Last Poppy in Chelmsford Library

As we all plan our summer holidays and outings you may want to consider popping along to Chelmsford Library throughout August to see the Now the Last Poppy has Fallen touring exhibition.

In addition to this the Essex Record Office also have a First World War exhibition.

The library have  arranged for an afternoon of activity on Saturday 30 July, including for young computer whizzes a Sonic Pi workshop for 8 – 13 year olds creating a WW1 soundtrack for the Battle of the Somme film, and for family history enthusiasts there will be a WW1 family history helpdesk run by the East of London Family History Society.

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 Trant Luard – Life in the Navy

The story of Kate Luard, a real Essex heroine during the First World War, is incredible. Hopefully you have followed Caroline Steven’s posts about her on our blog. Tim Luard now tells us about his grandfather, Trant Luard, brother of Kate.

“Think of your brother in the long night-watches with his marines guarding the sailors tossing on the deep blue sea”.  So begins one of many letters written by  my grandfather, Trant Luard, to his sister Kate and now stored, along with the rest of the family archives, at the Essex Record Office.  Kate’s own letters about her life as a nurse on the Western Front were collected at the time into two books — one of which, Unknown Warriors, was republished last year.  Both she and another of her six brothers — Frank, a Royal Marine colonel killed in action at Gallipoli — have already featured on this website.

Trant Luard aged 17 in 1890, shortly before joining the Marines

My grandfather’s role in the Great War, as a naval intelligence officer, was less obviously heroic than theirs, but it is still worthy of attention, if only because the far-flung places in which he served remind us of the often overlooked global nature of the war.  And on a personal level,  reading through his many letters home over his long years of service has given me the chance to learn far more about the character and day-to-day experiences of  a man whom I knew only in my childhood as a delightful but very elderly retired colonel with twinkly blue eyes and a walking stick.

Trant Bramston Luard was born in 1873 at Grays, Essex — the eleventh of 13 children of the Reverend Bixby Garnham Luard,  vicar of Aveley, and his wife Clara (nee Bramston, another old Essex family, boasting several MPs and a Lord Chief Justice to its name).    As the youngest boy, Trant soon got used to being served last at meals, and until the day he died aged 102 he preferred his food — and even his coffee — to be on the cool side.   The traditional career choice for the male Luards was either the church or the army. It seemed obvious which path the teenaged Trant would take, being small and somewhat frail and inclined towards music,  religion and the arts.  So it came as a surprise to all when at the age of 19 he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Royal Marine Light Infantry.

2. Luard family at Birch Rectory.

Luard family outside Birch Rectory, c 1900; Trant standing back left (in dark suit); Kate standing back right (in nurse’s uniform); Frank on far right (in hat).

In January 1901 he left  Portsmouth for China as a Royal Marine captain on HMS Blenheim.  He would not return for almost four years, and his letters home  provide a fascinating picture of life at sea, on the Yangtze River  and in ports such as Hong Kong, Yokohama and Tientsin at a time when Britain’s gunboats still ruled the waves.  In Peking he toured the Forbidden City soon after British and other Western troops had invaded the Chinese capital to raise the siege of the foreign legations and quell the Boxer Rebellion.  Sadly, he was not immune from claiming his own small souvenir. You go through three magnificent gates & courtyards & you come to a series of equally magnificent Halls, each one more splendid and impenetrable than the last… I’m afraid it will be rather a shock to their Imperial Majesties when they come back because most of the place has been looted on a pretty comprehensive scale inside, chiefly by officers I believe.  The Emperor’s throne of gilded wood was fearfully hacked about, which enabled us all to break off little bits as a  memento with a clear conscience… We sat on the Emperor’s throne & on the Empress Dowager’s bed & overran the place generally in the best style of the British Cockney Tourist”.

It’s clear from his letters that Trant found life on board a single ship for four years in the close company of his fellow officers something of a strain. He describes his mess-mates in the wardroom as being  absorbed in their “own little world of routine and shop and mild diversions”.   He preferred to mix with the midshipmen, finding them less stuffy and old-fashioned and with a keener interest in the world at large.  “I like some of them immensely”, he wrote.  “I never let them ‘sir’ me off duty. I’d much rather they smacked me on the back like a subaltern. But they’re much nicer than our subalterns.”

