Notable Briton's Who Fought in the Great War
Posted on 22nd October 2021
In remembrance of those many thousands who were deprived of the opportunity and the millions more who served their country and survived to live more humble but no less valid lives - a short article on notable Britons and their contribution in the Great War.
Some had their genius brutally curtailed while others survived to fulfil their ambitions but none who experienced the most savage conflict in human history up to that point would ever forget it or not be affected by it.
Lieutenant-Colonel Winston Spencer Churchill, Royal Scots Fusiliers: the Member of Parliament and former First Lord of the Admiralty had resigned in November 1915 following the Gallipoli fiasco. In January, 1916, he was given command of a Battalion on the Belgian frontier where he was almost killed in a shrapnel shower when his command post came under heavy shellfire.
Lieutenant J.R.R Tolkien, Lancashire Fusiliers and author of The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and other subterranean epics.
A reluctant warrior who feared he lacked the courage to fight he did not enlist during the wave of patriotic fervour that swept the country following the declaration of war and only did so almost a year later in July 1915, when he began to find the whispering campaign against those able young men still in civilian life intolerable.
While in the Signals Corps he was to fight during the Battle of the Somme and in the ferocious struggle for the Schwaben Redoubt before finally being struck down not by enemy fire but trench fever and repatriated home.
He was later to write that his idea for Middle-Earth came from his experience of being underground for extended periods of time when subject to shellfire.
Private Ronald Colman, London Scottish – The Matinee Idol and Oscar winning actor was serving in a Territorial Army Regiment prior to the war and was sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. He was then, one of the original ‘Old Contemptibles.’
He was seriously wounded by shrapnel at the Battle of Messines in October 1914, which was to leave him partially maimed, in frequent pain and with a permanent limp.
Private Charles Laughton, Huntingdon Cyclist Battalion - Oscar winning actor served on the Western Front where he was to fall victim to a gas attack.
Captain Robert Graves, Royal Welch Fusiliers: The poet and author of I, Claudius and his war memoir Goodbye to all That was so badly wounded during the Battle of the Somme that he was removed from the hospital to be given the Last Rites. His death was later made official, his parents informed and announced in The Times newspaper. Remarkably he recovered sufficiently after a period of rehabilitation to return to the front-line.
Captain Harold MacMillan, Grenadier Guards - Prime Minister from 1957-63 he would tell the British people that they had never had it so good but he never forgot the trauma of the First World War and would often speak of the admiration he felt for the men under his command.
Lieutenant Rupert Brooke, Royal Naval Division – a poet who expressed his love of country in his verse and was thrilled at the prospect of fighting for it instead died not in combat but of blood poisoning en-route to Gallipoli on 23 April, 1915.
Captain Anthony Eden, King’s Royal Rifles – a former Foreign Secretary he was Prime Minister from 1955-7 and would be laid-low by the Suez Crisis. Awarded the Military Cross for valour he would rise to become the youngest Brigadier in the British Army.
Lieutenant Siegfried Sassoon, Royal Welch Fusiliers – a poet so brave that he earned the nickname ‘Mad Jack’ he was awarded the Military Cross. He would later turn very publicly against the war and toss his medal into the North Sea. Even so, he would voluntarily return to the front-line to be with his men.
Lieutenant Wilfred Owen, the Manchester Regiment – a poet who unlike his friend Sassoon, never ceased to believe in the justice of the cause he was fighting for. He was killed on 4 November 1918, during the last great offensive on the Western Front. His parents learned of his death on 11 November just as the church bells rang out in celebration of the end of the war.
Lieutenant Basil Rathbone, London Scottish – the actor most famous for his roles as the villain in opposition to Errol Flynn and as Sherlock Holmes he was awarded the Military Cross for valour but after his brother was killed on the Western Front was often criticised for being reckless with his own life and with those of his men.
Major Clement Attlee, South Lancashire Regiment and future Leader of the Labour Party who would shock the world by defeating Winston Churchill in the post VE-Day Election. He would serve as Prime Minister from 1945-51 and would introduce the Welfare State and the National Health Service thereby transforming British society. He was the second from last man to be evacuated from Gallipoli and fought in Mesopotamia and on the Western Front.
Lieutenant Ralph Vaughan Williams, Royal Army Medical Corps – one of Britain’s favourite composers he was already 41 years of age when war was declared but enlisted nonetheless as a private serving as a stretcher-bearer both one of the most traumatic and perilous assignments on the front-line.
Lance-Corporal Arnold Ridley, Somerset Light Infantry – Actor most famous for his role in the television series Dad’s Army and writer of the popular play The Ghost Train he was seriously wounded at the Battle of the Somme where he was shot, clubbed, and bayoneted but managed to survive. Later promoted to Captain he would also serve in World War Two.
Lieutenant Wyndham Lewis, Royal Artillery – the painter and author commanded an artillery battery on the Western Front before becoming an official war artist for the Canadian Army.
Lieutenant A.A Milne, Royal Warwickshire Regiment – poet and author of Winnie the Pooh he served on the Western Front being wounded on the Somme. Repatriated home following a serious illness he was transferred to Military Intelligence. He also served as a Captain in the Home Guard during World War Two.
Private John Laurie, Royal Artillery Company – The Shakespearean actor who would find renewed fame in the television series Dad’s Army was so traumatised by his experiences in the war that he rarely spoke about them and refused to watch stock footage of the conflict. He served in the Home Guard during World War Two.
Second-Lieutenant James Whale, the Worcestershire Regiment: The actor and director of such Hollywood movies as Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and the Invisible Man he served in Flanders where he was captured in August 1917, spending the remainder of the war in a German prisoner-of-war camp.
Second-Lieutenant George Butterworth, Durham Light Infantry: Composer and curator of the English folk tradition he was awarded the Military Cross but never received it being killed on the Somme in August, 1916. His body was never recovered.
Second-Lieutenant Edmund Blunden, Royal Sussex Regiment: the Poet, Essayist and Literary Critic who was nominated on six separate occasions for the Nobel Prize for Literature he fought at the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele surviving unscathed. Awarded the Military Cross he didn’t die until 1974. His life is commemorated with a plaque in Westminster Abbey’s Poets Corner.
(Captain) Victor Andrew McLaglen, Middlesex Regiment: Winner of the 1935 Oscar for best actor and former opponent of World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Jack Johnson. He had tried aged just 14 to enlist in the Army during the Boer War. On this occasion he was more successful and served in Mesopotamia.
Sergeant Hector Hugh (HH) Munro, Royal Fusiliers: the Edwardian satirist and author considered one of the greatest proponents of the short story was at the age of 43 officially too old to enlist at the start of the war but did so nonetheless. He was shot dead by a German sniper during the Battle of Ancre in November, 1916. His last words were reported to have been ‘put that bloody cigarette out.’
Second-Lieutenant Philip Edward Thomas, Artists Rifles later Royal Garrison Artillery: the poet and novelist was shot dead in April 1917, just days after arriving France when he stood up to light his pipe.
Tagged as: Fact File
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