Last week we saw how men’s families searched for news when were reported missing. Other men were falsely reported dead, like Second-Lieutenant Reginald Savory.
Reginald Arthur Savory was born in London in 1894. He was commissioned as an officer in the 14th Sikhs in 1914. He served with them in Gallipoli in 1915 and wrote regular and interesting letters back home to his parents near Earls Court (the letters are now held at the National Army Museum). He complained to them about the idiocy of the Generals, his disgust at the way the battle was being reported back home, and this attempts to grow a beard. His commanding officer did not approve of his officers having beards even though, as Savory pointed out in May 1915, a white officer without a beard tended to stand out among his bearded Sikh sepoys.
“On 3rd June we received orders for general assault all along the line next day. The orders were short and clear. At 11 am on 4th June all the guns were to bombard the enemy’s front line trenches for twenty minutes. Then for ten minutes they were to stop while the infantry were to cheer and wave their bayonets. The object of this was to persuade the enemy to man their parapets. Then the bombardment was to come down again. At noon we were to advance. It all sounded simple enough. The 14th Sikhs were to attack astride the Gully Ravine.
“The 4th of June was a beautiful summer day. Our guns started registering at 8 am and even before the bombardment began it must have been clear to the enemy that something was about to happen.
“It was now 11.30 am and time for the cheering to start; but the noise was so great that we could hardly hear it even in our own trench. And then- twelve noon – blew the whistle – and we were away. From that moment I lost all control of the fighting. The roar of musketry drowned every other sound, except that of the guns. To try to give an order was useless. The nearest man was only a yard or two away but I couldn’t see him. Soon I found myself running on alone, except for my little bugler, a young, handsome boy, just out of his teens, who came paddling along behind me to act as a runner and carry messages. Poor little chap.
“During the first few minutes, I was knocked out, lying on the parapet with two Turks using my body as a rest over which to shoot at our second line coming forward. When I fully recovered consciousness, the Turks had gone. I looked around and saw my little bugler lying dead, brutally mutilated. I could see no one else, stumbled back as best I could, my head was bleeding and I was dazed and then, Udai Singh, a great burly Sikh with a fair beard who was one of our battalion wrestlers, came out of the reserve trenches, picked me up, slung me over his shoulder, and brought me to safety; and all the time we were being shot at.”
A few weeks later he got an unexpected letter from his father, as described by a website about Sikhs in the Great War:
“Second-Lieutenant Savory was sitting at Battalion Headquarters when he received a letter in his father’s handwriting, with thick black around the edge of the envelope, addressed to the Officer Commanding 14th Sikhs. He opened it and found that his father had heard that he had been killed in action and was asking for details as to how he had met his untimely death, and also requesting the Officer Commanding to send him his sword and field-glasses. This was too good a chance to miss, so he went back to Brigade Headquarters and had an official letter typed to his father saying that he had been reliably informed that his son, Second-Lieutenant Savory, was still alive and was, in fact, in command of his regiment. He then signed the letter “I have the honour to be, Sir, Your obedient servant, R. A. Savory, 2nd Lt., O.C. 14th K.G.O. Sikhs.”
Savory clearly found this all rather entertaining, Likewise, he enjoyed reading the stack of condolence letters his parents had received, which they sent out to him. He wrote to his mother that he hadn’t realised he was such a jolly fine fellow until he read what people had written about him.
It can’t have been much fun for Mr and Mrs Savory to hear that their 21-year-old son had been killed, though; although the relief when they heard from him must have been immense. This story was not unique to them, across the country people heard contradictory information about their missing relatives, often from well-meaning comrades who did not want to leave them without hope of the missing man’s return.
Reginald Savory was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery in Gallipoli and went on to have an illustrious career as an officer in the Indian Army. This included commanding a Brigade in North Africa in 1940-41, followed by command of the Indian Forces fighting in Eritrea in 1941 and a stint as Adjutant-General of India (his good reputation suggests he was more successful than the generals he criticised 30 years earlier in Gallipoli). He died as Lieutenant-General Sir Reginald Savory KCIE, CB, DSO, MC in 1980 – a far cry from his reported death in battle 65 years earlier.
National Army Museum archives 1976-03-93-9 (part of a large set of his papers and photos)