Ernest was the youngest son of what was, even for those days, a large family. In 1901, when a national Census was taken, the Barnfield family was living at 34 Worrall Street, Stockport. 45 year-old James Barnfield worked as a railway engine driver. His wife, Mary, was 43.
They had eleven children – Charlotte (then 19), Herbert (18), Ethel (16), Leah (14), Leonard (12), Wilfred (11), Ada (9), Harold (7), Ernest (6), Doris (4) and Hilda (2).
When Ernest left school, he went to work for the Stockport Co-operative Society and was still employed by it when he enlisted into the army. The 1st Battalion of the KOSBs was part of the regular army and had been in action at Gallipoli in 1915. By early 1916, when Ernest probably joined the unit after training, casualties were being replaced with new volunteer recruits who had signed up for the duration of the war only.
On 30 June 1916, the Battalion marched from Acheux Wood into assembly positions for an attack the next day. 1 July would become known as the first day of the Battle of the Somme and Ernest was destined to become one of the 21,000 British soldiers killed in the opening hours of a Battle that would continue for months.
In front of the Borderers was the 1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers who would lead the attack in this particular sector. The plan, which all the troops had practiced, would involve the Fusiliers capturing the German front line positions. The Borderers would then move up and continue through these trenches to take the second and third German lines.
During the night and early morning, the Borderers were heavily shelled in the trenches and many casualties were suffered, but they “went over the top” on schedule at 8am. The Regimental History records “But without any discredit, they did not succeed in even reaching the few Fusiliers whom were lying out in No Man’s Land.” Over most of the battle field, the British artillery bombardment which had been underway for days had failed to destroy the German barbed wire and had failed to destroy their deep dug-outs. It meant that as the whistles blew and the men moved into No Man’s Land the German troops came out of their protection and manned their numerous machine guns. The Fusiliers and the Borderers were cut down as they became tangled with the wire.
One Company suffered 202 men dead or wounded out of the 219 who had gone over. They had no option but to make their way back to their own trenches, within minutes of starting.
The History continues “The Essex, on the right, who leapfrogged the KOSB at 8.45, found them, so to speak, weltering in their gore, the trenches blocked and damaged so that it was not till nearly 11am that a new attack was pushed half-way (in parts) across No Man’s Land."
There had been 20 casualties amongst the officers (virtually all who had gone over). 83 soldiers were dead. Another 59 were missing (most would be dead) and 406 wounded. The Battalion had been effectively destroyed in less than an hour. Many of the dead would lie in No Man’s Land for weeks and would never be identified. The fact that Ernest has a known grave may suggest that he was among the first to be killed, perhaps in the shelling during the night.