Wetherby War Memorial - The Great War 1914 - 1918

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Robert Benyon Nevill Gunter BT

Introduction
Gunter, R B N
Durrant, C M
Weston, C G
Kelly, K G
Armitage, G J
Durrant, H M L
Hargreaves, J P
March, G
Dukes, W
Fowler, R
Westerman, H
Kirk, J C
Wiggins, T A
Telford, G
Harper, J W
Alexander, H W
Mason, T F
Wilkinson, W
Brown, C
Adkin, J
Barton, F
Hobman, A
Webster, A E
March, E A
Miller, G
Hannan, E
Utley, G
Walker, F
Bygrave, E W
Chapman, E
Varley, N W
Bowen, F J
Byrom, F
Backhouse, S
Dalby, M
Crossland, A
Crossley, J S
Dean, R
Frost, A E
Hodgson, F H
Holt, J
Hood, W H
Hill, W
Kitchen, T
Linfoot, E
Metcalfe, J C
Marsden, J
Pawson, W
Precious, G
Scutt, T G
Shields,P
Wiggins, J
Walker, E
Wood, A
Young, T
Pratt, W
Taylor, H
Dawson, G W
Lister, J
Binge, T
Atack, G
Durham, E F
Precious, G R
Wheelhouse Smith, W
Backhouse, H
Swann, J W
Burnsides, G A
Coles, W
Kelly, H W
Miles, J G
Tapsell, K
Acknowledgements
Dardanelles

3rd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment
Died Thursday 16th August 1917, age 46


Cemetery ; Poperinghe New Military Cemetery, Poperinghe, West Vlaanderen, Belgium
Grave Reference or Panel Number : II H.21

Gunterwebsite.JPG

Son of the late Sir Robert and Dame Jane Margaret Gunter of Wetherby Grange, Grange Park, Wetherby.

Robert was born at Wetherby on the 4th August 1871 to parents Robert and Jane Margaret (Marguerite) Gunter, nee Benyon, of Gledhow Hall, Leeds. Robert senior had an impressive military career serving as a late Captain with the 4th Regiment of Dragoon Guards and the Yorkshire Yeomanry Cavalry and who by this juncture in 1871 had risen to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel-Commandant, 5th West Yorkshire Regiment of Militia. Authors note: One of two Militia Battalions of the then Princess Of Wales's Own (Yorkshire Regiment) stationed at Knaresborough.

Standing at a local by-election as a member of the Conservative Party due to the death of Thomas Collins M.P. for Knaresborough in November 1884, Robert Gunter was elected the following month with a majority of 52 votes. With the advent of the Redistribution of Seats Act in 1885 however the Knaresborough Constituency was abolished and the new division of Barkston Ash created. In the General Election of 1885 Robert contested this new division and held this seat until his death in 1905. Granted the dignity of a Baronet on the 18th April 1901, London Gazette dated 23rd April, Robert was now titled Sir Robert Gunter of Wetherby Grange, in the parish of Collingham, in the West Riding of the county of York.

As well as being active in politics, Sir Robert had managed and farmed his own estate of over 600 acres during the course of his residency in the district. In agricultural circles he was the renowned owner of a famous herd of Shorthorn cattle, several of the Duchess breed being sold for 2,500 and 2000 guineas. Also adept at country sports and an active member of both the Bramham Moor Hunt and the York and Ainsty Hounds, Sir Robert was also noted for being a fine shot. A Steward for over 40 years with the Wetherby Steeplechase Committee even though he was not particularly fond of racing, he was known to ride at times some of his own horses at the races. Chairman of the Wetherby Board of Guardians in relation to the Workhouse located on Linton Road, Sir Robert also performed the duties of Chairman of the Wetherby Bench of Magistrates. In relation to his interest in agriculture he was President of the Wetherby Agricultural Society and Vice-President of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society as well as being a noted member of the Wetherby Chamber of Agriculture. Active in the development of the town per se both politically and spiritually, Sir Robert announced in 1903 that he would not contest the Barkston Ash seat in the next General Election. On Monday, 19th September 1905, Sir Robert died after a short illness of the nervous and circulatory systems that in the last few days of his life left him unconscious. Sir Robert Gunter, along with members of the Gunter family, is now interred in the graveyard at St. Oswald's Church, Collingham, West Yorkshire.

