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Nurse, Voluntary Aid Detachment
(wife of Major Sydney Banks Keast, OBE, MC*, R.E.)


Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
© 2008. All Rights Reserved


This research was performed by the author after the acquisition of Mrs. Keast’s medals in November of 2008. Her medal group consists of the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and Victory Medal, the 1935 Jubilee Medal, the 1937 Coronation Medal and the Belgian Medal of King Albert, 1914-1918. Major Keast’s medals and those of his wife became separated at some point after the death of Major Keast in 1964. In 2008 they were reunited again after 44 years.

The author completed a rather extensive biography of Major Keast in the 1980s and has updated that work with new information through 2005. A full account of Keast’s life may be found on the Internet at www.reubique.com/major. Major Keast was a remarkable man. His story is well worth reading.


Una Tomlin Hunter was born in 1886 at Newcastle upon Tyne, in the Civil Parish of Elswick, in the Ecclesiastical Parish of St. Paul’s, in the County of Northumberland. She was the daughter of Edward Hunter, a bank manager, and Anne Cunningham Hunter.

Her mother’s family can be traced back to the 1871 British Census, which provides the following information:

Name and Relation to Una Tomlin Hunter




Mary H. Cunningham
(maternal grandmother)


Newcastle, Northumberland Head of household
Peter Cunningham


Newcastle, Northumberland Scholar
Annie Cunningham


Newcastle, Northumberland Scholar
Thomas Cunningham


Felling Shore, Durham Scholar
Alice Cunningham


Newcastle, Northumberland Daughter

The census indicates that Annie Cunningham was born about 1861 and that her mother was the head of the household. There is no indication of the whereabouts of her father, although the 1881 British Census appears to shed some light on him, or at least on his occupation, and why he might have been absent from the household at the time of the census. Mary Cunningham employed no domestic servants in 1871. Apparently the family’s financial circumstances did not permit her to do so at that time.

The 1881 British Census[1] shows the Cunningham family living at 40 Stepney Lane in Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland. The census return also provides the following information:

Name and Relation to Una Tomlin Hunter




Mary H. Cunningham
(maternal grandmother)


Newcastle, Northumberland Head of household and wife of a Steam Boat Engineer
Peter Cunningham


Newcastle, Northumberland Seaman; Steam Boat Fireman
Annie Cunningham


Newcastle, Northumberland Housekeeper
Thomas Cunningham


Felling Shore, Durham Waterman on Tug Boat (Unemployed)
Alice Cunningham


Newcastle, Northumberland Printer’s Machine Feeder
Annie Caverill


Newcastle, Northumberland Granddaughter

The men of the Cunningham family, Peter and Thomas, appear to have been watermen. Annie’s father is still not shown in the census return. Either he was deceased even before the 1871 census, or his work as a steam boat engineer kept him at sea or away from home for both years that the census was taken. Annie, at age 20, was still living in her mother’s home and had not yet married Edward Hunter. She worked as a housekeeper to help her mother and although Peter and Alice were employed, the family still could not afford any domestic servants.

Una’s father’s family can be traced to the 1881 British Census,[2] which shows the following information regarding the Hunter family living at 59 Elswick Row in Westgate, Northumberland:

Name and Relation to Una Tomlin Hunter




Edward Hunter
(paternal grandfather)


Alnwick, Northumberland Sails (Sales?) Man[3]
Mary Hunter
(née Tomlin) (paternal grand-mother)


Twizell, Northumberland Wife
Edward Hunter


Alnwick, Northumberland Banker’s Clerk
Ann Tomlin
(great aunt)


Shorbridge, Northumberland Independent
Ann Hindmarch


Alston, Cumberland General Domestic Servant

The Hunter family appears to have been better off financially than the Cunningham family in 1881. With two members of the family employed and one member of the family of independent means, the family could afford one domestic servant.

At some time between 1881 and 1891 Edward Hunter and Annie Cunningham were married. In addition to Una, the 1891 British Census shows the following information for the Hunter family living at 8 Wentworth Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland:

Name and Relation to Una Tomlin Hunter




Edward Hunter


Alnwick, Northumberland Bank Manager
Anne Cunningham Hunter (mother)


Alnwick, Northumberland Wife
George Edward. Hunter (brother)


Newcastle upon Tyne Son
Howard Tomlin Hunter (brother)


Newcastle upon Tyne Son
Isabella Tomlin


Amble, Northumberland Nurse; Domestic Servant
Isabella Wintrip


Newcastle upon Tyne Cook; Domestic Servant

Edward Hunter’s occupation as a bank manager must have provided very well for the family. With three small children, they were still able to afford two domestic servants in the household, although one of the servants, Isabella Tomlin, may have been a relative.

Una Tomlin Hunter was christened in St. Paul’s Parish in Newcastle upon Tyne on the 25th of May 1886,[4] her middle name obviously coming from the family name of her paternal grandmother. Una’s brother George was born on the 27th of March 1887 and he was christened in St. Paul’s Parish on the 18th of May 1887.[5] No precise birth date could be found for Una’s brother Howard although his christening date was found to be on the 2nd of November 1888 at St. Paul’s Parish.[6]

The 1901 British Census shows the following individuals living in the Hunter household at 8 Wentworth Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland:

Name and Relation to Una Tomlin Hunter




Edward Hunter


Alnwick, Northumberland Share and Stock Broker
Anne C. Hunter


Alnwick, Northumberland Wife
Una T. Hunter


Newcastle, Northumberland Daughter
Jane Shotton


Durham, County Durham Cook and domestic servant
Frances G. Mitchell


Newcastle, Northumberland Housemaid and domestic servant

At the time of the 1901 census Edward George Hunter, age 15, and Howard Tomlin Hunter, age 12, were no longer living in the household of their parents. It is likely that they were away at boarding school. Edward Hunter’s occupation as a share and stock broker must have paid well enough for him to be able to afford to send them off to school. In addition, the family was able to employ two domestic servants. A worldwide census search for the two boys produced negative results. Their whereabouts in 1901 was not discovered during this research.

George Edward Hunter became an architect after leaving school and later joined his father’s brokerage firm. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the 3rd Volunteer Battalion (late Newcastle-on-Tyne Battalion), The Northumberland Fusiliers in 1904.[7]

Howard Tomlin Hunter followed his brother some two years later and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, The Northumberland Fusiliers on the 27th of April 1906.[8]

George was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the battalion on the 28th of September 1906 [9] and his brother Howard received a promotion to the same rank on the 1st of June 1907.[10] The headquarters of their battalion during this period was located at St. George’s Drill Hall on Northumberland Road in Newcastle on Tyne.

On the 1st of April 1908 Lieutenant George Edward Hunter was appointed to the 6th Battalion, The Northumberland Fusiliers, a battalion of the regiment in the Territorial Force (T.F.) and on the 4th of June 1908 he was promoted to the rank of Captain.[11]

While Howard was serving in the Northumberland Fusiliers, he too was appointed to the 6th Battalion (T.F.). He had also decided to study medicine at the Durham College of Medicine and in 1910 he qualified for the degree of Bachelor of Medicine (M.B.). He also studied surgery at St. Bartholomew’s in London, qualifying for the degree of Bachelor of Surgery (B.S.) and later went abroad for further studies in Vienna.[12] The Monthly Army List of December 1912 indicates that Howard was promoted to the rank of Captain on the 22nd of January 1912.

George worked as an architect during this period. In 1913 he discontinued his practice as an architect and became a partner in his father’s firm of Hunter & Henderson, Stockbrokers, of Newcastle.[13]

 3. THE GREAT WAR, 1914-1918

When the Great War of 1914-1918 broke out in early August of 1914, both of Una’s brothers were serving as company commanders in the 6th Battalion, The Northumberland Fusiliers, with George commanding "C" Company and Howard in command of "D" Company.[14]

On the 16th of August 1914, shortly after the outbreak of the war, No. 9 Red Cross Hospital (Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland’s Ambulance) was established at Namur in Belgium. The hospital was disestablished after the German occupation of Belgium, but it would be re-established and would play a large roll in Una Tomlin Hunter’s life during the Great War.[15]

Una apparently had taken up nursing prior to the war and in October of 1914 she was working at the Hospital for Sick Children in Newcastle on Tyne.[16] In November of 1914 No. 9 Red Cross Hospital was re-established at the Hotel Belle Vue at Malo les Bains, Dunkirk, France as an evacuation hospital with the capability of providing 70 to 100 beds for sick or wounded soldiers. Una would eventually be assigned to this hospital as the war progressed, but before she was she had to put in some time at the military hospital located in Brancepeth Castle near Durham. She was assigned to this hospital in December of 1914.

Una Tomlin Hunter (left) with two friends, probably at the Hospital for Sick Children, c. 1914

The spacious and luxurious interior of Brancepeth Castle was converted to accommodate the "Old Contemptible" casualties as they returned from the front. Its hallways, dining room, drawing room and saloon were converted to wards for the sick and wounded. Living quarters were provided on the upper floors for the staff and nurses. The soldiers were given access to the library and billiard room for recreation and could walk and exercise in the courtyard and rosery. The castle contained a splendid Armour Gallery which was converted to a game room but was little used according to Una who wrote:

"The armour is covered up with sheeting-the one place they (the patients) may not smoke, so a notice up "no smoking". Consequently not a soul sits there now-not even all the "games in Christendom" set out there will tempt without my lady nicotine."

The old castle was damp and very cold in winter and Una complained about her bedroom, writing:

"Tell it not but I have 6 blankets! Putting the fur coat over my bed had the desired effect. Presto 2 more blankets-warm as toast (of course there is not counterpane)."

A ward at the Military Hospital, Brancepeth, Castle

Una became fond of many of the patients and they liked her as well, many of them giving her picture postcards of themselves as a remembrance. The majority of the troops at the hospital appear to have been Northumberland Fusiliers although she did have a photo in her personal album of two sappers. Lance Corporal G. Lansberry and Sergeant Jack Hinson both of the 2nd Northern Division, Royal Engineers, who were patients at Brancepeth in February 1915. Frenchmen were also treated at Brancepeth as evidenced by a group photo in which appears a soldier named Prosper of the 1er Regiment de Chasseurs a Pied who was recovering from a hand wound.[17] Una appeared to be particularly fond of postcards and she acquired them wherever she went. Among the possessions of her future husband, Major Sydney Banks Keast, were numerous postcards showing the interior and exterior of Brancepeth Castle.[18]

Left: Sapper Lansbery and Sergeant Hinson, Royal Engineers.
Right: Private Crawford, 6th Northumberland Fusiliers (seated) and pal.

Una's many French postcards collected while in France

On the 5th of April 1915 Una, then 29 years of age, enrolled as a Nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.), Northumberland, Number 64.[19] From "The History of the Voluntary Aid Detachment"[20] the following excerpts are provided to describe the beginnings of the V.A.D.:

"In 1914 there was no Ministry of Health and no one had overall control of the hospitals, however the British Red Cross Society, founded in 1870 linked up with the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in 1909 and formed the organization known as the Voluntary Aid Detachment or V.A.D. for short."

"Since 1909 many middle or upper class women became keen to give up their time to do some useful work, mainly in hospitals. However not all volunteers were upper class women and not all V.A.D. work was completed in hospitals. At the outbreak of war there were already a number of V.A.D. Auxiliary Nurses working in hospitals."

"Before the outbreak of war some V.A.D. Nurses would do a short course to gain a certificate. Qualified nurses had three years training and soon became suspicious of the short V.A.D. courses. Inevitably quarrels broke out and from time to time there was open conflict. These disagreements were even printed in ‘Nursing Journals’ reporting the V.A.D. nurses as ‘ignorant amateurs."

"In nursing itself old traditions had been shaken and nurses had to adapt to new conditions, and in spite of conflicts professionals and amateurs began to work together for mutual benefit. There had been a new spirit in which people accepted change for the sake of unity in the war effort. . . . V.A.D. Nurses used social influence to get themselves to the conflicts in France to nurse the sick and wounded soldiers. This above all other matters carved out a clear role for the V.A.D. workers. They became very active in the war effort, assisting nurses or orderlies in hospitals at home and in all major theatres of war."

"The novelist Agatha Christie, famously known as an English author of detective stories, was once a V.A.D. Nurse. The new spirit of war brought volunteer after volunteer to do what they could for the war. V.A.D. Volunteers also became fundraisers, cooks, kitchen maids, clerks, ward-maids, and ambulance drivers."

As Una Tomlin Hunter was enrolled in the V.A.D. as a Nurse, it would appear that she was more than an "ignorant amateur." Although the exact nature of her nursing training and amount of experience as a nurse are not known, she was working as a nurse at the Hospital for Sick Children in Newcastle in October of 1914. She was 28 years of age at that time, so it may be assumed that she had been working as a nurse for some time prior to the war.

The month of her enrollment as a nurse in the V.A.D., April of 1915, was to be the most horrific month in her lifetime. Prior to the war she had become engaged to Lieutenant Arthur Richmond Garton, the son of Lieutenant Colonel and Mrs. William G.A. Garton.[21] Lieutenant Garton was an officer in the 6th Battalion, The Northumberland Fusiliers along with Una’s two brothers. The 6th Battalion was called to the Colours at the outbreak of the war and on the 20th of April 1915 the battalion, with Una’s brothers and fiancé, left Blyth in Northumberland to embark for France. The battalion arrived at Boulogne at 2140 hours on the 20th of April and marched to a rest camp at St. Martin. The 6th Battalion, at this time, formed part of the Northumberland Brigade of the Northumbrian Division.[22]

On the 21st of April the battalion marched three miles to Pont du Briquet and then entrained to travel to Cassel. In the early morning hours of the 22nd of April the battalion marched five miles from Cassel to Winnezeele, arriving there at 0430 hours.

The 6th Battalion departed Winnezeele at 0900 hours on the 23rd of April and marched eleven miles to Brandhoek, where it arrived at 1330 hours that same day. At Brandhoek the battalion took over a section of front line trenches on either side of the Ypres-Poperinghe Road.

The Hunter brothers along with Lieutenant Garton and the rest of the 6th Battalion departed the Brandhoek area at 1545 hours on the 24th of April and marched by way of Ypres toward Potijze to form part of the Corps reserve. The unit arrived at Potijze at 2230 hours on the 25th of April, having been shelled while passing through Ypres and having already suffered casualties.

On the 26th of April 1915 the 6th Battalion, The Northumberland Fusiliers was placed under the command of the 1st Canadian Division and was given orders to attack St. Julien village through the line of trenches held by the British 4th Division. Thus it was that the battalion, having been in France only seven days, and consisting of green troops and inexperienced officers and non-commissioned officers, was ordered to attack an enemy defensive position as its first mission of the war.

In his book The British Campaign in France and Flanders, 1915, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle describes the advance and the attack on St. Julien on the 25th and 26th of April.[23]

"Reinforcements were now assembling to the immediate south of St. Julien. By evening [of the 25th of April] the Northumberland Brigade and the Durham Light Infantry Brigade – both of the Fiftieth Territorial Division – had reach Potijze. [These troops] were placed under the hand of General Alderson for the purpose of a strong counter-attack upon St. Julien. This attack was planned to take place on the morning of Sunday, April 26."

"The advance was made at 6.30 in the morning of April 26, General Hull being in immediate control of the attack. . . . Little progress was made, however, and it became clear that there was not weight enough behind the advance to crush a way through the obstacles in front. . . . Finally a brigade of Northumberland Territorials came up to sustain the hard-pressed line, passing over some two miles of open country under heavy fire on their advance. It was then nearly mid-day. From that point onwards the attackers accepted the situation and dug themselves in at the farthest point which they could reach near the hamlet of Fortuin, about a mile south of St. Julien."

Doyle then goes on to describe the final assault on St. Julien by the Northumberland Brigade.[24]

". . . [on the eastern flank of the attacking divisions a] fine advance had been made by the Northumberland Brigade of Territorials (Riddell) of the Fiftieth Division, who had just arrived from England. Some military historian has remarked that British soldiers never fight better than in their first battle, and this particular performance, carried out by men with the home dust still upon their boots, could not have been improved upon. In this as in other attacks it was well understood that the object of the operations was rather to bluff the Germans into suspending their dangerous advance than to actually gain and permanently hold any of the lost ground. The brigade advanced in artillery formation which soon broke into open order. The fire, both from the German guns, which had matters all their own way, and from their riflemen, was incessant and murderous. The 6th Northumberland Fusiliers were on the left with the 7th [Northumberland Fusiliers] upon the right, the other two battalions being nominally in second line but actually swarming up into the gaps. In spite of desperately heavy losses the gallant Geordies won their way across open fields, with an occasional rest, behind a bank or hedge, until they were on the actual outbuildings of St. Julien. They held on to the edge of the village for some time, but they had lost their Brigadier, the gallant Riddell, and a high proportion of their officers and men. . . . The battalions which had reached the village were compelled to fall back. Shortly after six in the evening the survivors had dropped back to their own trenches. Their military career had begun with a repulse, but it was one which was more glorious than many a facile success."

