Yesterday I took the family for a drive to the historic Malaysian city of Melaka.
Inside the famous old Dutch-built Christ Church (above left) was a plaque honouring local civilians (all westerners) who fought and died during World War I. Since it was Remembrance Sunday this week I paid more attention than normal and an inscription on the memorial caught my notice: Captain Edward Hampton Moss, H’Kong & Shang. Bank. Malacca.
As The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation is an organization with which I have had more than a passing association, I thought I would see if I could find out some more information on Captain Moss. Thanks to the miracle of the internet, quite a few details about his life are available.
Edward Hampton Moss was born in 1878 in Yokohama where his father, C.D Moss ,was serving as Chief Clerk and Registrar of ‘the H.B.M. Supreme Court for Japan’. (I am guessing that HBM in this context stands for Her Britannic Majesty and that there was a British-run court in Yokohama at the time to administer justice for the foreign community living in Yokohama’s international settlement.)
Edward Moss attended Cheltenham College until 1895 and perhaps he joined the Bank after school. He would have been familiar with HSBC which opened a branch in Yokohama in 1866. No details of his banking career are readily available from the internet but at the outbreak of WWI he was seemingly working as Agent of HSBC in Melaka.
Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914. Caught up in the patriotic fervour of his generation, Moss must have dropped his pen immediately and returned to England by sea. Just a month later, in September 1914, he enlisted into the 18th Battalion (1st Public School) Royal Fusiliers. He was subsequently commissioned into the 10th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment.
In September 1915, the British government was keen to go on the offensive and urged her reluctant generals to advance on German positions not far from Lens in the north-east corner of France. The British had insufficient artillery to soften up the German trenches. Poor Edward was to pay the ultimate price for this logistical failure. To compensate for the lack of firepower, Britain tried chemical warfare for the first time ever (poisonous chlorine gas). Unfortunately this was only partially effective as a change in wind direction wafted the gas back over British lines.
According to one account, at 6:30am on 25th September it was Captain Edward Moss himself who blew the whistle that launched the infantry’s charge from their jump-off trenches and thus signaled the beginning of what came to be known as the Battle of Loos. No doubt Moss would have led from the front. Like so many others, he died that day. His battalion was decimated by German machine gunfire.
The battle continued for just 18 days at the end of which Britain had suffered a tragic 50,000 casualties, several times more than the total British casualties in all wars and conflicts since the end of WW2. The battle had gained a miserable 1,500 yards of territory for the allies.
Moss has no known grave but he is commemorated in a number of places. Besides the memorial in Melaka, his name appears on the Cenotaph in Singapore, a memorial in the Foreigner’s Cemetery in Motomachi, Yokohama and, along with 20,000 others with no known grave, he is remembered with honour on the Loos Memorial in France.