The Origin Of A Fortune

Robert Benyon Nevill Gunter was baptized at St. Oswald's Church, Collingham on the 3rd September 1871. Nevill as he was referred to was a most welcome addition to a family comprising of four girls, Helen, Edith, Hilda and Cissil, a further two sons, James Spencer St. Aubyn and George Gounter being born in 1873 and 1878 respectively. Before his death in 1852 Robert's father and trustees had acquired Grange Park as an investment no doubt for him and his younger brother James, the latter serving with the 1st Dragoon Guards. This became the family home for a number of generations until the house was demolished in 1962.

The foundation of the Gunter family fortune lay in a fashionable catering business, "Gunter's Tea Shop," located in Berkeley Square, London. Upon the death of his father, Robert Gunter inherited property located in the West End of London including estates located at Earls Court and Brompton. Developing properties in these areas such as Wetherby Gardens, South Kensington, Redcliffe Square and Tregunter Road to name but a few, the leases alone provided the Gunter family with an income in excess of over £100,000 sterling a year.

In 1881 Lieutenant-Colonel Gunter was appointed the Honorary rank of Colonel in the 3rd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards), this affiliation with the Regiment being carried on by Robert Gunter junior in the years to come.

Education & Enlistment

In the 1881 Census, Robert aged 9 years is recorded as a Pupil at Castleden Hall, a preparatory school located at Farnborough, Hampshire. Entering Eton College in 1885, Robert developed a certain sporting prowess in athletics in both track and field events and it was whilst here that he developed his love of the game of cricket. Departing Eton in 1889 and destined for a bright future in the British Army, Robert was appointed as a Second-Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, London Gazette dated 26th November 1889, appointment dated the 27th November. Rising to the rank of Lieutenant, London Gazette dated 24th April 1891, appointment dated the 25th April, Lieutenant Robert Gunter was appointed Aide-de-Camp to Lieutenant-Colonel James Digby Legard, Officer Commanding, East Yorkshire Volunteer Infantry Brigade. Promoted to the rank of Captain, London Gazette dated 11th June 1895 this appointment being dated the 4th June, Captain Robert Gunter remained in the United Kingdom until shortly after the outbreak of the Second Boer War which had commenced on the 11th October 1899. Embodied on the 14th December 1899, he was dispatched to South Africa arriving in the country on the 23rd March 1900.

South Africa

Appointed as a Railway Staff Officer and graded as a Staff Captain, London Gazette, 19th June 1900, appointment dated 13th April, Staff Captain Gunter took up his duties at the Railway Sub-Office located at Cradock, Cape Colony. Cradock was situated on the vital rail link to Port Elizabeth some 180 miles by rail to the south, the port becoming a vital logistical centre for the re-supplying of men, horses and materiel to the British Army.

On the 29th June 1900, Staff Captain Gunter was seconded for service with the Remount Department and appointed as a Commandant of a Remount Depot, surviving service documents recording that this establishment was located at Vogelfontein. Harts Annual Army List, Militia List and Yeomanry Cavalry List for 1902 and corrected to the 31st December 1901 record Captain R.B.N. Gunter, 3rd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment in July 1900 as being attached to Number 4 Depot. In July 1901 and whilst still seconded to the Remount Department, Captain Gunter was posted to the Staff Officer Remounts, Midland Section, his obituary pointing to the fact that this establishment was located at Port Elizabeth. The London Gazette dated the 14th February 1902 records the promotion from Staff Officer to Assistant-Inspector of Remounts, graded for pay according to his rank and dated the 4th June 1901.

Mentioned in Despatches in the London Gazette dated the 29th July 1902 it was on the 14th November 1902 that Captain Robert Benyon Nevill Gunter married one Clara Lydia Pritchard Barrett, the widow of John Nightingale Pritchard Barrett who had died in London in 1900. Clara had given birth to two sons during this short union, John Oscar born in 1894 and Stanley born in 1900.

The Proceeding Years

Awarded the Queen's South Africa Medal (Q.S.A.) with two Clasps and the King's South Africa Medal (K.S.A.) with two Clasps, on the 16th January 1903 Captain Gunter accompanied by his new wife returned to the United Kingdom settling into their new family home located at Sidley, near Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex. It is not known how long the family resided in this area but to this day there is still a tangible link with the Gunter family in the form of 'Gunter Lane' located in the town. Promoted to the rank of Major in the 3rd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment on the 4th July 1903, London Gazette dated 10th July, and settling down to a family life, a son, Ronald Vernon Gunter was born on the 8th March 1904.

