Garth Smithies Taylor 27/06/1896 - 15/10/1916
2nd Lieut. A S C: Lieutenant 2nd Batt. Sherwood Foresters (Notts. & Derby Regt)

Garth came from a family with especially strong connections with Bedales.  He was born in Leicestershire, the second child and elder son of Thomas Smithies Taylor and his wife Mary Ellen née Bennett.  Thomas and his younger brother William (the sons of a hosier, Richard Taylor and his wife Mary Ann née Smithies) were both optician’s apprentices in 1881.  They went on to become scientific instrument makers and founded their own firm in 1886, joined by chief salesman W. S. Hobson the following year. The firm (Taylor, Taylor and Hobson) became a world leader in the manufacture of photographic lenses.

Mary Ellen (Nellie) Bennett and her elder sister Elizabeth were the daughters of John Bennett, a corn merchant who rose to become Alderman and Mayor of Leicester: they were both active in the suffrage movement.  Elizabeth had qualified as a doctor in 1894 and in 1896 achieved a degree in Bachelor of Surgery.  After her initial qualification she married Mark Wilks, a teacher for the LCC.  A founder member of the Women’s Tax Resistance League (whose slogan was ‘No Vote, No Tax’) she refused to pay income tax and when her husband also refused to pay her dues he was sent to Brixton prison.  This led to major demonstrations and a petition signed by 3000 LCC teachers.  After two weeks in prison Mark was released. – regarded as a victory for the suffrage movement – but debate continued in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords (led by Earl Russell, the uncle of one of Garth’s closest Bedalian friends, John Russell).

In March 1912 Nellie was part of a window smashing group of suffragettes who were held on remand in Holloway before being sentenced to three months in prison.  Nellie went on hunger strike and as her health deteriorated she was released to the care of Elizabeth in late April.  The following year she was again arrested and sent to prison in July 1913, having given her name as “Mary Wyan of Reading”.  She refused to reveal her real name and address and again went on hunger strike; as she became weaker “Mary” was to be transferred to a nursing home but she refused to enter and continued her hunger strike on a chair outside.  The police removed her to a hospital in Kensington where she eventually gave up her protest and was released.  With such a background, and their Unitarian faith, it isn’t surprising that the three Taylor children were sent to Bedales.

Dorothea, the eldest, arrived in Steep in the summer of 1903 when she was almost eleven and remained at the school until Easter 1909.  Aged ten in September 1906, Garth was enrolled at Bedales’ new Junior School, Dunhurst, as a day boy lodging at Hillcroft in Church Road with Mrs Anthony, the widow of a Unitarian minister, whose two sons and daughter were already at the school.  When he moved to the senior school in September 1907 Garth became a boarder; he remained at Bedales until Christmas 1912 and then completed his education at Nottingham High School before a brief period of study in Germany and commencement of his work as a clerk in the family firm (I have yet to complete work on the Taylor siblings at Bedales and will add this in due course).

In August 1914, Dorothea recollected, she was on holiday with Garth and his best friend John Russell and his sister Margaret.  “It was then, after long discussion, that Garth and John decided it was their responsibility to volunteer and protect their country.”  On 31st August Garth wrote to his father, explaining that he felt he should volunteer for war service rather than continue in the family firm as had been planned.  Thomas (a territorial officer) had already been called up and was employed in the Main Supply depot in Northampton.  Garth worked for him from 9th September 1914 and then in November applied for a commission in the Army Service Corps, expressing a preference for work in France but adding “any unit in which I may be most usefully employed”.  For most of 1915 he remained in England, initially at Northampton and then, from November 16th at Blackheath Horse Transport.  He recorded in his diary the difficulty and exhilaration of working with “VERY TOUGH MULES”.  On 15th December he was Gazetted a full Lieutenant.  Almost immediately Garth got his wish and was posted for service in France.  By that time Mrs Taylor was living at Stonerdale, Church Road Steep, so that her youngest son, Mark, could attend Bedales as a day boy.  On 23rd December Garth left Stonerdale and Petersfield Station, with his kitbag and his beloved guitar, for France to join the Expeditionary Force.

Garth rapidly came to see this posting as too much of a soft option and on 30th December wrote to his sister that he had applied “for a transfer to an Infantry Regiment of the line”.  Meanwhile, he was moving around northern France and was placed in charge of “about 40 men & 60 horses, 20 waggons, harness etc. … it means that I am kept pretty hard at work all day” (to Doro 14th Jan.  He also expressed his delight at her success in her medical examinations).  On 16th February he wrote about the pleasure gained from playing and singing to his guitar, learning French, sketching and identifying the birds and the stars. Three days later he recorded that “I have today put in another application for transfer to the Infantry.”  His Major thought he was unlikely to be successful as he had been trained for his current job.  Garth’s comment was “I was a fool not to have enlisted at the beginning, but what’s the use of vain regrets.”  However, on 7th March he received orders to report to the 2nd Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters: his appointment as a full Lieutenant in that Battalion was Gazetted on 17th April 1916.

From May to July Garth sent cheerful letters home and to his uncles and aunts, full of amusing anecdotes, but his diary recorded a more sombre situation with several references to heavy shelling of their trenches.  However, Garth enjoyed army life.  On 19th July he confided in his sister, “I am thinking of applying for a regular commission now, as if after the war I wanted to stay in the army … I should have gained a certain amount of seniority ..  ”

For the first part of the battle of the Somme in July the Sherwood Foresters were in the Ypres Salient – “the bloody Salient” as the battalion archives named it.  From the 2nd to 5th August they were in transit to Beaumont Hamel where they remained for the rest of the month, taking no part in major operations.  From mid September they were involved in an attack from Guillemont towards Guinchy and “advanced 500 yards”. On 14th September Garth was placed in command of A Company as the Company Commander had been wounded; they remained in trenches on the Guinchy-Les-Boeufs road.

On 2nd August Garth had warned his sister that he might not have time for letters “but that does not mean any cause for worry” and he would try to send cards.  He did manage to write to his mother on 10th August and concluded his letter:- “It is a great life.  I have never been so happy in my life before, & the rough life seems to make it all the better.”  Sending Doro birthday greetings on 22nd September Garth remarked “We have had rather an interesting time lately and rather an uncomfortable one.”  A hasty note to his parents on 6th October enclosing a couple of photos”, reported that “I am O.C. Company as the two front ones are down the line in hospital.  I have 150 men under me.”  He also sent a photo of five company officers to Doro and she entered it in her Memoir of Garth published in 1971.  It is the last picture of Garth.  His last communication was a field post card dated 13th October 1916 recording “I am quite well”; “I have received your letter/parcel” “Letter follows at first opportunity.”  That never came.

The Company Sergeant Major wrote to Garth’s parents that at about 11. 30pm on the night of 15th October “I was in company with Lieut. Taylor when he was caught by a sniper.  He was shot through the right lung.  Death was instantaneous.  His only words were ‘I am hit’.”  For his conduct on 22/23rd Sept Garth had been recommended for the Military Cross“ but, as a senior officer noted, “The powers that be diluted these recommendations to ‘’Mentioned in Despatches’. ”  He had been buried where he fell and then his body was later removed to a small cemetery by his men; it was reported that “They said they thought too much of him to leave him where he might not be located.”  However, his body must have been lost at a later date as he is commemorated only on the panels of Thiepval Memorial.

John Russell wrote to Doro from Bulgaria in May 1917.  “It is sad that (Garth) and Forbes (died 3rd Sept.), my two best friends, should have been killed in action. …  Both felt that a job behind the lines was not good enough, and got transferred to the Infantry ..”

In 1921 Thomas Smithies Taylor joined his wife in Steep.  Mark had just left Bedales but his father arrived initially to teach wood and metal work and from 1923 to be the Farm and Estate Manager.  Amongst other things he “project managed” the building of the Horsley Laboratories (still in use today) financed by a bequest from Siward Horsley and money from his parents in memory of him and his younger brother Oswald (killed in an air accident 18th August 1918).  Thomas remained at Bedales until his retirement in 1932 and from 1923 – 1932 Dorothea Taylor was the School Doctor.

Sources; Bedales Archives: Garth’s file at TNA (WO339/28762): DNB for Elizabeth Wicks: genealogical sites; Dorothea Taylor’s memoir of her brother; comments from surviving members of the Taylor family.