“A long forgotten war, wasted young lives” (7)

It’s a long time since Post No 6 in this series about the futility of the Boer War, but I would like to finish off with what is perhaps the saddest and most poignant tale of them all. The Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) was fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer (Dutch) states, the Republic of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, over the British Empire’s influence in South Africa.

The catalyst for the war was the discovery of diamonds and gold in the Boer states:

Richard Truman Fitzhugh was born on June 8th 1873. He was educated first at Shrewsbury Grammar School and then at Nottingham High School. There are at least four boys visible in this picture of the School, taken from a spot near what was then the old Caretaker’s House:

Richard arrived at the High School on May 4th 1891, with the sole intention of passing the examination needed to enter university and to become a doctor.  His success was duly recorded in the School List :

“London Matriculation Examination, First Division, June 1891”

Having accomplished exactly what he had come for, Richard left at the end of the school  year, in July 1891.

Richard was particularly talented and popular, but sadly he became a totally innocent victim of a greedy overseas war, started by men eager for gold and diamonds:

“It is with deep regret that we record the death of Dr Richard Truman FitzHugh, the only son of Mr Richard Fitzhugh, JP, of Clumber Crescent, The Park, Nottingham. His death occurred on June 15th, 1900 as the result of enteric fever (typhoid), at the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital at Deelfontein, South Africa.”

Richard was only 27 years old.

The first intimation of his illness had reached Nottingham at the end of May. In his letter, Richard mentioned that he was suffering from shivering fits.

Then a telegram arrived in Nottingham saying that Richard was seriously ill.

On Friday, June 15th, another telegram arrived, with the first indication of anything life-threatening:

“Regret to inform you that your son, Richard, is dangerously ill with enteric fever”.

Two days of anxious suspense followed, then a third telegram arrived:

“Deeply regret to inform you of the death of your son, Richard, from enteric fever, an irreparable loss to this hospital, he having endeared himself to all.”

Richard had gone straight from Nottingham High School to Guy’s Hospital for his medical training. He passed important examinations in 1892 and in 1895. He became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and then a Bachelor of Medicine in 1898. Here is a ward in the hospital with what may be an oxygen tent in the rear right corner:

Richard worked as Assistant House-Surgeon and House Physician as well as Obstetric Resident, Clinical and Gynaecological Assistant, and Dresser in the eye wards. Here’s one of the operating theatres:

His obituary came from his colleagues:

”He was a man of culture and ability, held in high regard by his associates at Guy’s, not only because of his medical skill, but because of the part he played in its social life. He was a fine sportsman and soon took a prominent place in athletics. He was a leading cricketer and helped to win the cup in 1892. He was best of all at Association Football. Indeed, Richard was one of the best players of recent years, and won the cup in 1894, besides captaining the team from 1894-1896.

He was Assistant Secretary of the Student’s Club, President of the Residents, and foremost among the singers at Christmas.

Richard was a man with a keen sense of humour and the most popular performer at the smoking concerts which cheered us up so well. One of his songs was so admired that, however many others he sang, he could never leave the piano until he had sung that favourite one.

Behind his good humour and cheeriness, though, there was a solid character, and an honest straight forwardness that made us all trust and admire him. An old friend wrote:

“There was nobody I worked with at Guy’s for whose character I had greater respect, or whose society gave me greater pleasure.

He was a sterling gentleman and there is some consolation that he died amongst his friends, and that everything was done for him.”

The news of “the termination of such a promising career by a malignant disease which is causing more deaths than the enemy, has evoked enormous sympathy for his family.”

Mr Fripp was the Senior Surgeon at the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital at Deelfontein:

He wrote:

“Everybody felt they had lost a friend. He was popular with his colleagues and the nursing sisters, the NCOs and the orderlies, and also with the patients. It seemed he would attain a very high place in his profession, but he also had many characteristics which endeared him to everyone.

Poor “Fitz” will never be forgotten. There “was an enormous congregation at his funeral. All ranks of the hospital were represented. They formed a long procession to the cemetery. The coffin was carried by orderlies, and some of his fellow Guy’s men acted as pall-bearers.

I doubt if the cost of war was ever brought home to us as fully as when we heard of poor FitzHugh’ s death. None of us even knew he was ill.”

Dr Fitzhugh’s death is commemorated on the Nottingham Boer War Memorial in the Forest Recreation Ground. It used to stand in Queen Street in the city centre but was moved in 1927. No war memorials last for ever. Sadly, after a certain period of time, they have to be relocated elsewhere to make room for the new war memorial.

22 Comments

Filed under Africa, History, military, Nottingham, Politics, Science, The High School

22 responses to ““A long forgotten war, wasted young lives” (7)

  1. No war memorials last for ever. Sadly, after a certain period of time, they have to be relocated elsewhere to make room for the new war memorial.