Inheriting the title of 2nd Baronet upon the death of his father in September 1905, Sir Nevill would eventually be placed on the Special Reserve, Unattached List retaining the rank of Major and Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel, of the now 3rd Battalion, Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own (Yorkshire Regiment), London Gazette dated 11th August 1908.

It is unclear as to the precise date when Sir Nevill took up residency at Wetherby Grange. The 1911 Census records that the family were now residing at this period at Colleton House, Chulmleigh, North Devon, Sir Nevill still conducting business in London at this juncture. One may surmise however that this was just a country retreat from his activities and that occupancy of the Grange actually took place after the death of his father in 1905. George Gounter Gunter, the youngest of the Gunter family had remained at Wetherby Grange and in common with his father had developed a keen interest in agriculture. James Spencer St. Aubyn Gunter had unfortunately died in London in 1900 and it was therefore on the death of Sir Robert and with Sir Nevill having no particular interest in adopting the life of a Gentleman Farmer that George managed the farming interests of the Grange. George, a single man and residing with his unmarried sister Ursula, is recorded in the 1911 Census as living in premises at Heuthwaite Lodge, Wetherby, his occupation being described as that of a Gentleman Farmer.

On the 8th August 1912 Sir Nevill was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, 3rd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment viz Lieutenant-Colonel John W. Lodge who had relinquished his commission. Residing at Wetherby Grange circa 1913, Lieutenant-Colonel Gunter followed in the footsteps of his late father presiding on the local Bench of Magistrates and performing the role of President of the Conservative Club located in the Market Place. As well as being an active member of the Wetherby Town Hall Committee, Sir Nevill still possessed a love of the game of cricket providing a new ground for Wetherby Cricket Club at Micklethwaite.

 

Grange.JPG
Wetherby Grange

The Great War

In 1914, Lieutenant-Colonel Gunter is recorded in surviving service documents as being on Sick Leave however no actual dates for this period of leave are recorded. This absence may have been of some duration as on the outbreak of the War command of the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, had devolved on Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Lowndes Aspinall D.S.O.

Colonel Gunter despite being on leave was subject to the order to mobilize, this order being issued to him on the 15th August 1914. The Battalion had by now taken up coastal defence duties on the north-east coast of England but as well as performing this vital task of defending the coast against enemy invasion and guarding port installations its primary function was of that to supply drafts to the various battalions of the Regiment. Lieutenant-Colonel Aspinall was appointed to take up command of the 11th (Service) Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, London Gazette dated 27th November 1914, but in August the following year, he was appointed as Commanding Officer of the 11th (Service) Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, London Gazette dated 17th August 1915. The Colonel was to be killed on the Somme on the 3rd July, 1916 whilst serving with this battalion.

Along with the many drafts sent overseas from the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, amongst their number was one John Oscar Pritchard-Barrett, stepson to Colonel Gunter. John had been appointed to the rank of Second-Lieutenant (on probation) on the 15th August 1914, London Gazette dated 9th March 1915. Promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, London Gazette dated 23rd April 1915 but appointment dated 2nd February 1915, John would be posted overseas to join the ranks of the 2nd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, 21st Infantry Brigade, 7th Division, on the 12th April 1915. In an attack on the enemy line near Givenchy, France on the 15th June 1915, John was unfortunately killed whilst leading his platoon forward. Posted as missing, his body could not be identified after the War therefore he is now commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, France.

It was on the 8th August 1916 that Lieutenant-Colonel Gunter's tenure with the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, Alexandra Princess of Wales's Own (Yorkshire Regiment) expired. The Colonel was granted permission to retain his rank and wear the prescribed uniform but to all intents and purposes Sir Robert Benyon Nevill Gunter was officially retired from the Army. Command of the Battalion was now appointed to Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Kelly Purnell, ex Lancashire Fusiliers, King's Royal Rifle Corps and Northumberland Fusiliers, appointment dated 26th August 1916, London Gazette dated 5th September 1916.

As if preparing financially for his retirement, The Times newspaper published a preliminary announcement for sale in January 1917 of Sir Nevill Gunter's portion of the Gunter Estate comprising of properties located in South Kensington, Chelsea, Earls Court, Brompton and Kensington. The sale of the estate properties located in South Kensington were announced in April whereupon an open auction was to be conducted by Messrs. May and Rowden at Winchester House on June 11th 1917, the final day of the sale being announced in The Times as June 15th.

