|WAR DIARY 16th & 17th April 1916|
|Quiet day. A raiding party of CAPT. J.H. MAHON, 2/Lt P.O. LIMRICK and 2/Lt E.F.BAXTER and 43 O.R. went out. The wirecutting party sent out cut through 13 rows of wire but had to return at 3.30 a.m. with the approach of dawn leaving their work unfinished. Casualties NIL.|
|WAR DIARY 17th & 18th April 1916|
|9.6 pm||A patrol went out to ascertain if the wire cut the previous night had been mended and found it untouched.|
|11.30||The patrol went out and a wirecutting party of 2 officers and 2 N.C.Os went out commencing to cut wire at 12.30 a.m. All the wire except a little trip wire was cut by 2.10 a.m. and an N.C.O. sent back to bring up the storming party of 1 officer and 23 men. The party entered the trench at 2.25 a.m. a cable was immediately cut and the parties proceeded along the trench. The left party killed 4 men and bombed dugouts 174 and 176 the right 3 men and bombed a dugout 171. Cries and groans were heard from all the dugouts. No prisoners were obtained. On regaining our trench 2/Lt BAXTER was missing and a patrol which went out at once failed to get any trace of him. Two German helmets were brought in as trophies by the raiding party. Machine Guns and artillery supported the raiding party. Casualties 1 Officer (2/Lt E.F. BAXTER) missing. Bn. Relieved at 6.20 p.m. and marched to MONCHIET. Unit was relieved by 1/4 K.O. Royal Lancaster R.|
The Germans nicknamed them the ‘Forty Thieves’ – the band of Liverpool Irish trench raiders who struck at the enemy lines.
At their heart was Felix Baxter, who led the raiding party on its daring forays at Blairville near Arras in the spring of 1916.
And it was the 30-year-old’s daring and bravery that saw him receive the Victoria Cross – and was to cause him to lose his own life.
Prior to the raid on the German line, the father-of-one was involved in two nights’ work cutting wire close to the enemy’s trenches.
His citation of September, 1916, takes up the tale.
National Museums Liverpool 2nd Lieut Felix Baxter
2nd Lieut Felix Baxter
“The enemy could be heard on the other side of the parapet,” it stated. “Second- Lieutenant Baxter, while assisting in the wire cutting, held a bomb in his hand with the pin withdrawn ready to throw.
“On one occasion the bomb slipped and fell to the ground, but he instantly picked it up, unscrewed the base plug, and took out the detonator, which he smothered in the ground, thereby preventing the alarm being given, and undoubtedly saving many casualties.
“Later, he led the left storming party with the greatest gallantry, and was the first man into the trench shooting the sentry with his revolver.
“He then assisted to bomb dug-outs, and finally climbed out of the trench and assisted the last man over the parapet.”
Sadly, while 39 of the Forty Thieves made it back to British lines with their spoils, it was the last that was seen of their commanding officer, despite search parties being sent to look for him.
He had been badly wounded in the raid, taken prisoner and died of his injuries.
His grave was discovered during the advance in 1918 and he was re-buried, in Fillièvres British Cemetery.
Edward Felix Baxter was born at Oldswinford in 1885, later moving with his family to Hartlebury near Kidderminster in Worcestershire.
His brother was a cricketer in the Birmingham League, and Felix himself was a keen motorcyclist, competing in the Isle of Man TT Races in 1910.
After studying at Christ’s Hospital in Sussex, he embarked on a teaching career at Skerry’s College in Liverpool, marrying Leonora Cornish in the city in 1906.
The couple had a child, also called Leonora, who was born at a house in Falkner Street in 1907.
He was, the ECHO reported, “well known in sporting circles in Liverpool and was a member of the Liverpool and other motor clubs.
He took part in many motor events of importance, and was not infrequently to be seen at the racing track at New Brighton.”On the outbreak of war, Felix Baxter enlisted in the Royal Engineers, becoming a despatch rider, before being commissioned into the 8th Battalion King’s Liverpool Regiment in 1915.
Eight months later, he was killed.
In a letter to his wife after his death, his commanding officer related: “The men say his gallantry and coolness were marvellous.”