Private Edward Charles Nash

Researched and written by Anne Wright

Pte E C Nash
6th Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment
G/13890
Killed in action, 12.5.1917
Aged 31

Edward Charles Nash came from a long established Weybridge family; his ancestors can be traced back to at least 1750 with the birth in the town of his great grandfather Daniel Nash. His family also had a long relationship with St. James’ Church which extended to Edward: his parents were married there on 18 October 1884, he was baptised there on 13 December 1885 and his daughter, Rosemary Ellen was baptised there on 4 June 1911. His parents were Edward and Eliza (nee Chandler) Nash, his mother also being a native of Weybridge. Edward, their only child was born on 5 October 1885 and he went on to become a pupil of St James’ School (Baker Street). The family home in 1891 was at 8, Nut Cottages. Edward’s father was a gardener. By 1901 they had moved to 1, Dolphe Cottages in Waverley Road; Edward, having left school had become a telegraph messenger. Ten years later he was still at the same address with his widowed mother, his wife, Rose Rebecca (nee Saunders) and daughter. He was now a postman.

Edward enlisted in Weybridge but it is not clear when he did so. He did not receive the 1914-15 Star campaign medal so he did not serve in France until 1916 at the earliest. He was posted to the 6th Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment of the 37th Brigade in the 12th (Eastern) Division. His battalion first went into the trenches on 25 June 1915 near Armentieres. This was a relatively quiet sector. They moved to engage in the Battle of Loos once the battle had started and went into the trenches on 3 October to play a supporting role in taking the Hohenzollern Redoubt. Edward may well have been with them when they took part in the Battle of Albert (1-13 July, 1916), the first phase of the Battle of the Somme. On 1 July they were in front line trenches NW of Albert ready to attack at dawn two days later. Some reached the German line but were cut down by machine gun fire others were halted by un-cut wire. There were heavy casualties. They attacked again on 6 July; 82 were killed and 23 wounded. The battalion then alternated between the Somme and Arras theatres. As early as January 1917 they were made aware that they would take part in what became known as the ‘Arras Offensive’ in the spring. Until April they were in and out of trenches at Arras and underwent specific training to prepare for the coming battles.

Edward was definitely with the battalion when they were billeted in cellars beneath Arras Museum on 3 April; the following day 10 were killed and 29 wounded by enemy shells. They went into the trenches on 5 April and attacked German trenches on the 9th. They achieved their objective but 6 were killed, 95 wounded and 19 reported missing. By the time they were relieved they had helped their division to advance some 4,000 yards. They were back in the front line on 7 May where they experienced a mostly quiet time until 12 May when they attacked as part of the Third Battle of Scarpe. They moved forward at 6pm and came under heavy shell fire. Edward was one of the 18 fatalities; the attack failed.

He has no known grave; Edward is commemorated on the Arras Memorial (Bay 2) with almost 35,000 others from the UK, S. Africa and New Zealand. His family remained in Weybridge; his mother died in 1934 and his daughter married Ernest Frederick Fan at St. James’ Church on 27 July 1935. At the time of her wedding Rosemary and her mother lived at 41, Waverley Road. Rose Nash did not remarry; she died in Surrey in 1961.

Sources:

England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriages Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk
St James’ School War Memorial Board 1914-1918, St James’ Church, Weybridge
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1918, www.ancestry.co.uk

Ernest Street, the gardener who was killed at Loos

Ernest was the son of George and Caroline Street of Brabourne, Kent and followed in his father’s footsteps to became a gardener. In 1911 the family were in Godalming but later moved to Corner House, Crossways, Witley.  Ernest enlisted in the army early in the war, joining the 1st Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. On 25 September 1915 the battalion took part in the battle of Loos. After a massive opening artillery bombardment the men advanced over open fields at 6am, reaching the German line without great opposition though elsewhere casualties from German machine guns were heavy (8,500 men were killed and many more wounded). The battalion continued to advance but German counter-attacks drove some of the men back to their own lines. In the attack, 8 officers were killed, wounded or missing whilst 258 other ranks were reported killed, wounded or missing. Ernest was posted as missing in the battle but in January 1916 was confirmed as killed; his body was either not found or not identified and he is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.  Ernest was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

George Curel, the soldier who became a school instructor and rejoined the army when war broke out

George was born on 7 July 1865 and when he grew up joined the regular army.  In 1885 he married Jessie Maffey (born 1866 in Winchester) and they had three children: Ethel Florence, George Victor and Winifred Gladys.  George served in The King’s Royal Rifles between 1883 and 1904 and became a sergeant master cook and baker.  When he was discharged, he joined King Edward’s School, Witley, where he lived with Jessie and Winifred, as a cook, house officer and musketry instructor. At the outbreak of the Great War he was called up, joining the 6th Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment.  The Surrey Advertiser of 5 September 1914 reported he was made a Regimental-Sergeant-Major. The December 1915 Witley All Saints’ Parish Magazine tells us that on 24 October, George arrived in Witley on leave and attended the funeral of William Wisdom at All Saints’ Church on 27 October.  George became ill on 28 October and was sent to the Connaught Hospital, Aldershot, where he died of a cerebral haemorrhage. George was buried in All Saints’ churchyard, Witley on 7 November and given a military funeral with three rifle volleys attended by 100 boys from King Edward’s School.  George’s headstone was not provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission but by his family.  Jessie died on 13 March 1937 aged 82, and is buried with George.

From New Malden to Passchendaele

William Thomas Prismall was born on 12 December 1886 in New Malden, Surrey, the eldest son and third child of Thomas William (a coachman) and Caroline Prismall. William was baptised on 6 March 1887 at Christ Church, Coombe Road, New Malden. In 1896 the family lived at Vernham Cottage, Presburgh Road, New Malden and later moved to 56, Cleveland Road, New Malden. We learn from an article in the Surrey Comet of 10 November 1917 that William was educated at Christ Church Boys’ School in Elm Road and after leaving school worked for Wood and Hill in New Malden, later acting as a temporary postman at New Malden Post Office.

William was called up at Kingston on 6 November 1916 and joined the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. On 24 December 1916, William married Beatrice Maggs at Christ Church, New Malden; he was 30, she 34, both living with his parents at 56, Cleveland Road, New Malden.  After training, William was posted to the 3/4th Battalion The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment which went to France on 16 July 1917, operating in the front line near Arras and moving to near Ypres in August. At some stage William was transferred to the 2nd Battalion but that date is unknown.

