Robert James Stark

Family History Story contributed by Cynthia Mills (close family friend)

Robert James Stark was born in Feltham, Middlesex, on 22 September, 1893, to Charles John Stark, a wheelwright and carpenter, and Elizabeth Ann Stark (nee Beacon). Both parents were from Devon, ‘Charlie’ from Broadclyst, and ‘Eliza’ from Sidmouth.

Robert was named for his two grandfathers, Robert Stark, a woodsman for the Killerton estate in Broadclyst where Charlie had grown up and been educated with the family heirs, and James Beacon, a blacksmith.

Shortly thereafter the family moved to Godstone, Surrey, where Robert was christened at St. Nicholas Church in December 1893. He had one sibling, Sydney Charles Stark, born November 26, 1894. Sydney served in the Army Service Corps (ASC) and survived the Great War.

Robert attended the Caterham Valley Board School because his father felt the village school would not give his sons the best educational opportunities. Sydney recalled making the long walk from Caterham to Godstone after school every day in all sorts of weather.

After leaving school Robert worked as a shop assistant for the W.C. Brooks Company of Caterham, Oxted and Godstone. An article in the Surrey Mirror from November 24, 1916 has an article about Robert, “Godstone Lad Missing.” The article says:

News has been received by Mr. and Mrs. Stark of Salisbury Road that their son, Pte Robert Stark of the Queens, is reported “missing” in the last “push.” Pte Stark was well known in the district, having been an assistant to Mr WC Brooks, draper, at Godstone, Caterham and Oxted, and it is hoped that some brighter news will soon be forthcoming to his anxious parents.

He was also a member of the Caterham St. John Ambulance Brigade. The only surviving picture the family has of him shows him dressed in his full St. John’s uniform.

By all accounts Robbie was a gentle, upstanding young man who possessed some artistic abilities, a talent he used frequently in his work with the WC Brooks Company. His brother Sydney jokingly told his only child David that his brother was “better looking than me, smarter than me, and got all the girls.”

In 1914, Robert became engaged to Margery Pitt. The couple were deeply in love and the villagers said they were “going strong.” Robert was known to everyone as “Robbie,” and had a fine baritone voice and sang in the choir at St. Nicholas Church. He also enjoyed dancing the latest dances and was known as the “village heartthrob.”

In 1915, after much deliberation, Robert enlisted in London under the Derby scheme on November 15, 1915. Charlie Stark was opposed to his sons joining up, believing there would never be conscription, so when Robbie came home and told him the news, the row they had was so loud the entire Salisbury Road heard it!

Robbie was called up on January 20, 1916. He was sent to France on his mother’s birthday, August 24, 1916, and was killed six days after his 23rd birthday on September 28, 1916 at the Battle for the Schwaben Redoubt on the Somme. Sadly, Charlie and Robbie had a row when Robbie joined up.  Robbie went all the way to London to enlist so his father would not somehow know what he was up to and try to stop him. Robbie had received several white feathers and could no longer stay out of it, as he told his brother. The comment Charlie made to Robbie when he threw his enlistment papers at him was: “Well, my boy, you have just signed your death warrant.” Sydney said he regretted those words for the rest of his life.

Although his family never knew what happened to him, his father tried desperately to find out for years until he was tragically killed in a workplace accident in 1926.  One story, although unsubstantiated, came about twenty years after the War ended, when Sydney was at the pub, and began a conversation with two other men. As is often the case, they had all served in the War and began talking about it. It transpired that the two men had been in the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment with Robbie, and remembered him. They told Sydney that the attack on the Schwaben Redoubt was hell, and they had to retreat. According to them, Robbie survived the attack while many wounded were lying in No Man’s Land, asking for help. An officer asked for volunteers to bring in the wounded, and Robbie, as a St. John Ambulance man before the War, volunteered. As one man put it, “He brought in a few, and then went out, got hit by a shell, and disappeared.”

When Eliza Stark began packing up Robbie’s things after he went missing (they did not have confirmation that he was KIA until 1921), she asked Margery if she wanted anything to remember him by. Margery chose Robbie’s St. John Ambulance white gloves, which can be seen in the photograph. Her reason? Because when she put her hands inside the gloves, she could hold his hands forever.  Robert’s mother died in 1950 at the age of 90. She kept a shrine to her son in her room, surrounded by his pictures and memories of him. One of Elizabeth Stark’s nieces remembered being invited into Auntie Lizzie’s special room, and recalled seeing pictures of a “lovely young man with a beautiful smile.”

Robert’s brother Sydney later married Margery, who declared that she would never love anyone except Robert for the rest of her life, and kept her engagement buckle ring from Robert on her hand as her wedding ring. She died in 1968, asking for “my darling Robbie” on her deathbed. Sydney died in March 1993 at his son’s home in Vancouver, BC, at the age of ninety-nine years.

Robbie is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial and is one of the 600 faces shown on the Panel of the Missing at the Thiepval Visitor Centre.

 

Always Beloved and Never Forgotten

 

 

 

 

Lance-Corporal John McLean Wiseman

This story is the result of an investigation of documents held by Surrey History Centre. The file (SHC ref. CC7/4/4, nos. 1-50) contains correspondence and insurance claims on behalf of Surrey County Council Education Department employees who had been killed in action during the Great War. The cases date from 1915 to 1918.

Name:                                        John McLean Wiseman

Occupation:                               Assistant Master, Richmond County School

Birth Place:                               Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Residence:                                Richmond

Date of Death:                          Killed in Action 11th March 1917

Age:                                           28 years (Born 1888)

Location:                                   Zillebeke, Ypres Salient

Rank:                                         Lance-Corporal

Regiment:                                 7th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment

Number:                                    354253 (previously 8135)

John was the son of John Mclean senior, an estate clerk, and Harriet, of Nacton, Ipswich, Suffolk. John senior had married Harriet in 1883.

In the 1891 census, John senior had listed his profession as elementary school teacher, probably at the National School in Nacton, but had given this up by the turn of the century. In Kelly’s Suffolk Directory in 1912, he is recorded as being the clerk to E.R.H. Moorsman, a land agent.

In the 1911 census John and Harriet stated they have five children: Winifred (a school mistress), Maud, John, Archibald, and Marian. John had left home by this point. He is recorded in the University of London ‘War List’, which lists the military services of students and former students, as attending Birbeck College before the war.

By 1911, John was now boarding at 35, Larkfield Road, Richmond, and was already an assistant master, Richmond County School. He was single. It is not known when John enlisted.

When he did, he enlisted into the 7th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment, which was a pre-war Territorial Force unit, part-time soldiers. It was mobilised for war on 5th August 1914 at Finsbury Square, going to France in March 1915. Since its arrival it had fought at Festubert, Loos in 1915, and in 1916 at Vimy Ridge, and High Wood and Warlencourt on the Somme. This last engagement in October 1916 cost the battalion 300 casualties.

As John did not qualify for the 1914/15 Star, awarded for service in 1914 and 1915, it is likely that he arrived in France in early 1916.

The battalion then moved to the Ypres sector and saw in the new year there. They were based around the area of ‘Belgian Chateau’, a reserve area, still within the range of enemy artillery, to the south-west of Ypres. Much of January and into February was filled with working parties and parades, but from the 4th of February they moved up to the trenches. The War Dairy then paints a picture of the front-line being relatively quiet with few casualties, and limited enemy activity.

On 11th March 1916, the War Diary records the situation as all quiet. It notes that the enemy heavily shelled the trenches in the area, but little damage was done to 7th Battalion trenches. It then notes simply ‘Casualties 2 OR killed, 1 OR wounded’. John was sadly one of the other ranks killed.

M. Davidson (Chaplain to the Forces) wrote an undated letter to John’s family:

‘I am sure you feel an honourable pride in giving one to die for his country with all it stands for at present. He has made the great sacrifice for the cause of honour and Justice.

He was killed by a shell and I understand death was immediate. We buried him in a cemetery and a cross marks his last resting place.’

In a letter dated 25th May 1917, the Territorial Forces Record Office informed the family that John had been buried at Railway Dug-outs Burial Ground, Transport Farm, Zillebeke.

After his death, John’s family pursued an insurance claim with Surrey County Council, who had taken out an insurance policy on behalf of John. As part of this process, local enquiries were made into the circumstances of the family. John’s father, giving his address as Owell Park Estate Office, Nacton, Ipswich, wrote a letter to the Surrey Education Committee on 4th June 1917. In making his case he says, rather sadly, that the family had ‘strained our resources to keep him at London University and, quite voluntarily, he was recouping us for our outlay’. It is not recorded how much they received from their claim.

John is buried in the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport Farm) with the inscription ‘In Loving Memory’.

He is entitled to the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Sources

Surrey History Centre CC7/4/4 File 27

War Diary – 7th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment

University of London Student Records, War List 1914-18 http://archives.ulrls.lon.ac.uk/resources/WARLISToptimised-OCR.pdf

England Census

Commonwealth War Graves Commission – https://www.cwgc.org/

Ancestry website – https://www.ancestry.co.uk/

The Maxse family, Georges Clemenceau, Effingham and World War I

Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929) was Prime Minister of France 1907-1909 for the first time and then again, critically, from 1917 to 1920 when, during the very dark days for the Allies, being spoken of as a new Joan of Arc, he rallied and led the French and also stiffened the faltering British resolve. He then held a key role alongside David Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson in the post-war settlement, the Treaty of Versailles, surviving an assassination attempt on 19 February 1919. His famous nickname was ‘The Tiger’. His broad and flamboyantly moustachioed face was widely well-known and instantly recognisable to people of his time across the world.

