Posted by: michaeldaybath | October 9, 2016

2nd Lieutenant R. L. Box: A Royal Engineer at Gueudecourt

Bath Abbey mace and sword holder

Bath Abbey: ceremonial mace and sword holder, a memorial for 2nd Lt. Roy Leslie Box

In Bath Abbey, at the base of one of the columns supporting the central tower, is an curious war memorial. It takes the form of an wrought-iron frame surmounted by the Royal coat of arms, also featuring the shields of the City of Bath and of Bath Abbey itself. The purpose of the frame is not immediately clear, but the memorial is in fact a holder for the city maces and sword, designed for use in civic services at the Abbey.

At the base is a copper or brass plate that reads:

Presented to the Abbey Church | in proud and loving memory of | 2nd Lieut Roy Leslie Box | 2nd/2nd West Riding Field Company R.E. | eldest son of E. Clement Box of this City | who was killed in action at Gueudecourt | on October 9th 1916 aged 23 years | and buried near Guillemont | in France.

The memorial was installed in June 1918. A full description appeared in the Bath and County Notes column of the Bath Chronicle of 22 June 1918 [1]:

A handsome and useful memorial to the late Lieutenant R. L. Box is about to be placed in the Abbey Church. It takes the form of an ornamental hammered iron frame, with brackets for receiving the City Maces and the City Sword when the Mayor and Corporation attend the church in state. It is about six feet in length, and is surmounted by a gilt crown and the Royal Arms with heraldic shields, half way down the metal work will eppear [sic] the arms of the city and of the church on medallions, and at the foot is a brass plate, on which is engraven the following: “Presented to the Abbey Church in proud and loving memory of Lieutenant Roy Leslie Box, 2/2nd West Riding Field Company, R.E., eldest son of E. Clement Box, of this city, who was killed in action at Gueduecourt on October 9th, 1916, aged 23 years, and buried near Guillemont in France.” It is proposed to affix the memorial to the side of the tower column near the Mayoral seat on the face fronting the nave, and I understand Sir Thomas Jackson [the Abbey’s architect] was at the Abbey on Wednesday giving his artistic opinion as to the exact position for the erection.

Roy’s father, Edward Clement Box, had been born at Southampton in 1856; he married Elizabeth Evangeline Hawkins at Fareham in 1884. By the time of the 1891 Census, the couple were living at Radnor Cottage, Devizes Road, Bathford with Clement’s sister Charlotte, and a niece, Grace Symes. The census return describes Clement as an “Indian Japan Merchant.” The 1901 Census shortly followed the death of Clement Box’s father (Thomas Edward Box) in Portsmouth, so the census return shows the family as visitors staying at Shirley Road in Southsea (their youngest son, Dennis (aged 1), was apparently left in Bath, as he is recorded at 26 Milsom Street, living with Grace Symes, who is now described as an silversmith’s assistant). By the time of the 1911 Census, all of the family are back in Bath, living at 36, Grosvenor Place, a row of houses on the south side of the London Road in Larkhall. In the 1911 Census return, Clement’s occupation is described as “silversmith, etc.” By 1911, Clement and Elizabeth have three sons: Roy Leslie (aged 17), Jack Graham (14) and Dennis Hubert (11), all of whom had been born at Bath. Clement was also a sidesman at the Abbey, as well as a member of the “Royal Sussex” Lodge of Freemasons. After he died, on the 16 October 1920, Clement was described as “a much respected citizen of Bath” [2].

Clement’s oldest son, Roy Leslie Box, had been born at Bath in 1893. After he died, one hundred-years ago today, the Bath Chronicle of the 21 October 1916 published a full obituary [3]:

THE LATE LIEUT. ROY BOX

Mr E. Clement Box, of 36, Grosvenor Place, Bath, received the following telegram from the War Office on Friday night:– “Regret to inform you that Second-Lieut. R. L. Box, West Riding Field Co. R.E., is reported killed in action October 9th. The Secretary of State for War expresses his sympathy.” The deceased officer was the eldest son, and was educated at Victoria College, Grosvenor, under Mr. Samuel Edwards. Leaving there he proceeded to the City of London Engineering College [i.e. the City and Guilds College], where he was a student for four years, and belonged to the College Electrical Engineer Corps. On the outbreak of war he joined the Army with other students of the College, and about a year ago was appointed to a commission in the Kent Fortress Engineers. On arriving in France, however, he was transferred to the West Riding R. E. Only last week a cheerful letter from him reached his parents. He was killed the day before his 22nd birthday. Mr. and Mrs. Box’s second son, J. G. Box, has been a trumpeter in the R.F.A. since war broke out, and has been in France for eighteen months. Lieut. Box was engaged to Miss Amy Shackell, of Manor Farm, Swainswick, with whom also much sympathy will be felt.

TRIBUTES TO A VERY GALLANT OFFICER.