Trant in uniform, date unknown

Trant in uniform, date unknown

Back in England, Trant Luard served for a while at Chatham as an instructor of musketry and in 1911 was promoted to major.  He was on his way back to Hong Kong as a senior naval intelligence officer in July 1914 when his ship, HMS Triumph, put in at Colombo. “We were astounded to hear when we arrived  that we were at war with Germany,” he wrote.  “The local intelligence officer asked for some help, so I stayed”. One of his first tasks was to  track down the elusive German cruiser,  SMS Emden,  which had sunk or captured nearly two dozen ships in the Indian Ocean.   It turned out to be the Australians rather than the British who eventually succeeded in blowing the Emden out of the water and bringing her exploits to an end.  But Trant’s family back home in Essex (his father was now rector of Birch, near Colchester) loyally gave him due credit when they came to write their annual Christmas rhyme, rounding up family news for 1914:

Of Trant we cannot give much hist’ry,

since all his work is wrapt in myst’ry.

The Navy in the Eastern Main,

 had need of Trant’s inventive brain;

The elusive Emden’s  wily trix

had placed them in an awful fix.

But after Trant’s arrival there,

 accounts were settled fair and square!


Trant  remained in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) until early 1915, before spending the rest of the war in the Middle East, as a staff officer of the Naval Commander in Chief, East Indies and Egypt. Given the family’s strong military tradition — his uncle, William Luard, was an admiral and his great grandfather,  Nicholas Trant, had been a general in the Peninsular War — there seems to have been a sense that he was “missing out” by being so far from the centre of the  fighting.  His father writes to Trant’s sister Kate in France in March 1915: “Isn’t it sickening for poor old Trant to be kicking his heels in Colombo, when every one of his friends and relations is in the thick of things in Europe and the North Sea?”  A few months later, after the publication of Kate’s Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front, Trant sends her a letter to say her book has moved him to tears. He wishes he could serve on the front with her but thinks it unlikely they’d let him go, so he will carry on with his naval intelligence work. This includes “submarine matters”, but the censor wont let him say more.

After he is moved to Port Said and later Alexandria, Trant writes that he feels “funny” at having had two brothers killed  while serving in the Mediterranean.    (One, Alexander, had fallen from the rigging as a 17-year-old midshipman in 1880; the other,  Frank,  died at Gallipoli on 28 Apr 1915 while holding a machine gun post alone to allow his men to retreat).  As he hears more news of men he knew in Essex dying in battle,   Trant even goes as far as to say he feels “ashamed to be alive sometimes”.    There was certainly a stark contrast between his comfortable lifestyle in the Middle East, with unlimited food and luxuries and servants, and  the hardships and horrors of Kate’s life at the Front or the straitened circumstances and rationing  faced by his various other siblings left at home with their elderly father in Birch Rectory.

In October 1915, at about the same time as Kate’s colleague Edith Cavell is being shot in Brussels on the order of a German court martial, Trant is sauntering out to make a drawing of the Pyramids by moonlight, which he sends to one of his sisters.  His office in Port Said, next to the Suez Canal, is next to the Rear Admiral’s (“a curious old bird”) in the airy and palatial Navy House. This he describes as “an immense 2-storied building with about 25 large windows and a verandah all round, like what I imagine an Italian palazzo to be, on the edge of the water on two sides, so from the dining room we look out in two directions on the water,  a quarter mile from the canal entrance”.  A typical day’s intelligence work ends at four or five in the afternoon, “when we all go out and either play tennis or mud golf or go for a walk on the beach and then on to the club to read the papers”.