This article is about the very deep and enduring friendship between Clemenceau and the Maxse family of Effingham before, during and after World War I. The Maxse family believed, with some justification, that this friendship was the real origin of cross-channel discussions which resulted eventually in the Entente Cordiale, an important Anglo-French agreement to co-operate signed in 1904 which ended roughly 1,000 years of greater or lesser hostility between the two nations.

 

The Maxses in Effingham

It is not fully known how early the connection of the Maxses with this area of Surrey began, but in Surrey History Centre there are conveyances between James Maxse (1792 – 1864) and the Earl of Lovelace in 1840, and in 1850-55. Maxse’s widow Lady Caroline Fitzhardinge Maxse, eldest daughter of Frederick Augustus Berkeley 5thEarl of Berkeley, settled in Effingham in 1869. Lady Caroline had married James, ‘a wealthy landowner, hunting man and yachtsman’ [see footnote i] in 1829. In 1832, their son Henry Berkeley Fitzharding Maxse was born, and a year later another son, Frederick Augustus Maxse (1833-1900). In due course both brothers entered the armed services. Aged about 17, in 1849 Henry joined the army as a Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards. Shortly afterwards Frederick entered the Royal Navy. Both saw action during the Crimean War (1853-56) and Frederick became an acknowledged war hero. At the end of the war he was the youngest captain in the Navy. A firm Francophile, after retirement from active service he pursued a not-very-successful career in politics as a ‘democratic aristocrat’: an atheist radical who despite his own background hated privilege and social inequality.

James Maxse died in 1864. In 1869, in other words after her sons were grown up, Caroline purchased the lordship and Manor of Effingham East Court from Miles Stringer III. The grand manor house where she took up residence was Effingham Hill House, now St Teresa’s School, on Critten Lane in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The property was ‘a modest place on the high ridge between Dorking and Guildford, nine hundred acres and a Jane Austen sort of house of medium size, but able to contain her family and a few old friends who visited her regularly’. The author George Meredith, a close friend of Frederick since 1859 (and who since 1868 had lived nearby at Box Hill), described its gloriously eminent position with access to miles of beautiful countryside in admiring terms. It had attractions that would have strong appeal for Frederick as a country house within easy reach of London. He was extremely fond of countryside pursuits such as walking, horse-riding and hunting (and of course sailing – throughout his life he regularly sailed his yacht across to France).

Henry Maxse may have visited Effingham Hill House, but he never lived there. He spent many years overseas as a governor of colonial provinces and died in 1883, predeceasing his mother (1886). Frederick on the other hand remained based in London and with his children did visit his mother in Effingham.

Frederick had married Cecilia (née Steel) in 1861. They had two sons and two daughters. In due course all four children were destined for distinguished and influential lives: (Frederick) Ivor Maxse (1862–1958) had a military career and became a leading First World War general; Leopold (Leo) James Maxse (1864–1932) had a prominent career in political journalism with special interest in Britain’s foreign relations and defence; Olive Hermione Maxse (1866-1955) was a friend and model for Sir Edward Burne-Jones; Violet Georgina (1872–1958) married first Lord Edward Cecil and second Alfred, Viscount Milner, and also took a lifelong active interest in international political and military affairs.

Sadly by 1877 Frederick and Cecilia’s marriage had failed and they separated. Frederick was not an absentee parent and took a large part in bringing up the two girls. Violet, who was five when the separation occurred, writes of the many happy times she spent with her father at her grandmother’s house. In later life she shared her father’s delight in outdoor pursuits, and sometimes hunted on horseback with the local pack, the Surrey Union. Violet does not mention whether she was at Effingham Hill on the day of the visit there by HRH Prince Albert Victor of Wales (known to friends and family as ‘Eddy’) in 1885. Eddy was second in line to the throne, being grandson to Queen Victoria and eldest son of Edward, the then Prince of Wales (future King Edward VII) and Princess Alexandra of Denmark [ii]. The Prince of Wales and Frederick were comfortable acquaintances; and so were their sons. In 1883-85 Eddy had spent some time at Trinity College, Cambridge. This coincided with the undergraduate years of Leo, who was at King’s studying history between 1883-86. Leo was said to have been a lively and exciting presence at the university; he was President of the Cambridge Union for a term in 1886. Perhaps it was this connection that drew the young Prince on his day-trip to Effingham, but as Eddy’s education since age 16 had already included five years in the Navy including extensive world voyages, he and the Admiral would have had plenty to talk about at the dinner-table.

When his mother died in 1886, Frederick inherited the Lordship of the Manor of Effingham East Court. He kept his connection with Effingham, but not his mother’s house. This he sold, with much of the land and also the title, to Mr Julius Caesar Czarnikow [iii]. On the land he retained, on the site of the former Hill Lodge he built himself a fine new house, Dunley Hill House (now known as Ranmore Manor [iv]) into which he moved in 1887.

 

British perceptions of ‘Germany’ and the Mole Valley Gap

Only two years after Caroline’s purchase of Effingham Hill House, that area of Surrey was thrown rather shockingly into the spotlight of national consciousness as, militarily speaking, a focus for great anxiety about the imminent threat from Germany. It is not impossible that the shock of this impending threat, apparently in their own immediate neighbourhood, coloured the Maxse family’s outlook down the years.

Since the arrival of Prince-Elector George of Hanover to take up the British throne in 1714 there had been strong, if not always comfortable, connections between Britons and Germans. At Waterloo (1815) Marshall Blücher’s actions with Prussian forces strengthened the link with that particular state and he was much celebrated in Britain – for example, the Black Horse public house in Effingham was renamed the Prince Blucher, along with many others up and down the land. Later, the marriage of Queen Victoria to Albert created a tie with the state of Saxe-Coburg. The point to be noticed is that at this time, there was a very large territory occupied by German-speaking peoples, but no such sovereign state as ‘Germany’. Instead there were a myriad independent tiny states each ruled by its Prince, Elector, Landgrave, Margrave, Count or the like. In the British consciousness, it was an almost fairytale country of romantic medieval castles, remote enchanted forests, knights and ladies, pretty little antiquated market towns and so on – almost a Disney image.

The image began to change in the 1860s, when under Chancellor Bismarck the state of Prussia began to exercise greater and greater influence over its neighbours, and slowly to create a unified Germany. It also began to try to create a colonial presence overseas. The neighbouring major powers, France and Austria-Hungary, viewed all this with dislike and a great preference for the continuation of the old, disunited Germany. Their royal families had ties and influence over many small German states, and Bismarck realized that to achieve unification, Austria and France would each have to be taught a lesson about strength and power and minding their own business. In 1866, a brief military campaign defeated Austria’s army. In 1870, Prussia fomented a diplomatic argument and then administered a truly massive shock to the French. Prussia launched a sudden and frighteningly rapid armed attack on France itself. Superior planning and training crushed the French armies, who were forced to a humiliating surrender, followed by a siege of Paris’s civilians. In January 1871 from the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles itself the German King Wilhelm I, surrounded by his officers and soldiers, announced the beginning of the Second Reich (Empire) and that from now on he would be Emperor, not King. A so-called Peace Treaty was made later in 1871 which gave Alsace and Lorraine to Prussia, and crystallised the concept of Prussian victory and French defeat. This new and horrible experience for France of defeat on her own territory rankled terribly, could never be forgotten, and as Prussia continued to arm and to expand, France (and Britain) would never relax again.

Concurrently with these international affairs, in 1871 in England George Tomkyns Chesney published a profoundly shocking novella called The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer, ‘which started the genre of invasion literature’ [v]. It is a fictional account describing the aftermath of a sudden attack on Britain by German-speakers (the actual nation is never named), in which enemy forces had surged up through the ‘Mole gap’, the River Mole valley between Dorking and Leatherhead which runs north-south through the Downs. Failure to defend the heights of Box Hill and Ranmore [vi] on either side allowed the enemy to pass through. The invaders then succeeded in taking London and in a very short time the British had became a subject nation. The action of the story was set in 1875 (ie at the time of publication, this was the near future), to enhance its power as a timely warning. The point was of course to try to stimulate interest in a review of national defence before it was too late and the same should happen to England as to France. It was a best-seller and it must have had a powerful resonance in Effingham, such a small distance from Dorking.

Strong and growing anti-German / anti-Prussian feeling was regularly expressed by sections of the French and British press in the 1880s, ‘90s, and onwards. From 1893 right on through World War I Frederick’s eldest son Leo was due to play a large part in this.

 

Frederick Maxse and Clemenceau

In one biography, Clemenceau [vii] is quoted as saying that ‘The best friend of his life was the Englishman Maxse’. This friendship had been firmly founded long before Clemenceau became so internationally famous.

Georges Clemenceau was an immensely colourful, charismatic and energetic individual. He was a writer as well as a public servant, and when he became a leading politician he was one of those people who by the end of their careers had fully earned the honourable description of ‘statesman’. His political position is not easy to describe. He was ‘anti’ the French monarchy and the Second French Empire of Napoleon III, but equally quite ready to excoriate Republican politicians. He was left-wing wishing to improve social justice, but definitely anti-socialist and violently anti-communist. He was radical but also a believer in stability, not anarchy. He was a sort of political activist-cum-national gadfly, always demanding and expecting the highest standards in political life and trying to generate informed, rational, patriotic engagement by the populace.

In his early years he graduated as a doctor whilst writing for and founding various political newspapers. When as a result it got too hot for him in France, he left to practice medicine in New York. In 1869 he married an American, Mary Eliza Plummer (1848-1922) [viii], but then almost immediately in 1870 returned to France for those dreadful days after the sudden defeat of the French on their own territory by the Prussians. In 1871 he tried to negotiate between the left wing ‘Commune’ group which barricaded part of Paris and unsuccessfully tried to defend itself, and the government – a terrible episode in French domestic history. From this time forward, like so many others across Europe, he had an enduring opposition to German power and expansionism, and a grim determination to reclaim Alsace-Lorraine for France from Prussia.

He also began steadily (but not inexorably – there were gaps where he held no seat) to rise up through the levels from municipal politics into government. In the later 1880s along with Émile Zola he began first to suspect and then energetically to challenge pervasive, high-level corruption that had allowed the Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus to be tried and falsely imprisoned for a treason he could not possibly have committed: it was a newspaper of which Clemenceau was himself owner and editor which published Zola’s famous J’accuse article in 1898.

Clemenceau had a deep and lasting friendship not only with Admiral Maxse but also, independently, with all Maxse’s children, who were taught to be fluent in French and like their father all admired French culture and were at ease in that country. Clemenceau was particularly fond of Violet – Violet Georgina, to give her full name. Violet published an autobiography in 1951 [ix] in which she mentions Clemenceau a great deal – she devotes a whole chapter to him and much of what we know about this is via her reminiscences. For example, explaining about Clemenceau’s friendship with her father, Violet wrote [x]:

‘My father collected wonderful friends, finding them in all sorts of places. The two he loved best were George Meredith and Georges Clemenceau. Clemenceau he acquired in 1872 when he was introduced to him by Louis Blanc’ [xi].

As luck would have it, by the time of this introduction, Maxse had already very visibly and singularly attached himself to a cause dear to Clemenceau’s heart. Violet again:

‘I am always proud to remember that of the three Englishmen who made a public protest in 1871 when Alsace and Lorraine were torn from France, my father was one.’

Thus the introduction was almost guaranteed to succeed, and it did. They were not far apart in age, Maxse some 8 years older than Clemenceau. It turned out that as well as having identical political views, they both loved the company of particular individuals but abhorred ‘society’ and society events. They both loved the countryside and energetic country pursuits (Effingham being ideal for this). They were both estranged from their wives. They both loved cultural events, museums and the like. Some biographies of Clemenceau state that he made an annual visit to stay at Maxse’s London home in Onslow Square, South Kensington.

It was here in July 1891 that at Clemenceau’s request Maxse set up a meeting for this great French Radical with the equally great English Radical Unionist MP, Joseph Chamberlain [xii], so that they could explore the possibilities for joint Anglo-French understandings. ‘It is a family tradition that the seed of the Entente was sown in the Admiral’s house when he gave a dinner to introduce Clemenceau to Chamberlain’ [xiii]. In January 1886, when Maxse’s near-neighbour and acquaintance, the eminent poet and critic Mathew Arnold, who lived at Pains Hill Cottage, Cobham, was planning to visit Paris, Admiral Maxse provided him with a letter of introduction to Clemenceau, although unfortunately in the event they were unable to meet up [xiv].

 

Clemenceau and Leo Maxse

Clemenceau and Frederick Maxse remained united throughout their lives in their implacable opposition to German colonial expansionism. This communicated itself to the next generation and was strongly supported again, throughout their lives, not only by Violet but also her brothers Ivor and Leopold. In August 1893 Leo acquired and became editor of a right-wing political journal, the National Review, which powerfully and remorselessly publicised the danger of this to Britain. Another persistent theme of the National Review in the years before World War I, helping in fact to make this a national obsession, was the extent to which Germany was building up its armed forces and whether Britain would be able to defend itself should it become necessary. To support Leo, Clemenceau wrote and contributed material for the journal.

Between September 1917 and 1921 Leo was also the editor of a daily evening paper, The Globe. He entered on a trial basis but was so successful he doubled its readership in nine months. He resigned when The Globe was absorbed by the Pall Mall Gazette.

 

Clemenceau and Violet Maxse

Despite an age difference of 30 years, Clemenceau was also a great and lifelong friend to Violet. She found him stimulating, charming, chivalrous, exciting, attractive with his flashing dark eyes and impressive moustache. Her autobiography explains how this friendship developed naturally as a consequence of her being so much with her father during her childhood, after her parents’ separation. Violet remained on very good terms with both but her father arranged her education and she spent a great deal of her youth in his care, which did not displease her:

‘The years slipped by and presently I was more with him and less with her… With my father I led a much more countrified existence [than with her London-based mother], … a great deal of riding, walking, and a lot of teaching in serious subjects. But my father, like my mother, believed in having me with him in all company. I have sometimes wondered what his men friends must have thought of his perpetual accompaniment by a small girl, and later by a girl in the awkward age. He was quite relentless and always took me.’

It is easy to see how it came about that the Admiral’s two most intimate friends –Meredith and Clemenceau – also became Violet’s own. She remembers having first met Clemenceau when she was nine or ten and he was staying with her and her father at their London house. But the Maxses also spent a great deal of time with Clemenceau in France.

 

The Maxses in France

As mentioned, Frederick was a great admirer of French culture, spoke French fluently, and was very happy to sail his yacht frequently across to France. Violet accompanied him on many of these expeditions. When Frederick’s mother died he was more free to go where he would but of his four children, 14-year-old Violet was still needing his active input to her care and education. Violet’s older sister Olive was:

‘putting in some very hard work at her music in Paris and showed no desire to stop. This being so my father thought it would be better for us three – myself, my sister and he – to be all together, so in the autumn of 1887 he took a flat on the fifth floor of a house in the Boulevard St Germain and we stayed there for rather over two years, coming home for the summer’.

This period for which they were abroad coincided with the construction of the Admiral’s new house at Dunley Hill.

Violet enrolled for drawing lessons in Paris but on the whole found this experience a poor second to the level of contact she had previously had with great artists practising in London – her mother’s social sphere. On the other hand, the lists of plays, operas, artists, writers, politicians and eminent thinkers Violet saw, met or was introduced to well before she was 18 is astounding: from Whistler and Degas to Monet and Rodin, from Oscar Wilde to Joseph Chamberlain.

She reports that while in Paris

‘I also worked at French and at the violin, but perhaps the major part of my education at this time came from the plays I saw at the Comédie Française… It was an unparalleled education, especially as we generally went to the play with M. Clemenceau, who was a superb and ruthless critic, and, as we saw a great deal of him in other ways, my letters to my mother are also full of him and have something about politics too. … For exercise my father and I rode nearly every fine morning – driving up to the Bois [de Boulogne] and mounting there; we were nearly always with M. Clemenceau and, very often, with Miss Cassatt, the painter. Politics ran very high at this time in Paris … and once or twice we were greeted with cries of “À bas Clemenceau” [Down with Clemenceau] as we cantered up the Avenue du Bois du Boulogne (now Avenue Foch). That was a real “thrill”. … No one ever was such fun as he was. We hung upon his every word, and while we laughed and joked – being with him seemed to make us all witty – we leaned upon his judgment, and, above all, upon his glowing affection and constant kindness’.

Clemenceau was in his late forties during these years Violet was in Paris. As mentioned, his marriage was unsuccessful and in 1891 ended in an acrimonious divorce. In 1893, now aged 21, Violet returned to Paris ‘to work at drawing’ again and stayed for another extended period. Clemenceau invited her to live with him and his unmarried daughter, Thérèse, but ‘Admiral Maxse refused this kind invitation; he thought I should be more independent if I were on my own, and that if I was working hard it would be more restful for me to be by myself’. And perhaps he thought other things too. Either way, ‘M. Clemenceau I saw nearly every evening for a few minutes. His flat was opposite my Pension and I used to run across and see him and his daughter after dinner’. She was very at home in Paris.  A small, pretty, dark-haired woman she was famous throughout her life for her chic Parisian elegance.  Buckets of Gallic charm fill Violet’s reported conversations with him. There is never the faintest suggestion of any impropriety, but there is no doubt about a powerful mutual attraction, though they did not agree on everything. Violet, for instance believed in capital punishment, at least for the anarchists who in the 1890s were terrorizing Paris. Clemenceau wrote to her:

‘I should like to scold you for your “speech” on capital punishment. Even if you were right, you would be wrong. It is not toward that side that one should lean at your age’.

When, back in London, Violet announced her engagement in March 1894, Clemenceau managed a complicated congratulation combining his sadness that it had finally come to this, his vast happiness, his worries that no fiancé could ever be good enough for her, and the fact that his own failure in marriage was not to make her draw back from it [xv]. He gave her a ‘lovely writing-table’ as a wedding present … It was intended for the London house Violet was setting up with her husband, but as a present with a ‘message’ attached, it was right on the mark. When Violet and her new husband gave their first dinner party the guests were her father, Clemenceau and John Morley – ‘The talk was first rate’ – and her very orthodox Conservative husband was much entertained by the radicals’ political disputation between themselves.

We can be confident that Clemenceau would have been at Effingham with Maxse [xvi] on several occasions [xvii]. Curiously, a recorded instance of Clemenceau being at Dunley Hill involves a writing table belonging to Violet. On 3 January 1900 Clemenceau wrote from there to the Danish author Georg Brandes, mentioning that he was convalescing after ‘an influenza crisis’. He was still there on 5 January, as we learn from Violet in My Picture Gallery. At that particular moment she herself was in South Africa where her husband Lord Edward Cecil and her brother Ivor Maxse were on campaign in the grim Boer War [xviii]. Violet reports:

‘Clemenceau wrote regularly [ie to her in South Africa] and his letters were a joy and a comfort. One that brought me a picture of home life was very precious. It was written at Dunley on January 5, 1900. He was in my room, writing on my writing table. He said that they talked of little but the war, that all my family [xix] were well’.

