Second Lieutenant Vavasour Mervyn Holdsworth

Researched and written by Anne Wright

2/Lt V M Holdsworth
22nd (County of London) Battalion (The Queens)
Killed in action, 20.12.1915
Age, 36

Vavasour Mervyn Holdsworth was born on 21 November 1879 in St. Helier, Jersey. According to his birth and baptism records his parents, who married on 4 September 1879 at the Parish Church of West Molesey, were Henry Mervyn and Rosa Frances (nee Taylor) Holdsworth. His baptism took place at St. Martin’s in the Fields, London, on 4 March 1880. At three months old he was placed in the care of a Miss Norfolk remaining with her until he was 5 years old and then moving to live with a Miss McGovern at Camberwell. He stayed with her for three years until he was enrolled at William Henry Eady’s Beaumont School in Coulsdon, Surrey. Throughout his formative years he believed, as he was told, that his name was Charles Hope Vavasour and that he was an orphan, his parents having died in India. His care was financed by Henry Mervyn Holdsworth who he referred to as ‘uncle’ and who visited him at the various addresses at which he lived and with whom he corresponded. As a young man he recalled having met his ‘aunt’ and he was informed of her death in 1893. After 1897 his ‘uncle’ ceased to support him or pay for his education.

This radical change in his circumstances must have caused him to investigate his relationship with his ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’. He seems to have established a friendship with William Henry Eady’s family with whom he was staying in London Street, Chertsey at the time of the 1891 Census under the name, Charles Hope Vavasour, with his place of birth given as Calcutta, India. The head of the household was George John Eady, a retired General Practitioner and well established resident of Chertsey. By 1904 he was living in the household of Constance Mary Eady, his teacher’s sister, at Audley, Princes Road in Weybridge. At about this time the young man became aware of the marriage certificate of Henry and Rosa Holdsworth and of his own birth certificate which identified him as their son Vavasour Mervyn Holdsworth. He wrote to Henry Holdsworth notifying him of his discovery and on 23 January 1905 filed a paternity petition. Sixteen months later, on 28 June 1906, Vavasour was pronounced the legitimate son of Henry Holdsworth. Although his paternity was accepted in law he was informed by his ‘father’ that none of the wider family wanted to know him as they were aware of painful circumstances surrounding his birth which would only cause distress to publicise. From 1904 onwards Vavasour used the name on his birth certificate – the one which is on Weybridge’s War Memorial.

He was a solicitor’s articled clerk in 1911 but it is not clear whether he was still living in Weybridge as at the time of the Census he was a visitor at an address in Wimbledon. Constance Eady died in 1912 so presumably his tenure in Princes Road came to an end then if not before. Vavasour married Violet Emily Cossins at Wilton in Somerset in 1914. She was born at Marsala in Sicily but her family hailed from Devon. He initially joined the North Devon Hussars with whom he served as a L/Corporal, but could not have been with them for long as one battalion did not serve in France until 1918, one remained in Britain until November 1916 and the third remained on the home front. Vavasour was posted to the 22nd (County of London) Battalion (The Queen’s). They landed at Le Havre on 15 March 1915 and from 11 May 1915 became part of the 142nd Brigade in the 47th (2nd London) Division.

His battalion was posted to locations usually within 15 km of Bethune (north-east France, 75 km from Calais) during the months from March to December 1915. They played varying roles at the Battles of Aubers Ridge (9 May), Festubert (15-25 May) and Loos (25 September-10 October). Their first experience of the trenches came in early April and by the time of the Battle of Aubers-Ridge they were in the Brigade Reserve awaiting further orders. Two attacks failed so they were not called upon. The Allies’ Spring Offensive was continued shortly after at Festubert where they were in the trenches for the first three days, before being relieved and returned to the line at Cuinchy (village, 7 km east of Bethune) on 20 May before moving to another part of the line at Givenchy the next day. Here they were subject to heavy shelling, rifle fire and two attacks on the 22 May which they repulsed. They were relieved on 24 May and went into billets at Beuvry (town, 3 km east of Bethune). The British advanced just 3 km and in so doing sustained 16,000 casualties. On 29 and 30 May the 22nd (County of London) Battalion provided officers and 200 men each day to bury the dead.

Throughout the summer months the battalion was in and out of the line; sending out patrols, doing much work on the trenches and coming under shell and rifle fire. On 26 September Vavasour and his comrades were in the line at South Maroc where they experienced much discomfort from tear gas shells; they moved to Loos (on main road between Bethune and Lens) on 28 September, here they were shelled heavily with shrapnel incurring 30 casualties in two hours and had great difficulty the next day extricating themselves from water logged trenches to move to Hill 70 (east of Loos). They were relieved on 2 October after enduring more heavy shelling. The Battle of Loos was a huge offensive compared with the actions of the spring; early gains could not be exploited because reserves were held too far back and the conflict once again descended into a war of attrition. The British suffered 50,000 casualties, 20,000 of whom were fatalities.

The 22nd Battalion then resumed the familiar pattern of periods in and out of the line which involved salvage work to both trenches and billets. Their key billeting areas were at Mazingarbe (a small town between Bethune and Lens) and Allouagne (a village 9.7 km west of Bethune). Vavasour became a temporary grenadier officer in October and after a brief week-long leave in December was back at the front to go on a trench mortar course on the 14th. The following day the battalion went back into the line at Vermelles (village, 10 km north-west of Lens on the road to Bethune). They were no more than 50 to 60 yards from the enemy line at any point. On the 19 December the enemy was very active with machine gun and rifle grenade fire. At 6.30am on 20 December Vavasour was killed as he went out to get papers off a dead man. He was shot through the neck.

Vavasour is buried in the British Cemetery at Vermelles (III.A.10) and he is also commemorated at St. Michael’s Church in Minehead, a town which had become his marital home. His widow, Violet, never remarried and died in Lincoln in December 1944.

Sources:

The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – 22nd (County of London) Battalion (The Queen’s), www.longlongtrail.co.uk
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations) 1888-1966, 1973-1995, www.ancestry.co.uk
Vavasour Mervyn Holdsworth’s Paternity Petition Records, In the High Court of Justice, Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, England & Wales, Civil Divorce Records, 1858-1916, www.ancestry.co.uk
Holdsworth v Attorney General – Holdsworth (Cited), The Times (London, England), Friday, June 29 1906; pg 14; Issue 38095
Somerset, England, Marriage Registers, Banns and Allegations, 1754-1914, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919, www.ancestry.co.uk

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