This is the abridged version of Rycharde Meade Haythornthwaite’s life story, giving an overview of the world he knew, albeit for just 21 short years. You can read the first two chapters that form this blog and I will progress his story over the coming weeks. If you want to hear the audio version that lasts half an hour, click here http://tinyurl.com/ljw7rt7 Please feel free to leave your comments/feedback.
2014 saw numerous articles and programmes to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War; a milestone in Mankind’s journey to reach his final resting place sooner rather than later.
So why have yet another anniversary in 2015? Because then as now, the human race is hell bent in their effort to annihilate itself, finding evermore catastrophic methods to despatch us to an early grave; for 2015 also marks the 100th anniversary of the first use of large scale chemical warfare.
And when I discovered the turn of events that linked a man who I had never known, Second Lieutenant Rycharde Meade Haythornthwaite, with both the First and Second World Wars, I realised that whilst isolated in itself, each event that unfolds, each discovery made, each evil unleashed, will eventually touch every one of us.
We will indeed remember them because there will always be those who will not allow us to forget.
In memorium: HAYTHORNTHWAITE in proud and loving memory of Rycharde Meade Haythornthwaite Second Lieutenant, The Buffs, elder son of the Revd J P Haythornthwaite, Northwood who fell in action near Ypres May 24th 1915 aged 21 years
This obituary appeared in The Times Newspaper and would undoubtedly be one of many thousands that rolled off the press during the dark years of the First Wold War and had it not been for the recent death of my father, I may never have got to know Rycharde Haythornthwaite.
My father bequeathed to me his collection of books, and amongst them was the seven volume Methuen & Co Ltd edition of ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ which I initially regarded as of little consequence until I opened each volume and found the exquisite Edwardian signature R M Haythornthwaite 1913 meticulously inscribed on the inside front cover of each book along with the words ‘English Essay’.
And thus my friendship with Rycharde began albeit 100 years after his death.
If you want to listen to the narration of this post click here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0dKPeZ9dR0 you will hear my 14 year old son reading Rycharde’s letters because had my son, who was born in 2000, been born exactly 100 years earlier, I would doubtless have feared for his life in the same way thousands of mothers did during those dark years when over 250,000 under age boys went to fight on the front lines.
“Monday 24 May 1915 (Whitsun)
The Germans started at 2.30 this morning with a terrific bombardment, using their vile gas. Our lads were splendid and stuck it! I worked my way up to the front line. The shrapnel was terrific but our luck was in, and we reached a ruined house just behind the firing line, and found there a good many wounded, poor beggars! All we can do is to keep boiling water and give them sips of tea and Bovril. It is just that fiendish gas…keeps up a horrible choking feeling. What will happen to us I do not know. I think we are advancing now, and in that case all ought to be alright…”
Rycharde died just a few hours after writing this last letter home.
So how could I discover more about this young man, anonymously killed in the line of duty; how could I expect to befriend someone I had never known?
It wasn’t so much of a jigsaw as gathering shards and fragments from across the globe in order to create a mosaic picture of the world that existed during the short life of this brave young man, and in doing so, discover how other events would eventually unite to maintain the momentum of life and death, war and unrest.
I started with his birth.
Rycharde Meade Haythornthwaite: born 4 January 1894 in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.
The late 19th century; a time of social, economic and industrial upheaval. The 75 year old Queen Victoria had been on the throne for 57 years and Britain’s oldest and longest serving Prime Minister was 84 year old William Gladstone (he chaired his final Cabinet on 1 March 1894). It was a time when the ‘great’ of Great Britain meant something to many people, when we ruled the waves along with a large chunk of the world. When commitment and devotion were a given.
Queen Victoria said of Gladstone “he addresses me as if I were a public meeting”
Agra, where Rycharde was born, was in India’s northern territories that formed a major part of the British Empire; and the Indian Civil Service (ICS), also known as the Imperial Civil Service, was an elite employer during British rule from 1858-1947. Members or civilians were appointed under the Government of India Act 1858 and almost all of the 1,000 members were British educated in the top schools of the time. Each ‘civilian’ working for the ICS was in charge of 300,000 indigenous people and every aspect of the lives of those people was directed by that one civilian.
There was however, growing hostility towards British rule as India started to recognise the importance of nationalism. With a blend of patriotic orators, scientists, religious reformers and scholars, India was moving from medieval to modern and the almost feudal system of British rule was often under threat.
Two notable reactionaries also born in January 1894 were Satyendra Nath Bose and Prem Krishna Khanna.
