Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We will come if we are fetched......

Although Powlett Milbank, the Tory elected to serve Radnorshire in Parliament in 1895, decided not to contest the 1900 election because of ill-health, he continued as Lord Lieutenant of the county until his death in January 1918. It was in this capacity that in 1915 he expressed his keen disappointment that the men of Radnorshire were reluctant to join the army and go to war. When Sir Powlett challenged them they would respond "we will come if we are fetched."

The Military Service Act of 1916 ensured that reluctant Radnorians were indeed fetched to the colours, although in the case of the Davenport brothers, Len and Ernie, this was unnecessary, both having joined the South Wales Borderers before the start of the War. Indeed 1914 found Len in China participating in the Japanese led attack on the German controlled port of Tsintao. Later he would serve in Gallipoli before being killed in France in July 1917. His brother Ernie was gassed during the retreat from Mons and discharged as being medically unfit. Ernie died in Mardy hospital a few days before his older brother. Eighteen year old Arthur, the last surviving Davenport boy, was killed in France on 28th October 1918.

All three names are recorded on the War Memorial in Llandrindod - the loss of three brothers was not at all unusual, indeed the same memorial lists the names of three Hope brothers who also died in the First World War. The Davenport names can also be seen, although spelt incorrectly, on the memorial in St David's church Howey.

Years ago I read some letters belonging to the Davenports - a little notebook Len had used when hospitalised in England, containing snatches of conversation written down, perhaps because he was deaf. There was a bitterness about the war in various hands as well as comments that suggested that the unangelic nurse is not just a modern-day phenomenon. A fatalistic letter to his sister sent a couple of days before he was killed expressed Len's gratitude that at least his discharged brother Ernie would survive the war. As it happened Ernie had died just a few days before the letter was posted. There was a bombastic letter to his brother in France from a youthful Arthur describing a cinema newsreel he had seen and a letter to their sister Gwladys from the matron of the hospital where Ernie had been treated. "Your brother suffered a great deal before he died" it explained with a good deal more honesty than compassion.

How wise those Radnorians were who informed the bellicose Sir Powlett that they would only come if they were fetched.

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