Second Lieutenant 460th (West Riding) Field Company Royal Engineers

Eric was the middle one of the five children of Vyvyan Trubshawe and his wife Margaret Isabel Rademeyer  He had an elder sister and brother and a younger sister and brother, all five of them pupils at Bedales School.  In view of the extensive Bedalian connections of the family, lasting to the present, it seems appropriate to include some background information.

The Trubshawes had been architects, surveyors, engineers and builders, mostly in the Staffordshire area, for more than two hundred years.  The earliest referred to in Oxford Art Online is Thomas Trubshaw, who in 1632 built the church tower for Armitage church, but I have not been able to establish a connection between him and the first nationally acknowledged member of the family, Richard (1689 -.1749) who is Eric’s 4x great grandfather. 

In the late C18 and C19 the Trubshaw(e) family had a series of fraternal differences and Eric’s grandfather James had to make his own way in the world.  He succeeded, becoming a Government Architect in India by the 1860s, working mostly in Bombay, responsible for the reconstruction of St. Thomas’s Cathedral and the design and construction of a number of important buildings.  Unfortunately, by the time of his death in 1882, he had lost most of his money leaving his sons to make their own way; both Vyvyan and his younger brother Wolstan succeeded. Vyvyan trained as an Architect (in the census of 1871 he was registered as “Architect’s Pupil”) but because of failing sight he had to abandon that career and became a business man, describing himself in the 1911 Census as “Retired Architect and Director of Gold Mining Companies”.  Wolstan flourished as a merchant, both in and with Southern Africa.

Vyvyan and Margaret (whose family is believed to have lived in the Cape for several generations) married in Barberton, Transvaal, and Eric’s elder sister Ethel was born there in May 1891.  By the time of Vyvyan’s birth in July 1893 the family had moved to England and were living in Richmond: Eric was born there three years later.  Younger sister Marguerite (known as Rita) was born in Brighton and, by the time Arthur was born in 1905, the family had settled permanently in Croydon.  In September of that year Ethel (aged 14) and twelve year old Wolstan Vyvyan (generally known as “Vyv”) appear in the Bedales School Roll.  It is difficult to trace the youngest children who were housed from 1902 atHillcroft in Church Road and then, from 1905, in the newly built Dunhurst but it is established from The Bedales Record that Eric arrived in Steep with his siblings and in September 1905 was one of the early pupils at the “P.S” in Dunhurst.

Vyv and his great friends the Horsley brothers feature quite prominently in The Bedales Chronicle (established 1907) but there is little about Eric.  Aged 12 in the Spring of 1911, the year he graduated to the Senior School in Division III, he did rather well in the Prize Show with 5 stars (maximum) for a model and 4 for a composition.  In was four terms later, in the Summer of 1912 when he had moved up to Division II, that he is mentioned as a swimmer, coming second in “the two lengths” and third in the four.  Vyv had done rather better, winning the four lengths in Division I, but the brothers were on the losing side in the Water Polo match.  However, Eric was one of 31 successful Bedalian competitors for the Bronze Medal Standard of the Royal Life Saving Association and was also a member of the respected Bedales Fire Brigade.

Ethel had left in 1910 and Vyv in 1912, departed for New College, Oxford so Eric was the sole Trubshawe in Bedales in 1913.  In the Autumn he won the Hurdles and came second in the Quarter Mile and was a Squad Commander in the Fire Brigade.  This infrequent reference to him is explained perhaps by a comment in the short obituary which appeared in The Bedales Chronicle after his death:  “Whilst at school his energies were largely taken up with an almost abnormal rapidity of growth”.  (Eric was 6 feet 3 inches tall when he applied for a commission in 1915).  However, a friend remembered his “modesty and quiet capacity, frank and jolly geniality and wholesome freshness (which) have rejoiced and still help all who knew him”.

Eric must have been studying for College entrance as in January 1915 The Chronicle reported that he had “passed the London Matric” and he was a student at the City and Guilds of London Institute (a part of Imperial College) when he applied for the Inns of Court O. T. C in April 1915 and joined as a Private.  At about this time Vyv, a 2nd Lieut. in the King’s Liverpool Regiment, was slightly wounded in France but reported as well on the way to recovery in May 1915.  The Chronicle editors made a mistake when on the same page they stated “V W Trubshawe has joined the Inns of Court O.T.C.”: – in the June issue they admitted their error.  The July Chronicle reflected on the strengthening of Bedalian connections; Ethel Trubshawe was engaged to a fellow Bedalian George Hicks and they married on 17th July.

