Bedales 1900-1909 Lieutenant 47th Squadron Royal Flying Corps: formerly 2nd Lieut. 20th Batt. Rifle Brigade

Paul Montague was probably the most loved, admired and respected of the Bedalians who died in World War One.  Writing in March 1918 the editor of The Bedales Chronicle said “No Bedalian has had a greater share in building the best traditions of the School. …. he carried with him a charm, a beautiful simplicity that was and is a light to live by.

The background of Paul’s family must have contributed to the development of his talents and interests.  It seems likely that his paternal great-grandfather was an iron master in Gloucestershire.  By 1861 his grandfather Arthur had left the iron business to his elder brother and was developing landed interests in Devon.  Paul’s father, Leopold, used his inheritance to build up extensive collections of Classical, Egyptian and Australasian and Pacific artefacts (now in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter) and increasingly devoted his time to writing.  As local newspapers reported, his plays were frequently performed in aid of local charities by members of his family, including Paul and his sisters, Zoe and Ruth.

Paul’s mother’s father and grandfather had both served in India; her father, James Burnie Lind, as an officer in the Indian army (and after his return to England a Lieutenant Colonel in the militia) and her grandfather Alexander as a civil servant in Bengal.  Her maternal grandfather, John Francis Davis, was the second Governor of Hong Kong after it was acquired in the treaty at the end of the First Opium War.  Returning to England in 1848 he acquired a distinguished reputation as a sinologist, writing political/historical, literary and linguistic books and being awarded an honorary DCL by Oxford University in 1876.

I haven’t been able to establish the connection which in January 1900 caused the Montagues to send both their son Paul, (two months before his tenth birthday) and, a more revolutionary step, twelve-year-old Zoe to Bedales; she was one of only nine girls in the school.  Both Montagues displayed an interest in botany from the beginning.  In The Record of 1900 Zoe was listed amongst the flower collectors in the Summer Term: Paul, with Dmitri Jarinztoff, collected the largest number of leaves– a total of more than sixty.  The following summer, in The Record, Zoe was co-author with John Curtis of an account of the Third Class’s scientific botanical studies with Malcolm Powell; it was accompanied by a photograph of their illustrated monthly record of the local plants.  By the end of 1900 Paul’s poems were being read in a recital, some by the poet himself, and in the following Spring Term he was also a regular debater.  However, later in the term he succumbed first to measles and then to chickenpox, as did a significant proportion of the school.  It would appear that both Montagues were happy at Bedales but at Christmas 1901 Zoe was taken away and sent to Conamur, a girls’ school at Sandgate, where she was followed later by her younger sister Ruth.  Paul remained at Bedales; his younger brother Felix did not join him but attended the local Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Crediton.  I have heard that Paul’s parents weren’t entirely happy about the influence of Bedales on their son.  Clearly, Zoe retained her affection for Bedales: she was a member of the Old Bedalian Club and in July 1909 returned with her brother and a select group of OBs to perform Ibsen’s Love’s Comedy at the end of term.

Paul’s name features increasingly frequently in The Record.  In the Sports of 1902 he won the 100 yards, 220 yards and Quarter-mile and Half-mile races in his age range (Third Division), came second in the high jump and third in throwing the cricket ball, and he continued to be active in debates.  He also spoke in all the Junior Debates of the Winter and Spring Terms and would continue to debate as he progressed up the School.  In the School year 1902 – 1903 Paul’s name began to appear in concert programmes, playing violin solos or duets, as it did for the rest of his time at Bedales.  By 1903 – 1904 Paul’s fascination with birds had materialised; with Canadian Edward Buckell he had been photographing birds and their nests rather than collecting their eggs; they won joint first prize in The Show for “Illustrated Book on Birds”.  They followed it up the next year, again winning first prize for “Birds of South-west England”, illustrated by their paintings and photographs.  This time Paul had continued his work throughout the year, studying the area around his home as well as in the environs of Bedales.  Paul and Edward had an aviary in the orchard in which they successfully reared a magpie and two kestrel chicks but their two jackdaws died.  By Spring 1905 Paul’s name had emerged also as a writer and performer in ‘Merry Evenings’.

From the birth of The Bedales Chronicle in 1907 Paul’s name was rarely out of editions, several times recorded as playing in concerts in School and in Steep.  He was a member of the committee of the Musical Society and active in the Classical Society.  He lectured to the Scientific Society (of which he was a founder member in 1903) on ‘Hampshire Birds’ in November and was, with Eric Newnham, a competitor in the first aeroplane competition in December 1907; their plane won, flying 69 feet twice.  In the same month he appeared as Menenius in Coriolanus and “his witty, sarcastic remarks were a welcome relief to the rather serious and tragic nature of the play” wrote The Chronicle critic.  By February 1908 he was a House Prefect and co-author of a play for ‘Merry Evening’, the first of many.  The Sports Competition was revived in April and Paul was successful in the distance races, coming second to Monks in the mile (both broke the school record), half mile and 120 yard hurdles.  This is just a snapshot of Paul’s contribution to Bedalian life and it continued until his departure in 1909.

