Edwin Denton Stansfield was born in Idle and we are fortunate to have exceptional coverage of his remarkable war record, including descriptions in his own words of life in the trenches.He volunteered in September 1914 and was sent to train at Strensall where one of his Thackley colleagues described the conditions in a letter printed by the Shipley Times & Express on16 October 1914:“There are 11 of us in a tent, sleeping in pairs, with five blankets for each pair plus a further two blankets sent by the Bradford Lord Mayor.“Food is very good and there is plenty of it. For breakfast we have sausage, brawn, fried bacon or boiled bacon, with bread and tea; dinners consist of stew or roast beef, with bread, potatoes etc, and for tea there is bread, butter, jam, sometimes cheese. Occasionally cocoa is supplied for breakfast instead of tea.“At 5.30 the men turn out and have a cup of tea; bayonet practice and drill follows at 6.15 and from 7 to 8.30 they have breakfast.“Then follow route marches etc from 8.30 to 12.30 after which two hours are allowed for dinner.From 2.30 to 4.30 more company and battalion drill is gone through and after 4.30 the men are free for the day, but all have to be in at 9 o’clock and at 9.30 the order is lights out.”A report from 15 May 1915 revealed that Denton was now at the front:“Pte E Denton Stansfield, Bourne Cottage, Thackley, who is at the front with the 6th West Yorkshires, has sent an interesting letter to his father.“Writing from the trenches – where he has been for ten days – he says the monotony is fearful and it is putting it mildly to say that when they get a change they will be in high glee.“They have had two days of rain and that has given quite a new aspect to trench warfare. Thank goodness, he remarks, the dug outs, although small, are quite waterproof.“The slight spell of rain they have had gives them a good idea of what the poor fellows have had to put up with during the winter.Stables“The soil is of such a nature that it soon becomes puddly and once you get into a spot your feet are held as in in a vice and you have the greatest difficulty in keeping yourself straight up or in changing your place.“When out of the trenches they are billeted in stables and a great number of them have to go up a ladder to get into their ‘house’.“At the time of writing they had just got their first pay and had all taken care to purchase bread with it. They have learnt to look on bread as a luxury, he goes on, and after the difficulties they have experienced in getting water, a wash at the pump is a great pleasure.“They have all been served with respirators but so far have had no reason to make use of them. Still, it
is supposed that ‘gas’ tactics are henceforth to be a recognised part of warfare and there is no telling when they might have to get the respirators to the test.”Another letter, published on 3 December 1915, sees Denton promoted:“E Denton Stansfield of Thackley was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in the field.“Judging from this letter written when the former Bradford Grammar School pupil and banker was still a private, the army wasn’t only commissioning men who thought everything was fine. ‘It is most difficult, except for those who know from experience,’ he wrote, ‘to imagine the conditions under which we live whilst in the trenches.‘For instance, at the moment of writing the rain has hardly ceased for three days and water has collected in the front line and communication trenches to a depth, in many places, of three feet. Any part which cannot boast of more than a few inches of water may be truthfully described as being “fairly dry.”‘We have come to the conclusion that such a thing as a waterproof dug-out does not exist. In fact, there are so few dug-outs of any kind left that in the firing line one is glad for the slightest bit of cover.‘Being unable to find shelter of any kind, many men have found it possible to sleep in almost any position. There is nothing unusual in seeing someone sitting on a pile of wet sandbags, feet in the water, out of sight, their owner being fast asleep.‘No doubt this is the result of genuine fatigue, for it must be remembered that there is much to be done. ‘During the night rations have to be fetched, improvements must be made and sentry duty must be taken in turn, whilst by day, in addition to such duties as these, meals have to be prepared, this often presenting a very difficult problem on account of the scarcity of dry fuel.‘To cope with the bad weather, a good many troops now have been provided with sheepskin coats, waterproof thigh boots, leather gloves and rainproof capes but unfortunately this means a great deal of extra weight and bulk.‘The supply of food is under the circumstances very good indeed and very reliable although shortages do occur sometimes.‘Water is very scarce and usually not fit to drink unless boiled and
