Edmund, more commonly known as Eddie, Fisher captained the Emanuel First XV in the autumn of 1915. His character profile in the Emanuel School Magazine – The Portcullis reads, ‘In zeal and energy he set a good example, which was well followed, and as a result the team, as a whole, played with considerable spirit.’ Not only was Eddie Captain of the XV at the age of sixteen, he was also one of the most talented all round athletes of his generation.
In 1915 Eddie won the School’s Athletics Challenge Cup after winning the 220 yards; Hurdle Race; High Jump; Long Jump and the 440 yards. His excellent form gained Emanuel the Challenge Cup at the Public Schools’ Athletic Sports.
The Portcullis recorded that Fisher won: The 120 yards Open Hurdles, the Long Jump Open, the High Jump Open and the High Jump Under 16… E. Fisher won the Hurdles in fine style by about two hurdles in 17 4/5 seconds. His time might have been better if he had been hard pressed. His High Jump and Long Jump were not the best he had done, for at the School Sports his High Jump was 5ft.3. in., and his Long Jump 19ft. 5. in. At the Public Schools’ Sports his High Jump was 5ft. 2ins. (tied) and Long Jump 19ft. 3. ins. This was undoubtedly owing to an accident which happened… about a week before the sports, which prevented him from training. The accident mentioned in the notes involved Eddie putting his head through the window of a railway carriage but no further details of how he managed it have come to light.
Eddie’s long jump was reported in the press and the caption that went with a photograph of him flying through the air was ominous: ‘A Jump That Would Be Useful When Rushing the Trenches.’ The by-line kept up the theme of war: … ‘the young men of England keep themselves fit by strenuous exercise, for they know that a sound body is the essential foundation for the good soldier.’
Eddie rose to the position of Cadet Lieutenant in the OTC and on a night march in 1915 he rescued a party of exhausted boys: ‘After a while Fisher, who had gone on with the others, returned triumphantly, driving a wagon and two horses, which he had commandeered to pull us out of the “miry fastnesses.“’
Eddie’s sister Grace remembered that Eddie was handed a white feather by an unknown woman as he was crossing Wandsworth Common one evening. The white feather was handed to young men to encourage them to join up and also marked individuals out as being cowards if they didn’t join the ranks – little could that woman know what reaction this would stir in young Eddie. Grace remembered that Eddie was mortified and on 3 December 1915 young Eddie Fisher, at the age of sixteen, lying about his age, joined the King’s Forces. The date of birth given on Eddie’s service papers is 1897 but it was in fact 1899. His service papers were signed by the Reverend at Emanuel and also the Headmaster and interestingly his father’s signature also appears but one wonders if Eddie in fact forged his father’s signature but this will remain speculative.
The material legacy relating to Eddie’s war experiences has yet come to light and so we can only glean cursory information about him in 1916. What we do know is that he was as good a sportsman in the East Lancashire Regiment as he had been at School, for the regimental history notes:
[2nd] Lieutenant Fisher was a real ‘tearer’ at the quartermile and sprints. At the brigade sports at Dieval, Fisher won the 100 yards, 220 yards and a gruelling mile; almost on the top of that he had to take part in a relay race, which he won for us by making up a deficit of at least a third of a lap – a wonderful performance.
We can only assume that Eddie might have gone on to become an Olympic athlete but for the Somme. On 15 November 1916 2nd Lt. Fisher, aged seventeen and attached to the 8th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, was killed as his battalion were attempting to take German trenches in what became known as the Battle of the Ancre.
The Battalion history recorded:
There had been thick fog that day and so Eddie took a leap of faith into the unknown. He had only been in France since August 1916. His Commanding Officer noted that Eddie was a promising young officer who was popular with all ranks.
Eddie’s father received a telegram on 23 November notifying him that Eddie had been killed. The Portcullis printed ‘An Appreciation’ in its Christmas 1916 edition. The author wrote:
Do you remember how, when we were in Shell I, he was nicknamed ‘Sir Edmund Tintacks’? ‘Sir Edmund’ – in truth he was a very perfect knight and like the knights of old, he made the supreme sacrifice in the cause of honour for King and Country.
We of Emanuel are proud to belong to a School which can turn out such chaps as he. May we all, in whatever walk of life we may be called in the future, be aided, by the memory of E. Fisher and those other fellows who have left such splendid examples behind them, to be an honour to the old School.
His death made headlines in the local papers: ‘Another Emanuel School Hero’ and in the New York Herald Eddie’s death was reported under the sub-heading: ‘Athletes Famous for their Skill and Endurance Give Lives in War.’
Today Eddie’s grave is situated off the beaten track in the middle of a field in Waggon Road Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel. Old Emanuel Joseph Deeks remembered years later, ‘We felt the tragedy of war every week, for at daily service in the School Chapel we heard of the death of some Emanuelite serving in the front line… Perhaps the most tragic was the fate of Eddie Fisher.’
In February 2013 I visited Eddie’s grave with two of my Old Emanuel friends to pay our respects to this young man and at the Emanuel School at War Exhibition in November 2014 Eddie’s 1915 First XV rugby cap was on display after I managed to find the collector who had bought it on ebay 3 months previously.
On the anniversary of Eddie’s death 100 years’ ago others inspired by this young man’s story and relatives will be visiting Eddie’s grave to remember a talented boy who wasn’t given the chance to become a young man.