Lieutenant Harry Sackville LAWSON

Royal Field Artillery
4th North Midland (Howitzer) Brigade
Service Number:
Date of Death:
5 February 1918 - Killed in Action
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Number:

Personal History:
Harry was born 29th October 1876 in Portishead, Somerset, the son of Robert (Vicar of St John's, Peasedown) and Mary Lawson, of Weston-in-Gordano, Somerset. He had three older siblings, Eve Mary, Robert Neale and John Cuthbert, and three younger, Agnes Lettice, Francis Malcolm and Christopher G. (1881 Census RG 11/2431 and 1901 Census RG 13/2353) By 1891 (Census RG 12/1092) Harry was a boarding pupil at Haileybury College (Lawrence House) where he stayed until 1891.

Harry continued his education at Peterhouse, Cambridge (2nd Class Natural Sci Tripos, 1893). He was then appointed House Master, Seafield Park College, Hants in 1899. The 1901 Census (RG 13/3205) finds him visiting the Rectory of St Mary the Virgin, Weston-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, and his occupation is given as "Tutor - School". He was then employed by the Ministry of Education, Cairo, in 1905.

On 4th August 1909 Harry married Janet Kathleen Trinder of "Margaretts," Haslemere, Surrey in St. John's Church, Marylebone, London. Their first home was in Wolverhampton, where the first of their four children, David (b. 1910) was born, Robin, (b. 1911) Michael (b. 1912) and Rosemary (b. 1913) followed after moving to Buxton.

Harry was appointed Headmaster of Buxton College, Derbyshire, in January 1911 as successor to Dr Little and the 1911 Census (RG 14/21237) shows him living with his wife and elder child at the School, which was Boarding and classed as a minor Public School. (His History and English teacher at that time, Robert Edward Knight, was killed in action earlier in the War, whilst serving with the Gloucestershire Regiment.) Harry finally relinquished his post at the end of the Summer term 1917, presumably to take up service at the Front, and was succeeded by Mr Fynes-Clinton, then Mr Gallagher.

After morning prayers in the New Hall on the last day of term, 20th December 1915, Harry, still Headmaster, was presented by the boys and staff with a Sword of Honour and a silver wrist watch (with a luminous dial!). The presentation was made by School Prefects J. Bean and W. Linnell.

In reply (as reported by "The Buxton Advertiser", 25th December 1915), The Headmaster said: "It is very difficult to express to you how I feel about these splendid gifts you have made to me and about the feelings which has prompted them. This Sword of Honour I shall hold very, very dear, and I think you all know that wherever I may be in the near future I cannot have spent these yeas at The College without finding myself daily amongst you in thought. The watch I shall have always with me and shall wear it as a symbol of all that is so precious to me in our relations one to another. This Sword - my College Sword - will strengthen those convictions I have always had of 'one-ness' of purpose. Mirrored in this blade I shall visions of your deep loyalty and good comradeship, and this will help me mightily in the difficulties that lie ahead. I thank you all very, very much."

Military History:
Harry was Commissioned into the 4th North Midland (Howitzer) Brigade, RFA (TF) as a 2nd Lieutenant on 19th December 1915 (London Gazette 18 December 1915). (The 4th North Midland (Howitzer) Brigade was raised in 1908 and based at Siddall's Road, Derby) He was initially "engaged in lecturing", but early in 1917 he volunteered for service at the front.

Harry was Killed in Action on 5th February 1918. "The Buxton Advertiser" (16th February 1918), in reporting his death, stated that he had been "... struck by a shrapnel splinter and passed away a short time afterwards without gaining consciousness." Another mention says: "It seems he had been working night and day preparing a new position for his battery, and had practically finished. He slept in the afternoon and then out with another officer to make a final inspection of the position. They had only just arrived when they were both hit. His colleague was able to crawl away to send help. The last he saw of him was a cheery smile.".

The Brigade Sergeant Major wrote to the School: "I feel it is my duty, on behalf of the N.C.O.s and men of the Battery to offer you and yours our heartfelt sympathy in your bitter bereavement. The loss of the late Lieut. H. S. Lawson has been one of our greatest blows. He had endeared himself to all ranks by his soldier-like qualities and interest of the men. His motto was always 'Men first' and he never spared himself in his successful efforts to promote the welfare of all ranks. By his death we have lost, not only an officer of high merit, but also a tried and trusted friend."