Both of Una Tomlin Hunter’s brothers and her fiancé were killed in this battle. None have a known grave, so their deaths are commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

An officer in the 6th Battalion who survived the battle wrote that Captain George Edward Hunter, in command of "C" Company "led his men with the greatest courage and a total disregard for himself, was right in front of the enemy’s position when he was killed by a shell fired at short range." [25] The circumstances of George’s death explain why his body was not recovered for burial. He probably took a direct hit from an artillery shell, thus making his body unrecoverable.

A writer in the Durham College of Medicine Gazette wrote of the death of Captain Howard Tomlin Hunter who on the day of the battle commanded "D" Company of the battalion.[25]

"We have all heard with pride and aching heart of his entry into action. The first torrent of bullet and shell only seemed to increase his absolute indifference to danger, and his example of courage infected the whole company. He led his men through a crossfire of machine-guns and shrapnel, trying to reach the German trenches by a series of rushes. When close to his objective he was struck on the leg but stuck to his job, gamely cheering on his men. We can imagine his bitter disappointment when he had to fall out so near the end of his task. While being helped to the rear he was struck again in the chest and almost immediately dropped dead."

One can only surmise that when Howard was hit the second time he was not close enough to the British trenches for his body to be recovered and buried. His body probably remained in "no man’s land" in front of St. Julien for some time and was not later recovered by advancing British troops.

Nothing was found during this research regarding the manner of death of Una’s fiancé, Lieutenant Arthur Richmond Garton, age 26. Lieutenant Garton was probably killed much in the same way as Una’s brothers, during the attack on St. Julien. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) indicates that Lieutenant Garton had received a mention in despatches (MID) for his actions prior to his death. A search of the London Gazette could not turn up the date or circumstances for this recognition of his service. His Medal Index Card showing his awards of the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal includes a notation that states "No Record of M in D." The source used by the CWGC indicating his MID could not be found; therefore, his MID has not been verified.

In addition to the Hunter brothers and Garton, three other officers of the 6th Battalion, The Northumberland Fusiliers were killed on the 26th of April 1915. These men were Lieutenant Edmund Mortimer, Lieutenant William Black Noble and 2nd Lieutenant Edward Noel Mather. In addition, the battalion lost 3 sergeants, 2 lance sergeants, 3 corporals, 1 lance corporal and 26 privates killed in action on this date.[26]

The news of the tragic deaths of her brothers and her fiancé must have been horrible for Una to bear. Although it is not known for certain, but she may have been in France at the time they were killed. Evidence of this is a postcard dated the 6th of March 1915, which she sent to her father from France. Why she would have been on the continent at that time is not known. News of her brothers’ deaths would have been sent first to her parents at Gosforth. She may have learned about their deaths while in France or she may have been told of the tragedy after she returned home. She did, in fact, return home from France before taking up her V.A.D. duties, as records indicate that she did not officially report to France as a nurse until October of 1915.[27] In all likelihood she also learned of her fiancé’s death from her parents when she returned to Gosforth; however, it is possible that through military channels she may have learned of his demise while she was in France.

NOTE: For more information about Una's brothers and the other casulaties of the 6th Battalion at St. Julien, see Addendum No. 2 below.

No. 9 Red Cross Hospital became a Tent Unit at Bourbourg in July of 1915. In October of 1915 the hospital closed at Bourbourg in preparation for a move to Calais. This was the hospital in which Una would serve the major part of her V.A.D. duty and to which she would shortly be assigned.[28]

Una officially arrived in France to begin her V.A.D. nursing duties on the 22nd of October 1915. Her initial assignment was to the 26th General Hospital at Etaples. On the 30th of October 1915 she sent home a postcard from Etaples indicating that she had arrived safely. Shortly thereafter she was reassigned to No. 9 Red Cross Hospital, which was on the move from Bourbourg to Calais in November of 1915. The hospital opened at Calais on the 12th of January 1916 as a hospital for British wounded. Its initial capacity was 100 beds, but this was subsequently increased to 120 beds.[29]

A postcard written by Una to her parents, dated the 22nd of October 1916, indicates that she returned to Wentworth on home leave from active service after a year in France. She stayed with them for about a month and on the 24th of November 1916 she wrote them a postcard indicating that she had boarded a ship to sail back to Calais.

Una was a great one for postcards. She filled an entire album with post cards that she purchased from the various places in France where she was stationed. Most of them contained no message or note on the back, although some did, and these give some indication of where and when she was at a certain location. Following the postcard announcing her sailing back to Calais, the album contains numerous picture postcards from Etaples and Calais.

On the 10th of August 1917 Captain Sydney Banks Keast, R.E. was wounded and was evacuated to No. 9 Red Cross Hospital at Calais. It was there that Una and her future husband were to meet. Una nursed Sydney during his convalescence and they kept in close contact through postcards after he returned to the front.[30]

It must have been love at first sight for Sydney and Una. On the 9th of November 1917, only about three months after they first met, the engagement of Captain Keast and Miss Hunter was announced in The Times. The announcement read as follows:[31]


An engagement is announced between Captain Sydney Banks Keast, M.C. Royal Engineers, of Accra, West Africa,[32] only son of the late Walter Keast and of Mrs. Keast, St. Helens, Folkestone, and Una Tomlin Hunter, only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Hunter, Wentworth, Gosforth, Northumberland.

Una continued her duties with the V.A.D. and in March of 1918 No. 9 Red Cross Hospital moved to Longuenesse, near St. Omer. True to form, Una continued her collection of postcards, which show her traveling with the hospital to St. Omer and Abbeville.

In April of 1918 Una was posted to the Duchess of Westminster’s (No. 1 British Red Cross) Hospital in Le Casino de la Foret at Le Touquet-Paris-Plage.[33] Una collected numerous postcards from this new location. On the 14th of August 1918 she wrote out a postcard indicating that the hospital had been visited by the Queen of the Belgians and that the Duchess of Westminster had been awarded the Order of St. Elizabeth by the Queen during her visit.

No. 1 British Red Cross Hospital
(Note the censor's clipping of the location of the scene at the bottom of the card)

Una returned to No. 9 Red Cross Hospital which by September 1918 had moved to Hazebrouck and by October to Roubaix. Una filled pages of her album with postcards from both Roubaix and Tourcoing. A final postcard written by her indicates that she was still with No. 9 Red Cross Hospital on the 13th of November1918. The hospital was demobilized on the 20th of November after performing valuable service with the British Expeditionary Force and Una was temporarily assigned back to No. 1 British Red Cross Hospital.

No. 9 Red Cross Hospital, in which Una had served for most of her time in France, was recognized for its efficient use of the Carrel-Dakin treatment of wounds. This treatment consisted of intermittently irrigating wounds with Dakin’s solution, a highly diluted antiseptic consisting of sodium hypochlorite and boric acid.[34] The hospital had also provided excellent treatment of fractured limbs by means of suspension and counter-extension. The total number of patients treated by No. 9 Red Cross Hospital between the 12th of January 1916 and the 20th of November 1918 was 5,914.[35] Given her long-term assignment to this hospital it can be said that Una was at the forefront of the medical technology of the time, especially as it pertained to treating war wounds.

Una was discharged from the V.A.D. on the 28th of November 1918 while at No. 1 British Red Cross Hospital.[36] For her service as a nurse during the Great War she was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.[37] It appears that she also was awarded the Belgian Medal of King Albert, 1914-1918 as this medal is mounted on a bar along with her other medals as she wore them. No verification of this award could be found in the London Gazette.

Una’s brothers, Captain George Edward Hunter and Captain Howard Tomlin Hunter also were posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. Their parents would also have received memorial plaques in their honour. The locations of their medals and plaques are not known to the author. On the 31st of December 1918, Edward Hunter, Esq., Una’s father, applied to the War Office for the 1914-15 Stars of his dead sons.[38]

Una’s former fiancé, Lieutenant Arthur Richmond Garton also was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal for his service during the war. His Medal Index Card indicates that his father applied for his late son’s medals on the 6th of February 1922. The medals subsequently were sent to his mother at 87 Merton Hall Road, Wimbledon S.W.19. The whereabouts of Lieutenant Garton’s medals is not known to the author.

Una returned home after her discharge and kept in touch with Sydney who moved from France into Germany. He sent her numerous postcards from various locations in both countries during the month of December 1918.

On the 1st of April 1919 the marriage of Major Sydney Banks Keast, MC, R.E. was announced in The Times. The announcement read as follows:

"The marriage of Major Sydney Banks Keast, M.C., R.E., of Accra, West Africa, only son of the late Walter Keast and Mrs. Keast, to Una Tomlin, only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Hunter, of Wentworth, Gosforth, Northumberland, will take place on April 16, at All Souls Church, Langham-place, London at 1 o’clock. There are no invitations, but friends will be welcome at the church, and afterwards at the Langham Hotel."

