Major Alfred Herbert Tyler

Major Alfred Herbert Tyler © Newdigate Local History Society
Major Alfred Herbert Tyler © Newdigate Local History Society

Thank you to John Callcutt for letting us reproduce the following information, taken from his book: A Village at War. Newdigate in World War One.

Alfred Herbert Tyler was the eleventh child of Sir Henry Whatley Tyler and Lady Margaret Tyler and was born at High Elms near Hampton Court on the 27th December 1870. Despite being part of a large family he had a privileged childhood and followed the family tradition by joining the Royal Engineers. He was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant on the 25th July 1890 and promoted Lieutenant on the 25th July 1893, Captain on the 25th July 1901 and Major on the 25th July 1910. He took part in the operations at Sierra Leone in 1898/99, the Karene Expedition when he was wounded (Medal with clasp); served in the South African War in 1900-02 as Special Service Officer, Rhodesian Field Force and took part in the Transvaal and Cape Colony operations when he was awarded two further clasps to his Queen’s Medal and the King’s Medal with his two clasps. From the 10th January 1907 until the 25th April 1912 he was 1st Assistant Superintendent Building Works at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich.

He married Ephrata Anna Kathleen Bremner (known as Kathleen) at the Garrison Church, Roberts’ Heights, Pretoria whilst serving in South Africa. The happy couple left the reception in a carriage drawn by four horse with Royal Engineers as outriders. They had three sons and lived in Salisbury and visited his parents at High Trees in Newdigate.

At the start of the war he was based at Aldershot. He embarked for France with the 2nd Division on the 9th August 1914 where his company soon found themselves digging trenches at Mons to cover the retreating British army and offering some help to the hundreds of families who were evacuating their homes. The engineers worked almost non stop for 48 hours and finally slept in a field – weary and dirty.

By September the Royal Engineers were given the job of destroying bridges in order to stall the advancing German army. The 5th Field Company was detailed to blow up the bridge at Le Trilpot near Meaux and then marched for nine miles. For three days no rations had been drawn as the supply column had gone missing.

The last two months of 43 year old Alfred Tyler’s life were spent in desperate conditions far removed from the regimental finery of Queen’s Victoria’s army. Often the men were up by 3.00a.m in the dark, cold and wet constructing barbed-wire entanglements. As fast as the trenches were dug they filled up with water due to the incessant rain and the soldiers were living in constant fear of artillery shells which were exploding all around constantly.

November found the sappers from the 5th Field Company digging trenches near Polygon Wood prior to what later became the First Battle of Ypres. The Germans knew that they were there as they fired magnesium flares which lit up the whole area like daytime. The horror experienced by these men was unspeakable and this just under three months from leaving summery England.

By the beginning of November casualties were heavy and fighting was taking place all day. The noise was deafening, as they were surrounded by artillery fire, English, French and German. Two officers had been killed and Lieutenant A. R. J. Collins took temporary command of the company. On the 9th November. Major Tyler arrived at Polygon Wood and assumed control of the 5th Field Company.

The Germans intended taking possession of Ypres on the 11th November, the 100th day of the war, and when dawn broke the morning was grey and misty and strangely quiet. But the bombardment commenced in the early hours and by nine o’clock it had grown to a crescendo. When it was lifted the enemy began to stream across the fields.

The Corps History and War Diaries take up the story: For the first ten days of November, the 5th Field Company worked up every night on improving the scanty defences. Two small redoubts were made at the corners of Polygon Wood. On the 11th November, at about 9.30 a.m., whilst the company was still bivouacking in the north-west corner of Polygon Wood, not far from the 5th Brigade Headquarters, the new O.C (Major A. H. Tyler) was informed that the Germans had broken through the 1st Black Watch and the Cameron Highlanders. Sergeant Lethbridge, R.E. and some twenty sappers were sent to man the trenches on the south side of Polygon Wood, while Major Tyler took the rest of the company southwards into the open, occupying a disused trench and a short length on the left rear. This trench was enfiladed by enemy fire from the Nonne Bosschen on the left rear and Lieut. Collins was shot and mortally wounded whilst signalling for reinforcements. The Germans had set fire to a cottage on the edge of the Nonne Bosschen and the smoke from this obscured the view of the sappers in the trench. Also the right flank was in danger, as the Germans in the wood were well behind it. This caused Major Tyler to fall back to a second position, which had a similar right flank trench thrown back from which Lieut. Gowlland’s section, aided by some twenty or thirty infantrymen, was able in their turn to enfilade the Germans. At about 2.30p.m., the Prussian Guard’s attack having been stopped, the 2nd Oxford Light Infantry made a vigorous counter attack, with two companies, and drove the Guards through the Nonne Bosschen. Seeing this success on his right, Major Tyler ordered his men forward. The company split up into parties; one under Lieut. Gowlland crossed over towards the left and followed a trench down the edge of Polygon Wood; another under 2nd Lieut. H.F. Renny-Tailyour moved across the open, and a third with Major Tyler and 2nd Lieut N.M. Vibart moved along a communication trench towards the old British front trench. Fire from these parties accounted for about one hundred of the enemy running back outside the Nonne Bosschen. Soon afterwards, Major Tyler and Lt. Renny-Tailyour were killed and several other casualties were caused by heavy machine gun fire from a building on the right. At about 4.30p.m. the remains of the 5th Company were withdrawn under orders from Brigade Headquarters. During the night the dead and wounded were collected. Major Tyler was buried a quarter of a mile north of the north west corner of Polygon Wood, Lieut. Collins was buried a quarter of a mile south of Polygon Wood five miles from the German trenches. About a quarter of the company had been casualties. The 5th Company gained seven D.C.M’s for its exploits that day – a record for a small unit.

Major Tyler’s grave was subsequently lost and his body never recovered. His name is commemorated on Panel 9 of the Menin Gate and notices appeared in the Times, the Morning Post and the Daily Telegraph. In his will he left the considerable sum of £22,500. 12s. 3d. Mrs Tyler moved to Westergate-on-Sea and presented the church with a brass cross and candlesticks which were inscribed to the memory of her husband and are still used to celebrate Holy Communion every week. His name also appears on the war memorials in the church and on the sea front.

Born                            Hampton Court
Lived                           Salisbury, Wiltshire

Husband of                 Ephrata Anna Kathleen Bremner (Kathleen)
Son of                         Sir Henry Whatley Tyler and Lady Margaret Tyler of High Trees, Newdigate, Dorking, Surrey

Regiment                     Royal Engineers Commanding 5th Field Company

Date of Death              11th November 1914
Place of Death             Polygon Wood, Ypres, Belgium
Cause of Death            Killed in Action

Age                              44

Memorial                    Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial

Previously : Albert Tyler                                                                          Next : John C. Tyler

Return to Newdigate Memorial Main Page