The Vicar of Burbage, Rev. J. Hewetson, was also to speak of Harry in his sermon on the Sunday after his death, in part, as follows: "Men of all ranks have cheerfully exposed their lives to danger to succour a dying enemy; they had defied death to rescue their comrades, and they had laid down their lives for the defence of principles they held more highly than life. Such an example they had in the life of Lieut. Lawson, the late Headmaster of Buxton College. That morning they lamented the supreme sacrifice he had been called upon to make. They sorrowed in deepest sympathy for the brave but bereaved young wife and the four fatherless children.

The late Lieut. Lawson was in the prime of his manhood; he was fulfilling a distinguished position and holding a lucrative post when the call of his country came to him. His choice was unfettered and there was no element of compulsion present, yet love for his country and love for freedom and justice and honour led him to surrender comfort, security, and his officer, with all its emoluments, and to go forth to do, to dare, and to die, if need be, for God, for King, and for Country."

It was written of Harry in "War Letters of Fallen Englishmen" by Laurence Housman (p. 168)

"Sense of duty must have been profound indeed to take a Public School headmaster into the Army at the age of forty-one. He was Harry Sackville Lawson, educated at Haileybury and Peterhouse, Cambridge, and later appointed Headmaster of Buxton College. He joined the Royal Field Artillery as a lieutenant towards the end of the summer term of 1917 and from France wrote a letter to his former pupils. It is a sermon, a self-justification, a homily all in one But most of all it is a highly professional lesson and for me, personally, it is one of the most significant letters to have survived the Great War Unfortunately, Mr Lawson did not survive he was killed in action on 5 February , 1918. We can be sure he met his end with the dignity he tried to inculcate in his pupils."

In 1918 Harry wrote "Letters of a Headmaster Soldier" which was published after his death by H.R. Allenson of London as a 142 page book and reported in 'The Buxton Advertiser' on 23rd November 1918. In its review the 'Advertiser' recapped Harry's life and career, and pointed out that his book was intended ".. chiefly in order that his old boys at the College might share with his family some further knowledge of his life from the time he left the College for the Army". 

One extract reads:

"France, 3 July, 1917.

My dear Boys,

I wish I could be with you in person to say goodbye to you all, and to hand over my Headmastership to my successor. Instead, Im writing from a dug-out, to the sound of guns, the sort of message I want you to have before Term ends. But although I am in a dug-out at the Front, I am picturing myself as sitting in my study at the College in the midst of surroundings of busy boyhood I see the war potato field and the cricket pitch - the wickets casting a dark shadow in glaring contrast with the thin, white line of the block. Momentarily I think of the need of camouflage for concealing the position from the observation of hostile aircraft. Only for the moment. I'm back again in the study, and a bell, rather jaded and weary, has sounded the end of a period I've got one thing in particular to say to you all - just the main thing we've talked about together in its different bearings in the past - just the one important thing which keeps life sweet and clean and gives us peace of mind. For whether I have been talking to a boy alone, or to a class in its class-room, or to the school met together in the New Hall, I have found opinion quite clear and quite decided as to what the game is and what the game is not."

'The Buxton Advertiser' of 23rd November 1918 quoted the publisher H.R. Allenson, who said of Harry's time as Headmaster: "..he inspired his boys with those ideals of citizenship and public spirit which will ever be associated in their minds with the example of his own life and death".

A children's book called "Litany of the Elves" by his brother John Cuthbert Lawson is dedicated as follows;


After the War Harry's original wooden Memorial Grave Cross was returned and mounted on the wall of St
Bartholomew's Churchyard, Haslemere, Surrey which holds a plaque bearing Lt. H.S. Lawson's name and
details of his death.

On the ground below the cross is a tablet with his wife, Janet's name which indicates that she died in 1970.
Janet Lawson was originally from Haslemere - maybe she returned there after Harry's death.

· I am grateful to British War Graves for the photo of Harry's grave.
· Haileybury Register, 1931
· The War List of the University of Cambrige 1914-1919.
· IPT (of the Great War Forum) for the quotes from Harry's book
· Also Dick Flory (of the Great War Forum) for links to sources
· The Buxton Advertiser, 25 December 1915; 16 February 1918; 8 June 1918; 23 November 1918.
· I am grateful to "Myrtle" (Great War Forum) for the photos from Haslemere.

Link to CWGC Record
Lt Lawson's Grave
Lt. H S Lawson
Harry Lawson's Grave Cross at Haslemere
Harry's inscription
Lt Lawson and fellow teacher 2/Lt Knight were the subject of an article in the Buxton Advertiser in November 2011 - written by the site author

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