On 3 October 1917, the 2nd Battalion moved to an assembly point in preparation for the start of The Battle of Broodseinde, one of the battles of Passchendaele. At noon on 4 October, the battalion moved forward and was exposed to heavy shelling, but was unable to dig trenches below 2 feet owing to the waterlogged nature of the ground. Towards evening, B, C and D Companies moved forward to Jetty Trench to hold the first objective in case of a counter attack. On 5 October, A Company moved to fill the gap between the 7th and 21st Divisions and by 05:00 had dug in at Judge Trench. There was ceaseless heavy rain and shell-fire. In the evening of 6 October, the battalion was relieved and retired to Bellewaerde Lake. During the battle, Major B H Driver MC, the Commanding Officer, was killed and Lieutenant Bennett died later of wounds. A further six officers were wounded, 38 other ranks killed, 118 wounded and 7 posted missing.

William was amongst the casualties of the battle and died of wounds on 6 October 1917. The article in Surrey Comet of 10 November reported that William was brought to the 37th Casualty Clearing Station wounded in the back, probably as a result of shell-fire. The Sister-in-Charge of the station wrote to Beatrice that William died without speaking and William’s officer is reported to have written that he was a good soldier whose loss was keenly felt. The article included a photograph of William in uniform.

William is buried in Plot 1, Row F, Grave 39 of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Godewaersvelde. His headstone bears the additional inscription “Time passes, memories remain”. William’s name is inscribed on the memorial plaque in Christ Church, New Malden, and upon the war memorial outside New Malden Town Hall in Coombe Road.

John Sayer VC and the 21 March 1918: a new appraisal of a forgotten hero

This reappraisal was written by David Baker, who for many years felt that Sayer had not been given full credit for the actions of 21 March 1918. 

This article shows how a largely unknown two-hour stand had consequences which, because 21 March 1918 was a pivotal day, may have influenced the outcome of WWI.  It explains not only how the stand itself came to be forgotten, but also why the consequences, although appreciated at the time, were later ignored.

David Bakers’s article was published originally on the website of The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment, by whose permission it is here reproduced.

John William Sayer went to France in 1916 as a machine gunner in the Queen’s Royal West Surreys and in 1917 was promoted to Lance Corporal. At about 10.00am on 21 March 1918, as the long-awaited advance associated with the German spring offensive began, he single-handedly seized and defended a strategic position at Shepherds Copse close to the Hindenberg line north-east of Le Verguier. His bravery citation describes how, ‘for two hours on his own initiative and without assistance, he held the flank of a small isolated outpost and beat off a succession of attacks, inflicting heavy losses’. He was wounded, losing a leg. He died four weeks later in German captivity, aged 39, leaving a widow and six children, and is buried in Le Cateau.

The spring offensive, which very nearly won WW1 for Imperial Germany, had opened at 4.40am. Martin Middlebrook in The Kaiser’s Battle estimated that by midnight on the 21st the dead and wounded totals were nearly 40,000 German and about 17,500 British. Another 21,000 British soldiers had been captured, making this one of the highest single day’s casualty tolls of any war. Middlebrook concludes ‘21 March 1918 was the beginning of the end of the First World War’. The offensive had been intended to land a knock-out blow, but the maximum advance before the campaign’s abandonment 16 days later was about 40 miles. Compared to the gains of the previous four years this was substantial, but not nearly enough to achieve the aim of driving the British back to the North Sea.

German armaments and men far outnumbered British resources; and no one who experienced the ferocity of the onslaught ever forgot it. Winston Churchill described the five hour salvo along the 50 mile British front which preceded the German advance, as ‘the most tremendous cannonade I shall ever hear’. It was said the guns could be heard 200 miles away in London.

John Sayer’s deed was witnessed by his platoon commander Lieutenant Claude Lorraine Piesse who, with Colonel Hugh Chevalier Peirs of the 8th Battalion of the Queen’s Royal West Surreys, recommended him for a Victoria Cross.

Piesse’s report of the incident, now in the Surrey History Centre, describes Sayer ‘defending against all attacks of the very much stronger enemy by bayonet and rifle with almost incredible bravery’. Due to thick mist fighting was often hand-to-hand, and only at noon with the fog clearing and Sayer badly wounded were the Germans able to capture his position. Piesse says ‘Although for two hours he was continually exposed to enemy machine gun fire and bombs, he used his own rifle as coolly as if at the butts‘. He concludes ‘Sayer showed the utmost contempt for danger and the enemy and inspired everyone by his conduct’.

But the Shepherds Copse stand is virtually unknown. This is only partly because John Sayer’s VC citation wasn’t published until 15 months after the event (and, as became clear, only told half the story). And only partly because by 1919 compassion fatigue meant that people had become tired of reading about heroes.

Sayer is also missing from the majority of VC battle literature and most WW1 books, notably his own regimental history. The accounts that appeared in the 1920s contain errors, including an incorrect date for his VC deed. His file at the Imperial War Museum contains only two half-sheets of paper, one of which still perpetuates the clerical mistake that he won his VC on 31 March.

Those who seek further information about Shepherds Copse or indeed search for any reference to Sayer in the obvious source, his regiment’s official record of the period, do so in vain. The History of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment in the Great War by Colonel Harold Wylly, published in 1925, contains no mention of him, or of Shepherds Copse. There were actually two Great War VCs in the West Surreys’ Battalions, but only Sayer is ignored. In contrast, Wylly, a professional writer, devotes several pages to describing the deed of their second VC. Possible explanations are considered later. For more understandable reasons Sayer is also absent from his Battalion’s war diary. But the result is that while other VCs are recalled on memorials, street signs or cigarette cards, Sayer is forgotten and the significance of his place in WW1 history remains unknown.

His invisibility isn’t helped by the lack of any record of his service career, which in fact included a previous act of exceptional bravery in August 1917; or by the fact that his family has never allowed public display of his VC medal.

So because he isn’t in the reference sources used by later authors and has no UK memorial; and because the mistake in dates divorced him from the action in which he featured; John Sayer is in limbo, an unknown VC, usually overlooked. But in spite of this neglect fresh facts about his involvement in the tide-turning events of 21 March were waiting to be uncovered after nearly nine decades.

The ‘new’ sources are various notes made by Claude Piesse himself and a 1918 letter to him from Hugh Peirs. Piesse’s habit of recording his conversations with Peirs verbatim helps. Although many of these documents are in London (in the Imperial War Museum and in King’s College) others are still with Piesse’s family.

Another useful source on the battle itself is the diary of Captain Charles Lodge Patch, the 8th Battalion’s senior medical officer. This too is in the IWM. Patch went on to publish two vivid descriptions of his experiences on the 21 March: one for his old school magazine and the other in an obituary of Colonel Peirs in 1943.

