A VERY BRIEF LIFE
by Peter Martin
Edward & Victor Cazalet. The photograph was taken before Edward
transferred from The Buffs in 1915 to the newly formed Welsh Guards.
An article about Victor, his younger brother, will follow
in the next edition of
The Guards Magazine
Edward Cazalet, known to his family as ‘Doody’, was born in 1894 to a family of French Huguenot origins who had settled in England after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The Edict had allowed them freedom in Catholic France to follow their Protestant beliefs and its revocation meant that persecution had begun again, driving thousands to England, Germany, and The Netherlands as refugees known for their hard work and commercial skills. The Cazalets, who came originally from SW France, traded successfully in Imperial Russia in, among other things, timber for masts, hemp for cordage, and other raw materials for Her Majesty’s ships. Edward’s grandfather, an earlier Edward, eventually bought an estate in Kent, Fairlawne, where Edward was brought up with his younger brothers Victor and Peter, and his sister Thelma.
After a conventional upbringing at Eton, where he did well, he was sent to Hanover to learn German with a view to his taking the Diplomatic Service exams. He found himself in Berlin at the outbreak of WW1 and was able to return home by train, undisturbed, thanks to a loan of gold sovereigns from the Berlin correspondent of The Times as English banknotes were suddenly no longer acceptable. On then to Trinity College, Cambridge and the Cambridge University OTC. Later, Edward joined The Buffs, The Royal East Kent Regiment, was commissioned, and then transferred in 1915 to the newly formed Welsh Guards.
On home service until posted to France in July 1916, Edward had the unusual, not to say unique, experience of guarding Sir Roger Casement, traitor and Irish patriot, in the Tower of London until shortly before Casement was taken to Pentonville to be hanged on 3rd August 1916. Edward’s diary entry for 9th May 1916 records:
I was surprised at his extremely charming manner and beautiful voice, a nicer person I have seldom met, his ideals and ambitions for the world’s general happiness and improvement couldn’t be better. It seems a terrible pity that he should have committed this last monstrous deed of trying to stir up Ireland while England was at war. He has in the last few weeks become a Roman Catholic and in his confession a few days ago, he made the following remark;-
“I own I have done wrong, but I did it that good might come. I fear my soul is unutterably damned”.
The wily priest replied that all would be forgiven if he joined the Church of Rome.
It is most unusual to be able to record what is said to his confessor by a penitent. The risk of Casement’s suicide was so great, or seen to be so great that Cazalet, and no doubt other officers on Tower of London picquet, were ordered never to leave Casement alone and had even to observe him in his bath. Conversation with Casement was seemingly forbidden but could hardly be prevented. All this we know from Edward’s letters home.
Before he left for France in July 1916, Edward wrote to his mother in one of his frequent letters that he had a horror of killing people; the idea of shooting even a German made him feel sick.
The war diary of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, part of 3rd Guards Brigade in the Guards Division, during the Battle of the Somme, was written by its first and, throughout the war, only commanding officer, a Lt Colonel William Murray Threipland DSO. Addressed always to ‘HQ Guards Division’, his signature appears on the title page or at the conclusion of each segment under review but the handwriting is not identical throughout. These war diaries covering the years 1915 to 1919 were among a second batch released by The National Archives in March 2014 and can be downloaded online for the princely sum of £3.36! Sadly, written in ink on buff Army Form C.2118 and following in content, in theory at least, Part II of the Field Service Regulations 1909 and now nearly 100 years old, they are hard enough to read online and almost impossible to reproduce. Colonel Threipland was a laconic diarist, informative yet wasting not a word, unsentimental, but obviously deeply concerned for his officers and men who, judging from his entries, suffered appalling casualties throughout but particularly during the six weeks between Edward’s joining the battalion, assigned to No 3 Company, and his death on 10th September 1916, killed by a shell.
In a letter to his younger brother Victor, then serving with The Householders, the dismounted Household Battalion formed from reserve elements of the 1st Life Guards, 2nd Life Guards, and the Royal Horse Guards, he described the unpleasantness of trench warfare near Givenchy:-
“I am in the most smelly of trenches, the result of a large number of bodies being buried close by. The rats are quite innumerable.”
And on 18th August 1916 he found himself:
“In a very small dugout similar I should imagine to the Black Hole of Calcutta. This part is rather smelly, as not long ago the enemy began shelling our line. The gas cylinders were broken and a very large number of our men were gassed. The numbers were so large that the bodies were not recorded, so it is not uncommon to come across the arm or leg of these unhappy soldiers.”
