6TH AUGUST 1915 AGE 32


The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them.
Deuteronomy 33:27

In August 1914 Edwin Venning was an actor performing in Brighton with a touring company. He joined up on 7 September and was commissioned that December, promoted Second Lieutenant in January 1915 and Captain on 9 June that year, two months before he was killed. We know slightly more about Venning's war than his rapid promotion tells us because two letters to his sister were published in Laurence Housman's 'War Letters of Fallen Englishmen', 1930.
"I've had rather phenomenal luck out here; twice I've found myself the only officer left. I can tell you no news owing to the Censor's vigilance, or rather to the fact that we are on our honour to impart nothing; but I can tell you the happenings of weeks, nearly months, ago at Ypres ... . I had rather a ghastly time then. I remember a certain two days during which we attacked incessantly in the open, and I had to lead two bayonet charges. ... There was an open field between ourselves and the Germans, and I got my men to the edge of it (having lost Lord knows how many from shell fire), and we started a fire fight with rifles and machine guns at about 5 yards. After some time of this I saw the right move, and gave my orders accordingly; it was my first charge, my first real big fight. We tried to spring across that field, but the fire was one block of solid lead. Literally I could see no chance for a fly in it, ... . I had to drop back owing to difficulty in getting my remaining men on. I had a shot at one, and missed him, but it settled the rest, a man by me shouting but he had his head and shoulders taken off; they sagged back from him, you know riddled in a line, and I fell behind the rest of his body just in time. Then my men broke, and I remember standing somewhere in front of the German trenches, with a wounded pal's revolver, that he slipped into my hand, yelling at my men some of the filthiest language ever heard. They were appalled and I rallied a dozen or so; as it happened, they were all killed almost at once, and I was left, so far as I could see, alone. Then I ran of the field faster than I have ever run in my life, dodging taking cover behind dead men, and in shell holes; at the edge of the field I pulled my self together. ... in two or three hours came the orders for another attack in a different place, that was worse. We attacked at dawn; the poor C.O. was killed among many others. At the end of it, I came near to blowing my own head off with my revolver, but a wounded Northumberland officer saved me, and I carried him off the field in a coat. It was a beastly business."

Despite yelling "some of the filthiest language ever heard" at his men they obviously appreciated their officer. The letter ends with Venning recounting his pleasure at the fact that, "my Q.M. Sergeant was asked to go for promotion yesterday and be made a S.M., but he heard it meant leaving me for another Company and refused to take it. My servant also refused because he would not be able to look after me. So evidently my love of men is not wasted here. I think I know the ways and peculiarities of every man of mine; it surprises them, and they like it and work well for it".
After Venning's death Sergeant-Major Utting wrote to his sister, confirming that this was true: "Your brother, Capt. Venning, was my company officer, and he treated myself and the men of my company in such a manner that has gained a respect that will last as long as there is a man of the present B Coy alive".