Robert Ward, a WW1 researcher and great-nephew of one of Sayer’s comrades, found that Piesse had visited the military historian Basil Liddell Hart at his home in 1951 to discuss aspects of March 1918. Piesse had told Liddell Hart that he had kept many papers from WW1. This posed the question of whether these might still exist and could provide additional information.  But the only clue to the papers whereabouts was Piesse’s 1951 address in a suburb of Perth in Australia.

An internet search uncovered a website for a school in that suburb. The Piesse name is not uncommon in Western Australia and the school actually had a Piesse on their staff, although this proved a false trail. More positively a request to the school’s principal seeking help led to contact with a parent who undertook to trace Claude Piesse’s descendants.

Using impressive detective work the parent discovered what had happened to Claude Piesse’s family in the 50 years since they had lived in the Perth area. Although the original Piesse home had long since vanished, she located and talked to Piesse’s sole descendant, his daughter, now living in retirement in a small town several hundred kilometres distant. Most exciting, Piesse’s daughter, who already knew about John Sayer from her father, had kept most of his papers. A phone conversation with her suggested her father’s letters and journals were well worth visiting Western Australia to read.

Piesse’s daughter had dozens of fascinating memories of her father and his English friends, including Hugh Peirs. And Claude Piesse himself was clearly an interesting character. Although born in London, where his father had founded a well-known Bond Street perfumery business, he had settled in Australia in 1899, managing a remote station. He already had family connections there, an uncle having been Colonial Secretary for Western Australia.

Highly educated and a linguist, when WW1 started he was rejected as too old for the Australian Army. So in 1915 he returned temporarily to England to serve in the Queen’s. His Australian independence and curiosity (he frequently questions the ‘establishment’ view) makes him an ideal reporter. He also had a particular interest in the Arts, and was a life-long friend of the laureate John Masefield and Eric Kennington, whom he first met as a war artist. A 1918 Kennington painting of the Le Verguier front line, which may depict Sayer, is now in Perth art gallery.

Piesse’s papers included various eye-witness descriptions of the war in France expanded from his contemporary diaries. Then towards the end of his long life Piesse had prepared a fresh account of his experiences on 21 March (the IWM has a copy) as a memorial to the men of his platoon who had died.

In fact a total of about seventy Queen’s soldiers, including perhaps twenty at Shepherds Copse, were killed during the fighting for Le Verguier. Only a dozen of the seventy have known graves. But casualties in the village itself would doubtless have been substantially higher without the postponement of the main attack on the 21st followed by the smooth withdrawal on the 22nd, during which not a man was lost. Both are described in detail below.

Among Piesse’s papers there was one key document of particular relevance to Sayer. This was a two page letter written to Piesse in his German prison camp on 27 August 1918 by Hugh Peirs, who was still commanding the 8th Battalion in France. Piesse had described Peirs to Liddell Hart as ‘quite the cleverest and finest officer of any rank with whom I came into contact during my years of service’; a view echoed by Patch both in his own diaries and in Peirs obituary.

The Peirs letter is a response to one, now lost, sent by Piesse to a fellow officer named Burnham describing what had happened in the front line outposts, about a mile north-east of the Battalion’s main position, on the morning of the German advance. Piesse’s command at Shepherds Copse in fact included three separate posts connected by trenches. These were initially defended by twenty-two men, although men from other positions (the fog made it impossible for Piesse to record exactly how many) joined during the fighting.

Due to an earth mound which limited the eastward view the Shepherds Copse trench complex was not ideal for defence, even without the fog. Piesse notes the defenders had no grenades, only limited rifle ammunition and no palatable drinking water (supplies having been stored in kerosene drums).

The position which Sayer had seized at the junction of two communication trenches, although open to enfilades, provided the only effective sight on the advancing enemy. Fluctuating visibility meant fighting was sometimes at close quarters and Piesse describes how, in repulsing repeated attacks along the trench, Sayer single-handedly killed six attackers with his bayonet while dropping others with his rifle. As he was being taken away at noon Piesse, although semi-conscious, counted nine bodies he believed had been killed by Sayer, almost certainly an underestimate of the actual total. For most of the two hours Sayer endured a continuous hail of machine gun fire and grenades in a manner Piesse found near miraculous: ‘it was a wonder to me every minute that he did not fall’.

Before considering Peirs’ letter, there is other evidence about both the strategic importance of Shepherds Copse and the delayed advance on Le Verguier.

First, the dominant position of Shepherds Copse at a bend on the road which runs along the valley from Le Verguier to Villeret, on the south-west side of the old 1918 Front Line, is still apparent today. The map used by the 8th Battalion, annotated at the time of the March offensive and now in the National Archives, indicates that the main thrust of the German advance on Le Verguier came through this valley, having to negotiate Shepherds Copse on the way.

Second, although shelling of Le Verguier had commenced before the attacks on the outposts, the German assault proper on the village did not start until 3.00pm. The only explanation we have for the lateness of the assault, and the one that Peirs later accepted, is the morning’s hold-up at Shepherds Copse, which was unknown to the defenders in Le Verguier at the time.

The fog’s persistence and the delayed attack had provided time for defensive regrouping, so that by noon men from abandoned outposts had moved to strong points in the village. By contrast the units on either side of the 8th Battalion (a battalion of the 66th Division on the left and the 3rd Rifle Brigade on the right) had been pushed back earlier, so that Le Verguier then stood, as Peirs later told Piesse, ‘at the point of a narrow peninsula extending into enemy territory’.

There is more about the situation in the village in Patch’s diary. During the morning the very thick fog disoriented everyone. Patch’s main medical aidpost was in a quarry a few hundred yards north of the village, but he became lost in the fog trying to reach it from Battalion HQ and, because he had inadvertently swallowed some gas, had difficulty getting back. Communication with Piesse’s platoon had been lost very early. Shepherds Copse was therefore assumed to be in enemy hands as, according to escaped survivors, were the other outposts.

A captured German officer who spoke French and who had been injured by a Mills grenade was questioned by Patch as he dressed his wounds. The officer told him that their plan had been to take the village within two hours as a first step towards eventually pushing the British back to the coast. The village standing on high ground and containing numerous strong points was in fact eminently defendable in clear weather providing sufficient men were available to staff the forts. So the German timetable presumably depended on completing the attack under fog cover, which the Shepherds Copse hold-up had frustrated.

Patch, Piesse and Peirs all believed that the German advance had been aided by, and almost certainly planned to take advantage of, the predictable morning fog at that time of year. The British command apparently lacked any specific retaliatory strategy. During an earlier discussion with a Divisional artillery officer Piesse had asked about fighting in fog.He had been told ‘we have no orders’.