But  Trant was, after all, already 42 when the war began,   so it’s perhaps not so surprising that like other senior officers he was allowed to enjoy a comparatively  easy time of it. And his big moment of action did come, when in late 1917 he played a part in the Third Battle of Gaza.  During the operations of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) against the Turks from August to November of that year, he landed in Palestine as officer in charge of observation of naval gunfire and communications with HM ships. General Allenby had assembled seven infantry divisions to fight alongside the Desert Mounted Corps.  The entire force, including Arab workers, comprised 200,000 men,  46,000 horses, 20,000 camels and 15,000 mules and donkeys. The bombardment of Gaza that preceded the infantry’s attack was the heaviest bombardment of World War One outside European theatres. The sixth night’s shelling from onshore and offshore guns is said to have produced an even heavier concentration of fire on a small area than had been put in on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.   Crouched in his dugout, Trant found the noise  “simply appalling”, but it was an experience he “wouldn’t have missed  for anything”.

On November 11th he entered the enemy’s captured trenches and became the first officer of the naval services to enter Gaza itself.  “Hardly a house had a roof on”, he wrote. Once again, there were trophies to be had. “I found a copy of the Koran — about the size of the big bibles on the reading desk in church — and brought it back under my arm on a pulling horse.”

Trant received the Order of the Nile, Class 1,   and  a personal message of commendation from General Allenby.   Cooperation between staff and fleet had been “better than I could have believed possible”,  Allenby wrote, and that was due to the “good staff work” of Trant and another officer.

Trant receiving medal at Plymouth Barracks c.1920

Trant receiving medal at Plymouth Barracks c.1920

In 1920, after returning home and being promoted to colonel, Trant married Helen Cockburn, a 24-year-old British war widow whom he’d met in Port Said.  Together they had four children.   He retired in 1924, but lived on happily for another 50 years. Even in his 90’s he was completing the Times Crossword every day after taking Helen her breakfast in bed. As well as keeping up his frequent correspondence he wrote a number of small books including , at 96, a treatise on human relations entitled “The Challenge of Becoming”.  When the Marines asked if he wanted a present or a party to mark his 100th birthday, he replied firmly “A party, of course — what good is a present at my age?”

Tim Luard

Essex at War: On film

We are very pleased to present to you our film summary of the Essex at War event held at Hylands House, on Sunday 14th September 2014, created for us by Chris Church from Wire Frame Media. It features footage of the ‘Now the Last Poppy has Fallen’ exhibition launch.

With thanks to the Essex Record Office for hosting the film on their YouTube account.

You can also look at the photographs from the event.

Essex at War, 1914 – 1918: In pictures

Here’s a photo gallery (courtesy of photographer Paul Starr) of our Essex at War, 1914 – 1918 event, which took place at Hylands House on Sunday 14th September 2014.

Click on each photo to see them a little larger.

Essex at War programme

We are excited to share with you the Essex at War programme.

Don’t forget that it’s this Sunday, 14th September from 10am – 4pm, at Hylands House in Chelmsford.

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The official exhibition launch is at 12:45 and will include performances from project artists Luke Wright, Georgia Strand and Vo Fletcher, with Ric Saunders. The exhibition will be opened by Lord Petre.

Included in the programme:

Launch update!

We are delighted to announce that the project touring exhibition will be launched by the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Lord Petre of Ingatestone Hall at the Essex at War event on Sunday 14th September 2014, 12:45 at Hylands House. The event is part of Heritage Open Days.

More information can be found on the Essex Record Office blog, and the poster and flyer is available for you to share with others.

We’d love to see you there!

Essex at Ear event poster

Essex at War, 1914 – 1918

We are delighted to announce that the launch of the Now the Last Poppy has Fallen touring exhibition will during the Essex at War event, at Hylands House on Sunday 14th September at 12.45pm.

Essex at Ear event poster

Click on the poster to see the details, or open up a PDF version below.

The event will feature activities for all the family including re-enactors, talks and craft activities for children. There will also be a tea and cake tent, similar to those held during the First World War to raise money for injured soldiers. 100 years later, monies raised will go towards Help for Heroes.

You can download a PDF poster or a flyer if you wish to share this event.