With the sale of properties in progress, the loss of John must have had a profound effect on both his parents. The Gunter family had also witnessed many in their employ as well as friends rally to the Colours and ultimately not return. With the casualty lists mounting of those who had enlisted in the town of Wetherby, Sir Nevill no doubt decided that he had to act and once again he offered his services to the British Empire. In a letter to the Military Secretary, War Office, dated the 4th April 1917, Sir Nevill declared;

"I am willing to accept any appointment either at home or in France. I am 46 next August and was retired in August 1916 commanding the 3rd Yorkshire Regiment."
Nevill Gunter. Lt. Colonel late / Commanding 3rd Yorkshire Regiment.

A reply was received from the Military Secretary, Lieutenant-General Sir Francis John Davies on the 28th April 1917 stating;

"Dear Sir,

A certain number of officers are required in France as Town Majors, Area Commandants, Claim Officers, Traffic Control Officers, for duty with Prisoner of War Companies, and for other miscellaneous appointments.
Would it be agreeable to you to be considered for an appointment of such a nature?
The actual form of employment in which your services would be utilised could not be settled until you arrived in France.
The pay of the appointments will be at a consolidated rate, and will vary from
£200 to £400 a year. Staff distinctions will not be worn.
Your reply should be addressed to the Military Secretary, Room 305,
War Office."

Accepting an appointment to an as yet undesignated roll, Lieutenant-Colonel Gunter was graded for the purposes of pay as a Staff Lieutenant, 1st Class on the 17th May 1917, appointment published in the London Gazette dated 22nd June 1917. Arriving at Boulogne, France on the 17th instant, Colonel Gunter was ordered to proceed to 8 Corps, Second Army for assignment.

 

Ypres Sector

Arriving in the Salient, Colonel Gunter reported to 8th Corps under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Aymler Hunter-Weston, Second Army being commanded by General Sir Herbert Plumer. Allocated duties as a P.B. Officer, a Permanent Base Officer, exact duties for the Colonel are unfortunately not recorded in surviving documents however this was purely an administrative roll conducted to the rear of the front lines. Upon the disbandment of 8th Corps in June 1917 Lieutenant-Colonel Gunter was transferred to 19th Corps Headquarters, Fifth Army Area, on the 13th June 1917, Corps Commander, Lieutenant-General Herbert Edward Watts and Commander Fifth Army, General Hubert Gough respectively.

An examination of further surviving documents indicates that Sir Nevill had taken up residence in the Officers Club, Gasthuisstaraat, Poperinghe. After the War the building was reopened as a hotel catering for the needs of pilgrims to the battlefields. Referred to as 'Skindles,' this however was not the location of the original establishment. The latter originally called the La Bourse du Houblon and also located in the same street was affectionately renamed 'Skindles' supposedly by an officer who likened the hotel to one located in Maidenhead, England. 

SkindlesOfficersClub.jpg
Officers Club Post 1918. Note 'Skindles' Sign Above The Ornate Carving

Although comparatively safe from the attentions of the enemy's artillery, Poperinghe was at times subjected to sporadic bombardments by German long range artillery pieces. It was on the evening of Wednesday 4th July whilst riding his horse that a shell landed close by unseating him from his mount. Initially receiving treatment at the 45th Field Ambulance attached to the 15th (Scottish) Division, upon returning to the Officers Club Sir Nevill was reported in later correspondence as being "slightly dizzy and shaky" necessitating a removal to No. 10 Casualty Clearing Station located at Remy Sidings near Lijssenthoek to the south of Poperinghe. Placed on the Officers Ward under the supervision of Lieutenant Kenneth James Acton Davis F.R.C.S. Royal Army Medical Corps, after a period of 12 hours he appeared to the Lieutenant to be "perfectly normal" but in view of his age it was decided to keep him in hospital over the weekend. Discharged on Wednesday 11th July, he was described as being "perfectly fit for duty when discharged."
Returning to his duties a newspaper article dated September 1917 records;

"On the evening of the 15th he retired to bed, bidding his batman "Good-night," but on the latter going to call him next morning he found Sir Nevill in an unconscious condition."

A more concise and accurate account of the condition of Sir Nevill on the morning of Thursday 16th August 1917 may be found in a Medical Report compiled by Lieutenant J.E. Evans, M.O.R.C. (Medical Officers Reserve Corps), United States Army, attached 45th Field Ambulance, 15th (Scottish) Division and dated September 27th 1917;

"I was called August 16th 1917 to attend Lt. Col. Sir R.B. Gunter, Bart. at the Officers' Club, Poperinghe. There, I found him in an unconscious condition, very cyanotic, and breathing stertorously. In my opinion he was suffering from an apopletic attack.
I left him to get a car, in which to evacuate him. He expired on my re-entering the door. I at once notified the Town Major of Poperinghe who took charge of the remains. I am almost certain there was no post mortem examination held.
I refer you to Town Major, Poperinghe, for further information."