The marriage took place as scheduled and following the reception Sydney and Una went off on their honeymoon to Bournemouth, the greatly favored seaside resort on Poole Bay in Dorsetshire. Bournemouth was known for its excellent sands and gardens, and beautiful valleys, called "chines." It also offered an art gallery and museum with a fine collection of paintings, as well as the delightful Compton Acres Gardens on Canford Cliffs. While at Bournemouth they also enjoyed some boating, golf and sightseeing. They remained at Bournemouth for two weeks, returning to London during the first week in May. Major Keast had given up his rooms at Lanpham Street and took up suitable lodgings for himself and his new bride at 85 Howard's Lane, Putney. He bought an automobile, a small Stellite convertible, which both he and Una drove.

Una in Bournemouth, 1919

4. THE GOLD COAST, 1919 - 1937

On the 5th of May 1919 Major Keast contracted for re-engagement as Superintending Sanitary Engineer on the Gold Coast, a position he had held prior to the Great War. Sydney and Una immediately began making preparations to leave for Africa. Prior to their departure for Africa the Keasts visited their parents. In the latter part of May and early June they visited Sydney's mother and sisters at Folkestone. His father had died some years earlier. They then proceeded to Gosforth, Northumberland where they visited Una's parents. At Gosforth they enjoyed the lovely spring weather, taking long drives in the country, playing croquet, and lounging on the luxurious lawns of the estate.

Their honeymoon over, the Keasts left for Liverpool to board the H.M.S. Elmina, which would take them to their home for the next 18 years in the Gold Coast. They departed Liverpool bound for Seccondee on the 11th of June 1919 but arrived instead in Freetown, Sierra Leone on the 22nd of June. Traveling overland they finally arrived in Accra on the 28th where they were assigned to Bungalow 64 in the Government Compound. Sydney immediately assumed his duties in the Public Works Department. The Keasts were fortunate in being assigned to Accra itself rather than to some smaller town in the outlying areas of Ashanti or the Northern Territories. While many of Keast's fellow P.W.D. officers were stationed in such out of the way places as Tamale, Salaga and Kumasi, Sydney and Una enjoyed the relative comfort and social life that the capitol city afforded them. The Keasts moved very shortly into Bungalow 49, which was anything but a "bungalow". It was a four-wing, two-story house, beautifully constructed and surrounded by lush lawns, trees and hedges. It was a spacious dwelling with an elegant veranda and large airy rooms. It was tastefully furnished with an assortment of wicker and wood furniture of African design and manufacture, the majority of it of course being hand made. Its highly polished wooden floors were partially covered with a variety of oriental rugs. Una used the profusion of windows to provide sunlight for the large number of houseplants that she grew indoors. Additionally she tried her hand, and was very successful, at growing a beautiful assortment of roses in large flower boxes around the outside of the house.

In addition to their lovely living quarters, the social side of colonial life in Accra was also at their disposal. Among the many diversions available to them were the polo club, the hunt breakfasts, receptions at Government House, tea parties, supper parties, horse races, and the military reviews and ceremonies which took place with great frequency in Accra.

With regard to food, it appears that Una was an accomplished cook. She was a contributor to a book entitled The Ghana Cookery Book, which eventually would be published in 1933. One of West Africa’s earliest recipe books, The Ghana Cookery Book contains over 800 traditional African and colonial recipes making use of a wealth of local ingredients such as ripe tropical fruit, abundant fresh fish from the Atlantic Ocean, exotic spices and a profusion of vegetables, grains and nuts from the fertile plantations of the Gold Coast.[39]

As their first year in Africa came to a close Sydney became eligible for leave. He and Una departed Accra on the 26th of July 1920 and returned to England to visit their families. By the 30th of December they had arrived back in Accra and Sydney resumed his duties. Unusual as it may seem, they appear to have spent Christmas of that year aboard ship, probably due to the requirement to return to Accra no later than the end of the year.

The Keasts took no home leave in 1921, but they did travel rather extensively through the Gold Coast and Togoland. It was not until the 5th of March 1922 that they again departed Accra for England. Again they spent their time visiting their families and returned to Accra on the 24th of August 1922. They took no home leave in 1923 and waited until the 2nd of February 1924 to return to England. The Keasts visited Somerset while at home and in April Sydney took part in a stag hunt at Haddon Hall while Una was visiting with her family at "Wentworth." On the 20th of August 1924 the Keasts returned to Accra.

In September 1925 Sydney departed Accra on leave. Una had left for England some time earlier and was in Gleneagles, Perthshire at the time. After Sydney's arrival they had a short visit with their families in England and then went on holiday to Lenzerheide, Switzerland, arriving there on the 1st of January 1926. They spent almost a month at this beautiful Swiss resort and engaged in every type of winter sport. They stayed at the Kurhaus, a magnificent alpine hotel, and accompanied by friends they packed their vacation with cross country skiing, ski jumping, ice-skating, and curling. Sydney appears to have been a rather accomplished skier but there is photographic evidence that Una must have taken frequent spills on the slopes. Sydney apparently learned to ski as early as 1908 when in July of that year he made a trip to Switzerland, presumably while he was on home leave from the Sudan. On the 28th of January 1926 their holiday came to an end and they departed for England. They spent about a month at home before returning to Accra on the 18th of March.

On the 7th of October 1926, with over seven years of seniority with the Gold Coast P.W.D., Keast was appointed Assistant Director of Public Works. After settling into his new assignment he and Una departed Accra on the 26th of February 1927 for another period of leave. In addition to their normal family visits Sydney went stag hunting at Tiverton, Devonshire and attended some polo matches at Dunster in Somerset during April. In June he returned to "Wentworth" to spend some time with Una's family and returned to Accra on the 20th of July 1927 to resume his duties.

Keast rose quickly in the civil service receiving a promotion to Deputy Director of Public Works on the 4th of May 1928. With this promotion came the requirement to travel to outlying districts in the Colony to visit P.W.D. projects. He and Una also took this opportunity to visit old friends and do a bit of socializing. Sydney and Una headed north from Accra and visited their friends the Pomoroys in Salaga on the River Daka near the Togoland border. From here they preceded to Nararonga to visit Captain Ardron, the District Commissioner. Tamale in the Northern Territories was their next stop, which they reached by automobile. Their final stop was at Wa in the upper regions of the Northern Territories along the border with the Ivory Coast. Here they visited the local native chief and the mosque as part of their sightseeing junket. The Keasts returned to Accra and remained there until the 28th of October 1928 when they again departed for England on leave. After spending Christmas with Una's family the Keasts departed for Switzerland, arriving at Lenzerheide on New Year's Day 1929. They stayed again at the Kurhaus resort and again spent a month actively pursuing winter sports. They did break up their stay this time with some side trips to Basel, which they visited on the 7th of January 1929 and to Lucerne where they arrived on 2 February. While at Lenzerheide they engaged in their normal round of skiing, skating, sightseeing and socializing. Una appears to have improved her skiing and cut a handsome figure as an ice skater.

By the 8th of February 1929 the Keasts were in Folkestone visiting Sydney's family. They returned to Accra on the 23rd of April and Sydney returned to duty after a very pleasant and restful vacation. How they must have enjoyed the cold Swiss weather after experiencing the tropical climate of the Gold Coast year round.

The year 1929 was also a very busy one on the Gold Coast. It was a good year for polo with the Accra team competing against the club from Tamale at the Tamale Polo Ground. The Keasts were the proud owners of a new Humber convertible that they used for their travels in country. There were the hunt breakfasts and the Poppy Bay celebrations at Accra and Kumasi. There was Una's work with the Nurses of Maternity Hospital in Accra and the gala wedding of Sir A.R. Slater's daughter Betty at Government House.

Sydney had remained active in military affairs while working on the Gold Coast. He joined the Gold Coast Defence Force and was Second-in-Command to Colonel R.A. de B. Rose, C.M.G., D.S.O., an officer with whom he had served in the Cameroons during the war. On the 5th of May 1930 Keast assumed command of the Defence Force when Colonel Rose departed for England on leave. Sydney and Una departed shortly thereafter on their own home leave. After a medical examination on the 25th of May, which found Sydney to be in good health, he and Una departed Accra for England aboard the SS "Aba" on the 28th of May. They arrived at Plymouth on the 10th of June and visited Una's family at "Wentworth". During this leave Sydney went to Bisley Camp at Brookwood in Surrey where he fired in the National Rifle Association competitions.

