Rev A.J.Hutton, Rector of St John the Baptist Church, Windlesham from 1916-1932, wrote an entry in a Roll of Honour for each local man killed in the World War One. Some entries are short, some lengthy. The report on Second Lieutenant Eric Curtis, who served in Seaforth Highlanders, is one of the most detailed and tells his story movingly. It is reproduced below.
‘Eric Curtis was born in 1893 & was 21 years of age in Aug 1914. He was then a clerk in the G.W.R. Company. In Sept 1914 he enlisted in the 5th Seaforth Highlanders & went into training at Bedford. He was sent with a draft to France early in May 1915. The 5th Seaforths formed part of the famous 51st Division. He had his first leave in April 1916, when he married. Returning to France he was wounded in 1916 & was sent to a hospital at Devonport. On recovery he re-joined his Depot at Ripon and remained there as Instructor in Musketry until the autumn of 1917. He then applied for a commission and was sent to Pirbright to 19th Officers’ Cadet Battalion. He got his Commission on January 5th 1918 and returned to Ripon till March when he was sent to France & attached to the 8th Seaforths which formed part of the 15th Division. In July 1918 this division was sent to the neighbourhood of Soissons to help the French in their offensive against the Germans on the Marne. There he was killed on July 28th at Buzancy. A monument was erected by the 17th Division of the French Army in commemoration of the bravery of the 15th Div (Scottish) that fought by their side in General [name unclear]’s* counterstrike in the battle between the Aisne and the Marne. This obelisk stands at the highest point of the plateau where the foremost Scottish soldier fell on July 28th 1918 and bears this inscription—
‘Here the noble thistle of Scotland will flourish forever among the roses of France
17th French Division
15th Scottish Division’
The Major Genal wrote to his mother.
‘Dear Mrs Curtis…. I need hardly tell you how very sorry we all were at the loss of your gallant son…. I don’t suppose there has been any finer work done than the capture of Buzancy village and chateau by the 8th Seaforth Highlanders assisted by the 5th Gordons and 4/5 Black Watch. May I offer you my most sincere sympathy on your loss – yours sincerely H. L. Reed (Major Genal)’.
His Captain also wrote to his wife: ‘I should like to say how sorry I am to lose your husband and to offer you my deep sympathy in your loss. Your husband was in my company and we were together a great deal. He was cheery and kept us all in good spirits. He was fine to work with & he was very well liked by his men. I shall miss him greatly signed[blank space with name missing]‘
The Chaplain wrote: ‘I am very sorry to send you the sad news of the death of your husband. He was killed in action while leading his men in a most successful attack…. One of his brother officers is writing to you. The Colonel would have written but he was killed also. Your husband was always bright and cheery. I saw him in the trenches two days before he fell & he was bright as usual…. He was always keen & I had pleasant chats with him as I am the Padre of the Regiment…. Please accept the sympathy of the Padre who was pleased to know your husband and to admire him for his fine spirit. It is a comfort for you to know that he died a noble death in a righteous cause. It is a great comfort for you to feel that our Christian faith points to a reunion in God’s good time.’
In a letter from Corporal Thomson who saw him fall he says: ‘in the morning of 28th July we were due to attack a strong point in conjunction with a French platoon. We duly went over advancing for the first 100 yards across open country, then through a small copse, arriving on the other side of the copse we were met by a very heavy machine gun fire, rifle fire & especially on the right i.e. immediately in front of the French. Meanwhile Lieut-nt Curtis & I worked our way over to the French taking up our position behind a little mound more or less for cover, the machine gun & other fire being so heavy and also so that we might better see the surroundings: we were lying on our backs: when Lieut-nt Curtis rose for a second & was slipping over me, we were intending to get back to the Platoon: he was shot through the head above the right eye & dropped down dead on top of me. His death was instantaneous: It was a machine bullet, which killed him: Being in the throes of battle, his body had to be left where he fell: later he was buried by the French & a monument erected over him.
That his death was a great blow to us I need hardly say: never was an officer more popular, more highly esteemed, more honoured by any set of men: His happy go lucky way, his cheery smile, his utter disregard for his own personal safety & comfort was always uppermost & were a long way towards making him so popular: He was heroic beyond words & knew no fear’ ‘
The service information reported by Rev Hutton is confirmed by records held in the National Archive. Eric joined up in 1914 and his Casualty Form records a shoulder wound in August 1916 which required him to be sent home. He was in Connaught Hospital in Aldershot for some time before being given leave in October of that year. He applied for a commission on 1st March 1917, requesting an infantry appointment.
Eric had been born in Somerset but brought up with his family in Berkshire. He attended Ranelagh School, Berkshire. Quite why or when Eric moved to Windlesham is unclear but probate records show that ‘Eric Calvin of Coombe Edge Lodge, Windlesham’ left his effects to his wife, Annie Curtis. In December 1918, Annie gave birth to a son who would never know his father and who was to die himself in service in World War 2.
*This is likely to be General C Gassoins, commander of the relieving French division.
Hutton, A.J., date unknown, Windlesham Roll of Honour Z_682_1 15A & Z_682_1 14B
National Archive WO 374/17414