In fact Clemenceau’s underlying health was never good, and this particular episode marked the start of a longer bout of ill health. He recovered enough to go back to France, but in July he sadly returned to London for his friend the Admiral’s funeral. In early 1900 Maxse, then aged 67, had set off for a trip to South Africa to see Violet and Ivor. (He travelled with, and became friends of, the Kiplings, whom Violet already knew.) When he left them to come back to England in May he seemed to be well, but unbeknownst to his children he had caught typhoid, which was to be fatal. He died in London on 25 June.

After his death the contents of Dunley Hill were sold and the house was let. Violet records her immense sorrow at this, for instance the dismissal of some faithful and good-hearted servants. The great house itself was finally sold in 1919 but Leo and his wife Katherine ‘Kitty’ (nee Lushington, whom he married in 1890) seem to have retained a local interest in part of the estate for a little longer: the Electoral Rolls for Effingham of 1918-24 list them at Dunley Hill Cottage.

Had he lived into the new century, the Admiral would doubtless (like Leo) have been vociferous about the growing threat of Germany years before the actual outbreak of conflict. He never saw Clemenceau’s rise to the highest position in the French state and his masterly, even Churchillian, leadership of the French during the War. But Violet did. After the Admiral’s death, her friendship with Clemenceau remained extremely close and endured until his death in 1929. It is hard not to speculate over whether this private example of Anglo-French closeness had any international consequences.

After the break-up of Dunley Hill Violet’s life made a major change. Following his service in South Africa, her husband Edward served as a colonial administrator first in Sudan and then in Egypt. Violet had been with him in South Africa but found she could not continue this overseas life with their two small children, and rather than send these away, she came back to England with them. Edward and Violet spent very little time together after about 1901 and their marriage was effectively suspended, but with no hint of either of them having other relationships.

At first Violet lived a somewhat nomadic existence with her children, staying either in rented houses, with friends, or with her in-laws the Cecils at Hatfield or at other Cecil-owned houses. Clemenceau came to stay with her while she was at the Cecil residence Walmer Castle in Kent in 1901, and here he first made the acquaintance of another guest who was, as it happened, already extremely important to Violet but also to Britain’s empire and, later, in the international sphere during and after World War I.  This was the colonial administrator Sir Alfred Milner, later Viscount Milner (1854-1925). Violet and Alfred had known each other in England for some years. They realized they had strong feelings for each other when both were in South Africa – Milner was British High Commissioner there. They were in love for many years before they finally married in 1921, but so discreetly that this was not publicly suspected. In December 1916 Milner became one of Lloyd George’s 5-person War Cabinet, and from then on was at the centre of policies, delegations and decision making throughout the war and at the peace-making afterwards.

In 1906 in search of a permanent home for her children, Violet bought and beautifully refurbished a semi-ruined seventeenth-century manor house called Great Wigsell, near Hawkhurst on the Sussex-Kent border. (Her friends the Kiplings were only eight miles away at  Bateman’s, Burwash.) Amongst her arrangements she created a main guest bedroom, decorated with French furniture, called the Clemenceau Room where the man himself, a regular visitor, could stay.

 

Clemenceau, the Maxses and World War I

Violet wrote:

‘The thought of Alsace-Lorraine was always with M. Clemenceau, though he was essentially a man of peace, and would never have provoked a war even to recover a lost province. Still, from time to time, the wound bled. “Ah”, he said to me ten years before the War, “if I could see England and France march together against Germany, I think I should die of pure joy!” ‘

When England did declare war on Germany on 4 August 1914, Clemenceau was delighted and anxious to see the arrival of an army. He wrote to Violet and urged her to tell the Secretary for War that ‘if he sends only three men, with a flag, to the Continent, it will have a good effect’. As we know, England and France did march together to save their civilization from Germanism, and Clemenceau lived not only to see in the British people the Allies he had always hoped for and dreamed of, but himself to guide both armies to victory. When the Germans invaded Belgium Milner too was one of those strongly pressing for an army to be sent to have the thing over with once and for all. From December 1916 to November 1918, as one of the five members of David Lloyd George’s ‘national government’ War Cabinet, his role was to see to crises in the domestic situation and sort them out – continuing his reputation for calm efficiency in the face of great pressure. Violet’s closest friends and immediate family were operating at the top level of this conflict, and the relief when the Armistice was signed was immense.

In their hopes to sort out Germany, little could they all have foreseen, however, how life would change so irreversibly for Violet within days of Britain entering the war. Edward, who had literally just returned from Egypt on leave, was sent straight back there and never made it back to England again, so Violet was on her own throughout the war. Edward died in a Swiss sanatorium in December 1918.

Ivor, as a serving soldier, went immediately to the front. Now General Sir Ivor Maxse aged 52, a very senior army officer, he was in the field practically from the first day in 1914 as a Division Commander, then a Corps Commander. In June 1918 he was entrusted with training and reorganization, and regarded as very successful. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes him as ‘One of the ablest officers of his generation, a man of originality and drive, and a formidable personality’. He first served under Haig as his commanding officer in 1914 and formed a high opinion of him.

Ivor and Clemenceau met in France on several occasions during the war, for instance on 9 January 1916 when Ivor took him and Generals Mangin, Haig, Robertson and Lord Cavan forward to where they could see the enemy lines. Shelling began, too close for comfort, and Ivor told Clemenceau he should take cover. Clemenceau demurred: ‘But remember, I am a soldier’. Ivor told him that was all the more reason for him to obey, and he did’ [xx]. Witnessing the mutual respect of Maxse and Clemenceau was a great influence on other French and British officers to do likewise. There could be hiccups: in August 1915 Ivor wrote to his wife Mary including some very critical comments about the armaments available to the British army, and suggested showing it to Leo. Leo showed it to Violet for her to see, she forwarded it to Clemenceau, and he published in his French newspaper, L’Homme Libre. It was then picked up by The Times. This caused Ivor considerable embarrassment and he gave Violet a great telling-off, but fortunately there were no worse official rebukes [xxi].

Most tragically however, someone who also entered the fighting within days of the declaration of war was Violet and Edward’s only son George Cecil, then aged 18 and not really fully trained. ‘In many ways George was the unsophisticated model schoolboy, cheerful and sociable, a keen cricketer, fresh and simple, but also serious and keen to do well. His aesthetic responses, however, were more mature than those of an average schoolboy: life at Hatfield and Wigsell had sharpened his eye for beautiful buildings’ [xxii]. From early childhood he was interested in the military. At Winchester School he was part of the Officer Training Corps, a system established in 1907-8 as part of army reforms designed to extend basic military education into the civilian population. It was virtually obligatory at that time for all boys over 15 in school and university. In 1912 he became a cadet at Sandhurst. He joined the prestigious 2ndBattalion Grenadier Guards in January 1914.

As part of the First Army Corps of the British Expeditionary Force to France, George left for France on 12 August. He was killed on 1 September, in a confused running battle through woodland near Villers-Cotterêts. On 8 September a letter informed Violet George was missing believed wounded. Desperate to find out more, she set off to London to find out. As was later to happen to her close friends the Kiplings, the situation remained ambiguous – George could have been wounded, he could be lost, he could have been taken prisoner. It was not absolutely clear that he was dead and she could not believe in this possibility. Distraught, on 19 September she went immediately to France to look for him. Clemenceau for his part had been trying to establish the situation, sending enquiries to every hospital and ambulance depot. He personally arranged for her to have a pass and an escort so she could search the area where George had been fighting but only contradictory and inconclusive information was forthcoming. She went back to England.  Milner and the Kiplings tried to support her during this dreadful time, the latter unaware that their own turn in this nightmare was to come. In the absence of reliable information Violet began to trust in her belief that George must have been taken prisoner. After a month of this the truth was known.  On 19 November arrived the news that his body had been identified. The place in which George had been quickly buried, with others who fell at the same time, had been located.

As stated above, Clemenceau’s great role at the helm of this conflict began in November 1917 when he was elected Prime Minister and refused to let France desert the Allies by making a separate peace with Germany. In 1918 Violet met Clemenceau three times: the first in London when he came on a visit to Lloyd George, and the other two times in Paris when he arranged for her first to travel to visit Edward in the Swiss sanatorium, and in September to visit George’s grave. She arranged for George’s body to be transferred to a nearby cemetery. She visited every year for the rest of her life, until she was too old to travel.

 

Leo Maxse, Effingham and The Blucher public house

The mention of Haig above brings us to Leo and back to Effingham, specifically to the fate of the village’s ‘Prince Blucher’ hotel and public house, which was reported nationally. Leo’s contribution to the war effort was in the field of stimulating patriotic feeling and keeping anti-German feeling high through the press.

On 27 June 1917, a very famous cartoon called A Good Riddance by artist Leonard Raven Hill was published in Punch, showing King George V vigorously sweeping away a great cloud of dust in amongst which there are crowns and helmets labelled ‘Made in Germany’. The cartoon is subtitled ‘The King has done a popular act in abolishing the German titles held by members of His Majesty’s family.’ This is about the Titles Deprivation Act of 1917 reaching the conclusion of its legislative journey at that time. The purpose of the Act was to remove British titles from persons serving in enemy forces, and also to provide as unembarrassing a vehicle as possible for George V to divest his family of their German connections. By Royal Warrant, on 25 June (in sympathy as it were, with the Parliamentary will, but not in any way compelled by it) George V renounced for himself and other members of the royal family any German titles they held. He adopted the surname ‘Windsor’ instead of Saxe-Coburg Gotha.

That same week in late June 1917 saw newspaper articles [xxiii] reporting the renaming of Effingham’s Prince Blücher pub as The Sir Douglas Haig.

