Herbert Westlake Garton was born on 8 August 1892, the third son of Charles and Juliet Garton.
Banstead Wood House, the grand family home in Banstead Woods, once a “power-house of refreshment and recreation”, later became a military hospital during World War Two, then the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children and finally was converted into apartments. The Gartons made their money in sugar and brewing and were effectively lords of the manor in Banstead and great local benefactors. The family name survives in the Garton Recreation Ground and the Garton Memorial in All Saints’ churchyard.
Herbert attended Eton, where he served in the Eton Volunteers, and then went up to Magdalen College, Oxford, to study Modern History. He had just received his degree when war broke out. Herbert had intended to become a diplomat but, for now, the time for talking was over and there was fighting to be done. He joined the Army on 26 August 1914 and was commissioned in the 9th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade.
In France, the accumulated strain of enduring shellfire for prolonged periods crept up on Herbert. Wounded twice in a week, the second a concussion, during fighting at Hooge in July and August 1915, he had a breakdown and was admitted to hospital with neurasthenia (shell shock). Discharged after just three weeks, he was still not well and he returned to hospital in September. Evacuated to England and treated in a hospital in Kensington, Herbert was granted a 3-month leave of absence in September, later extended to five months.
Judged unfit for general service, Herbert joined the 14th (Reserve) Battalion. He had another 6 weeks leave at Banstead Wood before being ready for light duties in mid-March, although still in a “nervous state”. His services were “urgently required” by MI-1C (later more famous as MI6) and he served with them until May. About to be posted to a Staff job in Egypt, he could not bring himself to accept a safe job when his friends were in danger and so both Herbert and the Rifle Brigade requested that he return to his battalion having been passed as fit for general service.
The 9th Rifle Brigade arrived on the Somme battlefield in mid-August 1916, where they were involved with the fighting around Delville Wood. Herbert’s battalion took part in the opening day of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, a major phase of the Battle of the Somme notable for the first use of a new “engine of war”: the tank. Ironically, given the Garton family background, they started their advance from near the remains of a sugar refinery and crossed Hop Alley and Ale Alley on their way towards their objective, Gird Trench, northeast of the village of Flers. Despite the lack of an artillery barrage on the trench, and having already suffered heavy casualties, the remnants of the 9th Rifle Brigade attempted to capture it anyway. Exposed to withering machine-gun fire from their right flank, they fared very badly and lost all but one officer. Only 140 men came through unscathed. Herbert was among the fallen. He was 24.
Herbert is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, on the Banstead War Memorial, on the memorial panels in All Saints’, Banstead, on the Garton Memorial (see below), on his parents’ grave monument at All Saints’, on his brother Clive’s headstone at Arras, and on the Eton College and Magdalen College War Memorials.
His name is inscribed in the All Saints’ Book of Men Who Served Overseas, printed in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, in the Magdalen College Memorial Book, the Oxford University Roll of Service and in Eton College’s List of Etonians Who Fought in the Great War.
The Gartons lost another son, Edward Clive, later in the war. They erected a monument, known as the Garton Memorial, in All Saints’ churchyard, to the memory of all of the men of Banstead. Their sons’ names are engraved there but they are given no special prominence, taking their place in strict chronological order. Herbert’s mother, Juliet, ordered the boys’ rooms be left ready as if for their return and then to be locked and never opened again.
Herbert was commemorated at All Saints’, Banstead, at 11:50am on Thursday 15 September 2016, the 100th anniversary of his death. A service of remembrance was held during which a bell was tolled 100 times in his memory of Captain Garton and in memory of the men of 9th Rifle Brigade who fell that day. Two of Herbert’s great-nieces and his great-great nephew tolled the bell.
A longer version of Herbert’s story is available on request.