Bedales 1908.3 - 1912.2

I am starting this commemoration in rather different fashion as I think it is important to develop the background of George and his cousin, and future wife, Elizabeth Margaret Molteno (Bedales 1908.2 – 1912.2).  Their common ancestor was Sir John Charles Molteno, born in London in 1814 but, for much of his life, resident in Cape Colony, South Africa.  Active in all aspects of life in the Colony, he was a firm advocate of its self-regulation and was elected Prime Minister in 1872 when the colony was granted “Responsible Government” status.

Elizabeth Margaret, always known as Margaret, was the only daughter of Sir John’s second son, Percy Alport Molteno.  Educated in South Africa and, like several of his siblings, afterwards at Cambridge University, Percy became a barrister, initially practising in South Africa but, after his return to the UK, eventually becoming Chairman of the Union Castle Shipping Company.  He had married Elizabeth Currie, the daughter of the founder of the line, and became increasingly active in British politics. However, he also continued to be interested in South African affairs, opposed the Boer War and worked hard for the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910; he was a supporter of the emergent African National Congress.  A member of the Radical element in the British Liberal Party, he became MP at Westminster for Dumfriesshire in 1906.

Percy’s sister Caroline, Sir John’s second daughter, in 1876 married Charles Frederick Kenman Murray.  He had been born and educated in Ireland, qualifying M.D. in 1868, and then served for five years in The Royal Navy.  Emigrating to The Cape in 1874, he continued to rise in his career, qualifying as a surgeon and an obstetrician and, by 1887, was President of the South African Medical Association.  A fierce advocate of improved Public Health services in the Colony, he was supported by his wife, herself an advocate of suffrage for South African women.

With this background it isn’t surprising that Margaret (born and brought up in London) followed her brother, Donald, to Bedales and George and his sister Caroline made the transfer from South Africa to Steep.  I have no hard evidence but it seems likely to me that knowledge of Bedales had first been planted in the minds of the Moltenos and Murrays by Edmund Garrett, Mrs Badley’s younger brother, initially on the Staff of the Pall Mall Gazette and later Editor of the Cape Times and briefly an MP in the Cape Parliament.

At Bedales George Murray became a respected and admired member of the school, active and distinguished in every aspect of school life.  Admittedly, in the first year or so of George’s school career, there are more mentions in The Bedales Chronicle of his older sister Kathleen who, in her short time at Bedales, excelled on the hockey field, helped with the poultry and bees and became a prefect.  By the beginning of 1910 however, the name of Murray, coupled with his great friends Vyvyan Trubshawe and Oswald Horsley, appears increasingly frequently.  Clearly George was a good sportsman; his first recorded success was in the Prizes of 1909 when he emerged triumphant in foiling, alongside Oswald for boxing.  By 1910 he was playing in the first cricket XI and the following year he was excelled only by Oswald as a batsman.  The Chronicle reported in July that Oswald had scored 59 and George 50 to ensure Bedales’ resounding victory over Mr. Cardew’s XI.  He was probably better as a footballer; as early as December 1910, the defeat of a Bedales XI was largely attributed to George’s absence from the team.  By February 1912 he was Captain of Football and at the end of term was commended for his hard work.  In the Summer, playing with Janos Békassy, George triumphed over Vyv and Oswald to win the tennis competition for his team.  At the same time, with Basil Gimson OB, who had returned as a teacher, he had been training the boys for the Life-Saving Tests.

As early as May 1909 George and Vyv Trubshawe had been members of the Fire Brigade and, in November 1911, George became Captain of this elite group – that term numbering 21 members.  Another side of George, his interest in things agricultural, is illustrated by the fact that he was elected to the committee of the newly formed Horticultural and Agricultural Society in the Spring Term of 1911.

1911-1912, their last year at Bedales, was the highlight of the activities of the Murray, Trubshawe, Horsley triumvirate.  In May 1911, joined by Peter Eckersley, they were responsible for some kind of stunt involving electricity which amused the whole school though, The Chronicle recounted, “the only visible result … a slight elevation of the hair”.  There was more praise for “a very funny item” in Merrie Evening in October and the Junior School regarded the Variety Show they organised (along with Best and Robbins) in November as, “the event of the month” and “crème de la crème” of the term.  George had been commended for his portrayal of the Bo’sun in H.M.S. Pinafore and, at a special Merry Evening for Mrs. Girdlestone in July 1912, the gang took part in a spoof presentation, “H.M.S. Seenbefore”.

