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RICS 150

Battle of the Somme: Remembering fallen surveyors

The British army suffered 57,470 casualties on the first day (1 July) alone while 19,240 of this number were killed or died of wounds. I have taken a look at what this battle meant for the members of the Surveyors’ Institution, as the RICS was then known.

Cathy Linacre, Head of Reference Services, RICS
28 juin 2016

By the end of the war we had lost 309 members. During the Battle of the Somme (1 July – 18 November 1916) we lost 66 men, 21% of our total losses during the whole First World War and 1.2% of our total membership at the start of the war (5481).

30 of those surveyors who died are listed on the Thiepval Memorial, the memorial to the missing of the Somme who have no known grave. This will be the site of one of the main commemoration ceremonies this year.

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme alone we lost eight members as listed below, six professional associates, one student and an examinee. Their ages ranged from 22 to 32.

Sadly it is hard to find detail on the lives of many of the surveyors that died in the battle but I have uncovered a few interesting stories which give a glimpse of the profession in the Edwardian period.

Leonard Foster

Leonard was professional associate, an assistant to G.W. Atkinson in Leeds, at the start of the war and became a Second Lieutenant in the West Yorkshire Regiment. On the 1911 census he is living on North Parade in Leeds with his sister and brother-in-law, Harry and Frances Russell.  Leonard was single and listed as an architect’s assistant.

He was wounded in the battle and transferred to the Empire Hospital, in London however he died from these wounds on the 13 August 1916 aged 27. He is buried at  St Wilfreds Churchyard, Poole in Wharfedale.

De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, a memorial book produced after the war quotes from the letter sent by his Colonel to the family:

“I knew him intimately. He was adjutant to me for a while, and I never met a man I could trust more. Duty was his watchword and high principle guided all his actions. I lost in him one of the best officers any commanding officer could wish to have, and a dear friend and comrade.

“I loved him and admired his splendid qualities, which I had every opportunity of realising during the many years it was my good fortune to be associated with him. His unfailing personal charm and absolute reliability made him what he was, one of the most charming, capable gentlemen in the world.”

John Sidwell Shotton

John was a professional associate at the outbreak of the war and joined the Royal Fusiliers. On the 1911 census his is living in Croydon with his widowed mother, Mary, and his two sisters, Mabel and Winifred. His is listed as a surveyor however he seems to have made some changes in his life as records at the time of his death show him on the Isle of Wight.

The Isle of Wight Mercury reported his death on 25 August 1916 under the heading “Local contractor killed in action”.

“Our readers will learn with regret of the death of Private J.S. Shotton, of the firm of Ridley and Shotton, Rew Farm, Ventnor, who are contractors to the Ventnor Urban District Council. Private Shotton joined the Sportsmen's Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, in the autumn of 1915, and after taking part in several engagements, he was killed in action in Delville Wood on 27 July. Private Shotton was an old Tonbridge School boy and was 38 years of age. During his residence in this locality he made many friends by his genial and kindly disposition, and his death will be sincerely regretted."

Frank Sidney Chesterton

Frank was a fellow at the outbreak of war working for his family firm Chesterton and Son. On the 1911 census he is listed as living at Scarsdale Villas in Kensington with his wife Nora and their one year old daughter Joyce. He is listed as an architect surveyor.

Frank Sydney Chesterton, a very promising architect, whom it was said, rivalled Edwin Lutyens. Frank was responsible for the designs of a number of buildings in Kensington, including Nos. 12-54 Hornton Street in 1903 and Nos. 35-43 Holland Street. Frank Chesterton, in collaboration with J. D. Coleridge, also designed Sundial House in 1908 and Hornton Court in 1905-7, where the offices of Chesterton & Sons have been based since 1907. The Kensington branch of Chesterton Humberts is still located there today.

Also from “The Committee Club : the first one hundred years” by James Offen (2006)

Word was received of the death of Frank Chesterton. The secretary wrote a letter of condolence to his widow and her “dignified” reply was put in the minute book. In it she records that he had only joined his battery on 9 November, was wounded on 10th and died just 24 hours later.

Frank was 39 when he died and a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Horse/Field Artillery. His is buried in the Grove Town Cemetery, Meaulte.

Hugh Christopher Tower

Hugh was a professional associate at the outbreak of war. The 1915 yearbook gives his employment as Peniarth Estate Office, Town, Merionethshire however the record in June 1917 when he is listed on the Roll of Honour says he was working for Eden, Bains and Kennaway in Sherbourne.

On the census of 1911 he is living in Brentford with his parents, Christopher and Cecilia and his brother, Christopher. All the family have “private means” as their occupation and there are twelve servants in the house.

In a journal called Flight from 5 October 1916 I found the following (thanks to the Flight Global website) which reported that Hugh was  “officially reported missing but believed to have been killed in action in air combat in France on 19 September  aged 30”

Henry Carlyle Webb

Henry was an examinee at the outbreak of the war and was attached to the Aspatria Agricultural College. His is also listed as living there on the 1911 census with his mother, Ann, his step father John Smith Hill, the principle of the college and three step sisters. Henry is shown as a student of agriculture and there are 14 other boarding students.

His death was reported in the Times of 18 November 1916.

“Captain Henry Carlyle Webb , Border Regiment, commanding a trench mortar battery, killed on September 19, was the only son of the late Dr. H. J. Webb D.Sc., the Agricultural College, Aspatria, and nephew of Mrs Edward  Moul, of Woking. He was educated at King's College and Christ's college, Cambridge. He passed the professional examination of the Surveyors’ Institution, and obtained the college diploma, first place, at Aspatria. In 1911 he received his commission in the Border Regiment, T. F., entering  Cambridge the same year. He was a fine athlete and won four events as a Freshman for Christ's College. In 1912 he gained the Diploma of Agriculture, and in 1913 played tennis against Oxford."

On mobilization in August, 1914, he became lieutenant, and proceeded to the front in October. He was gazetted captain in May, 1915, and in the following August he was given the command of a company. He volunteered for and was appointed brigade wiring officer, and subsequently was given the command of a trench mortar battery.

Pride in the Profession

2018 marks the 150th anniversary of RICS. To celebrate this milestone, we've launched our Pride in the Profession initiative to showcase the significant and positive impact surveyors have made to society.

The initiative is a great chance for all of us to promote our profession by demonstrating how varied and rewarding a surveying career can be.

We've already received a great many nominations of exceptional surveyors from RICS members around the world that you can read about below, but we need more.

Tell us about the people and projects you admire most.