With the Lieutenant-Colonel gasping for air and his complexion turning blue, the diagnosis of the Lieutenant was that the Colonel was exhibiting the symptoms of a heart attack. How long the Colonel had been in this state of unconsciousness was unknown. It is open to conjecture that even if he had been discovered earlier, so far gone was his condition, that his chances of survival would appear to have been minimal. With no post mortem or Court of Inquiry being held as to ascertain the cause of his death, the body of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Robert Benyon Nevill Gunter Bart. was laid to rest in Poperinghe New Military Cemetery. A letter from the Director of Graves Registration & Enquiries, War Office, dated 6th September 1917 being received by Lady Gunter stating that "the grave has been registered in this office, and is marked by a durable wooden cross with an inscription bearing full particulars."
It was on Sunday, 19th August 1917 that a telegram was received at Wetherby informing Lady Gunter of the death of her husband. A newspaper article dated the 21st August records that the latter notification was received by the deceased's brother, George Gounter Gunter, the evening after the death of Sir Nevill, however the aforementioned article does contain numerous inaccuracies.

Guntertelegram.JPG
Telegram. T.N.A. Reference WO339/64498

The Gunter Legacy
 
In the weeks that followed the death of her husband a vast amount of correspondence was exchanged between Lady Gunter and solicitors acting on her behalf. Particular reference was paid to the acquisition of a Death Certificate(s) as Sir Nevill had numerous life policies in excess of six figures as well as mortgages that amounted to £150,000 that were susceptible to interest charges should there be any delay in acquiring suitable documentation as to proof of death. It would appear that the true circumstances and even the location of Sir Nevill's death were unknown as on August 29th 1917 a written request was made to the War Office by solicitors Tomlin & Dinwiddy of London that the name of the Commandant of the hospital in which the Colonel died be forwarded in respect of the cause of death. The concise manner of death and the location was provided in the report forwarded at a later date by Lieutenant J.E. Evans attached 45th F.A., however the confusion as to how and where he died would seem to originate from Lady Gunter who believed that the cause of death was attributable to the the fall of the Colonel from his horse, the subsequent effects of concussion, and the lack of a suitable respite from duties at the front. Writing to the Military Secretary from Brook House, Ascot, Berkshire, in what appears to be a dictated letter dated the 12th September 1917, Lady Gunter vented her frustration;

"Lady Gunter presents her compliments to the Military Secretary and would be glad to know who is responsible for the orders to her late husband Lt. Colonel Sir Nevill Gunter Bart. to return to duty after concussion of the brain caused by the fall of himself and his horse by the bursting of a shell near him, she hears he was in Hospital three weeks with this, and she wishes to know why he was not sent home for absolute rest and quiet so necessary after concussion, she feels that someone has failed greatly in their duty in this case, and would be glad to receive a reply andthe name of the officer who gave this order."

The will of Sir Nevill, in Probate, was finally proved in the Principal Registry of the Probate Division of His Majesty's High Court of Justice on the 14th February, 1918, solicitors for the Executor being Lumley & Lumley. Sadly, on the 31st January 1918, Lady Clara Lydia Gunter had unfortunately passed away at Brook House little more than six months after the death of her husband and is now interred at St. Michael and All Angels Church, Sunninghill, Ascot. On Tuesday 19th February 1918, the details as regards the unsettled estate of Sir Nevill were published, this figure amounting to 147,591 (Gross Value) and on the 20th April, the estate of Clara, 3,741 (Gross Value) respectively.

Sir Ronald Vernon Gunter succeeded to the Baronetcy upon the death of his father. Leading a colourful life as a motor racing driver during the 1930's and serving as a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve during the Second World War, Sir Ronald died on the 27th January 1980 at Chichester aged 75 years with no male heir apparent.
 
The Gunter legacy however is still evident in the Wetherby district. Gunter Road located on the Hallfield Estate at Wetherby and located a short distance from my own family home, Gunter Wood, planted to the south of the old Gunter estate at Grange Park and bordering the eastern side of the A1. It is often that I walk around the boundaries of the Park with just my dog for company. Sometimes, I imagine that I see a rider, on horseback, galloping at speed. Is it my imagination or has Sir Nevill returned to cast his eye over his Yorkshire estate? I for one would like to think so.

Gunter.JPG