After the shooting matches Sydney returned to "Wentworth" and he and Una visited Torquay, Teignmouth, Dartmoor and Princetown between the 10th and 17th of July. In September of 1930 they visited Taunton in Somerset where they stayed at the Carnarvon Arms Hotel. Here they attended the Devon and Somerset Hunt at Winsford. On the 30th of September the Keasts left Taunton for Folkestone for a visit with Sydney's mother who was ill. Emma Mary Keast had moved from the family estate on Cheriton Road and was now residing at 30 Kingsnorth Gardens, Folkestone. After a stay of about two weeks Sydney and Una traveled to Liverpool where they departed for the Gold Coast on the 22nd of October 1930 aboard the mail steamer "Adda." The Keasts arrived in Accra on the 4th of November and Sydney was again appointed Acting Director of Public Works.

On the 15th of December 1930 Sydney and Una departed Accra for England aboard the SS "Apapa." The Keasts arrived at Plymouth on the 28th of December and proceeded to Una's family estate.

On the 25th of January 1931, while they were in England, Sydney’s permanent promotion to Director of Public Works became effective. But his duties on the Gold Coast would wait, for April was stag season in Devonshire and there is exactly where Sydney and Una headed. They returned to Tiverton where they had last been in 1927 to ride to the hounds. On the 18 of May 1931 the Keasts left Liverpool for the Gold Coast aboard the SS "Appam" and arrived in Takoradi on the 31st.

The Keasts remained in Accra during the remainder of 1931 and all of 1932. They departed Accra on the 25th of February 1933 aboard the steamer "Accra" arriving at Plymouth on the 4th of August, after apparently making some stops along the way.. As usual they visited Una's home and in October they attended the Devon and Somerset Stag Hunt at Tiverton, staying once again at the Carnarvon Arms Hotel. They departed Liverpool on the mail steamer "Accra" on the 13th of December 1933 arriving in Accra on the 27th .

 On 31st of March 1935 Sydney and Una departed Accra on the steamer "Accra" for leave in England. They arrived at Plymouth on the 13th of April and proceeded to "Wentworth". Keast again attended the N.R.A. After the N.R.A. competitions the Keasts went on holiday to one of their favorite vacation spots at Taunton, Somerset. They then returned to "Wentworth" on 7th of September 1935 to spend a few days with Una' s family.

On the 18th of September 1935 the Keasts departed England on the SS "Appam" and arrived in Accra on the 3rd of October. They took no leave during 1936 but remained in Accra where Sydney played polo and organized the celebrations for the coronation of King George VI.

As the wife of the Director of Public Works, Una was awarded the 1935 Jubilee Medal and the 1937 Coronation Medal. From the way they were mounted on a pin-back bar, it is apparent that she wore these medals at state occasions and government functions, along with the medals she had been awarded for her service in the Great War.

In 1937 Sydney retired from his position in Ghana. Prior to their departure from Accra the Keasts were honored by their friends in the P.W.D. A beautiful silver serving set was presented to them with the following inscription:

"PRESENTED TO MAJOR S. BANKS KEAST, O.B.E., M.C., Director of Public Works, Gold Coast by the European Staff of the Department on the Occasion of His Retirement in 1937."

Una was also honored with a silver serving tray engraved as follows:

"Presented to Mrs. S. Banks Keast by the European Staff of the Public Works Department of the Gold Coast as a token of their regard."

The Keasts in turn presented their beloved Accra Polo Club with a silver statuette of a polo pony with the following engraved plaque:

"Presented to THE ACCRA POLO CLUB by Major & Mrs. S. Banks Keast in Memory of Many Happy Times - 1936."

Sydney and Una sailed for Lobito Bay, South Africa on the 15th of February 1957 aboard the Woermann Liner SS "Wangoni". After a stay of some two months in South Africa they sailed for England from Durban on the SS "Dunluce Castle" arriving in Tilbury on the 11th of June.

5. THE FINAL YEARS, 1937 - 1942

From July 1937 to March 1940 the Keasts remained at their home in Somerset. On the 4th of December 1942 Una Tomlin Keast died at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Edgbaston, Birmingham at the age of 56. Her death certificate lists the cause of death as uremia.[40] The certificate also lists their residence as Eden Bridge, Leigh Linton Road, Malvern Link, Worcestershire. Apparently they had moved from Lopen House in Somerset sometime before Una' s death.

ADDENDUM NO. 1: Photographs of Brancepeth Castle in Una Keast's Album dated December 1914 to April 1915

A real "Downton Abbey" story.

Armour Gallery, Brancepeth Castle

Brancepeth Castle and Church

Brancepeth Castle from the Park

Brancepeth Church, South Entrance

Brancepeth Station

Brancepeth Village

Dining Room, Brancepeth Castle

Gates & Lodge, Brancepeth Castle

Military Hospital, Brancepeth Castle (during the Great War of 1914-1918)

Military Hospital, Brancepeth Castle (during the Great War of 1914-1918)

The Billiard Room, Brancepeth Castle

The Courtyard, Brancepeth Castle (arrow marks Una's bedroom)

In the Courtyard of Brancepeth Castle

The Drawing Room, Brancepeth Castle

The Front Hall, Brancepeth Castle

The Kitchen, Brancepeth Castle

The Library, Brancepeth Castle

The Rosery, Brancepeth Castle (in summer)

The Saloon, Brancepeth Castle

The Wine Cellar, Brancepeth Castle

                      Nurse Cooper                                                   Nurse Crystal                                                  Nurse (unidentified)                                   Nursing Sister (unidentified)


The Staircase, Brancepeth Castle

Brancepeth Castle

A Brief History of Brancepeth Castle

(Courtesy of the Brancepeth Archive & History Group

The first castle at Brancepeth was built on the site of a Manor House by Bertram de Bulmer in about 1135, thus making it one of the oldest castles in the north of England. The Bulmers were a North Yorkshire family who had acquired the Brancepeth estates as a marriage dowry when Bertram’s father had married the daughter and heiress of the then Norman owner.

Bertram’s son, Henry succeeded to the castle but died without ever being married and the castle passed to his sister Emma. Emma had married as her second husband, Geoffrey de Neville, and thus the Neville family came to Brancepeth and were to own the castle for some four hundred years.

During their time at Brancepeth the Nevilles became one of the most important families in England, acquiring land, by one means or another, throughout the country, mostly it must be said by marrying their sons to wealthy and titled heiresses. One of the family, Henry de Neville was present at the signing of the Magna Carta.

The culmination of the power of the Nevilles was probably at the time of Ralph Neville, who fought at Agincourt, and who was elevated to become Earl of Westmorland by Richard II in 1397. The earl promptly changed his allegiance and joined with Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster and was one of the principals in eventually placing Henry on the throne of England as Henry IV, and in fact he later went on to marry Henry’s half sister as his second wife. The earl was appointed by the king to be guardian of his son, the Duke of York, and it was not long before the Duke of York became engaged to the earl’s daughter, Cicely. And thus the earl became the grandfather of two kings of England, Edward IV and Richard III. It was during this earl’s lifetime that the castle at Brancepeth was greatly enlarged.

The Nevilles continued at Brancepeth until 1569 when the 5th Earl of Westmorland together with the Earl of Northumberland, hatched a plot at Brancepeth, to rescue Mary Queen of Scots from imprisonment and put her on the throne of England. This plot known at the Rising of the North was badly conceived and executed and resulted in the Earl of Northumberland being beheaded and the Earl of Westmorland having to flee to the continent, where he eventually died.  All the Neville estates, including Brancepeth were forfeited to the Crown.

Brancepeth Castle remained in the hands of the English Crown until the time of Charles I, when in order to pay his debts, it was sold to several wealthy citizens of the City of London who quickly sold it on to Ralph Cole a self made mine and shipping owner from Gateshead and a staunch Royalist during the Civil War which was to follow.

In 1701 the castle at Brancepeth was owned by the grandson of Ralph Cole, Sir Ralph Cole (the family had received a title for their support of the king), he was an artist who had been a pupil of Van Dyke, but unfortunately he was also a spendthrift, and again the castle had to be sold in order to pay off debts. This time to Sir Henry Belasyse who was M.P. for Durham and who had been a General in the army of William of Orange.

By 1773 the castle had passed to Sir Henry’s granddaughter, Bridget, who is the lady said to be referred to in the song “Bonnie Bobby Shafto”. Bobby Shafto lived at Whitworth Hall which Bridget could see from her castle windows. Bridget died without marrying and Brancepeth passed through several owners to eventually be bought in the 1790’s by William Russell of Sunderland.

William Russell was another self made man and at the time of his purchasing Brancepeth, was a banker who had just foreclosed on a colliery in Northumberland and taken it into his own ownership. As luck would have it, a fine new seam of coal was discovered in this mine just after he had taken it over and this was to form the basis of a fortune which by the time of his death was to make him “the richest commoner in England”. His purchase of Brancepeth was also to prove a stroke of luck, as the vast estates connected to the castle were found to be sitting on a mountain of the “Black Gold”.

