Edward (Teddy) Cutt was a private in the 9th Battalion East Surrey Regiment (Regt no. 5765). Teddy was killed at the Battle of Loos in September 1915 and his First World War story is told through a small collection of papers kept by his fiancée, Ellen (Nellie) Dabbs (1889-1971).
A little red notebook chronicles the desperate search by Nellie Dabbs for news of her fiancée, Edward Cutt of the East Surrey Regiment, known to her as Teddy. Only 18 years old, Teddy had rushed to enlist in the 9th Battalion, ‘B’ Coy, and was billeted with Nellie’s family in Broadwater, near Worthing. Her notebook records that they met for the first time on 30th November 1914, and soon after became engaged. Nellie was an infant school teacher.
Teddy underwent training at Shoreham, Chobham Common, and Blackdown Camp, Redhill. Her notebook tenderly records the precious time they spent together before he left for France on 31st August 1915. On the night of the 25th September his unit advanced across the German line at Lens-La-Basee Road. Cut down in swathes by enemy machine gun fire from three sides, the East Surreys lost 14 officers and 438 other ranks alone, including Teddy. The next day he did not attend roll-call and was officially reported missing.
The couple had written to each other every day since Teddy had left for France. On hearing nothing from him Nellie made desperate attempts to trace her fiancée, writing to the War Office, Red Cross, even the King of Spain, but she received no positive news, other than a letter from one of Teddy’s comrades who was the last to see him alive. Hopes were raised at the thought that he may have been taken prisoner but on the 4th October 1915, Ellen writes:
“I first receive the awful news from Mr Willitt that Teddy is missing”.
Day after day from then until October 1916, a desperate Nellie logs the letters written and received in an attempt to trace her beloved fiancée. She sadly records Teddy’s birthday on 16th November 1915 and by 15th January 1916 the diary records her slow and hopeless realisation that he may never be coming home:
“I got a letter I wrote to Teddy on 30th September 1915 returned to me, this is the first one I have had back, suppose others will follow”.
Official notice from the War Office that Teddy was killed at the Battle of Loos arrived on 2nd October 1916. Ellen’s diary contains no further entries. Teddy is buried at Cabaret-Rouge Cemetery, Souchez, in France.
Nellie suffered a breakdown and moved to Lincolnshire to be with family. She remained devoted to Teddy and never married; she has inscribed his Pocket Gospel of St John (issued to all troops) ‘In memory of Teddy, August 1915’. This little book, a cherished lock of his hair and a photograph was all that Nellie had to remember him by, a fate suffered by millions of women of her generation. The Cutt papers not only show the human cost of the Great War but also an enduring love story.
The Cutt papers were deposited at Surrey History Centre by Nellie’s family; local historian Margaret Dierden has written about Teddy’s story in her book Further scenes of Shalford past : a third collection of pieces on the history of Shalford in Surrey (2009) available for study at Surrey History Centre, click here to see the Surrey Library Catalogue entry.
Read Teddy’s entry on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website here