All this activity did not detract from Paul’s academic work. According to The Chronicle of 30th October he was working for the Natural Science Scholarship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (he must have been unsuccessful because he ended up as a Commoner at Caius College).  At the beginning of the first term of 1909 Paul became a School Prefect but within a month it was known that he was to leave at half term.  The Chronicle of 20th February, which broke the news, also contained a great tribute to him: ‘An Appreciation of Humour’ (it is too long to reproduce here but you can view in The Bedales Chronicle, Volume 2 Number 6 in the Digital Archive).   On 24th February “the whole school assembled in the quadrangle and G W Hicks announced, “As I expect you all know Paully is leaving us tomorrow, and before he goes I should like to make him a present of this fiddle, towards which the school has subscribed £15”. … “On, 25th Montague left Bedales to the great regret of the whole school who cheered him from dormitory and classroom windows as he went off in the cab.” (Chronicle Vol. 2 No. 7)

Paul Montague was just as active at Cambridge, belonging to his College and the University Musical Societies and the C. U. Natural Science Club for which, and several College societies, he presented scientific papers but, unlike Michael Pease, he did not flourish at the Cambridge Union.  He acted in the Marlowe Society’s presentation of Richard II.  Less formally he sent an account of the November 5th high jinks in Cambridge to The Chronicle.  In 1912, having gained a 2nd class in Part I of the Tripos, Paul went on an expedition to the Montebello Islands off Western Australia: according to The Chronicle he would be away until September when, presumably he would return to Cambridge for his final year. Accounts of this expedition appeared in The Bedales Chronicle late in 1912 and early in 1913. In early May 1913 there was a classic Bedalian exped. of six canoes, laden with OBs on the brink of exams, on the Cam where inevitably Paul led the clowning and the music making.  Clearly Paul had made sufficient mark in Cambridge to be invited to join a much more important expedition to New Caledonia.

In November 1913 The Bedales Chronicle recorded that Paul had already left England, amongst other things taking with him a machine for recording native music, and he was to be away for about eighteen months.  There he collected wildlife specimens, which are now in the care of the Natural History Museum, but the 200 artefacts he collected and, even more importantly his field notes about the native Kanak people, their traditions and activities and his illustrated journal, are now in the archives of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge and were the subject of an exhibition ‘Magic and Memory’ in 2015.  Before his return to England Paul learned that his younger brother Felix, who after Sandhurst had been gazetted a 2nd Lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment in September 1913, had been killed whilst leading his platoon in attack on the German trenches on 10th March 1915.

Soon after his return to England Paul visited Bedales.  The Chronicle of 23rd May reported that he had given a lecture to the school on Saturday which had “done a lot to arouse new interest in natural history”.  I am not certain how he spent the next few months but on 20th October Paul was at Halton Park Camp in Buckinghamshire applying for a Commission. His application disclosed that in his final two years at Cambridge he had served as a Private in the Officer Training Corps. His medical record shows that he was tall for the period – 6 feet 0¾ inches with excellent vision and he was declared “fit for military service”. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Welsh and Wessex, the 22nd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade Paul found himself sent on garrison duty to Egypt. I am unsure of the exact timing but early in 1916 “Jarry …found him in hospital in Alexandria, sitting up in bed and singing songs to his ward to the accompaniment of his beloved lute” (made at school).  Possibly whilst in Egypt he applied for transfer to the Royal Flying Corps and, after training, was sent with 47th Squadron to Salonika.  In March 1917 he wrote to Bedales relating that he was waiting to go up country to his squadron and gave a graphic description of his ship being torpedoed on the way from Alexandria.  He ended up on a raft and “said the Burial Service over my lute, which floated away”. Two months later he told of a dog fight with a Hun scout “which had rather over double my speed” and from which he escaped by looping the loop. In his spare time, using one of the rather decent horses available, he was exploring the countryside looking for nests. Later letters recounted events such as “a rather amusing crash” at Salonika on 16th September.  Members of the Squadron remembered Paul’s exploits in search of birds, flora and fauna and his singing, accompanied by a lute he had made from the parts of crashed aeroplanes.  Known to his fellow airmen as ‘Monty’ he also acquired the nickname “the Birdman of Salonika”. 

Paul went missing on 29th October.  He was acting Flight Commander of C Flight escorting a group of bombers which had gone to attack a fuel store at Hudova.  As they were returning a fellow pilot saw him attacked by three enemy scouts, attempting to escape by going into a deliberate spin and straightening out; he then went into a second spin, apparently out of control, and was again dived on by the German planes.  On 3rd November his parents received a telegram to say that Paul was missing but it wasn’t until February 1918 that they received confirmation of his death.  Writing, I think to Mr. Badley, Paul’s mother passed on the details.  The c/o had written that the fact had been established by a “photograph and message dropped on our aerodrome by a Bulgarian airman on the 19th Jan. …In the background is his coffin with a group of Bulgars standing around, evidently preparing to lift it into the cart.”  The message began “one of your comrades met with a hero’s death in an air-fight.  He was buried with due honours...”  The Flight Commander concluded “Your son was one of our bravest and most daring Pilots and was beloved by us all.”  This kind of thing was written by most commanding officers but in Paul Montague’s case it is probably true.

Six years later Emile Paquot, in the German army because in 1917 Alsace–Lorraine was a German possession, wrote to the War Office saying he had a photograph, which he himself had taken, showing the plane and the dead pilot laying before it.  He wanted to know the name and address of the pilot’s parents so that he could send it to them.  Politely the War Office declined to provide that information but promised to pass the photograph on if he sent it to them.  I assume this is now the photograph which has Ref Q110611 at the Imperial War Museum.

Paul was sincerely mourned by fellow airmen but especially by Bedalians of his own generation and, of course, his family.  He is remembered on the War Memorial at Crediton and in the Bedales Memorial Library, Bay 7.

Sources: Bedales Archives: T.N.A: I.W.M: genealogical websites: Dr. Julie Adams (now of the British Museum)