Colonel Peirs, who according to the Battalion diary reached Le Verguier at 7.00pm on the 21st from Bernes, spent the night directing the village’s defence.But he withdrew early on the 22nd aware that by so doing he was disobeying orders. Piesse observes that a similar instruction to fight to the last was the reason that three-quarters of his own platoon were killed. Piesse records that a Red Cross stretcher-bearer had told him that his platoon had never surrendered since no one still alive, including Sayer, Piesse himself, and a handful of others, was standing and able to give the order when the position was finally overrun.

Peirs told Piesse in London after the war that he had received a telephone call from Brigade HQ during the night of 21st instructing him to hold his position. But he went on to say ‘as I had still over 300 men left they would be of much better use in the line than in a German prison or dead, so I decided to disobey orders and retire’. Few today would query Peirs’ logic, or the foolishness of the order. The morning withdrawal on the 22nd was aided by a repeat of the thick fog which had helped the Germans on the previous day. Peirs described how they could hear the Germans talking on either flank as they retreated, with no loss of life, through a narrow corridor. His judgment and leadership here were exemplary.

Returning now to Peirs’ August 1918 letter discovered in Australia, its gist is summarised in the opening paragraph: ‘Burnham has shown me the very wonderful letter you wrote him, which I think is the finest letter I ever read. This is the first inkling l have got of what occurred in the front line on the day in question and I (am) sorry that we have not been able to do full justice to the conduct of those who played their part so well and enabled us behind to hold out so long and the Battalion to be specifically mentioned’.

Until reading Piesse’s account of events at Shepherds Copse Peirs had apparently lacked an explanation for the delay in the assault on Le Verguier. The postponed attack had allowed the Battalion to maintain its position for longer than any other unit on the entire British front, which had led to commendation in the Commander-in-Chief’s dispatches.Peirs wants to assemble evidence for an award recognising the delaying action and he asks Piesse to send further details of Sayer’s and two of his comrades’ specific roles, with corroboration.

So thanks to German leniency in allowing uncensored correspondence between an enemy officer and a prisoner; and Piesse’s foresight in retaining a revealing letter; for the first time we have a measure of the importance of Sayer’s action.

The existence of the Shepherds Copse stand had previously been unknown and its impact had therefore been uncalculated. Because communications with the outpost had been severed early the action isn’t included in the Battalion’s contemporary war diaries. And, as already remarked, it’s also missing from the much later official regimental history. Piesse had described the history in a note to Liddell Hart as ‘not worth reading except one considers it a fairy tale’.

But, above all, the letter anticipates and explains Peirs later very strong support for the VC nomination. Although when Peirs wrote he was still awaiting full confirmation of Sayer’s role, his letter indicates he believed the Shepherds Copse stand was the major reason for the delay in the German attack, which had preserved so many lives and enabled the 24 hour resistance.

So it’s curious that neither of these facts is included in Sayer’s VC citation of June 1919, quoted at the start of this article. It’s particularly bizarre that the delaying action and its life-saving consequences aren’t mentioned even though in August 1918 Peirs had apparently intended to recommend an award for Sayer recognising these dual effects. Could there be a reason for his change of heart?

The explanation appears to be that by the time Sayer’s citation came to be written all credit for the delay had already been given to someone else: Peirs himself. He was awarded a second bar to his DSO in September 1918. His citation reads ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in defence of a village, when he fought until surrounded, and then made his way back under cover of a fog. It was entirely due to his great courage and fine leadership that the enemy offensive was delayed for nearly two days‘.

Leaving aside the fact that the 24 hours had been stretched to two days, one might assume that the comprehensiveness of Peirs’ citation precluded giving Sayer any credit for Le Verguier’s lengthy resistance. Theoretically Peirs’ award should not have influenced Sayer’s 1919 citation (as in principle new evidence can replace previous assumptions) but it undoubtedly created complications.

The 8th Battalion’s reputation in response to the 1918 spring offensive had become well-established without acknowledging Sayer. Their success had been applauded in British newspapers, notably The Times of 26 March which had praised them under the headline ‘West Surreys Fight to Last Man; they had been mentioned by General Haig; and their CO had been decorated for resistance ‘entirely due to his great courage’. Announcement of the effects of Sayer’s action would mean reapportioning credit, unsettling this cumulatively built reputation.

Therefore if Peirs was to obtain Sayer his award, which apparently met some opposition, the safer approach would be to limit any description of events to those Piesse had observed; not to extend it to the consequences the rest of the Battalion had experienced. Moreover arguing that his own recent citation lacked accuracy would, at the least, have caused a respected officer like Peirs embarrassment.  But in the event it appears that evidence about the effects of the Shepherds Copse stand wasn’t actually required as support for Sayer’s VC nomination. So, almost inevitably, it failed to become part of Great War history.

When it came to writing the regiment’s official story six years later (and a final opportunity to do Sayer justice) there are two possible explanations for his exclusion. Perhaps Wylly was ignorant of the VC award because his research was perfunctory. The 8th Battalion had by then been disbanded and assuming their war diary, which omits the Shepherds Copse stand, was Wylly’s sole source of information, this theory seems plausible. On the other hand most Royal West Surrey officers must have known about Sayer’s VC which had been reported in the national press and in at least three books by the time Wylly wrote. And a careful reading of his relevant chapter shows that Wyllie did consult other sources besides the diary.

So Sayer’s absence remains a mystery. But whatever the reason one can understand Piesse’s ‘fairy tale’ gibe and can only guess what other omissions the history may contain. And indeed on this evidence whether any other regimental history by Wylly (he wrote several) can be trusted. Piesse suspected that Wylly believed that the deeds of volunteer soldiers simply weren’t worth chronicling: ‘if ours had been a regular battalion the writer would have been more generous’.

The hint that the VC recommendation met resistance is in a letter from Piesse to Sayer in March 1919. Neither Piesse, nor Sayer’s widow, then knew that he had died eleven months previously. The letter says Peirs is doing all he can but may not succeed. But a month later Piesse recorded that the VC nomination had not been turned down, but returned to Peirs by GHQ for removal of ‘some paragraphs in which exceptions were taken’. Copies of the earlier nomination were destroyed; so we can only wonder whether any of the censored paragraphs may have mentioned Sayer’s role in delaying the assault on Le Verguier.

Sayer’s nomination will also have received particularly lengthy scrutiny because it related to an award for an action which had culminated in his capture. Bravery medals weren’t given in these cases, although exceptionally a VC could override the rule.

The fact remains: had Sayer’s citation acknowledged any of the consequences of his action which we now know had been recognised by Peirs; and had the regimental history been written with genuine objectivity; Sayer might have been remembered today as some thing more than a soldier who ‘beat off a succession of attacks’.

He might at least have been linked to the preserving of a number of his comrades lives and freedom, and credited as such by later commentators. As it is his isolation from the events he influenced continues. Even a recent and carefully researched book on WW1 battles, which describes Le Verguier’s defence at length using regimental records, not surprisingly overlooks him completely.

Piesse had told Liddell Hart that conversations with German soldiers and civilians as a prisoner had convinced him that the slide in German morale which cost them the war dated from 21 March, when things went wrong from the outset. German objectives for the spring offensive were over-ambitious, but the now forgotten 24 hour delay in taking Le Verguier was obviously a key factor making the 21st a pivotal date. Therefore men like Sayer deserve credit for hastening the Allied victory. Denial of this credit, as well as denial of the other consequences of his actions, is an unnecessary stain on his memory.

In summary therefore the Peirs letter, and the other research which led to its discovery, redefines the contribution that John Sayer’s sacrifice made towards winning this devastating war. His action should therefore now be considered as an act of bravery which achieved something beyond the solely inspirational.

 

Charles Frederick Cox

Story contributed by Shaun Brown, grandson

Charles Frederick Cox was born in Ely and grew up in a small village near by, but then moved to Lode, then Sawston and finally Stapleford.  At the outbreak of war he tried to join up at the Ely recruitment centre but, as he was too young, they turned him away.  However, he was accepted at the Bury St Edmund’s office. He was eventually conscripted into the 27th Training Reserve Battalion, then to the 24th Battalion of the same regiment, before finally transferring to the 3rd Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment (QWRS)) on 29 November 1917.

He was sent to France at the end of March 1918, and was posted to the 8th Battalion QRWS where he was one of 13 drivers , judging by an unusual uniform worn in a family photo.  On 20 August 1918 he was hospitalised with impetigo and re-joined his fellow soldiers on 23 November 1918.  Charles formed part of the Rhine occupation in the post-Armistice period, later transferring to the 10th Battalion of QWRS. He then went on to join 296 Company of the Royal Army Service Corps in May 1919, later serving with 1 Company, Rhine Garrison Train.  He suffered with trench foot during the war but this didn’t seem to stop him as he became a train driver.  He had a wound stripe on his arm, but, unfortunately, no one knows what happened to him, and he also had a good conduct stripe.  He was finally demobilised on 24 March 1920.

Sadly, his records were amongst the ones burnt in a fire that destroyed a number of records, most likely during the Blitz in World War Two.  His medals are still held by the family, after his death in 1975.

Charles had a brother who joined 3rd Battalion, Rifles Brigade  in 1914, but sadly died near Hooge.

 

 

Private George Edward Gentry

Researched and written by Anne Wright

George Edward Gentry was a native of Weybridge as was his father, also George Gentry. George Senior grew up at Chestnut Cottages, just off Princes Road and his son at 2, Young’s Cottages in Waverley Road. Young George’s parents married in the summer of 1896, his mother, Alice Faithful, came from Ripley. George Edward was born on 8 January 1898 and was baptised at St. James’ Church a month later on 13 February. By 1901 his father was a bricklayer’s labourer. Ten years later the family was at the same address, the father was now a labourer at the cemetery and George had two siblings; Doris Ethel and Cyril Edwin. George was still at school but was also a newsboy. He was later employed as a gardener by Mr. A. Hartmann of Netherfield.

He enlisted at Weybridge but was not on active service until at least 1916. Before serving with the Royal West Surreys George had been with the Royal Sussex Regiment (20000). He was posted to three battalions in his second regiment: the 7th, 3/4th and the 6th. George’s final battalion was part of the 37th Brigade in the 12th (Eastern) Division. On I March 1918 they were at Bac St. Maur (SW of Armentieres) where they were inspected by Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. For them 1918 was dominated by the German Spring Offensive (21 March-17 July) and the eventual Allied response in what were to be the final one hundred days of the war. The German onslaught forced the Allies back up to 40 miles and created huge incursions in their line. George’s division took up a defensive position on a ridge west of La Boiselle (2 miles from Albert) on 25 March and covered the withdrawal of the 47th (London) Division. He and his battalion comrades then moved to defend the R. Ancre at Aveluy (immediately north of Albert); in so doing they suffered heavy casualties. April, May and June saw them in and out of the front line always close to Albert or Amiens. Much of July was spent in training.

By 4 August George was back in the front line near Dernancourt (3 km south of Albert) and part of the Allied counter-offensive which would finally result in victory. He and his comrades captured part of the enemy line with the aid of a tank on 9 August and moved forward to the Amiens defence line the next day; 22 were killed and 91 wounded. They were relieved on 12 August but were back in the line from 15-20 August; this was a generally quiet time with relatively light casualties. They were able to spend the 21st bathing, resting and cleaning. The next day, which was very hot, they were back in the front line in their old positions to join in the Battle of Albert. On 23 August the battalion assembled near Meaulte (immediately south of Albert); they advanced at 1.30 am under an artillery barrage pushing across the old Somme battlefield of 1916. They were part of an enormous general Allied attack along a battlefront of 33 miles. All their objectives were achieved. However, 22 were killed and 63 wounded. George died of wounds on this day; he may have sustained his injuries in early August but it is very likely to have been in the attack on 23 August.

He is buried at Franvillers Communal Cemetery Extension in the village of the same name, on high ground above the R. Ancre, 10 km from Albert. George’s family continued to live in Weybridge, his parents and younger brother were still in Waverley Road in 1939, but had moved to number 26. His sister, Doris married Arthur Henry Hackwell at St. James’ Church in 1927.

Sources:

British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920,
www.ancestry.co.uk

England & Wales Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915,
www.ancestry.co.uk

German Offensive of 1918,
www.historyofwar.org/articles/wars_hundred_days.html

Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912,
www.ancestry.co.uk

Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962,
www.ancestry.co.uk

UK, WW1 Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920,
www.ancestry.co.uk

UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919,
www.ancestry.co.uk

 

Brian Calkin – St Paul’s chorister and ‘splendid type of young manhood’

Brian Calkin, an ex-St Paul’s chorister and Repton schoolboy, left school to work with his father in the City (Messrs Henry Head &Company Ltd) at the outbreak of war.  He joined the Inns of Court OTC  in June 1915 from where he was discharged to a commission in the 3rd Queen’s Royal West Surrey’s on 20th August 1915. His attestation papers show that he was 6ft 3/4inch tall with a 37 1/2 inch chest.  His application form for a commission was signed by his mother as he was under the age of 21.  He served in France from age 18. His medical reports show that he was gassed twice, once in June 1917 and then at Ypres in September 1917.

