House of ye Olden Times."
The Inn was patronised by Irish cattle dealers and the many farmers who visited Skipton on market days but it closed and was demolished in 1908, one reason being that the cattle market moved from the High Street in 1906.
In 1892 Squire Firth took over as Conductor of the Skipton Old Prize Band and its headquarters were transferred from the Cock and Bottle Inn to a room at the rear of the Wheatsheaf Inn where the band made good progress. In 1896 the band entered 14 contests and only failed once to win an award. Squire Firth was also a brilliant cornet player, winning many prizes and gold medals at solo competitions, including first prize and cup at the All England Contest held at Penrith. This was the musical environment in which Edwin lived and was to serve him well in later years.
The success of Skipton Band had brought fame to its conductor and towards the end of 1896 he was engaged as professional conductor for the Leeds City Band and he also had several other bands under his leadership. The demands made by these bands meant that Squire Firth and his family of now six children had to leave Skipton and move to Bradford, the centre of the Brass Band Movement in England. An article in the British Bandsman of 1898 about Leeds City Brass Band says "with nearly all the same players the band has, during 1897, won all along the line, only being unplaced once at Band Contests, they have secured 19 prizes including 10 firsts, 7 seconds, 1 fourth and 1 fifth whilst under Mr. Firth's direction and speaks splendidly of his abilities as a teacher." In fact between 1896 and 1901 Squire Firth conducted over 20 different brass bands at contests and won 156 prizes, a record that has yet to be beaten.
It was at Bradford that Edwin started his musical career, first as a choirboy and then in 1899, at the age of 11, playing the cornet. He progressed rapidly with his playing and his tutors were the best in the country.
After 3 years at Bradford the family moved back again to the Wheatsheaf at Skipton and Squire Firth took over the band once again. He also formed the Skipton Permanent Orchestra in 1901 and was its first conductor.
Edwin now became one of the principal boys in the Parish Church Choir and in 1902 played his first Brass Band Contest, at Crystal Palace, London, with Skipton Band who were awarded 3rd prize. Edwin also started to enter contests for solo instrumentalists and after a few disappointments won first prize at a contest for under 16s at Bradford in 1904. This was the start of his successful career as a Soloist. In late 1904 the family moved back to Earby as trade at the Wheatsheaf Inn was declining. They bought a block of property no's. 4 to 8 Victoria Road from William Wright (Clara Firth's Father) and moved into no. 8. These properties still stand today between the Conservative Club and the Bus Station.
There were now 8 children in the family. Unfortunately one of the girls, Beatrice, had died at her grandparent's house at Schoolfields in 1901 aged 11 years. Edwin continued entering and winning Solo Contests all over the North of England and Midlands with conspicuous success and soon attracted attention as one of the most brilliant cornet players in the country. He became known as "The Boy Champion Cornet Player" and won over 40 gold or silver medals and four silver challenge cups. Edwin was also in demand for playing the trumpet, such as the obligate in Messiah and other sacred concerts with orchestra, organ or piano accompaniment. He also played as guest soloist with over 50 different brass bands including Brighouse and Rastrick, Black Dyke, and Wingate's Temperance. The first band that Edwin played solo cornet with was Barnoldswick at Crystal Palace in 1906, where the band gained 2nd prize, his father conducting. There is a rare photograph of Edwin taken with Earby Band in the same year.
As Edwin's fame increased it was not uncommon for groups of people to congregate at 8 Victoria Road to listen to him practising and on one occasion when he was ill straw was strewn on Victoria Road to deaden the sound of horse and carts passing his bedroom. Edwin's fame continued to grow but little did he know what fate had in store for him.
FODENS BAND, FAME, AND THE GREAT WAR
In the early 1900s the popularity of brass bands was at its height and almost every town and village had a band. Large numbers of people attended Brass Band Concerts and Contests and hundreds of bands competed. At some of the National Contests crowds of over 40,000 people were not uncommon and it is reported that 20,000 people attended the Contest at Hardraw Scar, Hawes. The top players in these bands were as well known as professional footballers are today.
In 1908 Edwin Foden, head of Fodens Motor Works in Cheshire, wanted to have the best brass band in the country. He travelled the country listening to concerts and contests offering employment to good players if they would join his band, not unlike football club managers signing up the best players today. The band was still in need of a solo cornet player so he went to listen to Edwin Firth who was playing in a contest at Hanley, Staffordshire. Edwin won the contest and Mr. Foden was thrilled and amazed at his wonderful playing. Not long after a letter arrived at 8 Victoria Road Earby inviting Edwin and his father to meet the directors of Fodens with the hope that Edwin would join their band. At this meeting Edwin signed a contract to play with the band for which he would receive 10/6d plus expenses for each rehearsal and 15s for every concert and contest, also a guarantee of work and accommodation. This was a considerable amount of money in those days, much more than his brothers and sisters were earning in the cotton mills in Earby.