frequently a shell hole full of water proves itself to be as welcome as the proverbial oasis.’“Pte Stansfield was somewhat scathing about the concept that men had periods to recover when taken out of the front line trenches.‘Since landing in France our battalion has never been outside effective range of the enemy’s artillery and on only two occasions have we been out for a rest at a reasonably safe distance behind the firing line.‘On each of these occasions we spent a fortnight under canvas some seven miles in the rear but I ought to give you some idea of what is meant by the term “rest” as used in the military sense. ‘Every night digging parties proceed by motor bus to the front line and work until day-break and during the day various fatigue parties have to be provided. And there is a continual round of annoying inspections such as rifles, iron rations, smoke helmets and so on, the effect being more irritating than edifying.‘Occasionally we are taken for a short route march in full pack and it is on such an occasion as this that we “grouse” in our best style and everybody connected with the war, from the Kaiser to the section commander, is referred to and described in terms which leave no doubt as to our sincerity.‘Of course everybody grumbles for grumbling is often facetiously described as Tommy’s only privilege and it isn’t very far off the mark either in one sense.‘But this attitude is only superficial for really everyone takes life very easily, looking whenever possible, on the humorous side of the various discomforts and hardships.‘In the town quite near to our rest camp, the authorities run a cinema and also a troupe of entertainers – all drawn from the army – so there is some diversion to be had. ‘Although up to recently this particular town was shelled daily by the Germans, it was not allowed to interfere with the amusements, the motto being “Pleasure as usual.”‘I don’t think I have had any narrow escapes except such as everybody else in the firing line experiences every day though, undoubtedly six months in the trenches without a scratch is something to be thankful for.‘As for the numerous fellows one reads about who are “burning to get back to the front,” I can only say that if they can’t speak nearer the truth than that, I hope their wishes are gratified.’
Denton was promoted to full lieutenant in July 1917 and the next month the newspaper reported that he was home on a short leave:“This officer has had a very successful career. He joined the West Yorks in September 1914 and about a year later was ‘spotted’ for a commission in consequence of his smartness in the field.“As an officer he has had eight months active service. At present he is temporarily engaged on the head-quarters staff as signalling officer.“He is convinced that the Huns are beaten and that it is now only a question of hammering away until the enemy gives in.”On 16 November 1917, under the headline A Gallant Officer, we read:“Lieut Denton Stansfield, son of Mr and Mrs J F Stansfield of Bourne Cottage, Thackley, has been awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in action and devotion to duty in the operations which resulted in the capture of Passchendaele Ridge.”A further promotion followed by 31 May 1918:“Captain E Denton Stansfield, M.C., son of Mr John F Stansfield of Bourne Cottage, Thackley, has been appointed adjutant to his battalion of the West Yorkshire Regt. “He enlisted in August 1914 and was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry and devotion to duty. He received a commission in November 1915.”On 14 June 1918, the Shipley Times & Express gave a few more details about Denton’s Military Cross:“He was awarded the Military Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty as signalling officer in charge of the Brigade forward party.‘During the advance all his party became casualties and he found himself without means of communication. Swept with fire‘Although in a forward position, which was being swept with fire, he searched among the nearest troops till he found two signallers and established his forward station, thus maintaining communications with advanced Brigade headquarters throughout the action and averting a very serious situation.’Having survived the war, there was won more promotion for Denton, reported on 17 December 1918:“Capt-Adjutant E Denton Stansfield, M.C. son of Mr and Mrs John F Stansfield of Bourne Cottage, Thackley, has been promoted to the rank of major.“He was on the Bradford staff of the London and Midland Bank and enlisted as a private at the outbreak of the war.“He was awarded the Military Cross last year for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.”From Ancestry we learn that Denton married Sarah Alice Horne on 4 June 1923 and in 1939 the pair were living at 28 Sherwood Grove, Shipley.