ROLL OF HONOUR
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!”