Bedales 1907 - 1911, 2nd Lieutenant 1st Gloucestershires

George Clairmonte was the only child of Mary Chavalita Dunne and her second husband Egerton Tertius Clairmonte whom she married in 1891.  The marriage lasted only ten years; Mary sued for divorce in 1900 on the grounds of adultery, threatening behaviour and desertion for over two years.  Egerton had departed for America and in 1900 became a naturalised US citizen. The decree absolute was issued on 18th February 1901 but on 21 March he died of pneumonia in Los Angeles so when on 11th July Mary married Reginald Golding Bright, a dramatic agent who was fifteen years her junior, she declared herself a widow.

George’s mother began writing fiction two years before his birth; her first book of short stories, “Keynotes”, was published in 1893 under the pseudonym “George Egerton”.  Her writing reflected her own lifestyle, amongst other things advocating freedom for women to enjoy sexuality.  In 1886 she had eloped with a married man, Henry Higginson, and in 1888 he became her first husband, though the marriage lasted only a year.  Whilst married to him she had a brief affair with the Swedish writer Knut Hansum, whose work she translated and made popular in England and America.  She was a regular contributor to “The Yellow Book”, a notorious quarterly magazine published between 1891 – 1897.  An acquaintance of Oscar Wilde, friendly with George Bernard Shaw and J. M. Barrie, she is also regarded as an influence on Henry James, James Joyce and D. H. Lawrence.

In the year of his parents’ divorce, on census day 1901, five year old George was boarding at St. Cyprian’s School in Eastbourne.  He arrived in Steep for the Autumn term of 1907 so rising 12 he went straight into the senior school.  The main building was almost finished; the west side was completed that term and the quad finally completely roofed in glass.  The boys were not inconvenienced, as the girls were, by the major rebuilding of Steephurst which assumed its present exterior in 1908.

I’ve found few references to Clairmonte in the Record and the Chronicle apart from sporting achievements.  In Spring Term 1910 he achieved success as a boxer, topping the Second Set with maximum points and was particularly commended for the style of his fight with Stephen Békássy.  On Sports Day 1911 George broke the school Second Set record for the quarter mile (1m 5 2/5 secs) and also won the half-mile in 2m 33 3/5 secs.  In the summer of 1911 George left Bedales to continue his education in Switzerland.

July 1914 saw George Clairmonte matriculate at Clare College, Cambridge but, at the outbreak of war, the College supported his application for Sandhurst which he entered on 15th August.  From the Military Academy he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Gloucestershire Regiment on 16th December 1914.  The next two months were devoted to qualifying as a Machine Gun Instructor; he emerged with a First Class grade.  It was on 13th June 1915 that George went to France to join the Machine Gun section of his regiment.  De Ruvigny’s Roll records: “He took part in the advance at Loos 25 Sept., and was at the farthest point reached that day in the Bois Hugo, between Hulluch and Lens, two miles north-east of Loos. On the morning of the 26th the Germans rushed that part as the reliefs were coming up and Lieut. Clairmonte’s Machine Gun was smashed, and four only of his section were left. On coming out last from the trench he was hit on the head by a bullet or a fragment of shrapnel; his servant bound up the wound, and neither of them was heard of afterwards; but he is assumed to have been killed in action that day, 26th September 1915.”

The War Office seems to have had no record of Clairmonte’s next of kin and had to apply to the Camp at Camberley for the information so it was not until 8th October that this telegram was sent:-

“Deeply REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT 2 Lt G. E. Clairmonte Gloucester Regt was killed in action between 25th/29th Sept.  Lord Kitchener expresses his sympathy.”

However, as George’s step-father pointed out in his letter of complaint to the War Office, “The first news of the death of the above named officer on Sept.26th in France was received by my wife (the Boy’s mother) from the adjutant & Commanding Officer of the Regt on Oct 2nd.  Their letters expressly state that he was killed early in the morning of Sept 26th.. ...  is the vagueness of the date (provided by the War Office) designed to gloss over the notorious fact that my son lost his life through the failure of other regiments to relieve the Gloucestershire Regiment – a cruel blunder for which one seeks vainly for any criticism or blame in the official despatches – as published?  I shall be obliged by your answer.”  There was no apology from the War Office but the reply did conclude,A further report has been received which states that Second Lieutenant G E Clairmonte was killed between 25th and 26th September.”

In his tribute written in the summer of 1916 Mr Badley quoted from his Colonel’s letter to Mrs Golding Bright; he wrote that George was killed “fighting in a most plucky manner”.  George Clairmonte’s body must have been recovered as it now lies in Grave VII A 6 in the Loos British cemetery.

Sources: Bedales Archives: Service Record [WO339/3017] at TNA at Kew: de Ruvigny’s ‘Roll of Honour’:  references to “George Egerton” and her writings.
Thanks and best wishes to Megan McNutt who has been uploading these accounts for the past year.