Rather surprisingly, this news was first available to newspaper readers not in Surrey but in both London and Liverpool, on Thursday 21 June. In a snippet under the heading A Sign of The Times, the Daily Express reported that ‘The “Blucher Hotel” at Effingham is, it is understood, conforming to the spirit of the times, and is about to change its name to “Sir Douglas Haig.”” In a column of snippets called Echoes Of The Day: Gossip from Here, There and Everywhere, the Liverpool Echo tried out a gentle joke, reporting in an article headed ‘Peace Delegates to The Haig – Rather’ [xxiv] simply and without hesitation that ‘The “Blucher Hotel”, at Effingham, is about to change its name to the “Sir Douglas Haig””.

To Staffordshire readers of The Burton Daily Mail the next day, Friday 22 June, the Blücher was a ‘well-known hotel’, so it may somehow already have been a more famous establishment than just any village pub. A day later on Saturday 23 June 1917, a tiny little announcement in the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser finally let the locals know about their local. But the news had been picked up and was continuing to spread nationally. It seems to have been functioning something like the light, topical item used to round off the 10 o’clock News. It featured in the Evening Express, Aberdeen edition, for 26 June, in their column Sidelights on The War – Brevities.  And we can round this off with Punch, or The London Charivari for 27 June, which chuckled that

‘A well-known inn at Effingham having changed its name from the Blücher to the Sir Douglas Haig, it is further suggested that the name of the village should be changed to Biffingham.’

Having once entered the national consciousness, this instance of patriotic re-naming stuck and intermittently surfaced again for some time. Two years later, it was in The Yorkshire Post for 14 August 1919, again in a Gossip of the Day column; and another two years later, in The Derby Daily Telegraph for 11 June 1921, in a column called By The Way (and NB the Telegraph acknowledged that it had picked up this article from the Manchester Guardian).

Leo’s connection with this episode was not explicitly revealed until three months after the news first broke, ie in September 1917. The next extract quotes a reader from Shere who wrote in to The Surrey Advertiser and County Times. His letter was published on 8 September 1917 (page 2). He signs himself ‘Viator’, which means ‘wayfarer’ or similar. It is quoted in full, because it presents a wonderful vignette:

‘FOOD WASTE AND FOLLY IN SURREY.

TO THE EDITOR

Sir.- Yesterday, about 3 pm [xxv], I was footing it with my knapsack on the road between London and Shere when I turned into the Plough Inn, Effingham, for some tea. Outside was a board: “Tea gardens, teas and luncheons.” Inside the following dialogue took place: –

Myself: Can you, please, give me a pot of tea and two pieces of bread and butter?

Landlady: We only serve full teas.

Myself: What is that?

Landlady: Tea, bread, butter, cake, for 1s 3d.

Myself: But I only want bread and butter.

Landlady: It’s not worth serving that. We only serve full teas here.

The landlord then came on the scene, and, being applied to by his wife, corroborated her, saying, that it was too much trouble to serve anything but full teas. So I thanked them, saying, I would not trouble them, but would try elsewhere.

Now, sir, when we ought all to be saving food why should I eat cake I don’t want? Or why should I be made to pay for what I don’t want to waste? What folly, too, of an innkeeper to discourage custom by his disobliging policy.

So I went across to the Prince Blucher, where I was served cheerfully with a pot of good tea and three slices of excellent bread and butter for ninepence.  I was sorry to see the famous old sign with its memories of Waterloo days was changed to the name of a modern English General, and I asked the reason. The good woman who waited on me said everyone was sorry, and thought it silly. Many customers told her that without Blucher we might not have won the battle of Waterloo, which was what I said too. But the fact was Mr. Maxse, the great writer, had written to the brewers and said the sign was a disgrace to them. I said Mr Maxse was a friend of mine, but I did not know he was a great writer, and I for one was sorry the old sign was gone with its historic memories. Now, Sir, could narrowminded folly go further? And what a want of sense of proportion! – Yours, etc,

VIATOR

Shere, Surrey.’

Like ‘Viator’ the Editor of the Surrey Advertiser and County Times was also clearly affected by Blücher’s dismissal. In the same edition, in his editorial column on page 5, he wrote:

‘We may depose him from his place of honour on the sign board of a Surrey village inn, but we cannot blot him out of our national history. Nor can we blot out that picture of Wellington and Blucher meeting by moonlight after Waterloo had been fought and won, and “the Prussian, after the continental fashion, kissing his friend on both cheeks.” ‘

Perhaps there exists among either Friary Holroyd Meux’s archive or Leo’s own papers evidence that the pub was renamed at his instigation, or even, perhaps, to discover whether it was him who suggested ‘The Sir Douglas Haig’ as the replacement. There is probably also much still to be found out about whether Leo’s position and/or contacts within the Press were playing a role in syndicating the news nationally.

At the same time as this episode, on 29 August 1917 the Surrey Advertiser mentioned Leo in a different capacity, ie supporting the war effort at Effingham. The Women’s War Agricultural Committee reported directly to the Board of Agriculture.  The Surrey branch had a well-developed organisation for interviewing young women who appeared interested in working on the land, and if they proved suitable, sending them off for training.  For this they needed opportunities, and several local landowners or farmers provided accommodation for the girls while they were learning. Amongst these, it is reported that Mr Leo Maxse had made available a cottage at Dunley Hill – ‘the training was partly on his farm and in the garden, under the supervision of two trained lady gardeners. Four recruits were trained each month, and there was a working housekeeper in charge.’

 

The Armistice

The sense of relief for Clemenceau, Milner and Violet when the Armistice was signed can hardly be overstated. All three were able to meet up in London – where Clemenceau was easily recognized and cheered – and also in Paris. After the ‘khaki election’ of December 1918, Milner was appointed Colonial Secretary. For him and Clemenceau a period of yet more gruelling work was to follow, trying to draw up the peace, during which their two nations now often jostled over details [xxvi]. Clemenceau, Woodrow Wilson and Lloyd George were each having to represent so many different views in their search to find a compromise, and the trickiest, of course, was over whether Germany was ‘to blame’ for the war or not, and whether Germany should pay only to repair physical war damage caused to the Allies, or something on top of that as well in the nature of a fine or punishment for being the loser, for instance pensions to wounded soldiers or widows/families, loss of colonies, loss of territory. Britain’s view and France’s were no longer so aligned, and the tension was often excruciating. Clemenceau and Milner were often on ‘opposite’ sides during this, but their rapport based on an underlying common bond was acknowledged by them both and was perhaps of great significance in smoothing the way to this peace. The bond was Violet. In 1916 Clemenceau had told the French President ‘I like him [Milner] a lot. He is an old friend of mine. We admired and loved the same woman. That’s an indissoluble bond’ [xxvii]. On behalf of their nations, both men were signatories to the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.

Leo and Ivor Maxse were of a like mind about the Germans. Experiences and feelings during the War among those trying to win had inevitably to be channelled and uncompromising.  During negotiations about the Armistice, Ivor expressed views which were widely held at the time but may seem shocking today:

‘The Hun is only wishful for peace in order to recover military power and be ready to launch a more successful attack at some opportune moment in the dim future. His heart is by no means altered. That is his nature. Recognise it. It is no use blaming him for his natural temperament, but it is wicked not to recognize what it is. His history during four wars proves it – i.e. 1864, 1866, 1870, 1914 – covering altogether a period of 64 years, two generations! He had but one objective and said so – world power … To prevent it we must crush and humiliate his Army which means his motive … let no sentimental gush be expended on the dirty Hun [xxviii].’

Milner died in 1925, and Clemenceau in 1929. During the post-war years Violet often visited Clemenceau at his simple home at Bel-Ebat on the Brittany coast. She was there just a week before his death. Leo Maxse died in 1932, and now Violet not only moved into the spotlight in her own right, but was to play a very public role in World War II. When Leo died Violet took over the editorship of the National Review, a publication somewhat faltering by that time, and she very successfully revived it. Her absolute determination to get every issue out even during the Blitz became an image of endurance. Ed Murrow, the Director of Talks for the Columbia Broadcasting Service, reporting from London during the Blitz to awaken American awareness of the threat to their freedom, wrote in later years that for him the indomitable spirit of wartime London was represented not by Churchill – but by Violet.

Notes

[i] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[ii] Eddy never married and he never became King. He died of influenza aged only 28 in 1892. ‘Tabloid’ historians have frequently raised queries about supposed defects of intellect and character and his fitness to be King.

[iii] A Prussian b. 1838; a very wealthy sugar broker who played the role of lord of the manor to the full and became much loved in the village.  He died in 1909.

[iv] Now much re-developed, it is known as Ranmore Manor.

[v] Another is H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, 1898 – also set in Surrey, near Woking.

[vi] In the 1880s, forts were built on Box Hill and Ranmore. Lord Ashcombe of Denbies funded a local volunteer force to be ready in case.

[vii] Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography, by D R Watson, pub. Eyre Methuen 1974.

[viii] They had three children.  The marriage ended in 1891.

[ix] All of the quotations from Violet in the above come from My Picture Gallery: 1886-1901 by The Viscountess Milner, pub. John Murray, 1951.

[x] From My Picture Gallery as above.

[xi] Blanc was another French political radical and activist. He had had to escape from France in 1850 and he lived in London in exile until 1870, which could very possibly be where Maxse met him. Maxse himself was following a career of political activism, of a radical and campaigning sort – energetic, but it has to be said, not particularly successful. Interestingly, it seems that in 1886 Maxse tried to make an introduction of his own. He provided a letter of introduction to Clemenceau for his friend Matthew Arnold of Cobham who was visiting France in February 1886. Arnold wrote from Paris to Maxse ‘Clemenceau has not come off: I left your letter with my card, and he called, but I was out; since then I have called twice without finding him at home; I daresay he is very busy’.