In 1921 the castle, which in parts had become ruinous, was completely rebuilt by Matthew Russell, the son of William.  Matthew had married Elizabeth Tennyson the aunt of the poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and the poet visited the castle on several occasions, in fact it is said that his poem “Come into the garden Maud” was written in the gardens of Brancepeth Castle.

Matthew’s daughter Emma Maria married the son of the 6th Lord Boyne, Gustavus Hamilton, and when later her brother died unmarried, she and her husband (the 7th Lord Boyne) inherited Brancepeth Castle and its estates. The Boyne family were to own Brancepeth for a hundred and fifty years.

On the outbreak of war in August Lord Boyne offered the castle to the Joint War Committee of the British Red Cross and Order of St. John of Jerusalem as an Auxiliary Military Hospital. The offer was accepted and patients were received for the first time on 3rd December 1914, many of the villagers became nurses including Lady Boyne.

The castle opened with accommodation for 60 patients and this number was subsequently increased until 126 patients could be taken.  The Hospital was an Auxiliary Hospital to the 1st Northern General Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne, and the patients were under the Medical Supervision of the Officer Commanding, but were attended whilst at Brancepeth by Doctors J. A. Wilson, M.B.C., and T. W. Wilson, M.B., who were civilian Practitioners resident in the neighbourhood.

Throughout this period the Hospital was staffed by Viscount Boyne’s household servants, assisted by members of the Brancepeth Castle V.A.D. (7th Durham formed in the winter of 1914) and members of the Willington V.A.D.

 The Commandant of the Hospital was Lord Boyne’s youngest brother, the Hon. Eustace Hamilton-Russell, while the Hon. Mrs Eustace Hamilton-Russell acted as Assistant Commandant. Mrs J.K.Crawley, the rector’s wife, raised and was Commandant of the Brancepeth V.A.D.

The Hon. Florence Hamilton-Russell (Lord Boyne’s youngest sister) was the trained Massage Sister, and was in charge of all the orthopaedic and electric treatment.

Viscountess Boyne, a Lady of Grace of St. John of Jerusalem, took an active part in the direction of the Hospital, herself working as a Nursing Officer of the Detachment.

The Hall, the Barons Hall, Dining Room, and Long Armour Gallery were used as wards for patients, the latter being divided and a portion used as a reception room. Other rooms were adapted for dinning-rooms, isolation wards, dispensary, surgery, electrical treatment and massage.

4,099 patients passed through the Hospital, including Soldiers from the British, Canadian, Australian, South African and Belgian Armies also a few Sailors from the British Royal Navy.

After the war, the upkeep of the castle became too much for the Boyne family and they left to take up permanent residence at their estates in Shropshire. The castle remained empty for twenty years.

At the beginning of World War One the castle took on a new lease of life as the Headquarters and depot for the Durham Light Infantry who later combined with the Duke of Wellingtons Regiment as the 4th Infantry Training Corps. A large camp was build beside the village with the castle acting as the officer’s quarters, and thousands of recruits, during the war, and later National Servicemen, were given their infantry training here.

In 1948 Brancepeth Castle and its estates were sold By Lord Boyne to the Duke of Westminster and in the early 1960’s the estate was sold off in lots and the castle was bought by a consortium of local entrepreneurs.

The army remained in Brancepeth Castle until the 1960’s, when, for a short time the castle was used as experimental laboratories by the firm of Corning Glass (Pyrex).

Since the early 1970’s the castle has again become a private home.

ADDENDUM NO. 2.  Details of the Casualties of the 6th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers at St. Julien on 26 April 1915.

            Before Una Tomlin Keast became associated with the Royal Engineers through her marriage to Sydney Banks Keast, her military affiliation was with the 6th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers.  As mentioned above, two of her brothers and her fiancé were serving in this battalion when the Great War began and all three were posted with the unit to France and Flanders where they lost their lives in 1915 at the Battle of St. Julien.

            Much of the information contained in the remainder of this addendum was supplied by Mr. David Hanson.  Una’s fiancé, Arthur Richmond Garton, was Mr. Hanson’s mother’s brother.  Mr. Hanson has a number of letters about Arthur’s death in his possession, letters than he has been kind enough to share with me.  The first letter provided here is one written in pencil by Arthur to his father on the eve of the attack on St. Julien.  The letter is addressed to his father at Seaton Delaval, a town located just north of Newcastle.  It would be the last letter that his family would receive from him.

Seaton Delaval     

12th April 1915  

My dear Father,

We really are off this time – tomorrow night I believe. I’ve written to mother to tell her. Try and stop her worrying. Of course I don’t for one minute anticipate not coming back but just in case I don’t- Peter has my will locked up in the Bank, and he knows where my various possessions are stored. I have left everything to mother but would like her to give a ‘souvenir’ to my great pal Denys Rogers (Captain in this battalion) and of course, if she would like anything, to Una.

Still in business. There is a life insurance worth £200 with the Bank, All premiums are paid and a balance of, at present, £100 in my account in Newcastle. Then there will probably be a month’s pay or so at Cox’s. That is only ‘in case’ though. I don’t expect anything than a cold to happen to me.

      Au revoir Dad,

Your loving son


Notes Pertaining to the Letter

             Arthur’s father had retired from the Grenadier Guards in 1910 as a Captain (Quartermaster) at the age of 50.  He got a job on the administrative staff of the Houses of Parliament.  As a Reservist he rejoined the army at the outbreak of the war and retained his rank of Captain.  In late 1916 he was promoted to the rank of Major (Quartermaster) and at the end of the war he was made an Honorary Lieutenant Colonel (Quartermaster).  He was the first Quartermaster to achieve this rank in the Household Brigade.  He then returned to his job in the Houses of Parliament.

            Peter, mentioned in his letter, was a banking colleague who eventually married Arthur’s sister Frances.

             Denys Rogers, also mentioned in the letter, was Captain A.D.S. Rogers (date of rank as Captain, 1 June 1912).  As indicated in the letter, Rogers also was serving in the 6th Battalion at the time.  Captain Rogers survived the war.

             The main British attack on the German positions at St. Julien did not start until the 26th of April 1915.  His mention of moving off on 13 April indicates the date that he expected his unit to move forward towards the front line for the attack on St. Julien.  As mentioned in the main part of this work, Captain Arthur Richmond Garton was killed in action in that battle.  This next letter supplied by Mr. Hanson is from a friend of Arthur’s and a fellow officer in his battalion.  It was written four days after the battle. 

                                                                                                                                                                                            6th Batt North Fusiliers  


Dear Capt Garton,


No doubt you have already received information as to Arthur’s death and perhaps you would like to hear the manner of it.


We were attacking the village of St Julien and had to advance in lines of platoons in fours across about 300 yards of bullet swept ground to our front trench where we were to charge. Soon after leaving our reserve trench we had to go through a gap in the barbed wire and whilst doing so the enemy turned a machine gun on us. Although I was on the left of our line and not near Arthur I have seen some of his men and they say that he was first evidently only slightly hit and fell shouting ‘ Go on men, carry on Sergeant’. However soon after he must have been hit again as after the volunteers brought in his body we found he had been shot through the mouth. As you will see he died like a soldier, at the head of his men.


He will be buried tonight in a little cemetery we have made near our camp in which are already laid the Brigadier and another of ours. I have got his haversack and the only thing left in it except books appears to be a flask which I will send to you at the first opportunity or to Miss Hunter, as you direct. There are also some pince nez. His valise will be sent back untouched.


I was very fond of Arthur and I should like to say how much I shall miss him both as a comrade and friend. The only consolation is that he died the death he would have liked. We have paid dearly for the St Julien business. 6 officers killed and 7 wounded and only 400 men mustered to roll call in our battalion alone although we bore the brunt of it but the Seaforths, Dublins and Warwicks say it was the most magnificent advance they ever saw and the Canadians have congratulated us in Divisional orders and although we failed to win the village we did our best.

Please accept my condolences and believe me


Yrs very sincerely  


Harold Ryott

 Notes Pertaining to the Letter

             The letter was addressed to Arthur’s father as a Captain, because he was a Captain (Quartermaster) in the Grenadier Guards at that time. 

             The Brigadier mentioned in the letter was Brigadier General James Foster Riddell.  Riddell achieved the rank of Colonel on 15 August 1907 and was appointed Temporary Brigadier General on 5 August 1914 and was given command of the 149th (1st/1st Northumberland) Infantry Brigade in the 50th (Northumbrian) Division on that date.  He was killed in action on 26 April 1915 during the attack on St. Julien.  He was 52 years old at the time of his death.

