Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lt Henry Douglas Bessemer, 4th Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment)

Henry Douglas Bessemer was born at Taunton, Somerset on 12th November 1894 and his birth was registered at Taunton in the December quarter of that year.  He appears on the 1901 census of England and Wales at Sarisbury Court, Sarisbury which is situated between Fareham and Southampton in Hampshire. 

The household comprised: William Garton (head, aged 33, a brewer) his wife, Edith A Garton (aged 29) and their children William D Garton (aged five) and James R Garton (aged 2).  Also there at the time the census was taken were William Garton’s 53 year old mother-in-law, his six year old nephew, Henry D Bessemer (aged six) and twelve servants. 

Henry came from an affluent family.  He was a descendant of Sir Henry Bessemer (1813 – 1898) who built the Bessemer Steel Works at Sheffield and began production there in 1859.  Sir Henry invented the Bessemer Process, a patented industrial process for the manufacture of steel from molten pig iron which speeded that process up ten times and made him a small fortune as a result.  Sir Henry was knighted in 1859.  

By the time the First World War began, Henry was living at Burchetts, albeit studying at Oxford University.  Today, there are no members of the Bessemer family left in Chailey but in 1914 the estate was sizeable. 

Henry Bessemer’s service record exists at the National Archives in London and from it we can see that he first applied for a commission in the Territorial Force on 20th February 1915.  He indicated that prior to coming up to Oxford, he had been educated at Winchester College, leaving there in July 1912.  He had served in the OTC there as a private and was currently serving as a private with Oxford University OTC.  Bessemer’s application was recommended by a 2nd lieutenant in the Royal West Surrey Regiment and seven days later he signed a declaration that, as far as he knew, he was not “suffering from any mental or bodily infirmity or physical imperfection or disability.” 

On 3rd March 1915, Colonel Frank D Watney (Commanding 2/4th Queens RWS) of 16 Sheet Street, Windsor, wrote to The Secretary of the Surrey Territorial Force Association, Caxton House, Westminster stating: 

“I enclose two Army Forms E536 and necessary papers with respect to the applications of the following gentlemen for commissions in my battalion: Paul Fripp / Henry Douglas Bessemer.  I hope these may be sent to the War Office as soon as possible.” 

The applications were received by the War Office on 7th March and on 27th July 1915, Henry was passed fit at Oxford by a major in the RAMC.  Chailey Parish Magazine reported in its August 1915 edition that Henry was serving his King and Country and updated the information that October to note that he was a 2nd Lieutenant serving with the 4th Queen’s (Royal West Surrey regiment). 

On 15th October 1915, Henry attended a Medical Board assembled at Redhill by order of the GOC 67th (Home Counties) Division.  It noted that Henry, aged 21 and serving with the 3/4th Queens was, “…organically sound but that he suffers from preocordial pain intermittent in character and brought on by marching or strenuous exercise.  The Board attributes this pain to faulty digestion.  He has complained of this pain at intervals during the last six years but states that it has been much worse and of more frequent occurrence during the last 2 months.”  He was passed fit for home service. 

On 5th April 1916 he attended a second Medical Board assembled at the 1st Eastern General Hospital, Cambridge where it was noted that, “he still suffers from preocordial pains.  He is however able to do the work he is now employed in, namely Assist Qtr Master”.  He was passed unfit for service at home for three months. 

A further Medical Board assembled at the 2nd Eastern General Hospital in Brighton, took place on 7th August that year.  Second Lieutenant Bessemer, now serving with the 4/4th Queens was noted as “suffering from atonic dyspepsia which manifests itself mainly in pain and faintness after meals and after exertion.  There is tachycardia but no organic disease of the heart.  History of dyspepsia goes back seven years.  He is being dieted under the cure of his MO in camp [Crowborough Camp].”  Two months’ light duty at home was prescribed. 

On 23rd October 1916 a Harley Street doctor submitted his report on 2nd Lieutenant Bessemer, stating: 

“I certify that I examined Mr Henry Douglas Bessemer on the 17th February 1916.  At the time he was complaining of exhaustion easily produced, and pain over the left chest. I have again seen him on this date, and find the condition unchanged, and my opinion is that his weakness is provoked not by the heart, but by some other condition. On examining the abdomen I find an area of hyperalgesia of the skin to the right of the umbilicus, and deep tenderness over the right rectus muscles of the lumbar region.  I am of the opinion that this indicates the presence of chronic appendicitis, and that this condition keeps him in a chronic state of ill-health.” 

Another Medical Board was convened, this time at Tunbridge Wells where it was noted that Henry was,
"… suffering from symptoms of chronic appendicitis and [we] recommend that the operation for removal of the appendix be carried out without delay. The Board differs in opinion from the last Board assembled as it considers the previous symptoms of atonic Dyspepsia were due to the appendicular trouble and it is possible that the symptoms are more marked now than at the last examination.” 
He was passed fit for light duty in an office at home for four months and it was noted that his disability had probably been aggravated by military service.

