Private Ernest LAKE (17524)
2nd Bn. Coldstream Guards
Born: About May 1889, Patterdale, Westmorland
Died: 2 August 1917, Dozingham, Belgium (Age 28)
Born around May 1889 in the Parish of Patterdale, Ernest Lake was the eldest son of John and Christiana Lake (nee Oglethorpe and daughter of a Mining Agent). His father had been born in Devon but came with his parents to Glenridding around 1870 to work as Lead Miners at the Greenside Mine. John and Christiana lived in Glenridding, so Ernest would have attended school in Patterdale – he later became a member of the Patterdale Football Club. By 1911, aged 21 years, Ernest was working as an Ore Dresser, so becoming the third generation of Lakes to work at Greenside. His mother, a widow since March 1906, was running a boarding house at Bridge House in Glenridding. Prior to joining the army, Ernest had left Glenridding and was working as a miner in Scotland. However, he must have stayed in contact with his pals in the village because, in early December 1915, both he and George Cooper enlisted together in the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards (Ernest’s service number of 17524 comes just after that of George 17523).
Ernest would have received his basic training at the Battalion’s barracks in Windsor. This would have included rifle and bayonet practice, trench warfare, digging and maintenance, and lasted for about 12 weeks (it got less as the war progressed). After this he would have been given a short period of leave before being posted to the front.
When Ernest arrived, in the spring of 1916, the 2nd Battalion were billeted in the town of Poperinghe, about 8 miles west of Ypres in West Flanders, where they would regularly march to the front line to relieve another Battalion, spend typically two or three days in the trenches before being relieved themselves by another Battalion. Every few weeks, the Battalion would be rested at camps thirty or forty miles away from the fighting. This routine was interrupted from time to time, by concerted offensives along the front.
During the latter part of July 1917 the 2nd Battalion were billeted close to Herzeele (about 20 miles west of Ypres), where they underwent training for their part in a major allied offensive planned to begin on the 31st July that would later become known as the Battle of Passchendale. Their objective was to cross the Yser Canal and then the Steenbeek Stream to take the Pilkem ridge thereby eliminating the Ypres Salient, the vulnerable bulge of allied-held ground that was surrounded on three sides by German forces.
At 10pm on the 30th July the Battalion moved up to it’s assembly position ready to attack the next morning. The assembly positions had been heavily shelled with gas shells every morning for the previous ten days between 3am and 4.30am. However, mercifully, on this night not a shell of any sort or size came anywhere near, even though the Allied guns had been firing hard all night1. Also, after a week of rain the ground was waterlogged with trenches thigh deep in water.
At dawn, the Battalion advanced and crossed the Yser Canal at 6.20am using improvised bridges made of petrol tins, which were very unstable; a false step would have pitched them into the filthy morass. The German barrage on the canal was heavy at times but consistent – enabling commanders to predict when to take cover. As they advanced closer to their objective, the shell fire became heavier and machine guns started to inflict casualties. The attack was going to plan and by 9.30am the 2nd Coldstreams had joined up with the 2nd Grenadiers and began to consolidate their position. Unfortunately at this point a German airman flew very low (100ft) over the Battalion in a captured English plane with a black cross painted very indistinctly. The consolidated position was therefore given away and a very accurate artillery fire soon followed causing many casualties. Ernest was acting as a stretcher bearer when he was wounded. He was taken to the Casualty Clearing Station at Dozingham but sadly died of his wounds two days later on the 2nd August 1917. He is buried at Dozinghem Military Cemetery in Belgium.
His Captain wrote to his mother, who by this time had moved to Haltwhistle in Northumberland.
“You have probably heard that your son, Private E Lake, was wounded in our great advance on 31st July, and I am sorry to say that I now have even worse news for you. After being in hospital for two days he passed away on 2nd August. Your son was a terrible loss to us as he has always behaved in a most gallant manner and volunteered for the most dangerous duty by acting as a stretcher bearer. It was while carrying out these duties during the attack that he was wounded”
Ernest had served with The Coldstream Guards in Flanders for around one and a half years and his medal card3 shows that he was posthumously awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal.
The Imperial War Museum have a 6 minute film they say was taken of crossing the Yser Canal on the 31st July 1917. One scene shows two stretcher bearers carrying a wounded man across a wobbling footbridge. Click Here to watch the film (NB: Doesn't work on iPAD). We have also found extracts from his Battalion's War Diary that cover the action in which he was wounded - these and other items can be viewed from the list of Research Documents below.
He is remembered and commemorated on:
The Patterdale War Memorial
Glenridding Public Hall – Roll of Honour
(alongside his cousins Herbert and William Lake who also lived in Glenridding before the war at High Rake)
Dozingham Military Cemetery2
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial Certificate
What became of his family?
We are still looking!
1. There were two official views for this absence of enemy artillery fire:
Most favoured by gunners, that Allied counter battery fire was so good that not a German could get near his guns to fire them.
That the German gunners were busy getting their guns away and over the Steenbeck river to avoid them being captured.
2. Dozingham Military Cemetery, Nr Poperinge, Belgium
In July 1917, in readiness for the forthcoming offensive, groups of casualty clearing stations were placed at three positions called by the troops Mendinghem, Dozinghem and Bandaghem. The 4th, 47th and 61st Casualty Clearing Stations were posted at Dozinghem and the military cemetery there was used by them until early in 1918. There are now 3,174 Commonwealth burials of the First World War in the cemetery and 65 German war graves from this period. The cemetery was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield. More Details
3. Medal Card for Private Ernest Lake, Coldstream Guards
The Victory Medal
To qualify for the Victory medal one had to be mobilised in any service and have entered a theatre of war between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918).
The British War Medal
To qualify for the British War Medal a member of the fighting forces had to leave his native shore in any part of the British Empire while on service. It did not matter whether he/she entered a theatre of war or not.
Page Editor: Norman Jackson
Page Last Reviewed: 23 Feb 2021