             James Foster Riddell was the son of John Riddell of the family of Riddell, formerly Riddell in Roxburghshire.  He was the husband of Margaret G. Riddell, the daughter of the late Sir Henry Scott of Hyde, Churt, Farnham, Surrey.

             The author of the letter, Captain Harold A. Ryott (date of rank as Captain, 1 March 1915), was a close friend of Arthur Garton.  Captain Ryott survived the war.

             The lines in the letter that read: [The battalion had] “to advance in lines of platoons in fours across about 300 yards of bullet swept ground to our front trench where we were to charge.  Soon after leaving our reserve trench we had to go through a gap in the barbed wire and whilst doing so the enemy turned a machine gun on us” clearly illustrates the absolute madness of British tactics during the Great War.  The British command was using 19th century tactics against 20th century weapons.  It is no wonder at all that the casualties were so high in their major offensives.

             The next letter provided by Mr. Hanson was one written to Arthur’s mother by Una Keast.

                                                                                                                                                                              Wentworth, Gosforth 
30th April 1915

My dear Mrs Garton,


What can I say to you? If sympathy helps you, have all mine.  It was a great shock to receive your telegram this morning as just a few minutes before it came I had a letter from Arthur – his first – and I was going to write to you today anyhow. You, his mother, must feel it terribly and I cannot put into words all I feel for you. As for myself everything is ended and all the happy times we have had is all I have to think about. It is something for us to feel proud of ‘killed in action’ but it is hard.

All the 6th people have been frightfully worried as there have been no letters from them- just the service post-cards since they landed. However today I think everyone would hear their Brigadier has been killed – a splendid man and he thought everything of Arthur. Two other Lieutenants are killed – Cliff Bowdsh [sic] is one. He was a great friend of Arthur’s and he was engaged to Ena Dickenson – a great friend of mine. I expect you know the names quite well. (I have just remembered that Cliff stayed with you when he was south).


Three other officers are wounded. We have not heard the casualties among the men yet. We hear it all happened at Ypres when the Northern Division went up to help the Canadians.


Arthur was known in the 6th as a magnificent officer. All his men worshipped him and I used to hear splendid things of him at Brancepeth from the men- and that was before they knew we were engaged.


This is a cruel war and I don’t know how to face the future bravely. It is selfish of me to talk of my own feelings when I ought to be trying to cheer you. So far my brothers are all right but my mother is very anxious.


This is an awful day but writing to you does help me and I only wish I could have seen you on such a day.


With ever so much love dear Mrs Garton


Yours affectionately         




Later   Since writing, we have just had a wire and both my brothers are ‘reported missing and believed to be wounded’ – the same date -27th.

 Notes Pertaining to the Letter

             The name Cliff Bowdsh is not correct.  The officer that Una was referring to was Lieutenant Edward Ratcliffe Bowden of Arthur’s battalion who died on 29 April 1915 of wounds received during the attack at St. Julien.  Bowden was 26 years old.  The error on Una’s part appears to have been a slip of the pen.  It also appears that Bowden used the nickname Cliff rather than his first name or complete middle name.  Bowden’s date of rank as a Lieutenant was 25 December 1912.  He was serving in “C” Company of the 6th Battalion at the time of his death.  He was the son of Thomas and Maggie Elizabeth Bowden of Gateshead, County Durham.

             As Una would soon find out, both of her brothers died as a result of the attack on St. Julien.  Captain George Edward Hunter was killed in action in the battle on 26 April 1915 and Captain Howard Tomlin Hunter was listed as killed in action on 27 April 1915.  Since Una received notification that both brothers were “reported missing and believed to be wounded” on the 27th, it would appear that there had been some faulty casualty reporting.  It is most likely that George’s body was recovered on the day of the battle, but Howard was not found until the next day.  Howard could have died of his wounds or it could just be that his body was not found until the next day.

             Una’s statement in the letter that “It is something for us to feel proud of ‘killed in action’ but it is hard” is an indication of her strength and feeling of patriotism during the war.  Here she had just learned of the death of the man she intended to marry, and would soon learn of the deaths of her brothers, yet she was still able to talk of her pride in their service.  In addition to losing these loved ones so early in the war, she was able to continue with her nursing duties throughout the conflict and must surely have witnessed many more war-related deaths and horrendous injuries inflicted on soldiers in her care.  She must have been an exceedingly strong-willed woman.

             The last letter provided by Mr. Hanson was as second one written by Captain Ryott to Arthur’s father.


              May 8th 1915

Dear Captain Garton


Many thanks for your very kind letter but there was no need for thanks as anything I could do for Arthur would be done for the sake of our friendship.


I am trying to obtain the names of the men who went out to recover Arthur’s body with the Medical Officer and will put a list in the envelope before sending this letter off.


I enclose a rough map to show where Arthur lies buried. There is a little French and British graveyard just beyond three houses in a row on the Zonnbeke road where the little byroad to Wielje joins it. I made a cross to mark his grave with the inscription


Lieut AR Garton                                                                                                                                    

6th Bn Northumberland Fusiliers (TF) aged 28 years                                                                 

Killed in action at St Julien 26th April 1915


As we still had the relics of St George’s Day with us the Colonel had the cross decorated with some red and white roses and the regimental motto. He lies next to our Brigadier General Riddell and another of ours E. Mortimer who was killed within 100 yards of him.

The QM has taken charge of his valise and it will be forwarded to you. I myself have his flask, cigarette case, pouch and some money and these I hope to dispatch to you in the course of the next few days for after a few days rest in a farm appears likely tonight as if we were moving to a base where it will be easier to get the necessary string and paper etc for a parcel.

As yet we are rather disorganised still from our big cutting up: seven officers killed, seven wounded and 600 casualties in other ranks is a big proportion for raw troops fresh out from home but we did our job and it appears to have been appreciated in the right quarters namely GH/Quarters.

Hoping to see you some day in person to give you any information in my power.

I remain yours sincerely   


Harold A Ryott


PS I regret to say that it is practically certain that both the Hunters are dead.  I have just had a note from OC A Co to say he is unable to obtain the names of the men who brought in Arthur’s body. If he is able to do so he will let me know later.

 Notes Pertaining to the Letter

            The Colonel referred to in the letter is most likely the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel G.R.B. Spain.  Spain had been appointed an Honorary Captain in the Army on 22 July 1902.  He was given command of the battalion on 19 September 1912.

            The E. Mortimer referred to in the letter was Lieutenant Edmund Mortimer (date of rank as a Lieutenant, 8 February 1915).  He was killed in action on 26 April 1915 at St. Julien.

            In his postscript, Captain Ryott confirms the death of the Hunter brothers and in the body of the letter he mentions a total of seven officers killed.  In addition to all those officers named in the letters, the following two officers also were killed in action during the battle:

            Lieutenant William Black Noble

            2nd Lieutenant Edward Noel Mather

            The Monthly Army List for April 1915 indicates that the officer strength of the 6th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers was as follows:

Lieutenant Colonel     1

Majors                         2

Captains                      10

Lieutenants                 9

2nd Lieutenants            15

Quartermaster             1

Medical Officer          1

Chaplain                      1

            Mr. Hanson indicates that Lieutenant Garton was mentioned in the despatches (MID) of Sir John French, dated 31 May 1915, and that these despatches were printed in the London Gazette dated 22 June 1915.  There is an entry on Garton Medal Index Card (MIC) from the National Archives that indicates that there was no evidence of the MID to be found in 1922.  The front side of the card is shown below.


             The MIC shows Garton’s rank as Lieutenant and indicates that he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal for his service during the war.  The entry in the lower left hand corner of the card indicates that there was no record of his Mention in Despatches found on 16 February 1922 when apparently a search had been made for his MID.  The search appears to have been made at the request of Garton’s father, as the back side of the MIC indicates that “W. Garton applies for his late son’s medals 6-2-22.”  An entry on the back of the card indicates that “Mrs. W.G.A. Garton (mother)” was living at “87 Merton Hall Road, Wimbledon S.W. 19” at that time.

             A search of the London Gazette web site on the Internet does not produce evidence of the Mention in Despatches in the edition dated 22 January 1915 as claimed by Mr. Hanson.  However, a search of the Despatches of J.D.P. French, Field-Marshal, Commanding-in-Chief, The British Army in the Field dated 31 May 1915 does indicate that Garton was in fact Mentioned in Despatches for “gallant and distinguished service in the field.”  French’s dispatch was published in Naval and Military Despatches Relating to Operations in the War, Part II, November 1914 to June 1915 and was published by His Majesty’s Stationery Office in 1915.  This publication does provide evidence of the MID granted for Garton’s service at St. Julien on page 212.  The unsuccessful search for the MID in the London Gazette is probably due to an error on the web site that did not pick up that particular despatch by Sir John French or for some reason missed Garton’s name when it was scanned and uploaded.  The indication of “no record” of his MID on the Medal Index Card is most likely the result of incomplete research on the part of the individual who wrote that entry on the card.  Medal Index Cards have been found in the past to be less than one hundred percent accurate at times.

