Lieutenant Humphrey John Talbot, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, later Army Service Corps
Born on 8th October 1883 in Little Gaddesden
Died on 6th February 1944 in Clavering, Essex
Humphrey John Talbot was born in Little Gaddesden, the eldest of the 4 children of the Hon. Alfred Chetwynd Talbot and Emily Augusta Louisa née de Grey. He was then baptised at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 11th November 1883. Humphrey’s father was a younger son of the 18th Earl of Shrewsbury. He was also the brother of Countess Adelaide Brownlow, wife of Adelbert Wellington Brownlow Cust, 4th Baron and 3rd Earl Brownlow of Ashridge House.
Humphrey’s siblings were Bridget Elizabeth, born 15th January 1885, Geoffrey Richard Henry Talbot, born 29th March 1888 and Kathleen, born 22nd November 1893.
His parents came to Little Gaddesden House in 1880. Although the family was in London on the Census nights in 1891, 1901 and 1911, much of their time was spent in Little Gaddesden. All four children were baptised in Little Gaddesden Church. Humphrey’s parents and his brother Geoffrey Talbot are also buried there.
The 1891 Census shows the family at their London home, 74 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea. Humphrey was 7, Bridget 6 and Geoffrey Talbot 3.
The 1901 Census shows Humphrey Talbot as a 17 year old Student at Eton College, where he was in H.E. Luxmoore’s House. He left Eton later in 1901.
From Eton, Humphrey went on to Christ Church College, Oxford, matriculating in 1902 and graduating in 1904.
While Humphrey was at Eton and his brother Geoffrey Talbot was at school at Wellington House, his parents and sisters Bridget, 16 and Kathleen, 7, were at their London house, 28 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea. However, although both their brothers went to Eton, Bridget and Kathleen were educated at home.
Assistant Private Secretary to Uncle Reggie 2
After graduating from Christ Church College, Oxford, 21 year old Humphrey was fortunate to be offered the job of Private Secretary to his Uncle Reggie, Major General the Honourable Sir Reginald Arthur James Talbot KCB CB. Having just finished commanding the Army of Occupation in Egypt, Uncle Reggie became Governor of Victoria. He then enjoyed 4 very successful years in Melbourne. However, for Humphrey, this job did not seem to lead to anything substantial. It is said that he was never quite at ease and was wary of change. “He appeared to be more at home in the past than the present“.
The 1911 Census shows Humphrey, 27, Bridget, 26 and Kathleen, 19, at 28 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea. They are all recorded as being of private means. Geoffrey Talbot, meanwhile, was in India, where he was an Assistant Traffic Superintendent on the East India Railway
The Little Gaddesden Scout Troop 8
Humphrey was Treasurer of the Little Gaddesden Scout Troop, of which his sister Bridget was founder and President. The Troop started with 15 boys on 26th October 1911. It met first in the Reading Room at John o’Gaddesden’s House. However, when numbers grew, the meetings moved to the Armoury at 27 Little Gaddesden, home of their Scout Master, Harry Temple. Their early exploits are recorded in the Little Gaddesden Scout Diary 1912 – 1922. However, whereas his energetic sister Bridget played a leading part in these, Humphrey’s participation seemed firmly restricted to keeping their accounts.
Their Assistant Scout Master Bernard Phillips and a number of the Scouts subsequently served in the First World War:
Lion Patrol: Stanley Austin, Sidney Bellamy, Edward Bunn, Kenneth Edge, Gerald Green, Henry F (Frank) Johnson – Patrol Leader, George Pinnock, killed aboard HMS Black Prince at the Battle of Jutland, 31st May 1916 and Jim Whitman.
On 26th January 1912, Humphrey’s mother Emily, aged 59, died suddenly and unexpectedly of a cerebral haemorrhage. Then, in June 1913, less than 18 months later, his father Alfred, aged 65, died of pneumonia compounded by heart problems. Both were buried in Little Gaddesden churchyard. By the outbreak of war, Humphrey was head of the family.
The first member of the family to take an active role in the War was Humphrey’s indefatigable sister Bridget. In July 1914 she passed a Red Cross Home Nursing exam. Then, following the German advance into Belgium, she became a member of the Belgian Refugee Committee in October 1914. That organisation ran depots at Alexandra Palace and Earls Court to house the refugees.
Aware of the increasing threat from German submarines, Bridget also organised the Little Gaddesden Co-operative Allotment scheme to improve local food production. In 1915 she undertook further nursing training.
Bridget heads to the Austrian-Italian Front 2
A lover of Italy and able to speak the language, in January 1916 Bridget joined Mrs Watkins Pro-Italia group of English ladies at Cervignano on the Austrian-Italian front. Her role there included feeding and tending the wounded in the trains, administering first aid in their chalet, and assisting the Italian Red Cross Doctor in the station. She worked briefly as a field telephonist and as railway officer to the English Hospital. She also took on the role of receiving and distributing goods for the various hospitals from the Committees at Venice, Milan and Florence.