Brian Calkin St Paul's chorister

Title: Brian Calkin St Paul's chorister
Description: Photograph courtesy of Paul Calkin and family by-nc

The Kitchener Military Hospital reported ‘He has completely recovered from the effects of shell gas poisoning of the mustard variety’.

After each of these episodes, he returned to France. Whilst on embarkation leave in early 1918, he fell ill with German Measles and was hospitalised in the London Fever Hospital. He was declared fit for service on 19th March 1918. He returned to France for a third time and was killed in action at Loos on 10th July 1918.

Repton School Memorial B Calkin 1 (453x640)

Title: Repton School Memorial B Calkin 1 (453x640)
Description: Photograph courtesy of Paul Stevens, Repton School Archive by-nc

He is remembered in St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampstead, where he was brought up, Repton School and Windlesham where his parents had a country house. The Rev A.J. Hutton provided an entry in the Windlesham Roll of Honour for all men on the Windlesham War Memorial and that for Brian Calkin is reproduced below.

‘Lieutnt Brian P.B. Calkin was in his 21st year* when he joined up.

His parents then had a small country house at Windlesham, Brian Calkin had had five years of his earliest education at St Paul’s Cathedral choir School and had taken part in King George’s & Queen Mary’s Coronation Service in Westminster Abbey. Passing on to Repton, his public school days were cut short by the war & he entered his father’s office at 16 years of age &  insisted then on doing special constable’s work at night . In the Spring of the following year & six month’s under military age, he joined the Inns of Court O.T.C.  and obtained a Commission in August in the 3rd Queen’s RW Surreys. At Sittingbourne, being very keen on physical development, he specialised in & became master of physical training & bayonet fighting to his battalion. His love of music & his interest in his men was such that he gave all his spare time to giving concerts for them. His Orders first took him to France in August 1916, where with the exception of trench fever all went well with him until the following July 1917 when he was gassed. Having recovered from this, he had only rejoined his Regiment a few weeks when he was badly gassed again and invalided to Hospital at Brighton, where he remained some months unfit for service abroad. At Sittingbourne after leaving hospital, he took up his old work of physical training until on April 20th 1918 he left for France for the last time. Here was attached to the 8th Queen’s and was 2nd in command of his company; he was, in fact, temporarily commanding it when on the morning of July 10th 1918 he was struck down & killed by a trench mortar bomb. Later his body was recovered & laid to rest in the military cemetery outside Bethune. His Colonel writes of him: ‘He was more than usually competent for his years, and was completely confident that things would run all right when he was in charge’. The Sittingbourne Gazette writing of him after his death says ‘He was of a bright, cheery nature, a splendid type of young manhood, and the news of his death has quite a gloom over the battalion for he was a favourite with officers & men alike.’’

St Paul's Choristers memorial - B Calkin

Title: St Paul's Choristers memorial - B Calkin
Description: Photograph permission of Hannah Woolley, St Paul's Cathedral. by-nc

*Rev Hutton appears to have incorrectly described Brian as 21 when he joined up. He was probably just over 17.

 

Bibliography

 

Hutton A.J., date unknown, Windlesham Roll of Honour SHC Ref: Z_682_1 12A; Z_682_1 12B

National Archive WO339/39183

De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour 1914-1924

 

Photographs:

Brian Calkin, Chorister: courtesy of Paul Calkin and family

Brian Calkin, office: courtesy of Paul Stevens, Repton School Archives

Repton School Memorial: courtesy  of Paul Stevens, Repton School Archives

St Paul’s Choristers Memorial: with permission of Hannah Woolley, St Paul’s Cathedral

 

Windlesham Schoolmaster ‘the ideal English gentleman’

Ronald Clerk was a schoolmaster at The School, Sutherland House, Windlesham (now Woodcote House School) after he took his B.A. from Merton College, Oxford.  He applied for a commission on August 17th 1914, just 13 days after war was declared.  His medical report  shows him to be 71 inches tall, weighing 152 pounds and having a chest size of 39.5 inches.

He obtained a commission in the Royal West Surrey Regiment (as recorded in the London Gazette on 28th August 1914) and although he subsequently obtained a Commission (Regulars) with the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), he remained with his original battalion until the time of his death at the Battle of Arras on 9th April 1917.

The Rev A.J. Hutton, Rector of St John the Baptist Church, Windlesham, from 1916-1932 tells Ronald’s story in the church Roll of Honour. It is reproduced below:

‘Ronald M Clerk was at Malvern College as a boy and went from there to Merton College Oxford, where he took his BA in 1908. After leaving Oxford he was Assistant Master at the School, Windlesham until the war broke out in 1914. The following extract is from the Times.

‘In August 1914 he obtained a commission in the Royal West Surrey Regiment and went with his battalion to the front in June 1915. Promoted to Captain in July 1915 he was invalided home after an operation for appendicitis and was obliged to remain at home until June when he rejoined his regiment. In July he was slightly wounded, and in December he was recommended for & obtained a Commission (Regulars) in the Kings’ Royal Lancaster Regiment as Captain but remained with his old battalion in the Queen’s. His Commanding Officer writes ‘Your son was killed on the morning of April 9th to the lasting sorrow of his many friends here. His death was almost instantaneous……. His loss will be felt very deeply by us all…..He played the game until the last, dying most gallantly at the head of his company’ ‘The Times’.