The war diary records, briefly and unemotionally, that Edward, with a number of other officers and men, including his company commander Captain Bromhead and his friend 2nd Lt Alexander Wernher, were killed on 10th September. Colonel Threipland tells us in his diary entry for 15th September that these two, and others, were buried temporarily in a new military cemetery called Citadel, later made permanent by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission; the temporary wooden cross marking Edward’s early grave is now to be found in Shipbourne Church, in Kent.
But what happened in that brief six weeks that Edward served in the line? The war diary has much to tell us but because of the difficulties caused by the faintness of the handwriting, and the extreme brevity of descriptions, it takes time to decipher. There is a History of the Welsh Guards written by a C H Dudley-Ward DSO, MC and published by John Murray in 1920. There are also very useful Commonwealth War Graves Commission notes on the 12 distinct Battles of the Somme. These sources, primary and secondary, usefully complement each other.
We learn from the war diary that Edward, in company with a number of other junior officers, joined the battalion, part of 3 Guards Brigade, on 26th July 1916 at a place called Canal Bank. We learn later that he was assigned to No 3 Company. There were many movements of troops during the following month, by train and by foot marches, and the distress of troops marching long distance in the heat of summer in full battle order is recorded sympathetically. At one stage, during a period of seemingly continuous fighting, orders from Brigade announce that a gas attack would be made and a code was issued which is retyped as the page is too faint for facsimile:-
Wind is favourable for Gas Discharge BERLIN
Wind is not favourable for Gas Discharge HANOVER
Is wind favourable for Gas Discharge? COLOGNE
Discharge Gas at........ DRESDEN
ZERO hour is changed to…..... RIGA
All ready for Gas Discharge HEBREWS
Gas will not be discharged tonight ANTWERP
The Battalion moved in this month from Arques, to Mailly-Maillet, to a camp near Mailly, to a camp code-named Bow Street, to Bezaincourt, to Vignacourt, and to Mericourt-L’Abbé, not far from Ginchy where it arrived on 25th August 1916. Sometimes established camps, sometimes billets, sometimes only bivouacs. The impression is one of heat, discomfort, and danger - each recorded march has a casualty list. We are told nothing of how rations, water, and ammunition were provided - occasionally we read that heavy packs were carried by lorry.
From then on, and until 10th September 1916, the diary is only wholly comprehensible if read with large-scale maps but there was movement from Mericourt to Ginchy with seemingly continuous fighting, by day and by night. The diary records that our trenches were constantly shelled, there was much incoming fire from machine guns on fixed lines sweeping the trench lines day and night, and trench warfare hand to hand. Then came the distinct Battle of Ginchy on 9th September 1916 when, after very fierce fighting by the much depleted 16th (Irish) Division’s 47th and 48th Brigades to clear the village in appalling weather conditions, the exhausted 48th Brigade troops were relieved in the night of 9th September by the Welsh Guards. Map references are given but are difficult to relate precisely to modern maps.
In any event, the CO records on 10th September 1916 the deaths of many officers and many men, so the fighting must have been intense. A total of 195 casualties on that day of whom other ranks were recorded, by companies, as killed 23, wounded 122, presumed killed 3, and missing 26 but without any listing of OR’s by names. The number is made up to 195 by the officers listed by names as killed and wounded. In his unemotional style the CO wrote in the diary for 10th September;
“Generally I should like to point out that the Coys of 1Bn Welsh Guards were fighting hard practically from midnight on 9/10 Sept to midnight on 10/11 Sept.”
The CO often wrote conversationally, as if he was addressing his brigade or divisional commander man-to-man; this style is a characteristic of this section of the diary.
And we see from the diary that on 18th September the battalion received a draft of 180 OR replacements for those killed at Ginchy.
We know only that Edward was killed by a shell. Guardsman Williams, Edward’s servant, wrote later to Edward’s mother, Molly Cazalet:
“I can assure you that everything that could be done for Mr Cazalet was done, but it was all in vain and he was killed almost instantaneously. I also did what he wanted to be done if anything should happen to him as he was talking to me two or three days before he went into action. So he was brought down the line about ten miles where Mr Cazalet and his great friend, Mr Wernher are lying together.”
Edward Cazalet was just one of thousands and thousands of junior officers killed in WW1. He hardly had time to live before he died. He was just 22. A very brief life.