Satyendra Nath Bose later worked with Albert Einstein and discovered what became known as ‘bosons’
Rycharde’s parents who lived and worked in the region would no doubt have witnessed the growing unrest, including in May of that year when the 17th Bengal native infantry stationed at Agra, mutinied due to the inclusion in the regiment of men from a different caste.
His mother, Dr Izset (Zettie) Meade LPCP, LRCS, born 19 October 1859 was a qualified doctor and missionary; one of the first generation of women doctors. Rycharde’s father, John Parker Haythornthwaite MA was appointed by the Church Missionary Society as Principal at Agra College from 1890 to 1911. They were married 9 May 1892 at St Paul’s in Agra and Rycharde was baptized on 30 January 1894 also at St Paul’s Church, when he was just 26 days old and whilst his parents’ occupations would have had some bearing on this, it was more likely the high infant mortality rate during the Victorian era that meant it was important for babies to be baptized quickly.
There is a record showing John sailed from Liverpool to Bombay aboard the SS Hispania on 26 September 1894, by which time Rycharde would have been 9 months old. It is possible that this journey was made so Rycharde could be left with relations in England as there is no mention of him remaining in India during his early years.
Rycharde’s parents went on to have four more children, Hilda May b. 13 February 1895, Grace b. 10 June 1897 and Reginald Arthur b. 22 October 1898 in St Bees, Cumbria. Sadly their fifth child, Constance Lucy b. 11 April 1903 in Simla, India, died when she was just four years old on 4 May 1907 in Cirencester, Glos.
Piecing these dates together, Rycharde’s parents would seem to have been career minded people who left both marriage and children until later in life; Zettie was 34 when she had her first son Rycharde, and 43 when Constance Lucy was born. The birth and death records of the Haythornthwaite children indicate the family did return to Britain several times; Rycharde’s birth is recorded at Godstone in Limpsfield, Surrey; Reginald was born in Cumbria; Constance died in Gloucester and Grace was registered as a ‘scholar’ in Northwood, Middlesex on 2 April 1911 aged 13. I suspect they were left in the care of either relatives or guardians in the UK from a fairly young age.
So not only was Rycharde born at a time of empirical greatness, he was born into a family who were committed to their work. His mother clearly had a strong character; she gave Rycharde her surname as his second name; their obvious devotion to their work must have combined to instil a sense of honour, duty and hard work into the children.
But at a time of growing hostility both at home and within the empire, perhaps his parents merely saw themselves as cogs in the wheel of the British way of life; but even a single cog is still part of the wheel and I wonder how other events that were taking place in 1894 would impact on Rycharde’s life and, had they not occurred, would have left a very different world from that which we now know?
January 1894: A young boy is playing with his friends near the frozen River Inn that flows through Passau, Germany. He is only four and like all boys that age, having fun oblivious to any danger. However, the ice is very thin and the boy falls through to the freezing water below and would surely have drowned had it not been for a local priest, who without any thought for his own life, dived in to save the struggling child.
The priest was Johann Kuehberger and the little boy he saved was Adolf Hitler.
Other memorable events include:
Edward VIII (who later abdicated to marry American Wallis Simpson) was born.
The Manchester Ship Canal opens; at 36 miles long it is the largest river navigation canal in the world.
Blackpool Tower opened.
Tower Bridge, London opened for traffic.
The first motion picture experiment of comedian Fred Ott who was filmed sneezing.
Joseph Conrad returns to London after years at sea and starts to write his first novel Almayer’s Folly.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s anthology The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes was published.
Rudyard Kipling’s story collection The Jungle Book was published.
Michael Marks forms a partnership with Thomas Spencer and they open their first store in Manchester.
The Great Horse Manure Crisis; 50,000 horses in London were each producing nearly 7kg of manure and 2 pints of urine each day and given a life expectancy of 3 years, their bodies were often left on the roadside to rot so the carcass could be more easily sawn into pieces befor removal.
Haileybury and the Imperial Civil Service
I next meet Rycharde on 2 April 1911 when the census records he was 17 and boarding at Haileybury College, Hertfordshire although he had been at this school from a very young age.
The headmaster said he remembered him “…as a very small boy, younger than boys generally were when they joined a public school…”
The choice of college comes as no surprise; Haileybury was the Imperial Service College, training people for the Indian Civil Service, having been built in 1809 on the instructions of the Honourable East India Company.
Both Zettie and John were continuing their medical and missionary work in India so would probably have expected Rycharde to join them once he had passed his exams.