[xii] Joseph Chamberlain, and Sidney A. Fane, are listed as ‘Visitors’ at Dunley Hill on the night of the 1891 Census.

[xiii] P32, Mary Maxse 1870-1944, A Record compiled by her family and friends, published by The Rolls House Publishing Co Ltd, 1948.

[xiv] On 20 January 1886 Arnold wrote ‘A thousand thanks for the letter of introduction to Clemenceau. In Paris we shall be at the Hotel St Romain, rue St Roch, and we hope by all means to see your daughter,—and yourself too, if things go well, as I hope they will, at Effingham,—in the course of our three weeks’ stay.’  The ‘things going well’ was a wish for improvement in the health of Maxse’s mother, who as it turned out was in her final illness.  On 8 February Arnold wrote to Maxse from the Hotel St Romain, Paris ‘Clemenceau has not come off: I left your letter with my card, and he called, but I was out; since that I have called twice without finding him at home; I daresay he is very busy’.

[xv] In fact Violet’s marriage was not a great success; she lived largely apart from her husband from c1900 until his death from tuberculosis in 1918. In 1921 she very happily married Sir Alfred Milner, with whom she had been having an extremely discreet affair since 1899. Sadly Milner died in 1925. Much information is provided by Imperial Marriage: an Edwardian War and Peace, by Hugh and Mirabel Cecil, pub. John Murray, 2002.

[xvi] Clemenceau was not the only notable to visit Dunley Hill as recorded by Violet:

‘Miss Margot Tennant [future wife of Mr. Asquith] … came to stay with us at Dunley Hill for a weekend’

‘Mr. Asquith stayed with us once or twice’

‘Mr. Alfred Austin [Poet Laureate after Tennyson]…’

[xvii] Clemenceau destroyed the vast majority of his personal papers in 1928 – he did not want them to fall into the hands of biographers. But Violet presented a collection of 165 of his letters to the Musée Clemenceau in Paris and this would be worth study.

[xviii] Edward was one of those who had to endure the siege of Mafeking (Violet was fortunately not with him at that time).

[xix] Violet’s only son George aged 5 was being looked after at Dunley Hill during her absence.

[xx] John Baynes, Far From A Donkey. The Life of General Sir Ivor Maxse. KCB, CVO, DSO (London: Brassey’s, 1995), p.132.

[xxi] John Baynes, op cit p. 128

[xxii] From Imperial Marriage: an Edwardian War and Peace, as above.

[xxiii] Much of the information about this episode results from research into newspaper archives by Jeremy Palmer.

[xxiv] The heading, Peace Delegates to The Haig – Rather seems odd, but Jeremy persuasively divined that it is intended to be a humorous play on the idea that it would be more appealing to hold a peace conference in The Haig (pub), rather than The Hague! The Hague had already embarked on its reputation as the world centre for international relations: ‘The foundation of The Hague as an “international city of peace and justice” was laid in 1899, when the world’s first Peace Conference took place [there] … followed by a second in 1907. A direct result of [the first of] these meetings was the establishment of the world’s first organisation for the settlement of international disputes: the Permanent Court of Arbitration.’ [Wikipedia].  To house the PCA the ‘Peace Palace’ was specially built and opened in 1913.

[xxv] It might be 5pm – the newsprint is blurred.

[xxvi] The way this herculean task was tackled by Clemenceau, Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson, and the far-reaching consequences of their decisions, is fully described in Paris 1919: Six months that changed the World, by Margaret Macmillan, 2003, Random House.

 [xxvii] John Baynes, op cit p. 202

[xxviii] John Baynes, op cit p. 216.

Based on research by Sue Morris and Jeremy Palmer

“Too glorious for words”: Archie Forbes and the Armistice

Archibald Herbert d’Esterre Forbes (‘Archie’) was born on 29 January 1899. His family lived at France Hill House in Camberley.  Archie attended Uppingham School where he was a member of the Officer Training Corps.  In the summer of 1917 he joined the 13th Officer Cadet Battalion in Newmarket before being gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the East Surrey Regiment, joining the 3rd Reserve Battalion in Dover.  In March he was posted overseas and sent to the 6th Battalion, the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment.

He served through the remainder of the war, sometimes as captain, and was also in demand as a Lewis Gun instructor. He was wounded on 30 June 1918 on the first day of the attack on Bouzincourt which saw 3 officers killed and 9 wounded and 28 other ranks killed, 8 missing and 190 wounded.  In a letter to his mother of 5 July he described his men as having ‘played up like bricks, and followed me magnificently, and helped me at every turn’ and mourned the loss of som many ‘fine fellows … and such decent comrades’ whom he viewed as his ‘good pals.  He was awarded the Military Cross on 4 August.

1st page of letter from Archie Forbes to his mother, 6 March 1919, listing battles in which he had fought (SHC ref QRWS/30/FORB/2).

In his letter of 6 March 1919, with the end of censorship, he was able to list all the actions the battalion had fought in during August and September 1918 as the momentum of the allied advance became unstoppable. Some, he told his mother, ‘were quite cushy – with light casualties- & merely a case of strolling along under a terrific barrage’ but he underlined the names of the most ‘fearful’ battles, including Epehy, Noyelles, the Queant Drocourt line, Brielle and the breaching of the Hindenburg line.  He recalled, with admiration, the day-long resistance of a single German machine gun post in Epehy despite being surrounded: ‘It was one of the best and bravest pieces of work I’ve ever seen the Bosche do, and if ever any Huns ever deserved the Iron Cross, they did!’  He also described the terrific German bombardment after the battalion captured Molasses Farm: ‘after we had taken it & dug in just in front & behind the Farm – the Bosche simply banged & bumped & crumped & shelled it all day & night for some time afterwards’.  His batman Otter followed Archie faithfully across the shell-blasted ground: ‘I used to laugh as we were the most priceless sight imaginable – what with my long legs striding over the ground, & little Otter toddling along with his tiny legs after me – picking up numerous articles that I dropped in my hurry – tin hat, etc!! At times I tried to look dignified, but Otter used to hurry me along – saying “Come along, sir” – “Run sir!”  – or “Keep Low sir, your head is sticking up a long way, sir!” etc, etc’.

Rumegies village and war memorial

The unit war diary states that news of the signing of the Armistice was received at 0800 hours on 11 November while the battalion was behind the lines at the French village of Rumegies, north of Cambrai and just south of the Belgian border. All work for the day was cancelled and in a wonderful letter to his mother Archie looked back on the events of the day.  His exuberant joy contrasts with the gloom of Franklin Lushington: unlike Lushington, Archie was in a position to share the relief and joy of the local French people and of course, despite all he had endured and the responsibility heaped on him in 1918, he was still just a teenager.  His letter is worth quoting extensively.

Dearest Mother,

At last the end of the war has come, and Germany is done and beaten to the very last card! But, by Jove, she’s fought it out well, and stuck out deceiving us up to the very last minute – for not one of us really knew till this morning what a frightful pitch of starvation and despair the Germans had reached.

            It is useless to try and express my feelings of joy and relief now that it is all over – and I don’t suppose you could express yours – it’s all too glorious for words. No doubt England is upside down with delight, and rejoicing from top to bottom, the same that we are doing out here. The men are absolutely off their heads with glee, and it’s topping to think of the happy meetings and rejoicings that will take place when we all get back to England. But on the other hand it’s terrible to think of the many sad homes and sorrowful hearts where this long looked for return will not be, and to them, I fear, peace will only bring their losses back more vividly. We heard this grand news this morning, and all hostilities ceased at 11 a.m. and I am thankful to say we are not in the line, but in another village which has been the scene of endless shouting and waving of flags, etc, throughout the day. The French people – on whom we are billeted – have simply fallen over us with joy all day since we told them that the guerre had finied!! The women and girls and children are practically falling on our necks and feet with gratitude – and I was all but kissed by the old lady and girls in my billet! and seem to have spent half the day shaking hands with dear old men of about 90 who are tottering about the streets shaking all over with delight. Of course you must remember these people have only recently been released by us from the Bosche – and I can’t say whether all the French people are so full of gratitude as this towards the British soldiers. We’ve spent the day marching about the streets with bands playing and everybody waving flags and shouting, singing, and cheering – and numerous rockets and coloured lights have been sent up all day, to say nothing of squibbs and fireworks!

1st page of Archie Forbes’s letter to his mother on armistice day (SHC ref QRWS/30/FORB/2)

            The general himself is quite mad, and sent up an S.O.S. Rocket this morning from the midst of a huge crowd of Tommies in the market square. The S.O.S Rocket – I must explain – is the signal for an intense artillery barrage to be put down on the Bosche when he comes over the top at us, and is immediately answered by all our Guns. (i.e. if the war is on!) But this morning the only reply it got was a terrific outburst of laughter and applause – and the joke appealed to the men like anything. The remainder of the day – (when I haven’t been marching about or waving flags or cheering) – I seem to have spent in standing to attention and listening to “God Save the King” and the Marseillaise and Belgian National Anthem about 100 times over at different times & places!

            It has really been an historic day in this place, and one which I shall never forget as long as I live. And the beauty of the whole thing to me is that it is genuine whole-hearted rejoicing – and no drunkenness at all or even lively spirits through drink – as there isn’t a drop of drink in the place, and we can’t get whiskey for the officers’ messes at present.