    How very true

    • Yes and to add insult to injury when they reassembled the war memorial they had problems. Each of the four sides contained men’s names and their units . But the clowns doing the reassembling mixed up the various panels so that the names and the units did not match up. In other words, not a single one was correct. This was known about in 1970, but apparently nothing has been done yet as far as I know.

  2. Yes wasted young lives. Thank you for remembering Richard.

    • I read his obituary in the school archives, and I was so moved by how talented he was, and also by the fact that so many people came to his funeral. I abbreviated the story a little, but apparently, when his coffin was at the graveside, the church congregation hadn’t yet all left the church. A tragic waste, in a world which needed all the doctors it had.

  3. GP

    Tis a sad shame!! I wish politicians would learn empathy and alter their plans for power.

    • The thing is that so many politicians have realised that when domestic matters aren’t going well, the easiest way to fame and fortune is to tweek their foreign policy so that they can seem to be tough, macho men.
      And then, after it all goes wrong, they can tell the nation as Tony Blair did, that “I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you can ever believe”.
      But nobody did ever believe him, and they painted on walls across the country in letters three or four feet high “BLIAR”

      • GP

        Last night I saw a night scene of Washington DC (obviously from a drone), and I said to my better-half, that city is far too pretty for the politicians to be allowed in!

  4. I agree entirely with you assessment

    • Thank you very much, Derrick.
      Far too many wars have been fought as wars of greed. And presumably, as Capitalism v Communism has died a death in recent times, such wars will become even more frequent.
      I was born in 1953, and I very much doubt if there has been a single war-free year in that time. I can well remember how upset I was when I was watching the news as a little boy and heard that “heavy fighting was still going on in Bethlehem”. What an innocent little 10 or 12 year old I must have been!

  5. Gone too soon. What a loss for his family and medical community!

    • Absolutely. And Richard Fitzhugh wasn’t just a doctor to the people with the money. We know that he devoted a fair amount of time to the poorer individuals in the “walk in” free treatment scheme.
      How many human beings would a doctor like Richard Fitzhugh have saved if he had not been wasted in the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital at Deelfontein, fighting a war that made just a very few very rich?

  6. A fine tribute John. How terrible that Richard was lost so soon after completing all that training. Greed is a terrible thing and without it war would be far less frequent. I think your comment at the end, also noted by Andrew, sums things up very well.

    • Thank you.
      We waste so many of our finest young men in war, and with the advent of women soldiers, we now risk our ability to replace war casualties with newborn babies.
      One fact that stunned me was that after WW1, French casualties in the war had been so dreadful that, from the signing of the Treaty of Versailles until 1927, an average of one village war memorial was dedicated every single day. No wonder that so much of France is even nowadays still underpopulated.

      • That’s an incredible number of memorials John. I’ll bet there wasn’t just one or two names on each one either!

      • No, there wasn’t. It was chiefly the Battle of Verdun which produced vast numbers of casualties. Such huge losses are what caused mutinies in the French army and a huge reluctance to fight what was going to be WW2, which, before it was fought, was presumed to be a trench based, static, war. They obviously hadn’t read the book “Achtung Panzer” by Guderian, who was in charge of the German Armour in both Poland and then France.

  7. Tears just tears. OH how I pray those in seats of power who have the ability to declare war to replace those very people with those who promote peace. We’ve had so much devastation!!! John, I know this history is important yet as I’ve told you before, it is so hard for me to read. I usually cry.

    • I can remember how I visited the American Air Force Cemetery at Madingley near Cambridge, and that made me cry as soon as I first saw all of those white crosses and Stars of David. And those deaths represented only the men who had been wounded and came back to England but died, and those killed in air crashes in England.
      The D-Day cemeteries are bigger, and some of the WW1 cemeteries are almost breathtaking in their size.
      As I’ve said so many times, what potential is wasted by all this?

      • Exactly, John. This world has lost too many souls through acts of violence. How I pray that a day arrives that our truth of who we are and how we are meant to live, is at hand and that I am alive to see it. I give you so much credit for doing this research. I know I couldn’t.

      • Thank you very much Amy. You are very kind although I know that a lot of your followers call you that!!

  8. Thank you for sharing!!… I think that any war is a waste and only sows the seeds of anger and suffering.. hopefully one day wisdom will prevail and reign supreme and all those lives that would be lost, be it military or civilian, would instead help make this world a better place… 🙂

    Until we meet again…
    May you always be blessed
    with walls for the wind,
    a roof for the rain,
    a warm cup of tea by the fire,
    laughter to cheer you,
    those you love near you,
    and all that your heart might desire.
    (Irish Saying)

  9. 100% with you on that one!
    We have a Book of Common Prayer which contains the service for burials at sea. It contains the phrase “when the Sea shall give up her dead” and I know it’s ridiculous, but I’ve always had the idea that one day “the war graves shall give up their dead” and all of those poor lads, robbed of their lives, will seek out the prime ministers and presidents and ask them two questions “Why?” and “Was it worth it?”

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