ROLL OF HONOUR
Well described during Victorian times as the greatest big-game hunter of them all, Frederick Selous, in 44 years of exploration, hunting and conservation, dominated the scene in southern Africa. Known as the ‘Mighty Nimrod’, his lectures were always given to packed audiences and when living in Great Britain he pursued his birdwatching and egg collecting with the same audacity and skill as when hunting big game. Despite being 62, Selous offered himself for service and subsequently returned to East Africa, being awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in September 1916 and was killed, shot by a sniper, on 4January 1917. He lies there still in what is now the Selous Game Reserve.
Ornithology lost a very accurate, first-rate and indefatigable observer when John Grafton-wignall was killed in Mesoptamia on 26 January 1917. Before returningto India in 1912, after one leave in Great Britain, his mother complained that he hadn’t given as much time to her as perhaps he ought, spending much of it studying Golden Eagles, Peregrines and Short-eared Owls.
A rich vein of poetry was generated by those who served, many making reference to birds. Edward Thomas only began writing poetry in 1914, and in July 1915, aged 37 and with a family, he enlisted though he need not have done so. By the time of his death on 9 April 1917, at the Battle of Arras, he had composed no fewer than 143 poems. The best-known is probably Adlestrop, which concludes: “And for that minute a blackbird sang close by, and round him, mistier, farther and farther, all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.”
On his death on 19 May 1917, Eric Dunlop, 30, was described as “one of the most promising ornithologists of the north of England” where he made special studies of raptors and the roosting habits of corvids. On this same day Flight Sub-lieutenant Bernard Ellis, 18, was killed during a fight over the German lines, leaving behind a diary which leaves little doubt as to the place he might have taken amongst naturalists.
Christopher Alexander was killed on 5 October 1917, serving with The Queen’s Royal (West Surrey)
Regiment. The obituary in British Birds by his brother Horace, author of Seventy Years of Bird Watching, tells how Christopher flushed a Green Sandpiper from a flooded trench, watched a Great Grey Shrike in the trenches at Christmas and saw a Great Bustard flying over the camp. His last sightings included Melodious Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Quail and Woodchat Shrike, making 107 species for the year.
John Buchan wrote These for Remembrance after the war, commemorating six friends who gave their lives. One, Cecil Rawling, hit by a stray shell on 23 October 1917, had as his obituary in Ibis reports “a passion for high mountains and the exploration of the waste places of the world”. He mapped a vast area of the Tibetan border and discovered the source of the Bramaputra before heading for New Guinea.
Cecil Baring was awarded the Silver Medal in the RSPB Public Schools Competition in 1914 while his observations near the Western Front were published in Bird Notes and News just a few months before his death on 21 March 1918, the third of four brothers killed during the war.
Another award winner was John Bateson who in three of his years at Charterhouse had been won the school prize in natural history. He was awarded the Military Cross for showing splendid courage and self-sacrifice before being killed on 14 October 1918.
Captain Sydney Brock was severely wounded on 16 October 1918 and died on 11 November as hostilities ceased, his death described as a serious loss to British ornithology.
Having spent 17 years in Southern Arabia before war commenced, George Wyman Bury became heavily involved as an intelligence officer in the Red Sea Patrol and the Arab Revolt. A fearless traveller, with natural history, particularly birds, being his first love, the Yemen Warbler (Sylvia buryi) and subspecies of the Southern Grey Shrike, Streaked Scrub Warbler and Buffspotted Flufftail include his name, not forgetting Bury’s Worm Snake. Suffering a long illness as the result of wartime service, Bury died at Helwan, Egypt on 23 September 1920 and was buried with full military honours, the last birdwatcher casualty of the war.