On 11th September 1915, in training at Berkhampstead with the O. T. C., Eric applied for a commission in the 62nd (West Riding) Division of the Royal Engineers (a Territorial Regiment), declaring himself an Engineering student at the City & Guild Institute.  He also signed the declaration of willingness to serve oversees but was retained in the Territorial force at home.

Over the next sixteen months Eric must have seen home service in many parts of the country. Probably starting in the north of England early in 1916 he found himself with the 62rd Division on Salisbury Plain for about six months and then most likely was sent to Lowestoft.  By October 1916 they were divided between Bedford, Wellingborough and Northampton where they received news of a move to France.

At this time the divisions of the Royal Engineers were reconfigured and Eric became a member of the 460th (West Riding) Field Company.  The War Diary records that they disembarked from S S Archimedes at Le Havre at 10am on 12th January 1917 and the following day left by train for Fortel. From the 14th to 22nd January they moved locally between billets, training although their progress was hampered by “weather conditions remaining severe with snow.  One mule died from exposure.

Over the next ten days the company was moving constantly, frequently divided between different Field Companies of the Royal Engineers.  By 24th January most of the Company was around Goigneux.  On 2nd February Eric scrawled a brief will; “All my real and personal estate whatsoever and wheresoever to my sister Ethel Hicks.”  That night the c/o recorded in the War Diary:- “2Lieut. TRUBSHAWE E J and L/Cp; BEATSON. H No 480332. Killed by shell at HEBUTERNE while passing down trench at 11am.”  The following day’s entry stated simple “Lieut Trbshawe & L/Cpl Beatson buried at SAILLY-AU-BOIS.

A slight confusion exists in the records; the War Diary implies Eric was killed immediately but the Field Report says he “died in No 57 Field Ambulance France …from wounds received in action.”  However, this is not supported by the War Diary of the 57th which records no officer dying on 2nd February.  Both agree about the burial on 3rd February.

Eric’s death came as a great shock, especially to Vyv and to Oswald Horsley who had both been wounded more than once; by this time Oswald had been awarded his first Military Cross.  Writing to Vyv on 15th February Oswald expressed his feelings forcefully;  “Apart from the horror and beastliness of it all I do feel exactly like you what a gross injustice poor old Eric’s death was.  This War is our war not his why should he be chosen out. The fact that he was killed in action is about the finest death a chap can have – cold comfort ‘tho – You know this war, I think, has definitely proved war to be a thing of the past & one that must  never recur  It will though if we aren’t jolly careful. …. The thought of old Eric whatever else they do will at least make me fight better.”

On 5th February Mr Badley wrote to Margaret Trubshawe: “He was indeed growing up into a fine and noble fellow.  I was much struck by the change in him the last time or two that we saw him here – a seriousness of purpose & outlook that was very good to see & full of promise for the future. … His was one of the finest sacrifices, for I know he made it not through any love of fighting or desire for adventure but in the conviction of a duty to be done.”  In The Bedales Record in September 1917 JHB quoted from a letter to Eric’s parents from his Major who had written, “(though) they had only been in the trenches a week, this had been enough for all, and especially the men under his command, to realise how fearless he was, and how he was not only maintaining but adding to the standard expected of a British officer,"

Eric died six months short of his 21st birthday; his sister Rita was a pupil at Bedales when the news came.  In this short period of four years she was not the only one to hear of the news of the loss of a beloved sibling and she wished to stay at school with her friends rather than go home.  No one knows whether Arthur, probably by then a pupil in Dunhurst, remained at school or returned to his parents.  The Trubshawe Bedalian connection continued throughout the century with the presence at school of nieces and nephews and a great niece.

Sources: Bedales Archives: Records in the National Archives: histories of the Royal Engineers and the Inns of Court OTC; genealogical & architectural sites online; most especially the generous support of the Trubshawe family.