Fodens Band now went from strength to strength and started to win contests at national level. In 1909 the band won the British Open Championship. In 1910 they won both the British Open and the National Championship and in 1912, 1913 and 1915 won the British Open Championship again. They were now the top band in the country if not the world and in 1913 were invited to play by Royal Command for King George V and Queen Mary. Edwin played a solo with the band as usual and the King was so impressed that he asked the band to play for him again the next day. Also in 1913 the band made some of the earliest brass band 78rpm recordings by Edison Bell on the Winner label which included 2 cornet solos, one called Pandora and the other called Cleopatra played by Edwin Firth. A lot of people in Earby bought this record that is now considered to be one of the classic early brass band recordings. Edwin also started to compose music for brass band and when the "BRITISH BANDSMAN" (a Brass Band Publication) had a competition for a new brass band march, Edwin won it with a march called "Westward Ho!" This march is still one of the most popular marches played. In fact, if you happen to hear a brass band playing in the park this summer ask them to play "Westward Ho!" by Edwin Firth, they will most probably oblige.
In January 1916 Edwin married Doris the grand daughter of Edwin Foden and not long after he was called up to join the army, the 28th London Regiment also known as The Artists' Rifles. The Regiment was posted to the Somme and Edwin took a cornet with him and played it whenever he could. The well known cornet player Arthur Laycock who had married and lived in Earby had told his brother Harold about Edwin. By chance Harold also in the army had been posted to the Somme and one day on hearing music coming from the trenches found it was Edwin playing his cornet. He introduced himself and Edwin was pleased to meet him, they talked about Arthur Laycock, Earby, and things back home. Edwin also explained that he had brought his cornet with him to practice so that he would be ready to join Fodens Band again after the war. A few days later on the 1st June 1918, Edwin and his comrades were making their way back to the trenches after a spell of duty when a shell exploded amongst them. Nearly all were killed outright, including Edwin who was 29 years of age.
The whole brass band movement was shocked to hear of Edwin's death and it caused great sorrow at Heather View, Earby where the family now lived. The war had been cruel to the family as it had been to most of the families in Earby. Edwin's brothers Walter and Wright had been severely wounded in the war and the only brother to remain unscathed was Ceres who was only 12 years old at the time (The author's father). Edwin's father never got over these tragedies and died a few years later aged 59. Edwin's six sisters were all talented musicians and singers and the last one Margaret (Madge) died in 2001 aged 98.
Whilst Edwin was in France his wife had given birth to a son Teddy, whom Edwin never saw, Edwin's wife Doris never remarried and died in 1991 aged 99, Teddy died in 1994 aged 75.
According to reports Edwin was a quiet unassuming person, who after playing a solo would quickly take his seat only more often then not to be called again to play an encore. He was small in stature and in his youth his father took a box for him to stand on when he played. His letters to his father were always addressed "Dear Sir." Newspaper and brass band press reports of the day are full of praise about Edwin's playing. Some say he was the finest cornet player in the country if not the world and Edwin is still talked about today as one of the best ever cornet players.
There is a memorial stone to Edwin decorated with a cornet in Thornton-in-Craven Church yard.
It is remarkable that Edwin Firth and Lloyd Hartley, born within a few years of each other in the small village of Earby received international fame in their chosen field of music.
Additional Photo(s) For Soldier Records
View Craven Herald Articles
14 June 1918
Private Edwin Firth, of Earby
Private Edwin Firth, Artists’ Rifles, killed in action on the 1st inst., was one of the leading cornet soloists in England, and his untimely death will be universally regretted. He was the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Squire Firth, of Earby, and 29 years of age. He received his early tuition from his father, (a well-known band-master) and made such rapid progress that in a few years he carried off most of the coveted trophies at the principal contests in Great Britain. For the past nine years he has been principal soloist in the famous Foden’s Band (Sandbach), in which capacity his services have been in much request, and he had the honour of a command performance before the King. In addition, Private Firth had of late years secured a lasting reputation as a creator of gramophone records. He joined the Artists’ Rifles over a year ago and went out to France at the end of January last. He leaves a wife and one child living at Sandbach.
21 June 1918
EARBY – The Late Private Edwin Firth
Mrs. Firth, Springfield, Sandbach, received the following amongst other letters of sympathy in reference to the death of her husband, Private Edwin Firth, Artists’ Rifles, whose death we recorded last week:– “Dear Mrs. Firth, – I regret exceedingly to inform you that your husband was killed in action on the night of June 1st by a shell. I am pleased to be able to tell you that his death was instantaneous… He was a keen and efficient soldier, and very popular with his comrades, by whom his loss is keenly felt. – With deepest sympathy, I am, yours sincerely, T. LEGG, Captain.”
