In the communal cemetery at Forges-les-Eaux in France there are 18 Commonwealth War Grave Commission headstones, five of them dating from the Great War. Under the name of British officer Captain H.B. Mudie, one of them bears the unique inscription “Filantropo Prezidanto De Brita Kaj Universala Asocioj De Esperanto”*.
The man in question is Harold Bolingbroke Mudie, who was born in London in 1880. He was the son of Alfred and Annie Elizabeth Mudie; they were part of the family of Mudies who ran Mudie’s Circulating Library in the 19th Century. Young H. Bolingbroke Mudie (as he appears to have been known) was educated at Folkestone and at University College School (in north London); he then studied at London University before going to work in the Stock Exchange.
The Stock Exchange Memorial Book (transcribed here on roll-of-honour.com) describes his real interest:
“Speaking several languages he added the International one in 1902, and single-handed founded and edited the “Esperantist” [a journal of the language] in 1903. He organized and controlled the famous International Congress at Cambridge in 1907, where only Esperanto was spoken. He published the New Testament in Esperanto through the British and Foreign Bible Society. Professor Mayor, of Cambridge, in eulogizing Mudie, said: “It is not only his talent—we have plenty of that here—but wisdom, which is very rare in so young a man.” ”
In 1910, he became the president of the British Esperanto Association. He was also an advocate of Esperanto around the world and became the first president of the Universal (or World) Esperanto Association, based in Geneva, in 1908.
In 1914, war came to Europe and Mudie went to war. According to the Stock Exchange Memorial Book,
“When war broke out he immediately gave his services. He acted first as recruiter, lecturer, journalist. Then he conveyed horses to the Belgian Government: and of his report, containing “Suggestions for Transport of Horses,” General Sir W. H. Birkbeck, K.C.B., C.M.G., Director of Remounts, wrote: “It was a gem in its way; and he was given a commission at the earliest opportunity.””
Mudie was commissioned into the Army Service Corps in October 1914 and set up a Remount Depot near Forges-les-Eaux in France. According to a notice about him in The Times, he was fluent in French, German and Flemish, which was useful for a man in his role – providing horses for the army. Presumably his Esperanto was rather less useful at this point.
Mudie returned home on leave over Christmas 1915 and went back to the Western Front on New Year’s Eve. On 6 January, he and another officer were being driven in a motorcar at night reached a level crossing on the line between Rouen and Serquex. The car was hit by an express train, which destroyed it, injuring the other officer and killing both the French driver and Captain Mudie outright (for some reason the Daily Mirror’s coverage of the accident calls him ‘Captain Mudge-Mudie’).
Mudie was buried with honour in the town of Forges-les-Eaux.
On his gravestone are those wordsr “Filantropo/ Prezidanto De Brita Kaj/ Universala Asocioj De/ Esperanto”, which google tells me means “Philanthropist/president of British and /universal associations of/ Esperanto”. It took until after the war, three years later, for the Univeral Esperanto Association to appoint a successor as president.
Mudie’s story tells us something of the variety of things that people did in the military during the war – and the variety of ways in which they could be killed or wounded. It is interesting to note that such a committed internationalist was also so keen to be involved in his nation’s war effort. With his death, the British Army lost a useful linguist and logistics officer, and the cause of Esperanto lost one of its leading figures.
*The War Graves Commission allowed the next of kin to write a short message under the regimental emblem or cross on their otherwise standardised headstones. The CWGC website has a record of these in the additional documents recently made available on the page for each casualty the Commission commemorates.
- Daily Mirror 14/2/1916
- Times 10/2/1916
- Heroes of Forges-les-Eaux
- Stock Exchange Memorial Book on rollofhonour.com