Bird, Edward Arthur
Edward came to Winchester from Copthorne School in Short Half 1929. He was the elder son of Arthur Wheen Bird and Eveline Huggins (daughter of Albert Edward Huggins (I 1870) and brother of Thomas Arthur Bird (E 1932-1936). He was sometimes referred to as “the red-haired Bird” to distinguish him from his dark haired brother Tom and from two other boys in Morshead’s with the same surname. Sturdily built, he played centre half for the school in 1934 and was also in the second XI cricket team. He played both cricket and football for New College, Oxford during his time at University. After leaving Oxford he went to America to study journalism.
Before the war he worked for a time for an advertising agency but did not find the work congenial. He had joined the Special Reserve of the Rifle Brigade in 1937 and when war came was offered a commission in the 1st Battalion.
In May 1940 Bird was sent, with his Battalion in 30 Brigade to defend Calais. Orders reached the battalion at Needham Market in Suffolk on 21st May and by noon the following day were in Southampton. The battalion Commander was another Wykehamist, Lieutenant Colonel Chandos Benedict Arden Hoskyns (A 1909-1912) who would also be killed during the fighting in Calais. Also in 1RB was Brigadier Claude Nicholson (G 1912-1915) who was captured and died in captivity. 2nd Lieutenant E G B Davies-Scourfield MC (B 1932-1936) ,King’s Royal Rifle Corps also went out to defend Calais and recalled in his memoirs: “In the middle of it all who should appear but Edward Bird of the Rifle Brigade, whom I had known well at school. Edward, who was a dashing, devil-may-care sort of person, but with immense charm, immediately suggested that we should go off together and have a meal in the town. Feeling responsible for my drivers and all their kit, by this time piled high upon the quay, I declined the invitation: although I was right to do so, I was later, as things turned out, to have regrets. Tragically, Edward was destined to be killed in the forthcoming Calais battle. His younger brother, Tom, my exact contemporary, survived the war with an outstanding war record, winning the DSO, MC and Bar with the Rifle Brigade in North Africa.”
On the afternoon of 23rd May the battalion disembarked from the SS Archangel and “Soon we were drifting into the harbour, and it was possible, as the Archangel followed in behind us, to identify some of our Rifle Brigade friends: I saw Edward Bird, and we exchanged waves of greeting. They proved to be waves of farewell, for I would never see him again.” (Davies-Scourfield).
The German 10th Panzer Division began shelling the town that day, and by the evening of May 24th Calais was surrounded. 30 Brigade was ordered to hold the town for as long as possible. 1RB had taken up positions along the eastern circuit of the town walls, with battalion HQ on the northern rampart.
At about 1530 on May 25th ‘I’ Company of 1RB attempted to launch a local counter-attack along Quai de la Loire to rescue men cut off in Rue Mollien. Only seventeen men could be spared for the mission, but they were halted by German fire immediately upon leaving their improvised barricade at the intersection with Quai du Rhône. Suddenly a lorry raced towards them, having been commandeered by Corporal Lane of ‘I’ Company and full of the unit’s wounded. The lorry was hit and, burning, came to a halt; the whole area was under intense machine-gun fire. Nevertheless, Bird rushed forwards to assist and tried to get the vehicle moving again, but was then shot in the head. He managed to stagger back to cover, but died after half an hour.
At around the same time, a shell hit a trench at Battalion HQ and drove a splinter into Hoskyns’ side. At dawn the following day Hoskyns was evacuated aboard a small yacht with a few other seriously wounded men; only two hundred were taken off out of the whole brigade. Hoskyns died in Winchester on June 18th.
Bird, who was twenty-four at the time of his death, received a posthumous Mention in Despatches, and, having no known grave is commemorated on column 130 of the Dunkirk Memorial
- Surname: Bird
- Forenames or initials: Edward Arthur
- House: E
- Years in School: 1929-1934
- Rank: Lieutenant
- Regiment: Rifle Brigade
- Date of Birth: 19th December 1915
- Date of Death: 25th May 1940
- How Died: Died of Wounds
- Location in War Cloister: Inner F2
- Decoration: NA
- Burial Site: Unknown but commemorated on Column 130 of the Dunkirk Memorial