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Edmund De Wind: The war hero remembered in Comber and Canada

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  • World War One
image copyrightPublic Record Office of Northern Ireland

The County Down town of Comber has long had strong military connections.

This is illustrated by the many memorials in the town which are acknowledged on Armistice Day, November 11, each year.

One of those memorials honours the former Comber resident Edmund De Wind.

He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross (VC), for his actions while fighting in World War One in France in 1918.

image captionEdmund De Wind's memorial in his home town of Comber

A group of P6 pupils from Andrews Memorial Primary School in Comber have been learning more about Edmund De Wind and their town's rich history as part of BBC Learning NI's new project, Outdoor Detectives, which encourages children in primary schools to get out of the classroom and explore their local area.

De Wind was born in Comber on 11 December 1883 and attended Campbell College before working for the Bank of Ireland. He later emigrated to Canada and was working for the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Edmonton when the First World War broke out.

He enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), and arrived in France in 1915. He fought with the CEF at St Eloi, Ypres and the Somme.

image captionOutdoor Detectives Caleb, Caitie, Lois and Isaac exploring Comber with their principal

De Wind was discharged from the CEF and, following officer cadet training in England, earned a commission in the British Army and joined the Royal Irish Rifles in September 1917.

He was serving in France when the Germans launched Operation Michael, the main attack of their spring 1918 offensive.

On 21 March 1918, near Grugies, Picardy, De Wind would perform the actions that led to his VC.

For seven hours he held his post and, though twice wounded, he almost single-handedly maintained his unit's position, getting out on top of the trench under heavy machine gun and rifle fire and clearing the enemy out.

He repelled many German attacks until he was mortally wounded and collapsed.

image captionThe Andrews Memorial Primary School pupils visit De Wind's memorial

In his Victoria Cross citation printed in the London Gazette on 15 May 1919, it stated that "his valour, self-sacrifice and example were of the highest order".

He is commemorated at Pozieres Somme Memorial in France.

There is a VC commemorative stone in his memory mounted on a plinth in Comber, that was unveiled in March 2018 to mark the centenary of his death, and a street in the town is named after him.

image captionEdmund De Wind's links to Canada are recognised on his memorial in Comber

He is also honoured in Canada, where there is a mountain named 'Mount de Wind' in Alberta.

After the war, a captured German field gun was presented by the government to Comber in recognition of his heroism and was placed in the Square.

During World War Two the gun was removed for scrap metal to help with the production of munitions, but metal plates from the gun were preserved and are in the porch of the Parish Church.

image copyrightComber Historical Society
image captionThe captured German field gun being removed for scrap (via War Memorials Online)

Edmund De Wind is one of a number of military men and women from Comber who are remembered in the town.

These include Major General Robert 'Rollo' Gillespie, who became famous for his efforts fighting in India in the 19th Century.

While leading an attack on a fort in the Himalayas, Major Gillespie fought on despite having no ammunition, allegedly shouting: "One more shot for the honour of Down."

Andrews Memorial School principal Ralph Magee, who taught the Outdoor Detectives lesson, spoke of the importance of Edmund De Wind's legacy.

"The centenary of his death and erection of the memorial dedicated to him highlighted his exploits and bravery even more permanently," he said.

"Learning about major events in the past that have direct links to where we live is hugely important for developing a sense of community and empathy, as well as adding to our intergenerational learning."

image captionOutdoor Detectives from Mill Strand Primary School in Portrush exploring rock pools
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The final word goes to the pupils. Lois reflected on what she had learnt about De Wind: "That he died before he got the VC, so he never knew he'd got it. It's important for us today to remember really brave people like him, as he put others before himself."

While Caitie said she would encourage other children to become young detectives: "It will be lots of fun for them, because they get to explore and they might not know much about where they live."

Discover how your pupils can take part in Outdoor Detectives.

Edmund De Wind image courtesy of the Deputy Keeper of the Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and Campbell College (D4641/1/81).

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