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Captain The Honourable Colwyn Erasmus Arnold Phillips


Royal Horse Guards, 8th Cavalry Brigade, 3rd Cavalry Division, Age 26, Killed 13 May 1915. Menin Gate Memorial Panel 3. Eldest son of John Wynford Philipps the Rt. Hon. the 1st Viscount St. Davids, P.C. and of his wife Leonara, 3 Richmond Terrace, Whitehall, London. His younger brother The Hon. Roland Erasmus Philipps also fell.

 

He was educated at Eton and attended The Royal Military College, Sandhurst, receiving his Commission in the Royal Horse Guards on 6 October 1908. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 30 July 1909 and in June 1911, now a Captain, led the Escort for the return of King George V and Queen Mary from Windsor, the week after the Coronation. His father described him as: ‘A born soldier, from the moment he decided whilst still at Eton to make the army his profession he was keen to do his work well and master every branch of it. Never having known fear, when the call for action came, the path was easy for him

 

He arrived in France on 1 November 1914 and went to the front three days later arriving in the billets at Verlorenhoek. The Battalion was in support at Hooge and Zwarteleen. On the 6 November he wrote an account of his first taste of action to his mother: ‘Yesterday I came out of my first battle…. We did no good at all, never fired, but were simply a target for the German big guns; we were very lucky in having only half a dozen casualties. I expected to be frightened, or thrilled, or flurried; as a matter of fact I was bored to tears. The only interesting thing was to watch the German shells burning a large farm a hundred yards behind us. We sat in the trenches for forty-eight hours.’ He wrote on 13 November: ‘The first thing we learn here is to forget about ‘Glory.’ Your regiment is no good when it is dead, and your job is to retire rather than be wiped out; only you must warn troops on your flanks: do it quietly and do it in time….’  He had leave in England in December 1914 and again in February 1915. He volunteered for the Foot Guards in February 1915 writing on 22 February: ‘A notice has just come round to ask if any captains or subalterns will give their names to be attached to the Foot Guards at the front. Of course I have sent in my name. I think there is a possibility that they may send me to England or perhaps to St Omer for a few weeks training before I join them.’

 

On the 12 March he wrote to his mother: ‘People out here seem to think that the war is going to be quite short, why, I don’t know; personally, I see nothing here to prevent it going on for ever. We never attack the Germans, and simply do our utmost to maintain ourselves; when we seem to advance it is really that the Germans have evacuated the place. Some one once said that war was utter boredom for months interspersed by moments of acute terror – the boredom is a fact….

 

His feeling for his mother is expressed in the last letter he wrote to her before her death on 30 March 1915: ‘This is not a letter, it’s a testimonial. I give you a character of twenty-six years. You have never advised me to do anything because it seemed wise unless it was the highest right. Single-minded you have chosen love and honour as the ‘things that are more excellent’ and you have not failed. … You are to me the dearest friend, the perfect companion, the shining example, and the proof that honour and love are above all things and are possible of attainment.

On the 29 April he wrote: ‘Everyone has been much too busy to do anything about it this week, but almost immediately after things settle down I expect to be a foot guard – Coldstream or Scots, I think.’ He was to be gazetted to the Scots Guards on 15 May two days after he was killed in action.

 

At 2.30pm on the 13 May the Royal Horse Guards were involved in a counterattack by the 8th Brigade to retake lost trenches at Frezenberg Ridge. They charged the German lines and in spite of heavy shrapnel and rifle fire they succeeded in briefly retaking the old lines. They were later forced out by heavy German shell fire.


Linesman Map

The War Diary narrative of the action records that: ‘Then there was the case of the officer of the R.H. Guards, a confirmed fire eater, who had applied for an exchange to the Foot Guards as he was sceptical of ever getting sufficient fighting were he was. He led his men most gallantly and was first into the German trench, closely followed by a Corporal of Horse, when he fell dead.’ Colwyn Philipps was mentioned in dispatches on 1 January 1916. Major Lord Tweedmouth wrote to his father on 24 May 1915: ‘Your boy’s death was a great loss to the Army; he was gallant to a degree and was hit directing his men after he had led them into the trench. He was extraordinarily keen and energetic and a first-class officer. I assure you, you have the sympathy of all the regiment with you in your distress.


War Diary list of casualties

This poem was found in his note book when his kit was unpacked at home:

 

Release

There is a healing magic in the night,

The breeze blows cleaner than it did by day,

Forgot the fever of the fuller light,

And sorrow sinks insensibly away

As if some saint a cool white hand did lay

Upon the brow, and calm the restless brain.

The moon looks down with pale unpassioned ray –

Sufficient for the hour is its pain.

Be still and feel the night that hides away earth’s stain.

Be still and loose the sense of God in you,

Be still and send your soul into the all,

The vasty distance where the stars shine blue,

No longer antlike on the earth to crawl.

Released from time and sense of great or small

Float on the pinions of the Night-Queen’s wings;

Soar till the swift inevitable fall

Will drag you back into all the world’s small things;

Yet for an hour be one with all escaped things.

 

An anthology of his poems and letters was published posthumously by his family in November 1915.

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