Hylands Military Hospital

 Linda Knock, volunteer and Friend of Hylands House, tells us a little about the history of Hylands House in Chelmsford during the First World War. I wonder if V Festival participants will appreciate the rich history of the house and its inhabitants.

Our research comes under two headings – ‘Hylands Military hospital and the people who were there’ and ‘The Men of Hylands who served in the Great War’. Our task was to find ‘the stories’ of these men.   For both lots of research the Widford Choir books in the Essex Record Office and the local newspapers in the British Newspaper Archive proved invaluable.  We have also been helped by the families of the men we have found.  By building trees on Ancestry and putting a post there, I am in contact with the descendants of three men, and have been helped by a member of the Family History Society of Queensland [Australia] – I posted a request on their Facebook page and the following day one of their members went for a walk in the cemetery in Brisbane and found the family’s grave, including a mention of the soldier who died at Hylands.  The emails to the local papers unfortunately did not produce any results, but the piece in the Friends of Hylands House newsletter found the descendant of one local soldier.  Information from Luckings, the funeral directors, was very useful.

An Australian war grave for Samuel Barrow, a patient in the hospital who was presented with his Military medal on the ward, and then was sent home to Australia.

An Australian war grave for Samuel Barrow, a patient in the hospital who was presented with his Military medal on the ward, and then was sent home to Australia.

We were pleased to discover that Sir Daniel Gooch made the bedside lockers for the wards when the ground floor of his house was made into a hospital; first used by the 2nd and 3rd South Midland Field Ambulance Corps, then for Belgian soldiers and British soldiers.  Many of the latter were from Scottish regiments and the local newspaper at the time of their arrival at the Hylands Halt on the railway said  “Several Scottish regiments were represented, but as they were all in khaki it was difficult to distinguish their regiments.”  There were also soldiers from Canadian and Australian regiments and I have to admit it was easier to access their records than those over here [and at no cost].  From over 1500 men who were treated at Hylands we have only 9 names from the local newspapers.  But from those names we have found their families and their stories. One success already was the cleaning of the war graves in St Mary’s Churchyard in Widford.  I was very upset when I visited the graves in November last year to find they were green, so I emailed the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and was pleased to find that when I returned in April that they are in their original condition.

The grave of Private Gough, Canadian Infantry, in Widford churchyard

The grave of Private Gough, Canadian Infantry, in Widford churchyard

At the time of the Great War the Hylands Estate was not the park as we know it now, but a huge estate including many of the farms around – Widford Hall, Skeggs, Montpeliers, Webbs, Elms and many others, so the task was huge.  We decided to find out as many names as possible from the 1911 census and the 1918 voters list [ERO].  There were many men who were the right age, so we have a list of names, but are concentrating on producing the stories of a few.  We decided to include Widford as it was so close to Hylands and many of the men attended, or were choristers at St Mary’s Widford. The stories we have chosen so far are those of Lancelot Gooch of Hylands House, two brothers who went into the Army and the Navy at 16, a soldier and his wife who both died of influenza just after Peace was declared, a gamekeeper who lived in one of the Estate lodges, and a soldier who lived in one of the Causeway Cottages that belonged to the estate.

Eric Robinson of Widford on the Naval Memorial in Portsmouth

Eric Robinson of Widford on the Naval Memorial in Portsmouth

If anyone reading this has information about soldiers who were treated at Hylands Military Hospital, or those who were from the Estate, please get in touch.

The results of our research will be displayed in the House at the event on 14th and 15th September.

Why not visit Hylands House on Sunday 14th September to see the research presented and also to get the first glimpse of the Last Poppy touring exhibition. The official launch will be at 12:45 that day! Watch this space…

Unknown Warriors

The letters of Essex nurse, Kate Luard are due to be published this month, so 100 years on from the day that she enlisted in Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve, here is some more about our Essex heroine, from her Great Niece and editor of the new version, Caroline Stevens.

