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Auteur Bericht

Geregistreerd op: 2-2-2005
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BerichtGeplaatst: 08 Jul 2008 20:40    Onderwerp: For sale Reageer met quote

Poignant story of the Downing Street servant shot dead in Palestine during the Great War

By Colin Fernandez

When a Prime Minister orders troops off to war, it is rare for him to personally know those who die in the conflict.

But now the poignant story of how a servant at 10 Downing Street died in the First World War has come to light - and the grief of his former master.

Robert King had been working as a batman to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith before fighting for King and Country.

Mr King had signed up to fight in a rifle brigade - but died after being shot in the thigh during fighting in Palestine 11 months before the end of the war.

Now 91 years later, letters from the PM's wife and photographs of Asquith's former trusted manservant have been discovered.

An emotional letter from the Prime Minister's wife, Margot Asquith, is included in the collection that is to be sold at auction tomorrow.

Mrs Asquith, a direct ancestor of the actress Helena Bonham-Carter, wrote to Mrs King:

'Your son Robert was a great gentleman, a born friend and we were all devoted to him.'

The letter continued: 'Your son has died the highest death you can die.

'He has died for his country and you will be proud of that poor Mrs King... How deeply I feel for you, I cannot even begin to express.

'Mr Asquith joins me in sympathy for you over our dead Robert's death.'

Black-and-white photographs show him immaculately dressed at a Royal banquet in Downing Street and then in combat fatigues, smoking a pipe with his Army unit.

Rifleman King was fighting for control of Palestine then in the grip of the Ottoman Empire - which later became Turkey.

His death, in 1917, while he was thought to be in his mid 20s, is detailed in several letters, including from Reverend Webster, the chaplain attached to the unit.

Rev Webster wrote to Mrs King: 'He was brought to us suffering from a gunshot wound in the thigh on 13 December.

'...everything was done for Mr King, but he passed away next day on 14 December.'

He continued: 'At the last his body was covered with the Union Jack as one who had made the great sacrifice for his country and fellow-men.'

A letter from Corporal Herbert Gibbons to Mrs King explained how her son was wounded.

He wrote: 'I have ... spoken to several of Rfm. King's chums, and they tell me that he was hit on the morning of the 8th December last, during the attack on Ein Karim Ridge which is a few miles south-west of Jerusalem.

'Apparently it was a Turkish bullet which caught him in the left thigh.'

He continued: 'All Rfm. King's comrades, including his Company Sergent-Major, speak most highly of him, and say he was one of the smartest men in the Platoon, and they wish me to convey to you their deepest sympathy in your bereavement, and to assure you that your Dear Boy fell fighting for his country, and that your loss is also their loss for he was extremely popular with all ranks and much loved by all.'

Rifleman King was with the 16th battalion, London Regiment, Queen's Westminster Rifles.

He was buried in Grave 18 at Deir Sineid, eight miles from Gaza.

Rifleman King was Asquith's assistant when the Prime Minister declared war in 1914, later joining up to fight for Britain and the Empire.

Asquith, had left office at the end of 1916, partly as a series of military disasters such as the Battle of the Somme had been blamed on him. He was replaced by Lloyd George.

Also for sale at the Eastbourne Auction Rooms are Rifleman King's posthumously awarded 1914-1918 War Medal and his Victory Medal.

There is a Downing Street dinner table plan, black and white photographs and official documents.

Jeannette May, from the auction house, said: 'This is a fascinating snapshot of a soldier who went from the seat of power at Downing Street to a battle field many miles from home.

'Like so many of his generation he died during the Great War, shot by an unfortunate bullet in his thigh.

'The letters are very moving and the one from lady Asquith shows how affected she was by the death of Robert King, a humble soldier.'

The lot, which has come from a distant branch of the soldier's family, is estimated to sell for up to £600.

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