More seriously George had become a House Prefect at the end of 1911 and in February 1912, ably supported by Vyv, he tried to persuade his fellow debaters that it would be a disaster if Oxford and Cambridge abandoned the requirement for compulsory Greek.  Many of the Bedalian scientists held a different view and, at the end of the debate. they triumphed by 31 votes to 27.  George was also Treasurer of the School Finance Committee, being the representative for the Activities Committee on that body.  Nor had academic success been put aside by their high jinks.  In July 1911 The Chronicle announced, “G. A. Murray has passed Part 1 of Little –go 1st class” and, the following year, “Murray has passed the Cambridge Additionals”.  The next edition of The Chronicle revealed that the three were to be parted as “O. Horsley and V. W. Trubshawe have passed the Oxford Additionals”.  However, as the Oxford and Cambridge, “Letters to The Chronicle” revealed, their friendship was not to be at an end; over the next two years there was frequent visiting between the two Universities, often by motor-cycle, with all kinds of hair-raising experiences en route.

George enjoyed his time at Cambridge, continuing with many of his school interests.  Early in his first year, he was playing football in Trinity College’s second XI and in his second year was awarded his Colours.  That year he also ran for the College, excelling in his lap of the 4 x 220yards and helping Trinity to win the competition.  He was spending much time in the Labs, working for Part I of the Natural Sciences Tripos.  When war broke out in 1914 George’s great friends Vyv and Oswald immediately volunteered; in November The Chronicle reported that Oswald and his brother Siward were already at the Front.  George had decided to remain in Cambridge and take the first part of the Tripos but, from October, he was serving in the Cambridge Officers Training Corps.  As soon as the exams were over on 4th May 1915 he applied for “a Temporary Commission in the Regular Army for the Period of the War”.

The medical examination George underwent on 21st May declared him fit for service.  In his application George said he had served for two years in the Cadet Corps at the Diocesan College, Rondebosch in Cape Colony and was still serving as a Private in the OTC.  In June his application was supported by a member of the Cambridge Military Education Committee, commenting “he will take his degree next week”; he also passed on a recommendation from an officer who had interviewed Cambridge potential applicants in the previous Autumn.  George was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery, gazetted on 19th June 1915.

Letters from George to members of his family are reproduced in The Family Chronicle of the Moltenos (www.moltenofamily.net).  Immediately after being commissioned, George was sent to Preston and commenced his training amongst a group of about twenty subalterns, sharing a room with a congenial fellow recruit from the Artists Rifles who “knew the Horsleys and Trubshawe well”.  Early in August he was on a gunnery training course at Shoeburyness and in September he sailed from Southampton for Havre and almost immediately found himself despatched to the 14th Division where he joined an ammunition column.  (George’s letters are very informative and you can read them on the Molteno family website; look at the Contents table for The Chronicle of the Family to identify them quickly.) “There is fairly continuous firing by the guns, but nothing will happen here until there is movement in other parts” was George’s final conclusion to this letter.

George was one of the lucky ones to have a few days’ home leave over Christmas; the April edition of the Family Chronicle carries letters describing his movements over the past and future months.  He comments on nearby Bedalians, especially Vyv Trubshawe “but so far there has been no chance of seeing him” and Oswald Horsley, still at home after his second serious wounding the previous year.  The April 1917 edition has letters from George describing the events of late 1916. “We spent 2 months right in the very midst of it and took part in the advance in September when the Tanks made their first appearance and when all those villages were captured.”  He had heard that Oswald had been awarded the MC; with characteristic modesty he continued, “and would you believe it, I got a message from our General, a few days ago to say that I had also been given it”.  (This was for his exploits in the September offensive.)  Soon after that George was sent away on a course.  He wrote, “It is the second course I have been on and I enjoy them, as a pleasant change from the firing line”.

