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Person Details
21 Apr 1892
Edgbaston Birmingham
He was the son of Edward and Eleanor Laws and the brother of Edward and Fred (who both served and returned), Eleanor, Tom, Florence, Ida and Cecil (killed in action 27/5/1918) Laws. In 1901 they lived at 10 Elm Tree Avenue and in 1911 at 85 Henry Road (both West Bridgford Nottingham). Laws’ father was a tailor’s cutter, his mother the daughter of a Scottish police officer. After serving briefly as a wardroom steward in the Royal Navy, Laws’ father worked in Yeovil, Bath, Birmingham, Worcester and, finally, Nottingham. By July 1904, Laws had risen to ‘head cutter’ but two years later he was an ‘outfitter’ with a small shop in Nottingham’s St. Peter’s Square and a year later he transferred to the more prestigious Pelham Street. Between 1904 and 1909, Bernard Laws attended Nottingham Boys’ High School where he joined the OTC and was awarded Certificate ‘B’. Laws next spent two years at Hucknall’s Pupil Teacher Centre and then taught uncertificated for twelve months at Lady Bay School in West Bridgford before registering at University College Nottingham in 1912. He obtained a B.A. Intermediate qualification from London University, having studied English, French, Latin, Greek and Logic. He joined the college OTC and was awarded Certificate ‘A’. He taught at Trent Bridge Boys’ Elementary School in Nottingham between January and July 1914 and applied for a commission on August 4th 1914 the day Britain declared war.
Laws was involved in the Scout movement and was a fine sportsman excelling at football, cricket and especially rowing.
25 May 1915
23
483356 - CWGC Website
85 Henry Road West Bridgford Nottingham.
Lieutenant
1st Bn York and Lancaster Regiment
On May 5th, Laws left Britain and joined his unit in Belgium on the 9th, for a front line career that was to last only sixteen days, half way through the Second Battle of Ypres. ‘Between the first gas attack (April 22nd) and the end of May,’ observed Wilson, ‘the defence of Ypres cost the BEF 60,000 men killed and wounded and the French 10,000 men … The Germans enjoyed first use of the gas weapon, overwhelming artillery superiority and advantageous terrain from which to attack, to bombard and to repel counter attacks.’ During the first week in May, 1st York & Lancaster sustained intense continuous bombardment near Verlorenhoek; on May 5th, for instance, the CO reported to brigade HQ ‘We are suffering heavy losses and trenches are being destroyed by heavy shellfire. We are in need of urgent support if possible.’ After a few hours rest near Ypres, the battalion was ordered on May 8th to retake trenches lost by the KOYLI. After a courageous advance which almost reached the German lines, the battalion was halted by gas, shell and machine gun fire. With all the officers out of action and heavy casualties amongst the ranks, a withdrawal was ordered. At 12.30 am, an (unnamed) brigadier general stormed into the trench where the remnants of 1st York & Lancaster were sheltering ‘and ordered the battalion to reform and continue the attack’ but when it was pointed out that the unit then numbered 83 men commanded by a sergeant, he relented and they were deployed to support lines. At 5am on May 9th, reinforcements arrived from brigade HQ and it is assumed this detachment included Bernard Laws for whom there was no period of acclimatisation as all day the battalion remained in the support trenches under heavy shellfire.’ On May 10th composite companies were formed from survivors and at 12.30 on the 11th the battalion was relieved and returned to Ypres for a brief respite. A day later, 1st York & Lancaster billeted near Poperinghe, moving to Vlamertinghe where it rested until May 20th. Marching to Sanctuary Wood on May 22nd, a halt was ordered during which a shell killed three and wounded ten reclining men from ‘C’ Company. “The men behaved very well,” noted their CO, “considering that for many it was their first experience under fire.” 1st York & Lancaster had occupied Sanctuary Wood by 11pm. At 3am on May 24th, the British lines were attacked with large quantities of gas which inflicted heavy casualties on nearby 9th Lancashire Fusiliers and an adjacent cavalry brigade. 1st York & Lancaster attempted to reinforce positions weakened by these losses and, around mid morning, ‘A’ Company was ordered into Zouave Wood supported by two machine guns commanded by Laws who was wounded in the back during this operation and removed to a dressing station. Laws’ friend, the battalion medical officer, remembered ‘I was in Ypres attending to the scores of wounded when, to my horror, I saw Laws. I said “Good heavens! What has happened to you?” He took my hand and replied “I’m bad doctor. Any hope for me?” I knew there was none and hesitated to answer.’ When Laws died in hospital at Ypres on May 25th, his parents were informed by the usual telegram. They also received three tributes from senior officers, which along with the response of Laws’ father and the reaction of H.S.Barker at Trent Bridge School, reflect ideologies of patriotic duty and willing sacrifice, which had inspired Laws and millions of contemporaries to enlist. 