12 July 1918
THE LATE MR. EDWIN FIRTH, OF EARBY
Telling testimony to the musical ability and charming personality of Mr. Edwin Firth, son of Mr. Squire Firth, of Victoria Road, Earby, is published in ‘Wright and Rounds’ Brass Band News’ of July 1st. The deceased, the brilliant solo cornet of Foden’s Band during the whole of its successful career, died in action and was buried on June 3rd last, as reported in the Craven Herald a few weeks ago. The Editor of the ‘News’, in a personal note says:– “We mourn for him personally, as well as for the loss of a brilliant musician who would have done great things had he not been thus cut off prematurely. His march ‘Westward Ho,’ achieved a success which fell to few such compositions, and gave an earnest of much good music to come from his pen.”
In one phrase the deceased’s character is summed up: “He was the ideal bandsman in our mind – an artist and a gentleman in thought, word and action. He will long be remembered by fellow bandsmen in all parts of the kingdom.”
Mr. Edwin Firth, whose father was for years the conductor of the Skipton Prize Brass Band, was born at Earby, December 23rd 1888, and commenced his musical career as a choirboy first at Thornbury, Bradford, and afterwards in the Skipton Parish Church Choir from 1897 to 1902. His cornet-playing career commenced with the Skipton Band and he played with them in his first contest in London in 1902, when the band came out a prizewinner among 25 contestants. His first experience as principal cornet player was with the Barnoldswick Brass Band in London in 1906, his father again conducting, and the band won second prize. His first solo contest was at Nelson in 1904, and he won his first prize in the next contest at Bradford. His subsequent solo contests were attended with conspicuous success, all over the North of England and the Midlands. He won at single-handed contests 40 gold and silver medals and four silver challenge cups against the best solo-contesting players of that period. Prominent bands soon sought his services and he played as solo cornet for many contesting bands, including Skipton, Nelson Old, Barnoldswick, Burnley Temperance, Wingates Temperance, Irwell Springs, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Pemberton Old, King Cross, Hebden Bridge, Brighouse and many others. In 1909 he became solo cornet to Foden’s, Band at Elworth, Cheshire, and with this band he remained until he joined the Colours in September 1917. He proceeded to France early in 1918 and was killed by shellfire June 1st last. During his connection with Foden’s Band he helped to win nearly £3,500 in contest prizes. His memory will long remain with a host of friends and admirers.
13 June 1919
FIRTH – In loving memory of Private Edwin Firth, who was killed in action in France on June 1st, 1918.
His pleasant ways and smiling face
Are pleasant to recall;
He had a kindly word for each,
And was beloved by all.
No one knows the silent heartache,
None but those can tell
Who have lost their best and dearest
Without the last farewell.
From his Father, Mother, Sisters and Brothers, 2 Victoria Road, Earby.
28 May 1920
FIRTH – In ever loving memory of Edwin Firth, Artists’ Rifles, who was killed in action on June 1st, 1918.
Was it in the Eternal Plan
That man should give himself for;
That by the sacrifice of his own life,
A world redeemed might rise from sin and strife?
Sublime transcendant love to give
His bright young life that we might live;
And yet, we fain had put aside the cross,
So human is our strength and great our loss.
From Father, Mother, Brothers and Sisters.
03 June 1921
FIRTH – In ever loving memory of Edwin Firth, Artists Rifles, who was killed in action on June 1st, 1918.
O, for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still.
From father, mother, brothers and sisters.
View West Yorkshire Pioneer Articles
14 June 1918
FIRTH – Killed in action June 1st, Private Edwin Firth, Artists’ Rifles, son Mr. and Mrs. Squire Firth, of Earby, aged 29.
14 June 1918
CRAVEN AND THE WAR
Famous Cornet Player Killed
Pte. Edwin Firth, Artists’ Rifles, killed in France on the 1st inst., was one of the leading cornet soloists in England, and his untimely death will be universally regretted. He was the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Squire Firth, of Earby, and 29 years of age. He received his early tuition from his father (a well known bandmaster), and made such rapid progress that in a few years he carried off most of the coveted trophies at the principal contests in Great Britain. For the past nine years he has been principal soloist in the famous Foden’s Band (Sandbach), in which capacity his services have been in much request, and he had the honour of a command performance before the King. In addition, Pte. Firth had of late years secured a lasting reputation as a creator of gramophone records. He joined the Artists’ Rifles over a year ago, and went out to France at the end of January last. He leaves a wife and one child, living at Sandbach.
21 June 1918
THE LATE PRIVATE EDWIN FIRTH
Mrs. Firth, Springfield, Sandbach, received the following amongst other letters of sympathy in reference to the death of her husband, Private Edwin Firth, Artists’ Rifles, whose death we recorded last week:– “Dear Mrs. Firth, I regret exceedingly to inform you that your husband was killed in action on the night of June let by a shell. I am pleased to be able to tell you that his death was instantaneous... He was a keen and efficient soldier, and very popular with his comrades, by whom his loss is keenly felt. – With deepest sympathy, I am, yours sincerely, T. Legg. Captain."
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