Leslie Beauchamp Great War Story

Wellington-born Leslie Beauchamp died during a grenade training drill in October 1915 while serving with the British Expeditionary Force in Belgium. The death of her brother had a profound effect on the acclaimed writer Katherine Mansfield, leading to some of her most famous work.

Leslie Beauchamp – Katherine Mansfield’s brother

Leslie Beauchamp, ‘Chummie’ to his family, was born in Wellington on 21 February 1894. He was the only son of Wellington businessman Harold Beauchamp and his wife Annie Burnell Dyer. He had five sisters, one of whom, Kathleen (Katherine Mansfield), earned an international reputation as a writer of short stories, poetry, letters, journals and reviews.

Educated at Wellington College and Waitaki Boys’ High School in Ōamaru, Beauchamp was working as a cashier at the Wellington importing firm, W.M. Bannatyne and Company, when war broke out in August 1914.

In December 1914, Beauchamp left for the United Kingdom to enlist in the British Army. Within a few weeks of arriving, he secured an officer’s commission in the 8th (Service) Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment. He began officer training at Balliol College in Oxford in February 1915, before completing courses at Bournemouth, Aldershot and London. During this period, Beauchamp stayed on several occasions with Mansfield and her partner, John Middleton Murry, at their home in London.

In late September 1915, Beauchamp’s battalion departed for France. He wrote to Mansfield on 5 October:

Dearest Katie

No time for a letter am frightfully fit and full of beans! We are up and doing at last. The trenches are beastly wet owing to the big bombardment going on. So far have remained scathless so that’s all right! I can’t describe my sensations during all this business – everything is wonderfully simple and elemental – still about 7 years old. 

Good night darling. Write to me.

Ever yours – Chummie

PS. Love to Jack[1]

The following day, he died during a training accident in Ploegsteert Wood, a ‘quiet’ area of the Ypres Salient. He was conducting a grenade-throwing demonstration when the ‘bomb’ he was holding exploded prematurely, mortally wounding him and his sergeant, James Holden. His commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Lang, filed the following report on the incident:

Head Quarters
75th Brigade

 

In accordance with your S.C. 105 of to-days date, I beg to report as follows:-

On the afternoon of the 6th inst 2/Lieut L. Beauchamp, Bombing Officer of this Battalion was instructing a party of Officers and N.C.O’s in the use of Bombs. About 3 p.m. I and Major Menzies were on our way back to Bn Hd Qrs when we came to the party in a field. Lieut Beauchamp had a ‘Noble Lighter’ Grenade in his hand explaining the method of firing it. I asked several questions about it which he answered. The questions were all about the lighting of it. About 3.10 p.m. he and the Bombing Sergt No 15000 J. Holden went forward about 15 yards to a small pond in the field as he said he would throw it in there for safety’s sake. He took the Sergt with him as he informed us it required 2 to light the grenade. What happened then none of us could see as the two had their backs to us. Almost directly after they had stopped near the pond an explosion occurred and they both fell to the ground. We all ran up and gave 1st aid and sent for the doctors. The Sergt died in about 10 minutes and 2/Lieut Beauchamp in about ½ or ¾ of an hour. The first Medical Officer to arrive was from the 4th Canadians and then one came from the 11th Cheshires soon afterwards. The Battalion Medical Officer had gone to the trenches to find out about the arrangements necessary for the Bn when it went up into the trenches. This Officer saw the bodies before burial.

 

9.10.15

A.G.B. Lang, Lieut Colonel.
Commanding 8th Bn South Lancashire Regt.[2]

Mansfield received several letters of condolence from members of her brother’s unit. Beauchamp’s company commander, Captain J. G. Harding, wrote on 23 October:

In answer to yours just received. Poor Beauchamp in my company was killed accidently whilst trying some bombs. As perhaps you are aware he was the bombing officer with battalion. He had only been on the strength of my company a little while but I had known him for some time. He passed away quietly after suffering little pain and we buried him the same night. I am passing the letter on to the other friends of his. They were many as he was a charming fellow always cheerful and bright – a great loss, I feel sure, to us all. The pity was he did not get a chance for a fling at those devils opposite to us.

