Bedales 1899 - 1906, Captain 2nd/5th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers

Eric Simon was the oldest of the three OBs in the School Photograph for the Summer Term 1904.  He was the youngest of the four sons of Heinrich (Henry) Simon and his second wife Emily Ann née Stoehr. Heinrich came from a distinguished family.  His uncle, also Heinrich, a lawyer, a journalist and earlier a Prussian Civil Servant, played a prominent part in the 1848 revolutions in Germany, especially in the Frankfurt Assembly (1848 – 49).  When the revolution collapsed Heinrich wisely escaped to Switzerland, taking with him the Seal of the Assembly; he was declared a traitor and sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia.

Heinrich’s brother Gustav (Eric’s grandfather) took his family to Switzerland and the younger Heinrich completed his education there, finally at the newly established Technical College in Zurich.  It was probably with the encouragement of his uncle that Heinrich left for England in 1860 and was recorded in the 1861 census as a civil engineer, living in Manchester.  Having worked throughout Europe, including Russia, Heinrich eventually established two innovative and flourishing businesses in Manchester.  His developments in flour milling machinery (his first customers were McDougal’s) brought him world-wide success, equalled by the introduction of new coking ovens (initially for the Pease colliery in Durham) and later adapted for the new Manchester Crematorium in 1894.

The three eldest sons of this marriage were educated locally until moving on to Rugby School.  The two eldest then matriculated at Cambridge, Ernest Darwin at Pembroke in 1898 (he graduated first class in the Mechanical Sciences Tripos) and Heinrich Helmuth (Henry) at King’s in 1899.  The third son Victor, from Rugby in 1903, applied for the Royal Military Academy, was accepted at Woolwich and was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers on 20th December 1905.

It seems likely that Eric was regarded as less academically inclined than his brothers.  Certainly in his obituary Mr. Badley commented “He was always devoted to outdoor things.”  I haven’t discovered how or why Bedales was chosen for Eric but there were strong connections with Manchester and the German community, 12 year old Eric arrived at “Old” Bedales in Sussex (which already had its first girls), and spent his first year there, moving to the new building in Steep in September 1900.  From the beginning Eric was one of the small group of enthusiasts, guided by O. B. Powell, who tended the school’s beehives.  For his final years in the school he and his friend E. P .Morgan (who also each had his own private hive) took it in turns to write an account of the bees for The Bedales Record and in 1904 Eric also reported on work in the dairy.  His other recorded interest was in photography and some of his work was reproduced in The Record – most notably “hiving a swarm” and “The Plow” (sic) which gives us evidence of the appearance of Plough Cottage in 1905.

The Record and The Bedales Chronicle also recorded Eric’s participation in dramatic events, most noticeably in “The Frogs” in 1904 (when he was the donkey who carried Xanthias, the poet Dionysus’s slave) and “Alkestis” (1905) when he appeared alongside his future wife Winfred Levy and her twin sister Gertrude. From Bedales in 1906 Eric moved on to Wye College of Agriculture and then undertook farming positions in England and abroad.

In 1909 and 1910 Eric travelled extensively.  He listed his travels at the front of a volume of poems (“The Open Road” now in possession of his grand-daughter Naomi) recording time spent in Ceylon, Java, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Canada, finally sailing home from New York to be in Didsbury on 18th August.  From there he returned to farming and the 1911 census found him at Ikenham, near Rye, described as a Farming Student.

The Bedales Chronicle of May 1911 announced the engagement of two OBs, “Simon and Winfred Levy”.  The Levy twins had been born in Aliwal North, Cape Colony but were brought home to England by their mother Lily in 1900.  Their father remained in South Africa until 1902 so the mother and daughters were alone in London on census day 1901.  Winifred arrived at Bedales in January 1903 and her sister Gertrude joined her after Easter.  From Eric’s notes on his travels he was obviously a regular visitor at the Levy’s house “Lily Cottage” in Windermere.  After their marriage on 25th January 1912 (announced in The Bedales Chronicle) Eric and Winifred took up farming at Lythe Hill Farm, Haslemere, where he concentrated on breeding good dairy cattle (a reflection of his school interest?): their two sons Oliver (25th November 1912) and John (1st September 1914) were born there.

Eric had been active in the Territorials from 1907 and risen to be a Captain in “The Buffs” (The Royal East Kent Regiment) when he resigned in 1913, probably because of the demands of his new family life.  When war broke out, as a farmer Eric was in a reserved occupation, but he felt a strong obligation to serve, perhaps strengthened by the fact that his immediately elder brother Victor had been recalled with his regiment from South Africa and by November was in France.  The second Simon son, Henry had already volunteered and was serving with the Royal Field Artillery, leaving eldest brother Ernest to maintain the family businesses which were to play a major part in the war effort.

Eric’s grand-daughter Deborah recently explained “He was, apparently, a very gentle person. ... The idea of war and killing must have been horrifying for him, but he decided to join up ... he could not bear the thought of not doing his bit.”  In January 1915 Eric was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers and in April was promoted to the rank of Captain.  The battalion was in France by May.  Unfortunately his officer’s file does not survive in the National Archives so I haven’t traced his progress but August found him near Albert on the Somme.  He was reconnoitring on the evening of 16th and was shot by a sniper; he died next day in the Field Ambulance and lies buried in Millencourt Cemetery

Tragically for the Simon family, two years later Victor (who had been awarded the Military Cross in November 1915 and later Mentioned in Despatches) was killed outright on 5th June 1917 and Henry, wounded on 1st September, died eight days later.  Eric is commemorated (with his brothers) on the War Memorial outside Didsbury’s Carnegie Library and in the Bedales Memorial Library.  Thanks to the generosity of his widow Winifred in 1962, his name also graces the outside of the School’s Science Lecture Theatre.

Apart from general researches I am indebted to the help provided by Eric’s grandchildren (all OBs) David, Deborah and especially Naomi, who generously loaned me the family archive.  A more extensive commemoration of Eric is to be displayed in the Memorial Library.