2nd. Lieutenant Eric Percy Johnstone Touche

Died 17 May 1918 at the age of 21.

He served as:

Private, 1st South African Infantry Regiment (Cape of Good Hope Regiment).

2/Lt, Essex Regiment

2/Lt. (Flying Officer) Royal Air Force.

Remembered with Honour STOCKBRIDGE CEMETERY, Hampshire, United Kingdom

Ten young airmen, nine of them from Australia, Canada and South Africa, lie buried in a Hampshire country churchyard in the village of Stockbridge, UK. They died locally, killed in training accidents in what turned out to be the closing months of World War One. 

Son of Percy Henry Inglis and Kathleen Mathilde (nee Johnstone) Touche, of Simondium, Cape Province, South Africa.

He was born on 6 August 1896 in England to Percy Henry Englis and Kathleen F Mathilde Touche. His father was a clerk and they spent time in Boston, USA before settling in South Africa in the early 1900’s. He had 2 sisters and a half-sister. His family lived at and worked for the Pickstone Farm Group at Simondium, Cape Colony.

Percy Henry Inglis Touche, he worked for the Pickstone Farm Group in Simondium

In 1914, at the age of 18, he volunteered, in South Africa and joined as a Private, 1753, in 1st. South African Infantry (S.A.I) Regiment (Cape of Good Hope), he was wounded in the head on 18 July 1916 at the battle of Delville Wood during the Somme Offensive:

1st South African Infantry Brigade

The Imperial Government requested South Africa to provide further troops for service in other theatres as early as April 1915. As a consequence, the 1st South African Infantry Brigade was formed for service in Europe under command Brigadier General HT Lukin.  The 1st South African Infantry Brigade, comprising four regiments, namely, 1st SAI (Cape Province), 2nd SAI (Natal and Orange Free State), 3rd SAI (Transvaal and Rhodesia) and 4th SAI (South African Scottish), numbered 160 officers and 5 468 other ranks when it arrived in England in November 1915. Although the Brigade was trained for service on the Western Front, it was sent to Egypt where it, together with other Imperial forces, engaged the Senussi supported by the Ottoman Turks. The campaign was successfully concluded and by 20 April 1916 the Brigade disembarked at Marseilles in France to enter the European theatre of War.

Launched on the 1st July 1916 after a week’s bombardment, the Battle of the Somme ended in the mud in November. As a component of 9th (Scottish) Division, the South African Brigade moved into the battle zone on the 2nd July and by 4 July was embroiled in relief operation at Glatz Redoubt, near Montauban-en-Picardie. By 8th July, elements of the Brigade were in Bernafay Wood and, by 10th July, supported the British attacks on Trône Wood. Its first week in the battle cost the Brigade 537 casualties.

Between 15th and 20th July 1916, the Brigade consisting of 3153 men, having entered Delville Wood, a tactically important salient protruding into the German second line, was subjected to an onslaught of such unrelenting and unmitigated violence that the wood itself disappeared, shattered and sundered by the ferocity and intensity of the artillery bombardments of friend and foe alike. Having expended their ammunition, the men resorted to hand to hand combat. When the Brigade was relieved, a mere 142 souls emerged from the shambles. Eventually 780 men of the Brigade assembled; 1709 had been wounded and 763 killed (457 killed in action, 120 died of wounds and 186 missing in action, their deaths assumed).

Drawn by Frank Dadd from a description by a British Officer. The Graphic Aug 19, 1916

The Brigade remained on the Somme and in October 1916 was involved in the Battle of Warlencourt. It later fought on the Arras front and in the 3rd Battle of Ypres. In March 1918, during the German offensive, it was almost annihilated at Marrieres and Gauche Woods on the Somme. The remains of the Brigade fought in April and May at Messines, Wytschaete, around the Mont Kemmel and, reduced to a battalion-scale, they took part in the capture of Meteren in July. The Brigade left the 9th (Scottish) Division, was re-formed in England and joined the 66th (East Lancashire) Division in September 1918.

Involved in the Advance to the Victory, the South African Infantry Brigade had the honour, on the 11th November 1918, to be at the easternmost point gained by any troops of the British Army in France.

The casualties of the Brigade were close to 15 000, nearly 300 per cent of the original strength. Of these some 5000 were dead.

For more information visit the excellent:

Staff and patients of the South African Hospital, Abbeville (Photo : Delville Wood Museum)

On recovering from his wound’s, he applied to become an Officer and on completion of his Cadet training was appointed 2nd. Lieutenant in the Essex Regiment (London Gazette dated 26 March 1917).  He joined his Battalion in France on 12 March 1917, he contracted Trench Fever in June and was invalided back to England.

What is Trench Fever? From early on in World War I, men started falling ill to a mysterious illness. It wasn’t terribly serious, but it was debilitating. Up to a third of British troops seen by doctors during the war were thought to have been suffering with the disease. The initial symptoms of the illness were generally short-lived, but recovery was often slow and the patient could be left depressed. The name given to the condition was trench fever, but despite naming it, the doctors had no definite idea of what caused it. Only after the war was the cause discovered: bacteria carried by body lice.

After his convalescence he applied, in October 1917, for and was accepted for training as a Pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. He gained his Wings and was Gazetted as a Flying Officer (the Royal Air Force having been formed from the RFC and RNAS on 1 April 1918) on 13 May 1918, the London Gazette announcement was after his death, 14 June 1918.

Just 4 days later, on 17 May, over Hampshire from his base at Nether Wallop, he was flying in B7179, a Sopwith Camel, which “Came out of spin partly on back and got into spin in other direction” and died in the crash.

“Unlike the preceding Pup and Triplane, the Camel was considered to be difficult to fly. The type owed both its extreme manoeuvrability and its difficult handling to the close placement of the engine, pilot, guns and fuel tank (some 90% of the aircraft’s weight) within the front seven feet of the aircraft, and to the strong gyroscopic effect of the rotating mass of the cylinders common to rotary engines. Aviation author Robert Jackson notes that: “in the hands of a novice it displayed vicious characteristics that could make it a killer; but under the firm touch of a skilled pilot, who knew how to turn its vices to his own advantage, it was one of the most superb fighting machines ever built”.

The Camel soon gained an unfortunate reputation with pilots. Many inexperienced pilots would crash on take-off when the full fuel load usually carried pushed the aircraft’s centre of gravity beyond the rearmost safe limits.  A stall immediately resulted in a dangerous spin.

In his Recollections of an Airman: Lt Col L. A. Strange, who served with the central flying school, wrote: “In spite of the care we took, Camels continually spun down out of control when flown by pupils on their first solos”

Extract from the Personals Section of Flight Magazine 30 May 1918

Second Lieutenant ERIC PERCY JOHNSTONE TOUCHE, R.A.F., who was killed in an aeroplane accident on May 17th, aged 21, was the only son of Mr. Percy Touche, of Simondium, South Africa, and grandson of the late Edward Touche, M.D., Staff Surgeon, 92nd and 83rd Regiments, who rendered distinguished service in the Indian Mutiny, and a great grandson of the Rev. John Edward Touch, formerly minister of Kinnoul, Perthshire, another of whose sons was the late General John Gray Touch. (The name which, in Scottish usage, had become Touch was restored to its original spelling of Touche by Royal Licence.) Eric Touche volunteered for service in South Africa in 1914, when in his 18th year. He served first in Egypt, then in France, where he was wounded in the head. In March, 1917, he received a commission in the 3rd Essex Regiment, and returned to France, but was invalided home with trench fever in June, 1917, and volunteered for the Air Service in October, 1917. He had just qualified as pilot and received his wings.