Unknown Warriors, due for release in August 2014

Unknown Warriors, due for release in August 2014

The Letters of  Kate Luard, RRC and Bar,

Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918

Preface by Field-Marshal Viscount Allenby


First published by Chatto & Windus  in 1930

Revised edition Hardback published by

The History Press August 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7509-5922-3


The words of Unknown Warriors resonate as powerfully today as when first written. The book offers a very personal glimpse into the world of WW1 nursing where patients struggled with pain and trauma, and nurses fought to save lives and preserve emotional integrity.

This photograph is of Kate in her QAIMNSR uniform which appeared in the Parish News of Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney in November 2002.  For the full article 'Village People in World War 1'  see

This photograph is of Kate in her QAIMNSR uniform which appeared in the Parish News of Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney in November 2002.

The book’s author was one of a select number of fully trained military nurses who worked on ambulance trains and in casualty clearing stations during the First World War, coming as close to the front as a woman could. Kate was already a war veteran when she arrived in France in 1914, aged 42, having served in the Second Anglo-Boer War. At the height of the Battle of Passchendaele, she was in charge of a casualty clearing station with a staff of 40 nurses and nearly 100 nursing orderlies.

She was awarded the RRC and Bar (a rare distinction) and was twice mentioned in Despatches for gallant and distinguished service in the field. Through her letters home she conveyed a vivid and honest portrait of war. It is also a portrait of close family affection and trust in a world of conflict.

In publishing some of these letters in Unknown Warriors her intention was to bear witness to the suffering of the ordinary soldier.

‘It is a tale of heroism, modestly told, but unsurpassed in interest by any War novel yet written’  Field-Marshal Viscount Allenby.

The new edition features:

  • Introduction co-authored by Christine Hallett, Professor of Nursing History at the University of Manchester, and Tim Luard, former BBC Correspondent and great-nephew of Kate Luard.
  • Postscript including unpublished letters both from Kate to her family and those to her in France.
  • Produced by her own family the revised edition offers a fitting tribute to her remarkable work.


The original letters written by Kate and those to her from her family are held in the Luard archives at the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford.

You can find out more on the website: or search our blog archive for more.

100 years on…

And so the commemorations to mark the centenary of the start of the first World War has begun…

There will be many events and plenty of TV coverage to keep us all informed of what happened 100 years ago, and we will be encouraged to ‘Remember’, to look back and reflect, to weigh up what that war means for us today.

Frank Bernard Lane

Frank Bernard Lane

For me, I know that one of my great grandfathers, Frank Bernard Lane, served for his country and although I never knew him I appreciate what he sacrificed for us, although I do know that he survived the Great War, unlike many of his friends, I suspect.

I have read many stories of bravery from our wonderful project researchers and have been impressed at the willingness of men and women to step into the unknown and risk their lives for the ‘greater good’. I hope you manage to have a look back through our archived blog posts to discover some of the stories. I also hope you get a chance to see the touring exhibition, when it is ready from September 2014 onwards, at your local museum or library, where you can read more fascinating stories.

Essex Poet, Luke Wright (photo courtesy of martin Figura)

Essex Poet, Luke Wright (photo courtesy of Martin Figura)

We were pleased to present the first of five completely original poems written by local poet, Luke Wright. He has taken the research given to him by our project manager, Tony Morrison, from our volunteer researchers, and turned it into a wonderful, reflective poem about what was going on in Essex, 100 years ago. Please do read it and let us know what you think.

In addition, the Essex Record Office and our partner museums have begun to work on education sessions or resources for secondary schools. Chelmer Valley High School, in Chelmsford has already held an art competition in conjunction with both the Essex Fire Museum and the Essex Police Museum. You can see their art work on our Project Partners: Schools page.

If you get a chance, do have a look at the EROs most recent blog post: ‘And so the mad Dance of Death has begun’: a look at the Essex County Chronicle of 7 August 1914, which is an extensive look at the Essex Chronicle’s reports from 100 years ago.

Whatever you do to remember, always remember that these were ordinary human beings like you and I, sucked into a frightening and traumatic experience beyond their control. What would you do today? Would you be first in line to sign up to go to war and serve for your country? Or would you have held back, with dread? None of us can say…

Sarah Girling, Project Manager