Polesden Lacey during WW1

A black and white photo of soldiers in the gardens at Polesden Lacey

From June 1915 until late 1916 Margaret Greville opened Polesden Lacey as a convalescent hospital for officers. Having experienced the horrors of war: wounded in the trenches of Ypres, and Loos, subjected to gas attacks, shrapnel wounds and trauma; Polesden Lacey provided a brief respite and a nostalgic glimpse of the privileged world many of these young men had inhabited before the war.

They would have been through quite a journey from the dressing stations on the Western Front, to casualty clearing stations and base hospitals in France, before finally being evacuated to hospitals in the UK including King Edward VII hospital in London.

More than 80 soldiers spent time at Polesden recovering from their wounds after being evacuated from the front line. While some had minor injuries and may have only stayed briefly at Polesden, others were learning to live with amputations or permanent damage to their lungs and so stayed longer.

Their recovery is with thanks to the nurses as well as Mrs Greville’s own staff who looked after the officers. House Steward, Frank Bole, implemented and managed the changes to the house to accommodate its new guests on behalf of Mrs Greville. 

" Bole, I should like you to express my heartfelt thanks to the men under you & all the staff here, who have laboured to make the Military Hospital, .... such an unqualified success.

...it could not have succeeded without the valuable cooperation of yourself and the rest of the staff. You all laboured hard and uncomplainingly... "
- Excerpt from a letter House Steward, Frank Bole from Mrs Greville

The doctor responsible for their care was a Dr G Spence Candy who went on to continue caring for the staff at Polesden Lacey and the people of Bookham and Little Bookham as the local GP. He is buried in St Nicolas Church in Great Bookham.

The residents

Thanks to the longstanding and continual investigations by the research team, they’ve been able to uncover more about lives of the eighty plus soldiers that stayed at Polesden Lacey and what happened to them after they left. Like all Mrs Greville’s guests, many signed the visitors book with dates of arrival and departure. From there, they have followed a long trail from deciphering signatures (the team would be lucky if the officers included their rank and regiment in the visitor’s book) to examining and cross-referencing records from various sources including King Edward VII Hospital for officers, schools, universities, the Imperial War Museum and the National Portrait Gallery as well as contacting family members.

Officers, including (far left) Major Harry Ernest Chapman, Lt. Alexander Lockhart Elsworthy and Capt Arthur England Johnson Croly convalescing on the west side of the house at Polesden Lacey in 1916.
Black and white picture of a group of young men resting in hospital beds on the lawn at Polesden Lacey
Officers, including (far left) Major Harry Ernest Chapman, Lt. Alexander Lockhart Elsworthy and Capt Arthur England Johnson Croly convalescing on the west side of the house at Polesden Lacey in 1916.

Their research has revealed the different walks of life the officers came from including academic and sporting achievements, and family history. What has united them all was that they went to officer training school and went on to command men and lead them ‘over the top’. Many were wounded several times but survived the war.

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.

Others remained in the armed forces, with many being awarded Military Crosses, OBEs and MBEs for their services to the country. At Polesden Lacey we commemorate Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday and remember the officers that sadly returned to the front and lost their lives.

Captain Harry Bouverie Cox  
The Kings Liverpool Regiment     
Killed in action 8 August 1916. He was 31 years old.

Lieutenant Colonel Henry Victor Moffett de la Fontaine from Belgium
East Surrey Regiment. 
Killed in action 5 August 1917. He was 45 years old.

Captain Harry Eustace Herrick   
Royal Irish Fusiliers. 
Killed in action 11 May 1917. He was 27 years old.

Lieutenant Reginald Seymour Lardner  
Bedfordshire Regiment, Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force.
Shot down over Dunkirk. 9 May 1918. He was 24 years old.

Lieutenant John Richard Jarlath MacHale
The King’s, Liverpool Regiment. 
Killed in action  24 March 1918. He was 29 years old.

Captain Douglas William Arthur Nicholls MC.
Suffolk Regiment. 
Killed in action 10 April 1917. He was 22 years old

Captain,The Rev. The Hon. Maurice Berkley Peel, MC + bar.
Chaplain to the Forces. Queen's Surrey Regiment.
Shot by a sniper whilst tending the wounded. 14 May 1917. He was 44 years old.

Captain Herbert Cyril Ramsey
1st Northamptonshire Regiment. 
Died of wounds, 22 April 1918. He was 27 years old.

Captain Geoffrey Thomas Trafford from South Africa.
The Life Guard Regiment, Tank Corps. 
Killed in action 23 July 1918. He was 22 years old. 

 

Thank you to the volunteers in the research team at Polesden Lacey, who have worked to identify officers that spent time at Polesden Lacey during the First World War.