            Tomorrow there is a large voluntary Thanksgiving Service – and I haven’t the smallest doubt that every single man in the battalion will turn up, as every one of us thinks and says the same thing – that we have so much to be thankful for that we can never express it in words. And really – when I come to look back on my 6 or 7 months out here, there is such a lot to be thankful for – and all the awful narrow escapes I’ve had time and again, that it makes me go cold all over to think of it! For although I’ve only been out for 6 or 7 months, yet these 6 months have seen some of the worst battles & fighting of the war – and fellows who have done as many “over the top” stints and been through as many battles as I have during these 6 months and come through without a scratch have got more to thank God for than they can hope to do in a lifetime.

I somehow can’t yet realize that I am safe and sound with a whole skin, as an infantry subaltern’s life out here is nothing but one of huge risk – seeing that he plays about with barrages half the time – or else under Machine Gun fire.

2nd Lieutenant Archie Forbes (on left) (SHC ref QRWS/30/FORB/2)

Now that it’s all over, I don’t mind telling you that time and again I’ve wondered how much longer I should last out, and how much longer my luck would hold. And time and again, I’ve gone over the top with my Platoon or Company – usually well in front of them – and yet when I looked round I’d see them being knocked over all round me especially that memorable occasion when I went over with a Platoon of 35 and afterwards found myself with 7. It makes one think a bit, I can assure you, and I’ve wondered and wondered why some fellows like myself have been so lucky, and I’m sure your prayers have done it, and other poor fellows haven’t been so fortunate because they haven’t got Mothers who pray for them so earnestly as you have done for me all along, I know.  [……….]

I can hear the old lady of my billet coming up the stairs to my room – I believe she wants to kiss me this time!! – No, it was alright, not the old lady after all – but her young daughter who has brought me a cup of coffee. I thanked her frightfully as she’s quite pretty! – and I said numerous merci “beaucoups” and “biens” and “bons” and “tra bongs”, etc! which seemed to please her greatly. I talk quite a lot to them, as they love hearing the war news – especially this morning’s news of peace! But I find it pretty difficult as they can’t speak a word of English in these parts – but very amusing and great fun at times.

On demobilisation, 3 March 1919, Archie was given a fine reference: ‘He is a strict disciplinarian and a very fine leader, especially in action and he knows how to handle men’. After the war, he became a Latin teacher at Lambrook preparatory school Winkfield, Berkshire.  He married Flora Keyes and they had two daughters, Isla & Rona.  In the autumn of 1939, he achieved his long-held hope of becoming headmaster of Lambrook.  He died of cancer on 31 October 1956.

Images and transcripts reproduced by permission of the grandchildren of Archie Forbes.

Rifleman Wilfred Geeson

Letters courtesy of Melvyn Roffe, descendant of Rifleman Geeson

The following letters relate to the death in action of Rifleman Wilfred Edwin Geeson, #552245, of 2nd/16th Battalion, London Regiment, who died on Saturday 8 December 1917, aged 24.  He is buried in plot U106 of Jerusalem War Cemetery, Israel.

For more information, read the story about Surrey fireman who died in the war: https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/surrey-firemen-killed-in-action-during-the-great-war/

“Dec.  10th 1917

Dear Sir

May I write to say how very deeply the officers, NCO and men of your son’s company sympathise with you in his loss. It was in the action of the 8th Dec which resulted in the taking of Jerusalem that he was killed. He was, as you doubtless know, one of the Company’s stretcher bearers and it was in hurrying to the help of a wounded man that he lost his own life. His was as brave an action as I have seen during the war, for he didn’t hesitate a moment to see whether other shells would follow the one which had already caused the casualty with the result that he was himself hit a minute later.

We buried him the same morning on a hillside about two and a half miles west of Jerusalem and overlooking the little village of Karim. His personal kit has been collected and will be sent to you through the usual channel.

He was not only a good and cheerful soldier, but he showed an unselfishness and devotion to duty which greatly increases our sense of loss.

Yours very sincerely,

CH Flower (Cpt)

OC C Company 2nd/16th Battalion London Regiment”

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“PO West Molesley

Surrey

March 10th 1918

My Dear Edith

Thank you for your kind sympathy in our great loss. Oh, the awful blow the mothers of England are called upon to bear is terrible. I try to be brave but it’s very hard. He was my all in everything, nothing came amiss to the Dear sweet Lad, everybody loved him. I try to think God knows best. How hard it is for those that’s left. He spared him further suffering in this wicked and evil war and they had gone through some fighting and hardships. Fancy, I had not seen him for 19 months. How I prayed and hoped for his home coming. I thought you would like one of his Captain’s letters. I also had a beautiful letter from a chum that came home but he happened to be in hospital at the time. Another chum was killed [at the] same time and his mother wrote to me that they were both buried in [the] same grave. They were born a stone’s throw from one another in Ashford. The other was 26 years old…..

[Elizabeth Geeson]”

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“Dear Edith

Excuse the long delay in answering your letter but our time is so much taken up by the shop that we get very little leisure, indeed very little time to dwell upon our great loss, but a loss like ours is not for a day it is for a life time, a blank that can never be filled. It was our hope to see our lad return to take over from us the responsibilities which we had hoped to lay down, but war upsets all our calculations and although we sow, we know not who will reap. In the full beauty of manhood he like thousands of others has been swept away. I hope that you are all well. You are now safer than you were owing to the failure of the Zeppelins – we hear the guns and bombs in the distance every London raid. Thank God it is in the distance.

Your loving Uncle

E J Geeson”

Private Albert Edward Tickner

Researched and written by Anne Wright

Pte A E Tickner
12th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment
240429
Killed in action, 4.6.1918
Age, 23

E A Tickner, a former pupil of St James’ School (Baker Street), Weybridge is commemorated on the school’s Memorial Board to the Fallen of the Great War, but no such person appears in the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). However, Albert Edward Tickner who was born in Addlestone (c.1895) and by 1911 lived with his family in Pelican Lane, Hamm Moor, Weybridge is listed among the dead on the CWGC’s site. He is known as Edward on Census returns but as Albert Edward in his military records which also confirm his biographical details.

He was the third child of William and Elizabeth (nee Wilson) Tickner who were married at Holy Trinity Church, Aldershot on 10 June 1889. William John was a soldier who had been born in Walton-on-Thames in about 1864 and Lizzie had been born in Ireland in about 1865. In 1901 they lived in Simplemarsh Road in Addlestone and William earned his living as a machine minder in a flour mill. They had five children by 1911: William, Mary, Edward, Kathleen and Arthur. Edward was a shop assistant with the grocery business, International Stores.

Two years later, on 25 November 1913, Edward or as he now becomes known, Albert, joined the East Surrey Regiment’s Territorial Force for a period of four years and was allocated to the 1/6th Battalion (2060). He stood five feet and four inches tall and was 17 years and 6 months of age. For the first three years of the First World War he was home based but from 22 September 1917 he was part of the British Expeditionary Force, embarking from Folkestone the next day. From 2 October he served with the 12th Battalion of the East Surreys. Albert spent two weeks at La Danne in training before being involved in coastal defence near Nieuport Bains, here he had his first experience of enemy artillery and aeroplane action. By the end of November Albert’s battalion was on the Italian Front to reinforce the Italians following their retreat after the Central Powers attacked at Caporetto on 24 October. They remained in Italy until the end of February 1918. The battalion was mostly based in the Montello Range sector where they became used to active artillery and aerial action; on 8 December the Italians brought down a German plane and the injured pilot was very surprised to find himself among British troops! After some respite in billets Albert and his comrades returned to the line on Christmas Eve, they spent the following day in working parties and repairing wire. They had had their Christmas dinner on the 21st.

The 12th East Surreys returned to France on 3 March and after two weeks training were in the line in front of Sapignes. They were caught up in the onslaught of the German Spring Offensive and retreated to a line south of Gommecourt. At the beginning of April, they transferred to the Ypres Salient taking up a position on Passchendaele Ridge where they had a relatively quiet time. Albert’s final location from 2 May was in the Ypres Sector itself where the city was under constant artillery attack. He was in the line from the 25 May until 3 June when there was heavy artillery action from both sides. Albert’s military records say that he was killed on 3/4 June although there is no mention of a fatality at that time in the war diary. However, the diary gives the total number of casualties for June as 3 other ranks killed and 19 wounded. Albert was one of the three fatalities, probably killed in the course of his battalion being relieved on 3/4 June, always a vulnerable time.

Albert is buried in Hagle Dump Cemetery (1.B.5) at West Vlaenderen 75 km west of Ypres (Ieper). His brothers both served in the war and survived; William in the Royal Garrison Artillery and Arthur in the 52nd Bedfords. William died in 1969 and Arthur in 1981. After their mother’s death in 1909 their father remained at his home in Hamm Moor Lane until his death in 1935. He remarried twice, first to Annie Elizabeth Sheldon in August 1913 at St Paul’s Church, Addlestone and after Annie’s death, in 1922, to May Agnes Jackson in 1924. A son, Anthony Charles, was born from this last marriage.

Sources:

British Army WW1 Service Records, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
Memorial to the Masters and Old Boys of St James’ School, Weybridge, Who Fell in the Great War 1914-1918, St James’ Church
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
Tickner & Hyttenrauch Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk

Geoffrey Cather VC

Text and research by Limpsfield Chart Golf Club

Geoffrey St George Shillington Cather was born in October 1890, the elder son of Robert and Margaret Cather.  Robert was a partner in Jospeh Tetley and Co, tea merchants in Fenchurch Street, London.  The family moved to Limpsfield sometime in the 1890s, and lived in Red Roofs, Bluehouse Lane.  He went to Hazelwood School in 1900 and then to Rugby School, which he left in 1908.  He was a member of the Limpsfield Chart Golf Club.