Mr. Clement E. Box has received the following letters with reference to the death of his son, Second Lieutenant R. L. Box

From the Major of the West Riding Field Company R. E.:

“Dear Mr. Box, — It is with the most profound regret that I have to inform you of the death of your son, Second Lieutenant R. L. Box, of this Company, who was killed in action last night whilst engaged in building a redoubt behind the front line. As you know, your son had only been with us a short while, but he had shown such remarkably high qualities and soldierly courage that I had already given him the command of one of the senior sections. No words of mine can possibly express to you how deeply I sympathise with you in the irreparable loss which you have sustained. In your son I found all that goes to make a promising officer; young, cheerful, fearless, clean living and hardworking, he will be more than difficult to replace. He was hit by a bullet in the lower part of the body, and though he received instant attention, he passed peacefully away before he could be got to the advanced dressing station. The men of his section are quite overcome with grief at their loss. How much they had learnt to value him you will perhaps understand when I tell you that they carried him back to our bivouac, a distance of over four miles, under heavy shell fire, in order that he might be laid to rest under conditions that would satisfy the respect and regard in which they all held him. We have buried him this afternoon in a little roadside enclosure hard by the ruined village of —-, where the Premier’s son and another of the bravest and best, who, like your gallant boy, have given their all for King and country are laid. A chaplain of the Church of England conducted a short service over the graveside, around which my officers and your boy’s men joined me in paying our tribute of affection and honour to as brave a young heart as ever fell on the field of honour. I am arranging for your son’s personal effects to be carefully packed and forwarded to you immediately. If there is any further information that I can possibly give you I do hope that you will not hesitate to write and ask me for it. I shall be only too glad to do anything that I possibly can. My own men have prepared a simple wooden cross this morning to mark your boy’s resting place, and this will be installed to-night. All my officers wish to join with me in expressing once again to you our profound sympathy in your sorrow.”

From the Chaplain of the Suffolk Regiment:

“Dear Sir, — I am sending you a few lines to tell you some sad news. Your son, Second Lieutenant Roy Leslie Box, of West Riding Field Company, R.E., was killed last night (October 9th) while up in the trenches. I was notified to-day, and went up to bury him. He is buried in a small wayside cemetery near Trones Wood. I feel it will be a great consolation to you know that his men brought him all the way down from the trenches and that he had a proper burial. His commanding officer spoke most highly of him in every way, and, although I did not know him myself, I feel that a sacrifice such as he made was the essence of true Christian character, which will never be forgotten.”

As his senior officer pointed out in his letter, the cemetery where 2nd Lt. Box is buried is the same one where Lieutenant Raymond Asquith of the Grenadier Guards is buried: Guillemont Road Military Cemetery, Guillemont, on the Somme battlefield. Also buried in that cemetery is the war poet, Lieutenant the Hon Edward Wyndham Tennant, also of the Grenadier Guards.

Bath war memorial

The name of 2nd Lieut. R. L. Box on the Bath war memorial in the Royal Victoria Park, Bath

The Box family had yet more anguish to bear after the armistice when Gunner Jack Graham Box, serving with the Royal Field Artillery, was admitted to a hospital in Norfolk with pneumonia. The Bath Chronicle provided a short report [4]:

I am sorry to hear that Gunner Jack Box, the second son of Mr. and Mrs. Clement E. Box, of Grosvenor Place, is lying seriously ill in a hospital near Norwich. Gunner Box is belived to have been the first recruit to offer himself in Bath when volunteers were asked for at the outbreak of war. His parents were summoned to Norwich nine days ago, and though the crisis of pneumonia is past, there are complications which still give cause for anxiety, and Mr. Box travels to-day to re-join his wife in Norfolk after a few hours’ business in Bath.

Evidently Jack survived, as he married Florence Shackell (Amy’s sister) in 1920 and died at Bath in 1969. Dennis Hubert Box also joined up, serving with the Middlesex Regiment and East Yorkshire Regiment before ending up as a Lance Corporal in the 3rd Section of 43rd Wessex Divisional Train, Royal Army Service Corps. It appears that he later emigrated to Australia. He sailed to Melbourne on the 19th July 1922, on the Aberdeen Line steamship “Sophocles.”

Bath Abbey Cemetery, Bath

The grave of Edward Clement and Elizabeth Evangeline Box in Bath Abbey Cemetery, Widcombe, Bath

The name of 2nd Lt. Roy Leslie Box also features on the main Bath war memorial in the Royal Victoria Park and on the family gravestone in Bath Abbey Cemetery. It can also be found on the war memorial of the City and Guilds College, which can now be found on the ground floor of the Department of Mechanical Engineering of Imperial College London.

Bath Abbey Cemetery, Bath

Memorial for 2nd Lieut. Roy Leslie Box on his parents’ grave in Bath Abbey Cemetery, Widcombe, Bath

The grave of Edward Clement and Elizabeth Evangeline Box in Bath Abbey Cemetery is now very overgrown. In its prime, it would have been a granite cross on a stepped base, but the local authority has at some point removed the cross and laid it at an angle, to help prevent accidents. The left-hand side of the base is the memorial for 2nd Lieutenant Box, although it is extremely difficult to read now through the vegetation. The grave can be found in Section 1 of the cemetery, to the left of the cemetery chapel.

References:

[1] Bath Chronicle, 22 June 1918, p. 3.

[2] Bath Chronicle, 23 October 1920, p. 28

[3] Bath Chronicle, 21 October 1916, p. 13.

[4] Bath Chronicle, 7 December 1918, p. 5.

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  1. […] the City and Guilds College memorial at Imperial College London (which also features the name of 2nd Lieut. Roy Leslie Box from Bath). Captain Sanctuary’s name also appears on the war memorials in St […]


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