I hope sometime I may look you up personally and I’m sure his ‘pals’ would like to do the same believe me. [3]

A friend of Beauchamp’s, James Hibbert, was able to provide Mansfield with details of her brother’s final moments:

I very much regret I have been unable to write to you before in reply to your last letter but we have had very little time to ourselves having to fight another foe now besides the Germans, the weather.

You ask me if Leslie spoke before he died, and if he knew he was going to die. I can answer yes to each question.

He was heard to say several times ‘God forgive me for all that I have done’ and then just before he died he asked that his head might be raised as he could not breathe.

After that, about ten minutes from the moment of the accident he died, but as the doctors said, in cases where the injuries were as terrible as his were, the actual suffering is slight.

I passed the grave a few days back, over which a wooden cross painted white has been erected, on which are just the words – ‘R.I.P. 2/Lt L.H. Beauchamp 8th South Lancs Regt, accidentally killed, 7 Oct 1915.’[4]

I enclose a small piece of moss growing beside the grave.

I have just lost another great friend, earlier in the war lost a brother, so I have many scores to wipe off if I live to get the chance.

Perhaps if I’m alive in January when we are due for a few days leave you would let me call on you?

Unfortunately however it is rather uncertain work making arrangements for the future as things are.[5]

The loss of her much-loved younger brother devastated Mansfield. Soon after, she penned the following poem in his memory:

To L. H. B. (1894–1915)

Last night for the first time since you were dead 
I walked with you, my brother, in a dream. 
We were at home again beside the stream 
Fringed with tall berry bushes, white and red. 
‘Don't touch them: they are poisonous,’ I said. 
But your hand hovered, and I saw a beam 
Of strange, bright laughter flying round your head 
And as you stooped I saw the berries gleam. 
‘Don't you remember? We called them Dead Man's Bread!’
I woke and heard the wind moan and the roar 
Of the dark water tumbling on the shore. 
Where – where is the path of my dream for my eager feet? 
By the remembered stream my brother stands 
Waiting for me with berries in his hands … 
‘These are my body. Sister, take and eat.’[6]

Leslie’s death significantly influenced Mansfield’s writing, unleashing memories of New Zealand and their shared childhood. She transformed these recollections into some of her finest writing, including the short stories ‘At the Bay’, ‘The Garden Party’ and ‘Prelude’. Set in Wellington, they centre on the Burnell family, who resemble Mansfield’s own family, and describe the places in which she lived as a child.

During the 1920s, the Beauchamp family purchased one of the original 49 bells in the National War Memorial Carillon in Wellington, in memory of Leslie. The bell carries the inscription:

 ‘Flanders Fields’

 In Ever Loving Remembrance of Leslie Heron,

Only son of Harold and Annie Burnell Beauchamp.[7]

Primary Sources

Further Information


Notes

[1] Papers relating to Leslie Heron Beauchamp. Murry, John Middleton, 1889-1957: Papers relating to Katherine Mansfield, Alexander Turnbull Library, MS-Papers-7224-05

[2] National Archives, United Kingdom, ‘Accidental death by grenade detonation of 2nd Lt Leslie Beauchamp and Sergeant J Holden’, WO 339/35941

[3] Papers relating to Leslie Heron Beauchamp. Murry, John Middleton, 1889-1957: Papers relating to Katherine Mansfield, Alexander Turnbull Library, MS-Papers-7224-05

[4] This date is incorrect. Beauchamp died on 6 October 1915.

[5] Papers relating to Leslie Heron Beauchamp. Murry, John Middleton, 1889-1957: Papers relating to Katherine Mansfield, Alexander Turnbull Library, MS-Papers-7224-05

[6] Katherine Mansfield, Poems by Katherine Mansfieldhttp://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-ManPoem-t1-body-d3-d8.html

[7] Ministry for Culture & Heritage, ‘The National War Memorial Carillon’: http://www.mch.govt.nz/pukeahu/park/national-war-memorial/carillon

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