Polesden's wounded officers
Like many other country houses during the time, in 1915 and 1916, Polesden Lacey was used as a convalescence home for wounded officers. Volunteer Janet shares her research into the lives of the soldiers who stayed here.
Eighty officers stayed at Polesden, after being evacuated from the front line and then treated at King Edward VII hospital in London.
In the archives we have quite a few photographs taken around the gardens and estate of officers playing golf, posing in their uniforms or walking on crutches. These men – as with Mrs Greville’s other guests – had signed the visitors book, with dates of arrival and departure, and sometimes with rank and regiment.
I became fascinated by these brave young men and started to look at their signatures and details; over the past two and a half years, I have managed to trace many of their lives. These officers came from all over the world.
I have traced Geoffrey Trafford and John Vivian’s families to South Africa – John Vivian having moved there from his birth place of Salcombe in Devon. Vere Roswell and Edgar Hector both came from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and were sent to England for schooling.
Many officers also came from Canada, and one in particular has made a deep impression on me – Oscar Orr. Whilst well behind the lines on 16 July 1916, he was hit between the eyes by a piece of shrapnel. After being treated at King Edward VII hospital, he was transferred to Polesden to recuperate in the quiet and beautiful surroundings of the estate. Oscar was then able to return home to his wife in Vancouver.
I got to meet Oscar’s grandchildren when I travelled to Canada last year. They still have the piece of shrapnel that hit him, mounted on a piece of wood with a small brass plaque. I was so surprised by how big it was – it’s a miracle Oscar didn’t lose his sight.
His grandchildren also kindly gave us a letter sent by Mrs Greville to Oscar’s uncle thanking him for the maple syrup that Oscar had promised, and mentioning that Oscar was ‘a great favourite here’.
A few of the officers left the army and became well-known in their post-war careers – such as writers Robert Julian Yeatman and Martin Gompertz, poet Jack Gilbey and cricketer John James Croft Cocks.
Some remained in the armed forces, many being awarded Military Crosses, OBEs and MBEs for their services to the country.
This is only a snapshot of the brave young men who briefly rested here at Polesden Lacey. They had been in officer training at school, and had gone on to command men and lead them ‘over the top’. Many were wounded several times, but survived the war.
You can find out more about Polesden Lacey’s use as a convalescence home and the officers who stayed here during Remembrance weekend, 11 and 12 November 2017.
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