Geoffrey Cater followed his father and joined Tetley’s in London in 1908 as a tea buyer’s assistant.  He worked for them for a time in the USA and Canada before returning to England in 1914.  While in London, Cather had served in the Territorials.  When war broke out, he enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers but then chose to go back to his Ulster roots, so he was commissioned in May 1915 in the 9th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

On 1 July 1916, the opening day of the Somme battle, Cather’s battalion was part of the 36th Ulster Division’s assault on Thiepval Ridge.  The first wave left the trenches at zero hour but came under intense machine gun fire, which also decimated the following waves.  By nightfall nine officers and 235 men had been killed or wounded.

Cather, the battalion adjutant, did not take part in the initial assault but could hear the cries of the wounded out in no man’s land and near the German wire.  As evening fell he filled some water bottles and crawled out to help them, dragging or carrying many of the wounded to where the stretcher bearers could pick them up.  There was heavy German artillery and machine gun fire throughout the four hours in which he was carrying out this work.  The next morning he went out again in full view of the enemy trenches to help more of the wounded in no man’s land until he was killed by machine gun fire.  His Victoria Cross was gazetted in September 1916, the citation stressing ‘his conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice’.  Cather’s body disappeared in the carnage on Thiepval Ridge, but he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.

John Windham-Wright, son of a notable Witley resident.

Some earlier sources state John was born John Wright and changed his name on marriage to John Windham-Wright but we now know he was born Whittaker Wright in the United States, the son of James Whittaker and Annie Edith Wright. The family, including John’s sisters Edith and Gladys, returned to the United Kingdom in 1889 and James bought Lea Park (now Witley Park) in 1890 and spent a fortune remodelling it. James was popular in Witley, providing much employment, but was convicted of fraud in 1904.  James committed suicide after the judgement and is buried in All Saints churchyard with Annie who died in 1931.

 

John was educated at Eton and Oxford. He joined The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) Volunteers when he was 22 years old  in 1906 as a second lieutenant.  In 1911 he was living with Annie, Edith and Gladys at Parsonage Farm, Witley.  John married Violet Agnes Smijth-Windham, daughter of John Charles (a retired colonel) and Frances Helen Smijth-Windham on 15 August 1912 in Wrecclesham, Surrey.  The banns and marriage certificate give his name as John Windham-Wright, occupation gentleman, residence Witley, father John Whittaker Wright, deceased.  John had an uncle named John who invented the electric trolley pole and brought electric light to Toronto but he died in 1922.  In October 1912 John and Violet went to British Columbia, Canada on the Cunard liner S. S. Carmania (19,500 tons) so perhaps his change of name was meant for a new life as a farmer in Canada.

 

John and Violet returned to England in 1914 and John re-joined the Queens (Royal West Surrey Regiment) as a captain. He became medically unfit so was posted to the Fifth Reserve Battalion at Guildford and promoted to major in 1915.  John did much for the welfare of the men under his command; he led an appeal in December 1915 raising a considerable amount for their Christmas welfare.  John and Violet’s son, Patrick Joseph Stewart Windham-Wright was born in 1916.  By November 1917, John had recovered and was posted to the Sixth Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) and served in the Somme area and in Belgium.  At the end of 1918, John was attached to the Eleventh Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), part of the occupying army in Germany based at Cologne, as a temporary lieutenant colonel.  In February 1919, the family received a telegram advising John was desperately ill with pneumonia and a few days later he died on 14 February.  In the meantime, The London Gazette of 13 February 1919 John announced as being awarded the Order of the British Empire.  Violet is listed at Winkford Lodge on the 1921 voter’s roll but then moved to Swanthorpe, East Liss and thereafter to several addresses in Sussex, Surrey and Berkshire.  Patrick married Weiti Urban in 1945 in The Netherlands.  Violet’s final home was in St. Leonards but she died on 14th February 1959 in The Netherlands, possibly whilst visiting Patrick’s in-laws.

Sergeant Percy Batten

Research and text by Robert Newman

Sgt P Batten MM and Bar, Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment (1st Battalion) Service Number L/9813 Born Reading, Berks 1895 Died of wounds 2nd October 1917 aged 22yrs Laid to rest in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium

Percy Batten was born to Mr and Mrs G Batten, residents of Beech Hill, in 1895. We know little of his family and early life but he was undoubtedly from a working family, perhaps farm labourers, and attended the village school along with his siblings (at least four). He signed up for military service at the Hounslow depot either in the run-up to the war at the age of eighteen or as war broke out in the summer of 1914 at the age of 19.

According to his medal index card, Percy served with the 2nd Battalion Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment (known as the ‘Mutton Lancers’ due to the lamb on their Regimental arms) and landed in France on October 4th 1914. As a regular soldier he was clearly viewed as a reliable and trustworthy young man, as by 1916 when he next appears in military records, he has been promoted through the ranks to Lance Sergeant. During this period he also transferred from the 2nd Battalion to the 1st. This was probably due to the horrific level of casualties suffered within the Regiment early on in the war. By the end of the first week of November 1914 there were only 32 survivors out of a total of 998 men from the 1st Battalion. The 2nd Battalion had suffered 676 casualties.

Percy had done well to survive. But not only did he survive, he displayed outstanding gallantry and the Surrey Times of September 8th 1916 lists him as one of 11 men from The Queen’s to be awarded the Military Medal for gallantry. Although the citation has not been found, we know from the Regimental war diaries that Percy’s award was gained in the Somme during the battle to take and retake High Wood between the 15th and the 21st July 1916, during which the Battalion suffered 362 casualties.

As with most ‘other ranks’ there is little evidence of Percy’s achievements during the War. Commissioned officers were routinely listed by name in the war diaries, if they were injured, killed or led particularly notable actions. Enlisted men and ‘other ranks’ were largely anonymous. However, during the period between July 1916 and September 1917, we know that he was not only promoted to full Sergeant but gained a Bar to his Military Medal for a further act of gallantry. Percy’s war ended on October 2nd 1917 at the age of 22yrs when he died of wounds inflicted on the battlefield.

We can only speculate about the exact circumstances of Percy’s death, but the Regimental war diaries suggest he was probably one of the 387 casualties the Regiment suffered during the battle for Polygon Wood between September 25th and 28th 1917.

Sources:

Regimental war diaries of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment

‘May 1st – I heard the nightingale’

Before the war, Albert Reynold’s life was that of a countryman. He had been brought up in Pirton in Hertfordshire where his father worked as an agricultural labourer and chimney sweep. By 1911, Albert had moved from the area with one of his brothers and was working as a groom for a family in Hertfordshire. Married to Caroline Bashford in 1907, he was living and, presumably employed, in the Croydon area. By the time of the 1911 census, they and their son, Albert John Louis Reynolds, had moved again, this time to Surrey, as Albert is shown as working as a gamekeeper at Fox Hills, near Ottershaw.

When he joined the Royal Garrison Artillery on 2nd June 1916, he was living in Laurel Cottage, Windlesham.

He embarked in Southampton on 18th January 1917, arriving in Le Havre the following day. In July 1917, he was admitted to hospital with an ankle injury and was invalided home for a spell after this. He returned to France in Spring 1918 only to be wounded in August of that year. He died of his wounds on 9th August 1918.

From the Rev A.J. Hutton’s tribute to Albert Reynolds in the Windlesham Book of Remembrance, we know that Albert kept a diary. Sadly, the whereabouts of this document are no longer known but we are lucky to have these excerpts which help us understand Albert’s thoughts as he fought in France.

The full tribute is shown below.

‘Albert Reynolds was born at Pirton in Hertfordshire. His wife & son were living in Windlesham, Surrey when he joined up on June 1st. He was then 33 years of age. He joined up in the Royal Garrison Artillery 139th Heavy Battery. During the rest of 1916 he was in training at Dover. On January 18th he left Aldershot for France landing at Havre on 19th & reaching Albert on 21st January 1917. He kept a diary from which we know that in 1917 he was moving about between Moulain, Haudricourt,  Dunkirk, St Omer & Rouen & Coyde.

In July whilst grass cutting they were shelled out of Haudricourt. On July 19 he met with an accident whilst fetching forage, which necessitated his going into hospital at St Omer. After undergoing Xrays at Rouen he was sent to Southampton by Hospital ship St George & from there to Leeds & Killingbeck Hospitals where he was until November when he came home on leave. On Jan 5th he left home again for Bullivant. On April 13th 1918 he left Winchester for France again. On April 25th he was in action  ‘1 gun knocked out’ All June and July judging from his diary he was ‘in action’ most of the time till on the 8th of August he was hit & on the 9th he died. He was very fond of natural history & birdlife as the following extract from his diary shows ‘1918. On 23rd March fine morning with heavy dew, the birds singing on the trees and the rooks busy building their nests. The sun was shining very hot towards the middle of the day; a butterfly was flying around and bumble bees were whirling past; thus ended a perfect day’

Another entry in the midst of others ‘in action comes-

May 1st I heard the nightingale’

His wife received a very touching& sympathetic letter from one of his comrades on behalf of himself & all his mates in sub section E as soon as the news of her husband’s death in hospital had reached them at their battery on August 9th 1918.

He was buried in the British Cemetery at Pernois.’

Caroline Reynolds was awarded a pension of 21/8 per week from 17th February 1919. A few weeks earlier, she had been in discussion with the army about the return of her husband’s effects. A document shows that whilst items such as a pierced shilling, a pipe, his belt a pocket knife, two bibles and a cigarette holder were returned, she raised the fact that she had not received his watch or gold ring.

Caroline collected his medals on October 8th 1921.

Bibliography

Hutton A.J., date unknown, Windlesham Roll of Honour SHC Ref: Z_682_1 35A& 35B