After seven months George was granted ten days’ home leave in January 1917.  He visited Oswald Horsley and was worried by his poor condition and that “he is so keen to be doing things that he refuses to be reasonable”.  Fairly soon after his return George was appointed Adjutant as the previous holder of the office had been wounded and, suffering from shell shock, had been sent back to England.  He complained about the heavy burden of often unnecessary correspondence that landed on his desk but relished the periods of active combat when passing on orders and directing action, he was on the phone for hours.  Holding this office promoted him to full Lieutenant.  His letter explained, “Unfortunately during the fighting, what with iron rations, the continuous amount of night work and living in deep dug-outs (captured German ones) I got a bit run down and caught an infection of boils”.

George’s file at Kew (WO339/5118) chronicles the progress of his illness.  Two weeks’ sick leave “for a rest” failed to cure the boils and he was sent to the 3rd Canadian Stationary Hospital.  Treatment there was not successful and on 13th July he sailed from Boulogne on home leave until 23rd July.  A local doctor, having examined him, reported “a considerable amount of Streptococci; anæmic –hæmoglobin only 70%”, and advised three weeks leave for vaccine treatment.  Only two weeks was granted and George returned to France in August and, having been replaced as Adjutant, to his former rank.  In September he was posted to D Battery and in October was promoted to the rank of Captain (Acting) as he was second in command of the Battery.

Through days at Bedales and in Cambridge, George had been close to his cousin Margaret Molteno.  In school holidays he lived with the Molteno family at 10 Palace Court in London or at their country place, Parklands.  Margaret wrote to Vyv Trubshawe on 4th June (no year given but I think it is probably 1916, as she wrote from Girton), “George and I are engaged at least we have been engaged over a year now but it is not public please”.  However, the news spread – in August 1917 George received congratulations from an OB friend.  By the end of 1917 the family was planning the wedding but timing was inexact, depending on when George could get leave.

George was sent to Shoeburyness on 17th January on a Battery Commanders Course and arrangements were hastily made for the wedding to take place in Marylebone Presbyterian Church on 23rd February.  (There is a description of the wedding in the Molteno Family Chronicle.)  Oswald Horsley acted as George’s best man and Siward and Vyv Trubshawe also supported him.  It was a simple service, starting with Psalm XC and including the Hymns “O Perfect Love” and “Now thank we all our God”: Margaret’s mother commented, “The bride and bridegroom had a good deal more to say than in the English Church (C of E) service”.  Describing the expressions of George and Margaret as, after a night at Brown’s Hotel, they drove off to Shoeburyness she concluded her letter, “Such true love marriages are renewals of Life and Joy and Hope for the Future”.  Sadly, the future for Margaret and George was short-lived.

Back with his battery on 18th March, as its Commander George was to be Acting Major from 22nd March.  He was faced with the problems caused by the German Spring Offensive though he had missed the first onslaught.  A letter he sent off to his uncle Percy on 3rd April describes their difficulty in getting sufficient suitable guns in place and he was fairly certain the Germans had not yet delivered their final blow.  Margaret also received letters dated 4th and 5th April.  News of George’s death was slow to arrive.  On 11th April a letter arrived for Margaret from the Adjutant bearing the news that he had been badly wounded by a shell splinter and sent off in an ambulance to an Aid Post at Fouilloy.  The family desperately tried to find out what had happened and, as Percy wrote on 18th, “At last the War Office, … consented to make a special enquiry. ... today came the terrible news that his wound had proved fatal, and that he had died at a forward dressing station.”  Further family enquiries discovered from Captain Scott, on duty at the station, that George was brought in unconscious and died about ten minutes later.  He was buried that evening by the Rev. Edwards in a peaceful little churchyard at Aubigny.  Later that year it may have been renamed the Aubigny British Cemetery, created by the Australians from April to August 1918.  His name is inscribed in Bay 8 of the Bedales Memorial Library.

The family was deluged with tributes from senior and brother officers; there are extracts from several in The Family Chronicle and also a full tribute from Mr. Badley, written in July 1918.  George’s loss was deeply felt by his friends and also those who had known him less well.  It was the final blow at school – the sixth casualty of the German Offensive – the death of young men who, as boys, had been contemporaries and ultimately leaders of the community.

Sources: The Bedales Archives: TNA at Kew: genealogical sites but especially The Molteno Family website (www.moltenofamily.net) which I recommend to all who read this commemoration.