1911 was another milestone year marking a change in the way the census was recorded and it was not only Rycharde who was registered as residing somewhere other than in his home. A plaque put up in 1991 by Tony Benn MP reads…
‘In this broom cupboard Emily Wilding Davison hid herself, illegally, during the night of the 1911 census…In this way she was able to record her address…as being the House of Commons, thus making her claim to the same political rights as men.’
The police report dated 3 April 1911 reads: ‘Miss E W Davison
Found hiding in crypt of Westminster Hall since Saturday
Apply Common Row Police Station for more information’
Other memorable events include:
The coronation of King George V and Queen Mary
Great Britain and Japan renewed their 1902 alliance for another four years; Japan was to enter the First World War on the side of the Allies.
The first public elevator is opened at Earl’s Court London
Britain’s first sea plane takes flight
The South Pole is reached by Norwegian Roald Amundsen ahead of the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition led by Captain Scott
The Titanic was launched
The Official Secrets Act came into effect
Rycharde was not a great athlete or especially clever, but he worked hard and played hard; he was the 2nd XI at cricket and won the school mile in 1912.
The Housemaster said ‘…his energy and sense of duty have done wonders…’
The Headmaster ‘He has been a keen and trustworthy head of the school…’
Rycharde went onto Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge where he read history.
However, he was there for just three terms before war broke out and he did not hesitate in signing up and on 15 August 1914 he entered as Second Lieutenant, East Kent Regiment ‘The Buffs’.
He trained with his regiment for several months before heading over to France on 9 May to his base camp outside of Rouen in “…fairly comfortable huts…”
His letter dated 11 May confirms his arrival at Ypres
“…we can hear the guns easily where we are now and several aeroplanes keep passing overhead. It’s awfully ripping out here, the weather is grand and everything looks splendid……there is much more green than in England and all the way up to here the land is being cultivated just as if nothing were happening! They are simply splendid these peasants!”
Letters from home were very gratefully received and Rycharde wrote several to his parents:
13 May “I had my first close shell while we were waiting to go up and it certainly gave me a funny sort of feeling! But by the end of the day I wasn’t turning a hair! Somehow it all seemed to be quite natural.”
14 May “We are still waiting in readiness in case we are wanted suddenly but unfortunately the weather has changed and as we are bivouacking in a wood it has been a bit cold and damp…are cakes very heavy? Because if not, an occasional cake would be nice as rations are nothing wonderful”
20 May “…we have been rejoicing over the prospect of baths tomorrow but the two companies who were having theirs today have just returned having been shelled out!! The Germans are dirty brutes knowing the British like baths when they can get them they persistently shell the only place…they didn’t hit anybody as everyone fled ignominiously – I take it in a shortage of apparel!”
21 May “My dear father, very many happy returns of the day! I am sorry I haven’t taken anything from the Germans yet to give to you but I will see what I can do later on…we are going back to the trenches tomorrow evening…it has rained the last three days and the mud as you can imagine has been dreadful”
22 May “Thank you very much for the letters and the parcel which arrived just as we were starting off for the trenches so I brought the cake up with us…the worst of the trench work is that it doesn’t allow you much time for sleep…the Germans don’t shell much in the morning so we can work but in the afternoons the guns on both sides keep things pretty lively and it is best to sit tight…
I got my bath quite safely yesterday morning and you can imagine how I enjoyed it!
PS Has mother taken on the hospital work? I do hope that it is not too much”.
It was just two days later that his luck ran out:
24 May “My dearest mother and father, you will only get this if anything happens, even if you do, I may very likely only be wounded so don’t worry.
At 2.30 this morning the Germans started a terrific attack bombardment using their vile gas. Our lads were splendid and stuck it. At 5.30 we got a message to reinforce the firing line…unfortunately there was very bad communication. I went out to try and find out what was happening and worked my way up to the front line about 1,000 yards ahead…the shrapnel was terrific but our luck was in and we reached a ruined house just behind the firing line and found there a good many wounded, poor beggars. I got a stretcher party together and we pulled in several badly wounded…but unfortunately they sniped at us the brutes and two of our poor chaps were hit…we have done what we can to make them comfortable…we can do so little for them until dark and even then it isn’t safe…all we can do is keep boiling water, it is not safe to drink otherwise and give them sips of tea and Bovril…it is just that fiendish gas…keeps up a horrible choking feeling which prevents one working as hard as one wants.
What will happen to us I don’t know I think we are advancing now…if the Germans get through we can only surrender on account of our wounded. If we fought, as God knows we would like to, they would only murder the wounded.
