Captain, Royal Sussex Regiment
Born: November 9th 1871
Died: 19 May 1915
Age at Death: 43
Died of pneumonia, France, February 1915
Son of Henry Holmes of Grey Towers, Hornchurch.
A donation to the memorial statue has been made in honour of this soldier by The Pitman Family:
"In memory of the supreme sacrifice - that it should never ever happen again."
Captain Alun Arundel Holmes
Alun Arundel Holmes was born in Upminster in 1871. He was the son of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Holmes (1828-1913) and Emilie Mary Homes (1845-1914). He had four brothers, one of whom later settled in South Africa and one sister Henry Holmes.
His father Henry was born into a Quaker family from County Durham but moved from there early in life to pursue a successful career first in the army and later in business as a ship-broker and, ironically given his Quaker origins, a brewer. Following the purchase of Hornchurch Brewery in 1874 Henry Holmes rapidly expanded the business and was able to build large Victorian mansion in Hornchurch known as Grey Towers which was to remain the family home until he and his wife died just before the outbreak of war in 1914. It was then to be briefly a base for the famous ‘Sportsmen’s Battalion’ before becoming a hospital and then being sadly demolished in 1931.
Alun Holmes was educated at Brighton College (School House) from 1885 to 1888. After school he joined the Volunteer Artillery, a Victorian forerunner of the Territorial Army which was likewise part- time, and was based at Forfar and Kincardine. He received a part-time commission as a Lieutenant in 1892 and was promoted to Captain in 1895. This indicates that at the time he was living in Scotland but unfortunately the reason why his civilian career resulted in him moving there are unclear. In 1898 he married Ellen Né Lambard (1870-1956) at St Barnabus Church, Mayland, Essex and subsequently fathered four children. It may be that around this time he left the army and resettled to the Southern England again because it is clear that he later became a successful Lloyds underwriter and also listed his other profession, for the purposes of Lloyds’ records, as a farmer.
In 1914, following the outbreak of war, anyone with any degree of professional military training, however brief or antiquated was much sought after in order to train the vast number of young and inexperienced volunteers recruited for Kitchener’s ‘New Army’. It is therefore unsurprising that despite his relatively fleeting military career Alun Holmes was rapidly re-commissioned as a Captain and attached to the newly recruited and training 5th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment. A sense of the desperate shortage of officers at that point can be gathered from the fact that despite his Artillery background and relatively old age (43) he was in fact posted to an infantry battalion. During his service with the Royal Sussex regiment, and possibly for some years before it, it appears that he lived in Northiam, Sussex.
It was in the course of training this battalion that in March 1915 he contracted the illness that was eventually to kill him. The circumstances of his death were set out in great detail by the Medical Officer of the battalion Captain Mansell in a letter he sent to the Regiment’s Headquarters but now preserved in Lloyds’ records of all its staff who served in the First World War. The letter not only details the circumstances of his death but also provides an interesting insight into the character of the man and the fact that he was probably not fit enough for the military duties he had been asked to undertake:
‘Captain Holmes was a keen and enthusiastic soldier and very devoted to his work. By no means a strong man, he was very active and wiry. He was tall and somewhat thin and had a curious flat contour of chest, with some sinking in of the ribs and lower part of the sternum. There was a heart bruit to be heard over the aortic region, but this had not been a barrier to his taking part in shooting and lawn tennis, both of which sports he was very fond of….
…He was known to complain of some fatigue after route marching. The deceased had been in good health up to the 28th of March 1915, on which date he took his Company over to Northiam for some field training. He remained there up to the 4th of April when the Company returned to Hastings. The weather during that time was excessively cold and wet and the men suffered accordingly. From April 4th deceased suffered from a cold and on April 22nd developed influenza and was in a low and depressed state of mind. On April 25th pneumonia set in and developed very rapidly into a very severe attack [of pneumonia];…
……….During the next week delirium of a very marked kind set in, his servant being required as well as the nurses in attendance to restrain his movements. The delirium took the form of raving about his military duties and at times he would start up in bed and give military orders to his servant as if on parade. Apart from this delirium, the pneumonia gradually subsided under treatment, and, on May 8 the patient was so far well that it was proposed to remove him to his home at Northiam during the following week. The next day, in the early morning, an acute abdominal attack occurred, giving rise to great pain in the epigastric and hepatic regions, accompanied by vomiting and marked rigors. A condition of general peritonitis developed, and the patient died on the May 19th….
…..I am of the opinion that the death of the late Captain A.A. Holmes was directly attributable to the stress of military service and to the fact that he suffered from wet and exposure whilst training his company at Northiam.’
The clear attempt by the Medical Officer to blame Holmes’ death on his military service may be indicative of the importance to the bereaved family that his death be seen to arise from active service. This is probably both for the purposes of honour and, more importantly, to gain access to a War Widow’s Pension.
He is buried in St. Andrews Churchyard, Hornchurch, Essex, where many of his siblings still lived. He is also commemorated on NORTHIAM WAR MEMORIAL and by Lloyds of London.
Source: LEST WE FORGET PROJECT, Brighton College 2014/15