Bird Watching (UK) - - World War I Centenary -

Charles Ston­ham of the Royal Army Med­i­cal Corps, au­thor of The Birds of the Bri­tish Isles, pub­lished in 20 parts (1906-1911), died in Jan­uary 1916 from a se­vere ill­ness con­tracted while serv­ing in Egypt.

Two bird artists lost their lives. Frank South­gate, killed on 21 Feb­ru­ary 1916, had aban­doned teach­ing and took to paint­ing birds “with a wild­fowler’s eye”, a post­hu­mous ex­hi­bi­tion of his paint­ings in 1926 be­ing fol­lowed by their pub­li­ca­tion in Wild­fowl and Waders in 1928.

An obit­u­ary of Henry Mur­ray Dixon, killed at the Bat­tle of Ar­ras April 1917, re­ported that “his ex­cel­lent draughts­man­ship, del­i­cate han­dling of de­tails and close ob­ser­va­tion proved him to be one who in time would have taken a high place among artists of bird life”. Sev­eral of his paint­ings were pub­lished in Bri­tish Div­ing Ducks by JG Mil­lais, while one of his last was Par­tridges in No Man’s Land.

Colonel Herbert Har­ing­ton, killed on 8 March 1916 while com­mand­ing the 62nd Pun­jabis, was the first or­nitho­log­i­cal ca­su­alty in Me­sopotamia. Hav­ing taken up bird­watch­ing se­ri­ously dur­ing ser­vice in Burma, his name is re­mem­bered by six sub­species which he col­lected. An­other who lost his life in Me­sopotamia was John Crow­ley, a pi­o­neer bird pho­tog­ra­pher killed on 11 Septem­ber 1916, “his cheery man­ner in­fected those around him and the men would do any­thing for him”.

“War­wick­shire’s or­nithol­ogy has sus­tained a very se­ri­ous loss by the death of this young and ar­dent worker, who was killed in ac­tion in France on 4 June 1916”. So com­menced the obit­u­ary of Austin Leigh, whose pas­sion since he was 18 had been the com­pi­la­tion of a Birds of War­wick­shire. From its in­au­gu­ra­tion he had par­tic­i­pated in ring­ing a large num­ber of birds, re­sult­ing in some no­table re­cov­er­ies.

The loss of his two sons on the Western Front was too much to bear and on 10 Novem­ber 1917, the artist John Charl­ton died at the age of 68. The sons – Hugh, killed on 24 June 1916, and his brother John, a few days later – were both ar­dent bird­watch­ers and artists and, as was the fash­ion of the time, col­lec­tors, their ef­forts be­queathed to the Han­cock Mu­seum. When just 12 John had been awarded a spe­cial prize by Canon Tris­tram for his es­say A Trip to the Farnes, and a few years later re­ceived a bronze medal from the RSPB. In the opin­ion of the obit­u­ary au­thor he would have made a great name for him­self if he had been spared.

Ce­cil Meares, a big, ge­nial, great-hearted fel­low, killed while lead­ing his com­pany on 30 July 1916, was an in­de­fati­ga­ble and ob­ser­vant field or­nithol­o­gist with few equals, skills he con­tin­ued to ex­er­cise even within sound of the guns, ob­serv­ing amongst oth­ers Golden Ori­oles, Crested Larks, Or­tolan Bunt­ings, a Hobby breed­ing in a wood close to the front line, and Kestrels hunt­ing the trenches reg­u­larly for the abun­dant rats and mice.

As a war cor­re­spon­dent dur­ing the Boer War, Lord Lu­cas lost his left leg below the knee, though this did not in­hibit his bird­watch­ing. To­gether with the Hon. Ed­win Mon­tagu and Sir Ed­ward Grey he leased Hick­ling Broad, Nor­folk, as a wild­fowl shoot while at the same time pro­vid­ing a safe haven for Bit­terns and Mon­tagu’s Har­ri­ers, the area now a Nor­folk Wildlife Trust na­ture re­serve. Nei­ther did his wound in­hibit Lu­cas join­ing the Royal Fly­ing Corps, los­ing his life over the Ger­man lines on 4 Novem­ber 1916.

Dur­ing World War I, Shet­land lost more than 600 men – a higher pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion than any other part of the UK, Fair Isle with a pop­u­la­tion of just over 100 souls, los­ing eight, among them Ge­orge St­tout on 12 Novem­ber 1916. Eagle Clark, in The An­nals of Scot­tish Nat­u­ral His­tory, de­scribed how on 2 June 1905 an “in­ter­est­ing stranger was ob­served by my val­ued cor­re­spon­dent Mr Ge­orge Stout of Busta”. The “stranger”, hav­ing been col­lected, proved to be the first Red-rumped Swal­low in Great Bri­tain. The Duchess of Bed­ford on one of her vis­its to Fair Isle said that the Stout broth­ers “have shot and iden­ti­fied more rare Bri­tish birds than any­one in UK though have still to make ac­quain­tance with the Pheas­ant, Par­tridge, Tits, Grouse, and never seen a tree, bush, or train!”

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