WW1 Revisited

Lieut. Norman Birtwistle
Lieut. Norman Birtwistle

Few things have prompted this post. Firstly, it seems like that the cavalry sword of my great uncle Norman Birtwistle has been found (more on this soon). Looks like my sister Serena will be helping launch some new Royal British Legion campaign, and also I found this blog on Great War from one of my Pawle relatives. Lastly, it doesn’t seem like my children are studying WW1, so I thought I put this post together for them given the 100th Anniversary. 

Great uncle Norman was Lieutenant in the 19th (Queen Alexandra’s Own Royal) Hussars who was Killed In Action on Tuesday, 8th October 1918 aged 21. He’d been awarded the MC and you can read more about what I’ve found on him here and here. I found the list below of Birtwistle biographies on the Mocavo site. Under the record for Norman’s father Albert, it shows how 3 of Norman’s brothers also ‘served with the colours’:

  • Major U. Birtwistle: I think this is Norman’s brother William who was a Major in 210th (East Lancashire) Brigade Royal Field Artillery. He was awarded the D.S.O. (London Gazette of 3 June 1919).
  • Lieut. A.E. Birtwistle: This is probably Albert or Uncle Bert who was awarded the MC, although I can’t find a record for this.
  • Trooper H.O. Birtwistle: This is probably Henry Oscar.

As mentioned on the Great War blog that’s been put together one of my Pawle relatives, my mother’s father didn’t serve because he’d been declared unfit for service. He had a knee injury at school, so he ended up running the family’s cotton mills in Lancashire. He was once given a white feather as a sign of cowardice by a young women whilst walking down a street in Blackburn that caused him extreme distress. My mother has said that he found it hard being the only brother to stay behind that was old enough to serve, particularly as 3 out the 4 brothers that fought were decorated for bravery and one of them being Killed In Action.


My mother’s mother was a Marwood. She was also from Lancashire and 3 of her brothers were commissioned (BasilCyril and Gilbert). Cyril was a Lieutenant in the 301st Bty., B.F.A. He was also awarded the MC (The London Gazette, 1 January, 1919). They all survived but my mother thinks they all suffered from what would now be called post-traumatic stress disorder.

Both my father’s grandfathers served. George Henry Kirby originally enlisted in the Australian 1st Light Horse Regiment (C Squadron) having previously served for 9 years in the Ceylon Volunteer Rifles. He enlisted as a Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant and was later transferred to 2nd Division Artillery. He served in Egypt, Gallipoli, and the Western Front. He was eventually promoted to Captain, but was court-martialled for advancing himself funds as paying officer. He was sentenced to take rank and precedence in the Australian Imperial Force and in his unit as if his appopintment as Captain bore the date of 21 February 1918, and reprimanded. He was discharged as medically unfit in 1918.

3 of George Henry’s Kirby cousins were killed.

  • Alister Graham Kirby was the son of my great great great uncle Arthur Raymond Kirby. He was a rower who won a gold medal at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm.  He was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade and served as a Captain, but died from illness in 1917 and was buried at Mazargues War Cemetery, Marseilles, France. His brother Claude Arthur Kirby was commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) in WWI. He was la Lt. Col in RAF during WWII and was later awarded an OBE.
  • Ernest Seymour Kirby was son of great great great uncle Augustus George Kirby and was a gunner in 14th Field Artillery Bde., Australian Field Artillery. He died of disease on 2 February 1918. His brother Eric Dorrien Kirby was promoted to Second Lieutenant in the 16th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Queen’s Westminster Rifles).
  • Rev. Robert Dorrien Kirby was also the son of Augustus George Kirby he died of wounds inflected by cannibals while he was out on patrol in New Guinea. He was a patrol officer at the time for the Papuan Civil Service, rather than functioning as a priest. He was killed while trying to arrest natives accused of murdering their Morari neighbours.

Ernest, Eric and Robert were the nephews of General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien, GCB GCMG DSO ADC. Apparently, he surprised two-or-three thousand cadets Public Schools Officers’ Training Corps annual camp in 1914 by declaring in the following words of Donald Christopher Smith (a Bermudian cadet who was present) “that War should be avoided at almost any cost, that war would solve nothing, that the whole of Europe and more besides would be reduced to ruin, and that the loss of life would be so large that whole populations would be decimated. In our ignorance I, and many of us, felt almost ashamed of a British General who uttered such depressing and unpatriotic sentiments, but during the next four years, those of us who survived the holocaust – probably not more than one-quarter of us – learned how right the General’s prognosis was and how courageous he had been to utter it.”

George Henry’s brother-in-law (my great great uncle) Major Keith Andrew Maitland of (Bty. 76th Army Bde.) Royal Field Artillery was Killed In Action on 4 October 1917 aged 33. He was awarded Military Cross (M.C.) and bar, and was mentioned in despatches.

My father’s maternal grandfather Ernest FitzHerbert Wright was a Major (4th N. Midland Bde) in the Royal Field Artillery. He survived, but was badly shell shocked and never really recovered. His two brothers also fought and survived:

  • Francis Evelyn FitzHerbert Wright was Captain in the 4th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment.
  • Henry FitzHerbert Wright was a cricketer and Conservative MP, who became captain in the 1st Derbyshire Howitzer battery of the Royal Field Artillery during WW1. He is the maternal great-grandfather of Sarah, Duchess of York.

Ernest, Francis and Henry’s cousin Capt. Roger Francis Draper was killed in action at Suvla Bay, in the Dardenelles Campaign. He’s included along with other close family and many friends in the scrapbook of my great great aunt Agnes Selina Fox. It’s quite a record of the devastation caused, and it’s hard to imagine how much suffering there must have been particularly having witnessed what happens as a result of the death of one close relative in a conflict.


One thought on “WW1 Revisited

  1. Really interesting — thank you. I have dipped into it and will be reading it in full tomorrow or Sunday.

    Aunt Patricia is coming for lunch today !!

    Do we know who is selling the sord and where it has been all this time?

    xxx Mum

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