             There is a sad footnote to this tragic story of the Hunter brothers and Arthur Garton.  The Garton’s lost a second son in the war in 1916.  Temporary Second Lieutenant Reginald William Garton (date of rank as a 2nd Lieutenant, 2 March 1915) was serving in the 11th Battalion, Prince of Wales Volunteers (South Lancashire Regiment) when he was killed in action on 1 July 1916, the first day of the big British offensive on The Somme.  He was 19 years of age.  The Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site shows Reginald’s rank as Lieutenant on their commemorative site.  The address of his parents is given as Lt. Col. William G.A. & Mrs. Garton of “Cragarhan”, Reigate Road, Ewell, Surrey.  



1. DE SANTIS, E. An Account of the Life of Major Sydney Banks Keast, OBE, MC*, R.E. Privately printed, Columbia, Maryland, 2005.

2. DOYLE, A.C. The British Campaign in France and Flanders, 1915. Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1917.

3. MERRIAM WEBSTER. Geographical Dictionary, Springfield, MA, 1997.

Census Data

1. 1871 England Census, Registration District; Newcastle upon Tyne. Sub-registration District; All Saints. Enumeration District; 17. Household Number: 181.

2. 1891 England Census, Registration District; Newcastle upon Tyne. Sub-registration District; Westgate. Enumeration District; 33

3. 1901 England Census, Registration District; Newcastle upon Tyne. Sub-registration District; Westgate. Enumeration District; 40. Household Schedule Number; 284.

Computer Software

1. Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War. The Naval & Military Press Ltd., Heathfield, East Sussex, 1998.

2. 1881 British Census and National Index, England, Scotland, Wales, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, and Royal Navy. Family History Resource File, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Salt Lake City, 1999.

3. British Isles Vital Records Index, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Family History Resource File, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Salt Lake City, 2001.


1. MOON, Antonia, Archives Assistant, British Red Cross Museum and Archives, date unknown (document provided by Dr. Robert G. Rogers).

2. ROGERS, Dr. Robert G. Hospitals, France and Belgium, pp. 345 to 346. Author, title and date of publication unknown (pages from document provided by R.G. Rogers).

3. HANSON, David.  Email messages dated 17, 18 and 20 June 2014.


1. War Diary, 150th Field Company, Royal Engineers.

2. Diary of 1584 Corporal Henry G. Smith, 6th Northumberland Fusiliers during the Battle of St. Julien, 20-26 April 1915.

Internet Web Site

1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty Details (CWGC.com).

2. TILBROOK, Simon. Head of History at Newcastle RGS. Details provided to Internet web site.


3. Wikipedia. Henry Dry dale Dakin. Internet Web Site.


4. CROFT, N. and CROFT, J. The History of Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.)



LETTS, C. Roadbook of Britain. Charles Letts and Company Limited, London, 1977.

Official Documents

1. Medal Index Card of Una Tomlin Hunter, Volunteer Aid Detachment. National Archives Catalogue Reference WO 372/23.

2. Medal Index Card, Captain George Edward Hunter, 6th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers.

3. Medal Index Card, Captain Howard Tomlin Hunter, 6th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers.

4. Medal Index Card, Lieutenant Arthur Richmond Garton, 6th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers.

5. Certified Copy of an Entry of Death (Una Tomlin Keast), General Register Office, London, Copy No. DA 651725, dated 16 June 1977.

6. Naval and Military Despatches Relating to Operations in the War, Part II, November 1914 to June 1915, HMSO, London, 1915.


1. The London Gazette, November 17, 1908.

2. The Times, November 9, 1917, page 9, issue 41631, column C, "Marriages."

3. The Times, April 1, 1919, page 15, issue 42063, column C, "Marriages."

4. ROWE, R.M. A Note on the Carrel-Dakin-Daufresne Treatment. The British Medical Journal, September 22, 1917.

5. DIMOND, L. and McQUEEN, R. The Carrel-Dakin Treatment and a Method for its Application on an Extensive Scale. The British Medical Journal, September 22, 1917.

6. The Monthly Army List, April 1907.

7. The Monthly Army List, October 1910.

8. The Monthly Army List, December 1912, p. 939.

9. The Monthly Army List, April 1915, pp. 52, 145, 939a, 939b, 1268c and 2656..

10. Supplement to the Half-Yearly Army List for the Period ending 31 December 1924, War Services of Officers on Retired Pay. The London Stamp Exchange, Ltd., London.

11. The Monthly Army List, April 1903, p. 563.


[1] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Family History Library Film 1342222, Public Record Office Reference RG 11, Piece 5064, Folio 56, page 43.

[2] The entry in the census is not legible; however, the word appears to be Sails. It would seem more likely that the word would be Sales.

[3] Vital Records Index – British Isles, Family History Library Film 1068650, 1872-1905.

[4] England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index: 1837-1983, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Volume 10b, page 17.

[5] England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index: 1837-1983, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Volume 10b, page 31.

[6] TILBROOK. www.1914-1918.net/heroes/hunter.

[7] The Monthly Army List, April 1907, p. 566.

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Monthly Army List, October 1910, p. 565.

[10] The London Gazette, November 17, 1908, p. 8410.

[11] TILBROOK. www.1914-1918.net/heroes/hunter

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Hospitals, France and Belgium, pp. 345 to 346.

[15] De SANTIS, E., www.reubique.com/major.htm

[16] Ibid.

[17] These postcards, in albums, are in the possession of the author.

[18] MOON, A.

[19] Internet Web Site http://www.micklebring.com/oakwood/ch01.htm

[20] William G.A. Garton (Honorary Lieutenant Colonel Quartermaster, retired pay). Commissioned in the Royal Horse Guards. Served in the Sudan Expedition of 1885 and was awarded the Egypt 1882 Medal with clasp [SUAKIN]. Also awarded the Khedive’s Star. Served in the South African War 1900-1902 and was mentioned in despatches in the London Gazette dated 10 September 1901. He was granted the honorary rank of Captain (Quartermaster) during this period and was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps [WITTEBERGEN] [CAPE COLONY] and [TRANSVAAL] and the King’s South Africa Medal with clasps [SOUTH AFRICA 1901] [SOUTH AFRICA 1902]. He served during the Great War of 1914-1918 and was awarded the 1914 Star and bar, the British War Medal and Victory Medal. During the war he was granted the honorary rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

[21] This division was later numbered the 50th Division.

[22] DOYLE, pp. 62 and 63.

[23] Ibid., pp. 68 and 59.

[24] TILBROOK. www.1914-1918.net/heroes/hunter

[25] It should be noted that Officers Died in the Great War indicates that Captain Howard Tomlin Hunter actually died on the 27th of April 1915. This is in conflict with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty Details. If Howard was killed on the 27th of April he was the only battalion officer to die on that day. However, 24 non-commissioned officers and other ranks were killed on the 27th, to include 1 company sergeant major, 1 sergeant, 1 acting sergeant, 1 lance sergeant, 1 acting corporal, 2 lance corporals and 17 privates.

[26] De SANTIS, E., www.reubique.com/major.htm

[27] ROGERS, Dr. Robert G. Hospitals, France and Belgium, pp. 345 to 346.

[28] Ibid.

[29] De SANTIS, E., www.reubique.com/major.htm

[30] The Times, November 9, 1917, page 9, issue 41631, column C.

[31] It is interesting to note that Keast’s address at the time of the engagement announcement was given as Accra, West Africa. This was where he was living at the time he received his commission in the Royal Engineers and it appears that he still considered it to be his home.

[32] De SANTIS, E., www.reubique.com/major.htm

[33] DIMOND, L. and McQUEEN, p. 387 and ROWE, R.M., p. 387.

[34] ROGERS, Dr. Robert G. Hospitals, France and Belgium, pp. 345 to 346.

[35] MOON, A.

[36] Medal Index Card of Una Tomlin Hunter.

[37] Medal Index Cards of Captains E.G. Hunter and H.T. Hunter.

[38] Reprinted in 2007, The Ghana Cookery Book currently is available for sale at Amazon.com and other distributors.

[39] This description of the contents of the book has been taken from an article by D.S. Irvine published in "African Affairs", Vol. 53, No. 212, July 1954.

[40] Certified copy of the death certificate of Una Tomlin Keast.