This week I have received and read Jerry Murland’s 2010 book Aristocrats Go to War: Uncovering the Zillebeke Churchyard Cemetery. Nothing, I think, could evoke so strongly the character and ethos of the men George Calderon was with at Ypres in 1914. It is a gripping read, 180+ pages long, very well illustrated, and written by an ex-Parachute Regiment soldier who knows about war. I warmly recommend it.
Unsurprisingly, George doesn’t appear in it, but the interpreter who took over from him after 15 October, the twenty-seven-year-old Baron Alexis de Gunzburg, does. He was called down to Windmill Hill Camp in September like George, but promptly sent back to London to get himself naturalised, as it was discovered he wasn’t a British subject! Fast-tracking his naturalisation wasn’t difficult given his family’s connections, which included Winston Churchill, who was also Colonel Gordon Wilson’s nephew by marriage…
Very appositely, for my purposes, Murland describes Gunzburg thus:
De Gunzburg was appointed as a non-combatant officer; he had received no military training and consequently did not bear arms. In many ways he was typical of the mood of the time, determined not to miss this great adventure and anxious to play his part before it was all over.
I also understand now, from Murland’s copious references to Colonel Wilson, why George admired/loved the man so much. He was clearly an exemplary and charismatic Edwardian officer-gentleman of the ‘old’ professional army. Not only had he helped foil an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria when he was still a sixteen-year-old Etonian, won the Grand National in 1892, and been A.D.C. to Baden-Powell throughout the Siege of Mafeking, he was, in Murland’s words, a ‘strategically able, good cavalry commander and first-class manager of men and resources’. It is a compliment to George, then, that Wilson originally chose him as his Interpreter.
Wilson and Gunzburg are buried with sixteen of their comrades in the cemetery at Zillebeke, a mile or so from where they were killed on 6 November and only a couple of miles from where I think George Calderon was wounded.
Today, 15 November 1914, the first snow fell in Flanders.
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