Well cheerio if anything happens I am glad I can tell you I haven’t been in the least frightened and I think I have done a little to get these wounded into some sort of safety. Thank God I have managed to do my bit like all the other brave fellows.
I know you won’t mind as long as I have tried my best.”
Did Rycharde have a premonition that his life was coming to an end or was it routinely accepted by every man that each moment could be their last? He also could not have known that he was amongst the first to experience the effects of chemical warfare.
It was just a few hours later that he was fatally wounded.
He was shot during one of his many sorties he made out onto the firing line to help the wounded.
Sergeant Major W Dunlop of the 7th Durham Northumbrian Division wrote to Rycharde’s father…
“After a while, the counter attack started. Our troops advanced. What a sight, men falling right and left but still the advance continued until they reached our cottage. ..on several occasions your son went out and brought men in, it was on one of those that he got hit, the bullet passing through his left shoulder. I was dressing a chap with a finger blown off when it happened…he was as calm and cool as ever. He ordered a man to take everything out of his pockets, spectacles included, with the instructions “see these things are handed over to my family”.
If anyone ever died a soldier’s death, Lieutenant Haythornthwaite claims the honours of doing so.”
There are several letters from different people; soldiers who had served alongside him, those who were helped by him and the parents of soldiers who had died but received his care. Words including ‘gentle and kind’, ‘tenderly helping’ and ‘debt of gratitude’ are used conveying a message of the ultimate sacrifice made by Rycharde.
Rycharde Meade Haythorthwaite, born 4 January 1894; made 2nd Lieutenant East Kent Regiment The Buffs 15 August 1914; died in action 25 May 1915 Ypres Belgium aged 21.
His body was never found.
1915 was a montage of events representing the change in warfare that World War 1 symbolised when armed conflict took on a whole new horrific direction that led to international reform…
The Battle of Festubert 15-25 May 1915 on the Western Front when the British Expeditionary Forces suffered over 16,000 casualties was a turning point in the war. Military correspondent Colonel Repington wrote in The Times that the high number of deaths was due to shortages of artillery and other weaponry. The public’s reaction led to the downfall of Asquith’s Liberal government.
However, it was not just the serious deficiencies that brought about change, it was the first time poisonous gas had been used on a large scale and the BEF were not equipped to deal with the deadly effects…”keeps up a horrible choking feeling”.
After experimenting with different solutions, the Germans used chlorine to bombard the BEF on 22 May at Ypres.
Due to the nature of this weapon, the Geneva Protocol signed in 1925 prohibited the use of chemical and biological weapons in international armed conflicts.
Other memorable events include:
The US House of Representatives rejected a proposal to give women the right to vote
The first attack on Britain by the German Zeppelin airships
The World’s Fair opens in San Francisco
John McCrae, soldier and poet, writes ‘In Flanders Fields’
On 7 May Walter Schwieger, captain of a German U-boat torpedoed and sank the ocean liner Lusitania with the loss of 1,119 lives including 114 Americans.
Alfred Vanderbilt and playwright Carl Frohman attached life-jackets to Moses baskets in an attempt to save the babies but sadly all perished.
Within two years the Americans declared war on Germany.
Just one piece left
The final missing piece to complete my picture of Lieutenant Haythornthwaite will be found at the Menin Gate where his name is recorded alongside the thousands of other brave men and boys who gave their all.
I will always wonder why Rycharde wrote “English Essay” in each volume and if he ever managed to start his composition before he reached the final chapter of his own life.
World War 1 was meant to be the war to end all wars, but as we now know that was a pipe-dream and the human race continues to show it is incapable of living peacefully; wars will never end, only the face of war changes.
“If one of us goes under, think what a glorious end it is”
(Lines inspired on tasting for the first time a plate of college tapioca and jam)
The works of poets often have I read
In vain endeavour rightly to find out
The meaning of this life; but yet I doubt
If any fan-famed poet e’er was bred
On college tapioca; or, so fed,
He must have learnt what now I am about
Sagely to expound; namely, that throughout
Our earthly lives we may be truly said
To recall a plate of tapioca:
We are the little lumps that disappear
So quickly ‘tween the yawning jaws of death
Forgotten, but digested; life’s joys are
The college jam with which one tries to stear
One’s little lump – though one often findeth
That the jam offendeth;*
And life’s hard things, what are they but the stones
In which (and this for all our pain atones)
A little kernel roams?
So reader, if a simile you need
To college puddings pay a gentle heed.
(*as doth the rhyme!)
Rycharde Meade Haythornthwaite
We Will Remember Them