In addition, Bridget then worked at Cormons, developed X-ray plates under shell fire in the back of Red Cross cars. In June 1917, letters show she was practically running the English Canteen. When Mrs Watkins’ funds ran out in September 1917, the work continued under the auspices of the Red Cross.
Nicknamed “General Talbot”, Bridget remained in Italy until 1919. She was then awarded La Croce al Merito di Guerra in October 1918 and, in January 1920, the OBE, for valuable services to the troops in Italy. Then, in 1920, Bridget went to Touzla camp near Constantinople, Turkey, which housed 2000 Russian war refugees. She later set up a co-operative farm colony for refugees in Asia Minor.
Humphrey joins the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve 1
On 10th October 1914, Humphrey joined the Royal Navy, Volunteer Reserve, to serve for the duration of the War. He served as an Able Seaman, Service Number A.A.811. His ship is shown as HMS President, which was the Royal Naval Reserve’s London based training ship. However, on 26th November 1915 Humphrey left the RNVR and transferred to the Army Service Corps.
In May 1915, Geoffrey Talbot volunteered for the Royal Naval Air Service, serving initially as a Flight Sub-Lieutenant at HMS Fisgard, Portsmouth from 2nd May 1915.
Kathleen Talbot trained to be a Red Cross VAD nurse. Then, at the end of May 1915, she went to Clopton House near Stratford upon Avon, which was run by her Aunt Odeyne Hodgson. Her cousin Avis Hodgson also nursed there. Two years later, “The Times” of 23rd October 1917 noted that both Kathleen, then a Staff Nurse, and her cousin Avis Hodgson were Mentioned in Despatches for their outstanding nursing work at Clopton. Later, from January 1918 to April 1919, Kathleen nursed in France.
Joining the Army Service Corps 12
The London Gazette of 21st December 1915 records that Humphrey was commissioned Temporary 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Service Corps, with effect from 6th December that year. He served at home until February 1917.
Humphrey’s brother Geoffrey Talbot, by then a pilot in the Royal Naval Air Service, was killed in a flying accident at Dover on 29th June 1916. A marginal note in the Burial Register at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden reads “after Coroner’s Inquest“. At the inquest it was said that Geoffrey had only arrived at the Dover station on Thursday 29th June and was killed that afternoon. He had just taken off in a Nieuport biplane with Air Mechanic Hampson, aged 23, who was also killed.
Geoffrey Talbot was then buried at St Peter and St Paul’s Church Little Gaddesden on Tuesday 4th July 1916. The funeral was conducted by his uncle, the Revd. F. H. Hodgson, Rural Dean of North Kineton and previously Rector of the Parish, and the Revd. E. Clark, Rector. Humphrey, his sisters Bridget and Kathleen and his uncles Reggie Talbot and Earl Brownlow were among the mourners.
Preparing to go to France 2
The responsibility of being the eldest son seemed to weigh heavily on Humphrey after his parents’ death. As he prepared to go to France with his regiment in February 1917 as a 33 year old Lieutenant, it was convenient to have Kathleen still in England for secretarial duties. Letters written by the four siblings form the basis of the book “A Family at War – The Talbots of Little Gaddesden.” Extracts are included with permission of the authors.
From a letter to his sister Kathleen, written at Bulford Camp, Sunday 28th Jan 1917, after he had photographs taken prior to going to the front:
Here are the photographs from Beresford for your approval. I have marked the 1st 3. X which I think is the best. Will you please order a dozen or so mixed from these or any others you like and send Beresford a cheque for 30/- on my behalf. When signing Coutts cheques you had better show in some way that you are writing for me – such as a/c H J Talbot otherwise Mr. Coutts might get mixed up as I continue to draw cheques myself…
On 3rd February 1917, Humphrey embarked for France as a Lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps (Mechanical Transport). He was then attached to the 252nd Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery.