Clerk Screen Shot 2018-01-11 at 16.21.02 (3)

Title: Clerk Screen Shot 2018-01-11 at 16.21.02 (3)
Description: Malvern College's memorial record for R.M. Clerk which includes entry from the Times. Image: courtesy Malvern College, Worcestershire by-nc

Major Rolls his Commanding Officer added ‘For myself I can only say  I shall never forget your son, who was a great friend of my own, and no words of mine can be sufficient to convey the sympathy I feel for you &yours in the great loss you have sustained’

2nd Lieunt Percy Watts wrote ‘The sad news of Ronald’s death in action has just reached me. As I am Bayonet Fighting Officer the authorities refused me permission to go into action so I was not with him at the time. I understand however that he died as he would have wished, leading ‘D’ Compy into action. Not only was he my Captain, he was my friend and his loss leaves a gap that will be hard indeed to fill. In action I knew him as a soldier without fear, in the ordinary round of everyday tasks, I knew him as an untiring worker and a constant helper whose one thought, day & night, was the comfort & welfare of his company. All we,  who remain, can do is to strive to live up to the high ideal he has set us, and see that the battalion & company that he loved so well goes forward to further victories. His memory will ever be our inspiration’

‘An Appreciation’     from the Windlesham Parish Magazine ‘I feel I cannot restrain from writing this appreciation of one who endeared himself to so many boys whose manhood has been anticipated by the war. My friendship dates from his last term at Merton, since when I have been in closest touch with him. Full of enthusiasm with high ideals and an innate sense of justice he made an ideal colleague & won the affection & esteem of all who were privileged to work with him’…… The following is from a letter written on the day of the notice of his death appeared in the Times , bears eloquent testimony to his work as a schoolmaster________________

‘It is no good my trying to express my sorrow as that would be impossible. Captain Clerk was & will be one of my ideals and I would willingly, I think, have laid down my life for him. What he did for me in every way it is beyond me to say; he always seemed to me to be the ideal English gentleman…………….For those of us just going out it is good to know that if we are killed it is in good company.’’

Documents contained in Captain Clerk’s file in the National Archive confirm much of the Reverend Hutton’s tribute.  Additionally, they are able to tell the poignant story of his kit being returned to his family and documents there list the contents of his valise and a ‘bale’. Sadly, some items appear to have been mislaid, adding to the family’s distress. One of his colleagues, 2nd Lieutenant C H Hunt, in correspondence to the War Office about this issue, is able to add further information about the circumstances of Captain Clerk’s death and belongings: ‘Capt Clerk was killed early in the morning of April 9th between the English & German front lines. I was in the 6th German line before I even knew that the Captain was killed. Later on in the day……..the captain’s runner, Pte Pearce, came to me and handed me a silver half hunter wrist watch which I took charge of……. so, in due course I forwarded the watch to Mrs Clerk, the Captain’s mother, together with a pair of binoculars which I always carried about for the captain.’

Ronald Clerk - commission application Aug 17th 1914

Title: Ronald Clerk - commission application Aug 17th 1914
Description: Photograph of original application form held in National Archive WO339/34539. Photo copyright: Moira Nairn by-nc

Anon, 1914, London Gazette , 28 August 1914

Hutton, A.J., date unknown, Windlesham Roll of Honour

National Archive: WO339/34539

Father and Son – F C Selous and F H B Selous

A Father and Son killed on the same day one year apart

Two names on the Great War memorials at St Michael and All Angels Church in Pirbright commemorate the sacrifice of an extraordinary father and son – Frederick Courteney Selous and Frederick Hatherley Bruce Selous. Nineteen year old Frederick died in the skies over Belgium on 4th January 1918, a year to the day after his father had been killed by a sniper while fighting in East Africa, aged 65.

Frederick Courteney Selous was born on December 31st, 1851 into an aristocratic family of Hugenot descent, one of five children living at 42 Gloucester Road, Regents Park. At the age of nine he went to school at Bruce Castle, Tottenham where he gained a reputation for rebelliousness and an independent spirit. His life was destined to be full of adventures, and almost came to an early end when he was involved in a disaster on the ice in Regent’s Park, which took place on January 15th, 1867. Around 200 skaters on the frozen lake were suddenly plunged into the water, of whom 40 died from drowning or hypothermia. Somehow fifteen year old Freddy managed to scramble to the shore.

His education continued at Rugby School. According to his official biography –

“While at boarding school young Freddy was found by a schoolmaster laying on the cold floor beside his bed in the middle of the night. When asked by the schoolmaster what he was doing young Freddy replied “Well, you see, one day I am going to be a hunter in Africa and I am just hardening myself to sleep on the ground.”

F C Selous as a young man in hunting gear. F C Selous as a young man in hunting gear.

Frederick Selous did exactly that and set off for South Africa at the age of 19 where he became famous as a hunter, naturalist, explorer and soldier. His exploits became the stuff of legend and he is thought to be the model for the character of Allan Quatermain created by the novelist Sir H. Rider Haggard. In later years he was to become a friend of US President Theodore Roosevelt and Cecil Rhodes, and donated many specimens to national collections – a statue of him has a prominent place in the Central Hall of the Natural History Museum. He took part in the First Matabele War of 1893 in which he fought alongside Robert Baden Powell.

After many years of African adventures he returned to England and in 1894 married Gladys Maddy, buying a house called Heathland in Worplesden alongside which he created a museum housing a number of his specimens. The couple had two sons, Frederick Hatherley Bruce, and Harold Sherborn Selous. Frederick senior loved outdoor sports, particularly cricket, and played regularly for his local club at Worplesdon, taking part in all their matches until 1915. He remained extremely fit and was an enthusiastic cyclist, as a diary entry from September 5th, 1909 (when he was 57 years old) attests:—

“I got home yesterday evening, having bicycled all the way from Gloucester—about 100 miles—in pouring rain most of the way, and over heavy, muddy roads, in just twelve hours, including stoppages for breakfast and lunch. I am not at all tired to-day, and next year, if I can get a fine day, I shall see if I cannot do 120 miles between daylight and dusk.”

Upon the outbreak of the Great War, despite the fact that he was now in his sixties he sought to enlist and sought the support of M.P.s and a friend, Colonel Driscoll, to plead his case. His application for service was submitted directly to Lord Kitchener, and he received this reply via H. J. Tennant, M.P.: ‘I spoke to Lord Kitchener to-day about you and he thought that your age was prohibitive against your employment here or at the seat of war in Europe.’

In November, 1914, he was acting as a special constable at Pirbright and was rather depressed that he could get nothing better to do, and that his eldest son Freddy would soon have to go into training as a soldier. Eventually his persistence paid off and on February 4th, 1915, he went to see Colonel Driscoll, who said the War Office had stretched the age-limit in his case, and that he would take him to East Africa as Intelligence Officer. His wife also went into service for the country, travelling to Le Havre to work in the Y.M.C.A. hut there.

Selous landed at Mombasa on May 4th, 1915 with his battalion, the 25th Royal Fusiliers. His company were an odd assortment, including “men from the French Foreign Legion, ex-Metropolitan policemen, a general of the Honduras Army, lighthouse keepers, keepers from the Zoo, Park Lane plutocrats, music-hall acrobats, but none the less excellent stuff and devoted to their officers.”

By the end of June the battalion was in action, crossing swamps and scaling cliffs to attack German forces on the Western bank of Lake Victoria at Bukoba. Selous was chosen to lead a patrol reconnoitering the town of Bukoba itself in which they encountered heavy opposition form snipers and machine gun emplacements. Eventually the town was taken, at the cost of 8 dead and 12 wounded.