1st York & Lancaster’s MO recalled mutually endured front line privations: ‘more than once we shared eatables and drank from the same basin purchased at a wayside cottage.’ The unit’s adjutant offered reassurance that Laws was a “great loss to the battalion as he was a brave officer of the right type who had been ‘wonderfully brave and cheerful’ as he neared death. Laws’ CO had ‘singled him out as an exceptionally promising officer…excellent in every way…Your son was sent out to hold a wood on our right with his guns. He was under heavy fire but before he was hit he told me he had accounted for some of the enemy…his only trouble was that he did not know if he had done his job well. This I assured him he had done so I know he felt all right about it…We can ill afford to lose men of his stamp because there are not too many of them about…(he) was a good example to slackers.’ Source: Britannia Calls: Nottingham schools and the push for Great War Victory by David Nunn Bedford House Cemetery near Ypres Enclosure No 2 IV A 62
Laws' younger brother Billy was killed in May 1918 near Soissons serving with 1st Bn Sherwood Foresters. West Bridgford Advertiser, 19 June 1915: ‘A Glorious Death! Laws. Lieutenant BC Laws, mortally wounded, May 24th.' (britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) Hucknall Dispatch on 10th June 1915 : - “LATE LIEUT. LAWS “THE COUNTY LOSES A SCHOLAR AND A GENTLEMAN. “The sad news has been published of the death of Lieut. Laws, who succumbed on May 25th from wounds [received] the previous day. His home was at West Bridgford. “Nowhere has the news of Lieutenant Laws’ death been received with more heartfelt sorrow than in the county of Notts. It was to Hucknall Centre he came after leaving the Nottingham High School, and he first taught in a Hucknall Council School. No boy has left a deeper impress on the life of a school than he did on the Hucknall Centre. He shared its corporate life, and after he went to the Nottingham University, and later into the army he never ceased to identify himself with the school in all its doings. He was beloved by the staff, and was the big brother of all the younger boys. On two occasions he accompanied the senior students to the summer school at Stratford, Club meetings, and Morris dances and Christmas festivities were gladdened by his infectious happiness. When the late Director of Education for Notts. (Mr. C.J. Bristowe) was buried at Caunton he represented the school. On Mrs. Golding’s departure from the County he made the school presentation to her. He leaves an imperishable and glorious memory. Many mourn his loss, but none more tenderly than the students and staff who loved him so well, and to whom he has bequeathed and ideal of that “happy warrior” whom every man in arms should wish to be. West Bridgford Advertiser, 17 July 1915: ‘Chums! Tragic interest attaches to the following letter written from the front by Lieut. GH Highfield, late of West Bridgford, when his chum, Lieut. Bernard Laws laid down his life, for the writer himself has made the great sacrifice, being killed in action last week. “Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer.” ‘We all loved him, sir.’ This was the word of one of the men who carried Laws back to the Field Dressing Station, as he gave me an account of how that dastard wound was received. And this sums up the attitude of all wherever Dick moved – the kiddies’ ‘idol’ - so popular a comrade amongst his contemporaries and so welcome a favourite among elder people.’ The letter continues across two columns and ends: ‘How cruel it seems that such a life should be cut off; it has often been remarked on that the very best fellows seem always to be taken, and now among these ‘Our’ Dick – all Bridgford at least could call him that – has been called to take his part. “Dulce et decorum est pro patra mori.”. G.H.H. ‘Somewhere in France.‘’ (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) Second Lieutenant George Harold Highfield, York & Lancaster Regiment, died 4 July 1915.
Remembered on

Photos

  • Photo David Nunn -
  • Queen's Walk School Nottingham. Laws was a pupil here before moving to Nottingham High School in 1904.
    Photo David Nunn - Queen's Walk School Nottingham. Laws was a pupil here before moving to Nottingham High School in 1904.
  • 85 Henry Road West Bridgford Nottingham from where Bernard Laws joined the army.
    Photo David Nunn - 85 Henry Road West Bridgford Nottingham from where Bernard Laws joined the army.
  • Bedford House Cemetery near Ieper (Ypres).
    Photo David Nunn - Bedford House Cemetery near Ieper (Ypres).
  • Buried at Bedford House Cemetery
    Bernard Courtney Laws - Buried at Bedford House Cemetery
  • This letter from Edward Laws, father of Bernard, was sent to the War Office on receipt of a telegram informing him that his son had died of wounds.
    Courtesy of David Nunn - This letter from Edward Laws, father of Bernard, was sent to the War Office on receipt of a telegram informing him that his son had died of wounds.