The chance find of an evocative photograph launched me on a quest to trace the lives and deaths of ten men and their family before and after the war. Of these ten Sandhurst officer cadets, three won the Military Cross and one became a general. Incidentally, all my subjects volunteered during the first two weeks of September 1914. However, like thousands of other volunteers, some in this group became casualties before they made any contribution to the war. There were also those who for various reasons sought a way out. Here are some of their stories.
Carl Davies (seated left at end in main photograph) was at Clare College, Cambridge, in 1914. He joined the 1st battalion of the Welsh Regiment in July 1915. The battle of Loos began on 26 September, and on 1 October the battalion attacked ‘Little Willie’ trench at the side of the Hohenzollern Redoubt, a German stronghold. Machine guns opened up from both sides: the battalion’s war diary states that ‘in twenty seconds there were 250 men on the floor’. The next day a telegram told Carl’s family that he was wounded, but he was never seen again. His family reluctantly agreed that Carl should be declared dead in 1916, and noted on the form that he would have been 21 two days previously. Carl’s service record reveals that he was significantly short-sighted: it is possible that under fire he lost his glasses and was thus rendered vulnerable.
Ivor Cochrane (seated centre front) was the son of a doctor. He arrived in Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, to join the 2nd battalion of the South Wales Borderers on 6 September 1915. The Allied forces were desperately short of ammunition, and on 20 September Ivor was demonstrating how to convert an empty meat tin into a hand grenade. The battalion’s war diary states that ‘2/Lt Cochrane and 5 men [were] injured by a premature explosion in 2/Lt Cochrane’s hand’. At this period it was normal to stitch and bandage, rather than amputate immediately. When Ivor arrived home his father found his fingers were gangrenous and amputated them. Ivor was only nineteen. In August 1916 he was posted to the 4th battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, based near Le Havre. He collected prisoners of war or wounded from Rouen and Calais, and escorted them to England. In November 1918 Ivor rejoined his own regiment in Salonika and caught malaria, which may have caused the chronic kidney disease which killed him in 1940.
Charles Cook (standing third from left) joined the 1st battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry in late November 1915, and the regimental history says ‘nothing of interest occurred in the next month’. Something did happen, however, because Charles got his right leg blown off. This meant a very long convalescence, followed by adjustment to life with a prosthetic. Charles was sent to a reserve battalion in Wiltshire, but applied to train as a balloon observer, a dangerous role, particularly for a one-legged man. However, he was never actually deployed. In 1922 Charles was cited in the divorce papers of Sir George Leon (owner of Bletchley Park), and subsequently married Lady Leon (20 years his senior). After her death he married his housemaid, 25 years younger than him. He was known as ‘Colonel Cook’ whilst serving with the Hampshire Home Guard, and received a commendation.
Norman Kelley (standing at right) had been a trainee architect before the war. Probably bullied at Sandhurst, he began to ‘take brandy for breakfast’. Arriving at the 1st battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment on 28 November 1915, on 3 December Norman fell over and dislocated his shoulder. He never served at the front again, partly because of his injured shoulder but mainly because he had become an alcoholic. His family stated that he ‘made life intolerable’ for them because he was ‘unmanageable and aggressive’. He died in 1940 after fracturing his skull when he fell during the blackout.
Trevor Southgate (seated right end, front), never stayed anywhere long. Posted to the 2nd battalion of the Essex Regiment (2/Essex) in December 1915, he soon applied to join the Royal Flying Corps, leaving France on the first day of the Somme as his battalion suffered severe casualties. Trevor began flying training, but in January 1917 was judged unfit for service and rejoined the Essex Regiment. In August he was accepted for a temporary cavalry commission in the Indian Army, and spent the rest of the war overseeing the 19th Lancers depot. When the regular officers returned, they declined to make Trevor’s temporary commission permanent. In 1920 Trevor and his wife Vera emigrated to Rhodesia. Within a year he was bankrupt and Vera had left him. She became a successful novelist as ‘Jane England’ and her novels set in Rhodesia all feature morose army officers who treat women and natives appallingly. Trevor died in 1963.
These lost lives are the ones I will be thinking of on Remembrance Day this year.