Promotion from Lieutenant to Captain followed and on 26th September 1916 Frederick Courteney Selous was awarded the DSO for conspicuous gallantry, resource and endurance. General J. Smuts, who was in command of the British Forces in German East Africa, gave an account of the fighting on January 4th, 1917, when Selous met his death:-

“Our force moved out from Kissaki early on the morning of January 4th, 1917, with the object of attacking and surrounding a considerable number of German troops which was encamped along the low hills east of Beho-Beho (Sugar Mountain) N.E. of the road that led from Kissaki S.E. to the Rufigi river, distant some 13 miles from the enemy’s position. The low hills occupied by the Germans were densely covered with thorn-bush and the visibility to the west was not good. Nevertheless, they soon realized the danger of their position when they detected a circling movement on the part of the 25th Royal Fusiliers, which had been detailed to stop them on the road leading S.E., the only road, in fact, by which they could retreat. They must have retired early, for their forces came to this point at the exact moment when the leading company of Fusiliers, under Captain Selous, reached the same point. Heavy firing on both sides then commenced, and Selous at once deployed his company, attacked the Germans, which greatly outnumbered him, and drove them back into the bush. It was at this moment that Selous was struck dead by a shot in the head. The Germans retreated in the dense bush again, and the Fusiliers failed to come to close quarters, for the enemy then made a circuit through the bush and reached the road lower down, eventually crossing the Rufigi.”

The grave of F C Selous in Tanzania, image courtesy of the South African War Graves Project. http://www.southafricawargraves.org/ The grave of F C Selous in Tanzania, image courtesy of the South African War Graves Project. http://www.southafricawargraves.org/

Frederick Courteney Selous was buried in a lone grave near where he died, beneath a tamarind tree in what is now the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania.

The naturalist, artist and travel writer John Guille Millais wrote a biography of F C Selous, and it included a note from Theodore Roosevelt:—

“There was never a more welcome guest at the White House than Selous. He spent several days there. One afternoon we went walking and rock climbing alongside the Potomac; I think we swam the Potomac, but I am not sure.…. Later I spent a night with him at his house in Surrey, going through his museum of hunting-trophies. What interested me almost as much was being shown the various birds’ nests in his garden. He also went to the British Museum with me to look into various matters, including the question of protective coloration. I greatly valued his friendship; I mourn his loss; and yet I feel that in death as in life he was to be envied.

It is well for any country to produce men of such a type; and if there are enough of them the nation need fear no decadence. He led a singularly adventurous and fascinating life, with just the right alternations between the wilderness and civilization. He helped spread the borders of his people’s land. He added much to the sum of human knowledge and interest. He closed his life exactly as such a life ought to be closed, by dying in battle for his country while rendering her valiant and effective service. Who could wish a better life or a better death, or desire to leave a more honourable heritage to his family and his nation?”

Frederick Hatherley Bruce Selous was born on 21st April 1898 in Wargrave, Berkshire, where his grandmother lived at Berrymore House. He was educated at Bilton Grange and from 1912 at Rugby School, where he proved to be an excellent athlete, being in the Running VIII, and in 1915 Captain of the Rugby XV.

He entered Sandhurst in September, 1915, and on leaving in April, 1916, was gazetted to the Royal West Surrey Regiment and attached to the Royal Flying Corps. On 3rd May 1916, at Catterick Bridge Military School he took his flying certificate in a Maurice Farman biplane and proved to be an excellent pilot. In July, 1916, he went to the front and was awarded both the Military Cross and the Italian Silver Medal of Military Valour. Returning to England in April 1917 Selous joined the Central Flying School as an Instructor.

Replica Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a biplane at Brooklands Museum, Surrey. Replica Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a biplane at Brooklands Museum, Surrey.

By September 1917 he was back in France with No. 60 Squadron, flying Royal Aircraft Factory S.E. 5a biplanes. On 8th November he was credited with a victory over a Rumpler C-type German reconnaissance plane over Klein-Zillebeke, and on 28th December was credited with a victory over another Rumpler C-type that crashed west of Roulers (Roeselare).

The squadron moved bases a number of times but by the winter of 1917 was based at Ste-Marie-Cappel. Frederick Hatherley Bruce Selous died while piloting S.E.5a No: C5334 and leading his Flight over German lines near Roulers (on the Menin Road) on January 4th, 1918, precisely one year to the day after the death of his father. He was still only 19 years of age.

From two contemporary reports he was either involved in a mid-air collision or his aircraft broke up in a dive during the attack. Lieutenant Edward Thornton, flying close to him at the time, described what he saw:— “I was up at 15,000 ft. over the German lines, when I saw Captain Selous take a dive at a German machine some 2000 feet below. What actually happened I do not know, but all at once I saw both wings of the machine collapse, and he fell to the earth like a stone. We were terribly upset at this, as he was idolised by us all’

The major commanding his squadron, wrote a letter of condolence his mother:—

“It is a severe blow to the squadron to lose him, for he was beloved by officers and men alike. In fact, his popularity extended to a much greater area than his own aerodrome. In the short time that I have known him I have been struck with the courage and keenness of your son—always ready for his jobs, and always going about his work with the cheeriest and happiest of smiles. He was the life and soul of the mess.”

Group Captain Alan John Lance Scott, CB, MC, AFC, in his book “Sixty Squadron RAF 1916—1919” (pub. Greenhill Books 1920) wrote in the most glowing terms about Frederick Selous, comparing him to some of the celebrated air aces of the Great War:-

“As good a flight commander as we ever had, he was a great loss to the squadron. Without, perhaps, the brilliance of Ball or Bishop he like Caldwell, Summers, Armstrong, Hammersley, Chidlaw-Roberts, Belgrave and Scholte, to name a few only of the best, played always for the squadron, and not for his own hand. He took endless pains to enter young pilots to the game, watching them on their first patrols as a good and patient huntsman watches his young hounds.

The character of Selous, like those whom I have mentioned, not to speak of many others whom their comrades will remember, attained very nearly to the ideal of a gentleman’s character as described by Burke, Newman and Cavendish”.

Sources:

“Life of Frederick Courtenay Selous, D.S.O. Capt. 25th Royal Fusiliers”, J.G. Millais 1919.

“Sixty Squadron RAF 1916—1919” pub. Greenhill Books 1920, A J L Scott, CB, MC, AFC

Memorials of Rugbeians who fell in the Great War Volume VI

Royal Aero Club Aviators Certificates 1910-1950.

Newspaper stories in the Surrey Times and Surrey Herald.