On 17th November 1916, Captain W G H Cable, RAMC reported at Tunbridge Wells that, “About two months ago the officer came to me complaining of dyspeptic symptoms which had been getting worse for considerable time.  On examining his abdomen I found signs of appendicitis.  I advised him to see Sir Alfred Fripp who confirmed my diagnosis and advised operation as soon as convenient.” 

A further Medical Board was held at the 2nd Eastern General Hospital on 8th February 1917.  Henry Bessemer’s disability was noted as “appendicectomy” and the Board reported as follows: “He was operated on by Sir Alfred Fripp on Dec 18th; scar of incision is finally healed; apparently his symptoms were chronic in nature.  He states that he has appeared before six Medical Boards for heart weakness.  He has a mitral facies but when examined sounds, [unclear] and rhythm were normal, the action being a little [unclear].  Absence of physical [unclear] may be due [unclear] occasioned by operation. Fit for light duty at home in an office for two months.” 

Two months later, he presented before a Medical Board at Darlington where it was reported that, “His digestion is better and his physical condition improved. Fit for light duty at home for one month.” 

One month later there was another Board and another journey, this time to Carbarton Camp, Worksop, Nottinghamshire.  Henry Bessemer was now with the 4th Queens, attached to the 2/1st Hertfordshire Regiment.  The Board reported, “His digestion is better and his physical condition improved.  He is not yet capable of sustained exercise.  He has been instructed to return to the unit to which he is attached.  Fit for light duty at home for two months.” 

On 26th June 1917, Henry Bessemer’s name appeared in The Supplement to The London Gazette (page 6357) where it was reported that, “2nd Lt H D Bessemer to be Lt, with precedence as from 1st June 1916 next below Lt C G Moss, 4th June 1917.” 

On 31st July, Henry attended another Medical Board at Worksop, this time at Welbeck Camp.  By now, he was also attached to the 2/6th Essex Regiment.  Te Board reported that, “The wound is quite sound and [he] in no way suffers from the effects of the operation.  He complains of debility and faintness on exertion. His heart is enlarged and there is a [unclear] murmur.  He has been instructed to return to the 2/6th Essex Regt, Welbeck Camp, for duty. Fit for light duty at home (2 months).” 

Two months later, on 1st October 1917, Henry attended his ninth Medical Board, again at Welbeck Camp, where the Board noted, “The appendicetomy wound is quite sound and gived [sic] no trouble.  The condition of the heart is the same as at the last Board.  He still complains of shortness of breath and faintness on exertion.  He has been instructed to return to the 2/6th Essex Regiment, Welbeck Camp, for duty pending admission to hospital (2nd Northern General Hospital, Leeds)  Requires indoor treatment in an officer’s hospital for one month. 

It was less than one month however, before 2nd Lieutenant Bessemer was appearing before his next Board, this time held at the 2nd Northern General Hospital in Leeds.  The Board noted that, “The condition is much the same.  The heart sounds snappy, occasional intermission.  He complains of shortness of breath on exertion.  He is only fit for sedentary occupation.  Permanently unfit for General Service.  Fit for light duty at home in an office only.

Disability not contracted in or caused by military service but aggravated by it. 50% disablement.” 

On 16th November 1917, The Supplment to The London Gazette (page 11835) noted that “Lt H D Bessemer from Royal West Surrey Regt to be Lt 17th Nov 1917” and Chailey Parish Magazine also duly noted this fact in its December 1917 issue. 

On 5th December 1917, Lieutenant Bessemer wrote to the War Office requesting a silver war badge.  An internal War Office note 11th December however, asked the respondent to, “inform applicant that as he still holds a commission in T[erritorial] F[orce] R[eserve] it is regretted he is ineligible for award of SWB and his claim therefore cannot be approved.”  The letter was sent on 13th December 1917. 

After the First World War, Henry became a chartered accountant and he was also, according to the Natural Museum in London, “a gifted amateur entomologist.”  A bound manuscript and one loose-leaf typescript written by H D Bessemer is housed in the entomology library at the museum along with his collection of around 40,000 butterflies which he bequeathed to the museum. 

In 1923, The Times newspaper reported Henry’s marriage to Jessie Bruce-Porter, twin daughter of Sir Bruce Bruce-Porter KBE, CMG and Lady Bruce-Porter of 6 Grosvenor Street, London 1 and New House, Chobham, Surrey.  The marriage took place at St George’s, Hanover Square and was conducted by the Bishop of Guildford.  The list of guests reads like a Who’s Who of the day, the attendees including the Reverend H H Matravers of Chailey and Bishop Copleston. 

Henry Douglas Bessemer died in 1968 leaving an estate valued at close to £107,000.

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