Few Hours Sleep 2
From a letter to his sister Kathleen, Friday March 23rd 1917:
Thanks for various letters received. I have been out for five consecutive days and nights with a few hours sleep thrown in so I am fairly tired and haven’t had much time to write. As fast as the lorries come in from one job they are turned round and sent off on another. We got in at 5.45am this morning and the unfortunate men are waiting to go off again straight away. There are 75 lorries standing in the street ready to go off. The Germans ought to have a dose of shells presently judging by the number we have moved lately…
Smartening up the Lorries 2
From a letter to his Aunt Doobit (Margaret, wife of Uncle Reggie). Whitsunday 27th May 1917:
I am getting the Talbot motor works to cut me a stencil of the lion (emblem of the Talbot Motor Company from Talbot family crest) so that I can paint it on my lorries as a private sign. It ought to look very smart and original…
Provisions from Fortnum and Mason’s 2
From Humphrey’s letter to his sister Kathleen, Wednesday Oct 31st 1917:
Very many thanks for many different things. Some more books arrived a day or two ago but we have been busy lately and I am getting behindhand with reading so please don’t send anymore for the time being. A long lost box of things – Bath Olivers, whitebait, shortbread, Dorset butter, chocolate rations, honey etc from F and Mason has also arrived but whether from B (his sister Bridget) or you I don’t know…
Preparing for Christmas in France 1917 2
From Humphrey’s letter to his sister Kathleen, November 9th 1917:
With regard to the number of men in my column, I see the Govt. is making an arrangement for everyman out here to have 1/2 lb of Xmas pudding and it is therefore asking the public not to send out puddings at Xmas. Otherwise I had intended to order some from F and Mason or elsewhere. The oranges and cigarettes wd. be much appreciated but I think I ought to do this and not you. The numbers vary between 36 and 44 according to circumstances, as some are nearly always away on detached duty…
Absent Voters’ Lists for Autumn 1918 and Spring 1919 show Lieutenant Humphrey John Talbot of Little Gaddesden House still serving in the ASC as follows:
- Autumn 1918: 252nd Siege Battery Ammunition Column, Mechanical Transport, Army Service Corps
- Spring 1919: 47th Divisional Mechanical Transport Company, Royal Army Service Corps
For his War Service, Humphrey was awarded the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
Men who have answered their country’s call in defence of a “Scrap of Paper”
Humphrey Talbot is named on the Roll of Honour, which hangs in St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden and lists 119 men from Little Gaddesden, Ringshall and Hudnall who served in the 1914 – 1918 War. On the original Roll, his unit is recorded as Army Service Corps. However, on the Centenary Revision of the Roll it is recorded more precisely as Army Service Corps Mechanical Transport. Next to him on both Rolls is his brother Geoffrey Talbot R.I.P., Royal Naval Air Service.
Rolls of Honour photos: Jane Dickson, Michael Carver
By Autumn 1919, Humphrey had been demobilised. He then returned to Little Gaddesden House where Electoral Registers show that he remained until 1922.
“The marriage will not take place” 2
On December 18th 1920 it was announced in The Times that “The marriage arranged between Mr Humphrey J Talbot and Miss Jacynth Ellerton will not take place.” 4 months later Miss Ellerton married Guy Douglas Hamilton Warrack.
Saving Swakeleys from Destruction 2
When the estate at Swakeleys, Ickenham near Uxbridge was being broken up and sold in lots in 1921, Humphrey bought the house and immediate parkland. He therefore saved a beautiful early Jacobean house from destruction. However, he could not afford the cost of refurbishment. The roof was then caving in and there was dry rot throughout. After some initial work, he sold Swakeleys to the Foreign Office Sports Association, with the condition that he remained the tenant of the magnificent first floor, where he lived from 1922 to 1939. His obituary in the ‘Gazette’ noted:
Here he arranged an exquisite collection of furniture and pictures… and entertained many hundreds of visitors from the Dominions and historical societies as well as other guests. The garden he made there was known to be one of the most beautiful in England. Queen Mary visited Swakeleys in 1926.
Later Life 2
From 1943 Humphrey lived at The Old House, Clavering, Essex.
A surprise announcement 2
The Times of January 24th 1944 contained the following announcement:
MR H. TALBOT and MRS DRUMMOND A marriage has been arranged, and will take place at Eton College Chapel on Saturday, Feb 12th, at 2.30pm, between Humphrey Talbot… of the Old House, Clavering and formerly of Swakeleys and Mammie Drummond, widow of Captain Drummond of Berwick-on-Tweed. All friends will be welcome at the chapel.
However, on 6th February 1944, six days before 60 year old Humphrey was due to be married to Mammie Drummond, he was found dead in bed in his house in Clavering. He had suffered a heart attack.
An unlikely Memorial 2
In 1923 – 1924, when the Ashridge Estate was being sold to pay his uncle, Earl Brownlow’s Death Duties, Humphrey was one of the Trustees. His obituary later reported that:
When trustee of the Ashridge Estate, it was Mr Talbot’s idea to bring the country branch of the Zoo to Whipsnade, when part of the estate, and he negotiated the arrangement with the Zoological Society.
2. Bolton, Roger & Julia (2013) A Family at War – The Talbots of Little Gaddesden, Grosvenor House Publishing Ltd.
3. Little Gaddesden Baptism Register 1813 – 1947
5. Little Gaddesden Burial Register
7. List of Etonians who served in the Great War 1914 – 1919 https://ia802706.us.archive.org/10/items/listofetonianswh00eton/listofetonianswh00eton.pdf
8. Little Gaddesden Scout Diary 1912 – 1922, HALS, Hertford, Acc 3131
13. Hobson, C (1995) Airmen Died in the Great War 1914 – 1918, J.B. Hayward & Son
16. 1918-21 Absent Voters’ Lists Parliamentary County of Hertford, Hemel Hempstead Division, Little Gaddesden
17. For an explanation of why siege batteries and the Royal Garrison Artillery are so called, see https://gregswar.com/setting-scene-background-articles/siege-batteries-of-the-royal-garrison-artillery/
Do you have any questions about the information recorded here? Or do you have any further information that you can share with us about those from Little Gaddesden who died or fought for their country? In either case, please contact Jane Dickson at email@example.com.
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Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson