Alnwick District in the Great War

Alnwick Camp

The Duke of Northumberland inspects troops of the Northumberland Fusiliers at Alnwick, May 18th, 1915. Courtesy of Cliff Petit

 

 

The brigade saw duty in France during the First World War and the majority lost their lives in the Battle for the Somme. Among the dead and a member of the brigade included the son of balladeer Harry Lauder. It was for this reason that Harry Lauder probably visited the camp and gave a concert in his honour.

My grandfather, Edward Groves, was born on the 8th September 1875 in Wateringbury, near Maidstone, Kent, England, and joined the British Army at the tender age of 17. He served with the British Army for all of 25 years, which saw him being transferred to such far-off places as Burma, Pakistan, India and South Africa. He was called to active duty in the First World War and was wounded during the retreat from Mons, Belgium. Subsequent to his recovery, he was assigned as Regimental Sergeant Major to Alnwick Convalescent Camp in Northumberland. It was during this period that my father, Edward Archibald Groves, the youngest of the eight children of Edward and Janet Lawson Groves, was born in the village of Lesbury, about 4 miles from Alnwick.

Edward Groves (2nd row, 3rd from right) flanked by George Lever and Dave Mitchell - Royal Scots Fusileers, Alnwick Camp, Northumberland

Harry Lauder

Sir Harry Lauder was a famous Scottish entertainer.

Born Henry Lauder at 4 Bridge Street Portobello, Edinburgh, (then the residence of his mother’s father) on the 4th August 1870. He was the eldest son of John Currie Lauder (1851-1882), who had been born in nearby Musselburgh, East Lothian, a descendant of the family of Lauder of Bass, and Isabella Urquhart MacLeod McLennan (1854 -1905) born in Arbroath but whose family had moved there from the Black Isle in Ross-shire.

Sir Harry Lauder visit to Alnwick Camp. Courtesy of Cliff Petit

Harry’s great-grandfather, George Lauder (1776-1824), had been the tenant farmer at Inverleith Mains (now the Royal Botanical Gardens) and a local landholder in nearby Stockbridge, Edinburgh. Amongst his numerous properties was the famous St.Bernard’s Well. This remained in the family until later that century. Harry’s grandfather, John Lauder (1818-1888), too had owned a large house at 4 Rose Street, Edinburgh, the site of which is now occupied by the rear of Jenners famous department store. After the sale of that house Harry's grandfather moved to Portobello where he bought a villa in Ramsay lane, and where his father was living when he met and married Harry's mother.

In 1882 Harry’s father, also John Lauder, moved to Newbold in Derbyshire to a new employment designing chinawear. After being there only a short time he contracted pneumonia and died aged only 32. He was buried in the Newbold Churchyard and his widow removed back to her brother's home at Arbroath with her family. (There were eight children, one of whom was born posthumously). Most children were then leaving the State sector schools at 12 to take up employment, but Harry's mother was determined that his schooling should continue. So in order to qualify to attend the school at the nearby flax mill, Harry took a part-time job there until he was 16.

On 19th June 1891 Harry, as he became known, married Ann (Nance), eldest daughter of James Vallance (1855-1936) a Colliery Manager at Hamilton, Lanarkshire, and Mary Kerr (1856-1937). Harry’s brother Matt was Best Man. The following year Matt married Ann’s sister Catherine Vallance, and Harry was his Best Man! (James Vallance’s father had been killed in the Crimean War).

There can be no doubt whatever of Harry Lauder’s tremedous popularity as an entertainer, music-hall and vaudeville artist. He toured the world for forty years including 22 times to the U.S.A., and several times to Australia where he often stayed with his brother John, who had emigrated there. Harry and his wife and son were in Melbourne, Victoria, when the British Empire mobilised for World War One. Sir Winston Churchill referred to Harry as “Scotland’s greatest ever ambassador”. Harry was the first British entertainer to sell a million records and was a favourite of King Edward VII and an intimate friend of the famous tea magnate Sir Thomas Lipton, amongst others.

A robust patriot, Harry raised huge sums of money for war charities during the Great War (1914-1918)- The Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund - and entertained troops in the trenches in France, where he came under enemy fire. He was subsequently knighted in January 1919 by King George V. He again entertained troops, and broadcast over the wireless with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra during World War II, despite his advanced years. Even towards the end of that conflict and just afterwards Sir Harry appeared at the docks when American food ships came into Glasgow to publicly thank the crews for coming to Britain’s assistance in her hour of need.

Sir Harry Lauder's visit to Alnwick Camp c.Aug'16

Seated is Camp CO Col P Broome-Giles

Sir Harry wrote most of his own songs, favourites of which were "Roamin in the Gloamin’ ", "I Love a Lassie", "A Wee Deoch-an-Doris", and "Keep Right on to the End of the Road", and starred in three British films: Huntingtower (1928), Auld Lang Syne (1929)and The End of the Road  (1936).

He also wrote a number of books which ran into several editions, including Harry Lauder at Home and on Tour (1912), A Minstrel in France (1918), Roamin’ in the Gloamin’ (1927) autobiography), My Best Scotch Stories (1929), Wee Drappies (1931) andTicklin’ Talks (c. 1932). Sir Harry mentions his descent from the Lauders of Lauder and Bass in his autobiography.

Sir Harry’s only child, John (b.1891) had attended the City of London School and Jesus College, Cambridge University, and was destined for a career in law. However, he was called up and Captain John Lauder of the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highland Regiment, was eventually killed at Poiziers in France on December 28, 1916 and was buried the following month in the Albert Road Cemetery at Orvilliers, France. He was unmarried.

A monument was erected by his father in the tiny family graveyard on his Highland estate, Glenbranter in Argyll. Young John’s mother and her parents are buried next to his memorial.

Sir Harry’s wife Anne also sadly died on July 31, 1927, a terrible blow to the great man. His youngest brother, Alexander, had a daughter, Margaret [Greta] (1900-1966), who was fond of Sir Harry and she moved in to keep an eye on him at his beautiful mansion of Laudervale outside Dunoon. She was to become his almost inseparable companion. Sir Harry later spent his twilight years at his Strathaven, Lanarkshire, mansion, Lauder Ha' or Hall.

Sir Harry Lauder died there on the February 26, 1950. At his funeral service the Lesson was read by the Duke of Hamilton, and all shops and businesses in Hamilton closed for the day. Sir Harry was unexpectedly interred not with his wife at Glenbranter, but with his mother, and brother George, in Bent Cemetery, Hamilton, after that town’s most memorable funeral ever. It was covered by Pathe News and wreaths were received from all over the world, including one from Queen Elizabeth (today’s Queen Mother) and another from Mr & Mrs Winston Churchill.

Alnwick Camp. Courtesy of Cliff Petit

The Convalescent Camps

"A visit to the encampment in the Pastures this week, after an absence of a fortnight, revealed a wonderful change in the ornamental approaches to B and C camps. The shrubbery adorning the sides is flourishing beautifully through the dry weather of last week. The interior of every hut is now comfortably arranged and fitted up, and every week wounded men in a convalescent stage are arriving in the camps for treatment. Today (Friday) a draft of 91 men arrived. The dowsing heat treatment is now in good working order, and some 123 men are massaged every morning, while 70 others are being attended to by the ladies of the V.A.D., who dress their wounds. The B and C camps at present are quite full with patients, and camp A has nearly got its full complement. On Wednesday, Lady Victoria Percy had the hospital in Baliffgate transferred to the hospital at the top of C camp, and we noticed that the electric station in B camp was nearly completed. The whole of the lighting for the four camps will be controlled from this station, which will save a great deal of trouble and labour and consequently be much more economical. Its efficiency was brought into operation on Tuesday night, when there was a threatened air raid, all lights being immediately switched off.

Unfortunately for the soldiers, through the outbreak of German measles in the town, Alnwick has been declared "out of bounds" for at least a fortnight."

 

Alnwick Camp. Courtesy of Cliff Petit

Setting Up the Convalescent Camp

With fine rugs, pictures, curtains and furniture from the Castle, she was given a room in the administrative block, which I helped her to prepare. I had detailed six fatigue men and a permanent orderly for her, and on the day of opening whilst putting the last touches to it, and fixing up notices, - No Smoking, Silence, Quiet - on the walls, I almost bumped into an elderly man in the passage - long overcoat, bowler hat and a very big cigar! I could not imagine who he was or what he wanted, but the cigar did it - I yelled at him "Take that damn thing out of your mouth”

 

If the Lady Victoria sees you she'll have a fit!" IT WAS THE DUKE HIMSELF! He had been invited to see the room before opening. I had to make an apology, which the Duke smilingly accepted, but he threw away his cigar, and invited me to call and see him at the Castle. This I did, a few days later, and after a rather long talk, when he listened to what he called a long and interesting record, I was handed over to the Lady Margaret, who conducted me on a long tour of the numerous rooms, kitchens and dungeons, which I  found most interesting, particularly the magnificent dining hall which seated two thousand.

 

The ceiling kept an army of Italian workers busy for a great number of years carving it. The war news coming through now was very serious, and in March, 1918, the enemy mustered everything they had for one big effort, and our lines were being forced back every day, until it looked black indeed, and then another stalemate for some time. This condition continued for some months, and then with a tremendous effort our lines advanced until the enemy sold for terms. This was the beginning of the end, and on November 11th, 1918, an armistice was signed, and the world went mad with joy."

Sybil Grey in V.A.D. uniform at Howick Hall

(photograph courtesy of Mrs J Smillie)

Edward Groves's first encounter with the Duke of Northumberland, in Alnwick castle:

"We continued to pour out hundreds of men weekly - men who were fit and fully trained, but the batches of men for the hospital came in as fast, so that the camp was continually full. Everything was done to make the lives of the men as comfortable as possible - concert parties were booked, and amateur theatrical started, and dances were arranged for all ranks, but in spite of all this, some men desired a quiet spot where they might sit and read in