Alfred Tredgold: in Gallipoli with the 2/4th Battalion, the Queen’s

Major Alfred Frank Tredgold (1870-1952) of Guildford was a distinguished doctor, specialising in mental deficiency.  Educated at Durham University and the London Hospital, he then held a research scholarship in insanity and mental disease, funded by London County Council.  He entered general practice and in 1905 was appointed as one of the medical investigators to the royal commission on the care and control or the feeble minded which reported in 1908, and was one of the architects of the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act.  He was also a contributor to scientific debates around eugenic theory (at that time in vogue in many countries), and was at one time an active member of the Eugenics Society.

An officer in the Territorial Force since 1905, at the outbreak of war he offered his expertise to the Royal Army Medical Corps but was turned down.  He was transferred from the 5th Battalion, the Queen’s Royal West Surreys, to the 2/4th Battalion, to act as adjutant, and sailed with the battalion through the Mediterranean to Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, in August 1915.  He wrote long, vivid letters to his wife and children while the expeditionary force was bogged down on the peninsula (SHC ref QRWS/30/TRED), which capture the frightfulness of the campaign.  His early optimism (‘As the Colonel said yesterday, it is virtually another crusade, and I don’t suppose we shall stop until the Crescent is once more replaced by the Cross’) was soon replaced by a realisation that things were not going well.  On 15 August, he wrote ‘It is just a week since we landed and it has been simply Hell – there is no other word which can describe it’.  The battalion landed at night and was immediately thrown into action to shore up the line: ‘It was an awful din and a horrible sight.  Men were streaming back wounded, and all around were dead and dying – poor fellows with arms, legs and even heads blown clean away’.  For three days and nights the battalion found itself holding a captured Turkish trench, under a blazing sun and relentless shelling and with very little food and water and no packs which had been left on the landing beach.

Unable to capture the heights of the peninsula and confined to the shore and foothills, British and Empire troops had to endure burning summer heat and then penetrating winter cold and rain.  Tredgold wrote ‘It’s a terrible country to fight in, and one sees war in all its most horrible aspects’.  His letters give an unsparing account of conditions: bathing in the sea during a rest period behind the lines while warships continued the bombardment and shells fell into the water around him; sheltering under a fig tree in a shallow pit which was serving as battalion HQ; drawing meagre supplies of water from a well half a mile away under cover of darkness because of Turkish snipers; and eating hard biscuits covered partly with jam and partly with swarms of flies.  The lack of water for washing and shaving meant that ‘At present our appearance would discredit an ordinary English tramp’.

Dysentery took Tredgold back to Egypt (along with many others) at the end of September and by the time he was sufficiently recovered the battalion had been evacuated and he rejoined it in the Egyptian desert, where it formed part of the Western Frontier Force, keeping an eye on threatening Arab tribes. Christmas 1915 was spent north west of Cairo, with the desert sands stretching around.  When he heard that the Gallipoli peninsula was being evacuated it filled him with despair: ‘when one thinks of all that loss of life and hardship and suffering ending in absolutely nothing it is really enough to make one cry’.  The battalion was then sent to defend the Suez Canal, but by the middle of 1916, Tredgold’s health required him to return to England and he saw out the war in the relative calm of the Stoughton Barracks Depot, living with his family at 6 Dapdune Crescent, Woodbridge Road, Guildford.

After the war he emerged as ‘the leading consultant in mental deficiency in the country’ (Dictionary of National Biography), holding the positions of neurologist at the Royal Surrey County Hospital and physician in psychological medicine at the London Hospital.  He also served as president of the psychological section of the Royal Society of Medicine and was a driving force behind the creation of the Central Association of Mental Welfare, which provided voluntary community supervision for those classed as ‘mental defectives’.  His textbooks became standard texts and went through many editions.

He died at St Martin’s, Clandon Road, Guildford, on 17 September 1952.


Letters of Arthur Tredgold, SHC ref QRWS/30/TRED

Dictionary of National Biography, article by Matthew Thomson

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