Letter from Maurice Llewelyn Davies to his brother Arthur, 24 July 1893
[No original available]
12, Village Rd.,
24 July 1893.
I presume telegram received today emanated from you: "When Charing Cross?" — I replied "May Roland leave Charing 3.55 next Wednesday I follow Thursday week."
I trust Sylvia continues to do well. We had a very interesting letter from Mother as well as Harry's oral account of the new acquisition. He seems to have been received with universal approbation. The name is good, and new in the family.
Please give our love and congratulations to Sylvia, if she is well enough to receive messages.
This letter, besides providing a fine and suitably mystifying example of the economical family telegraphese, serves as a reminder that Maurice Ll.D. had beaten ALl.D. in the race for the avuncular saltspoons (see earlier), having been married in 1891 to May Roberts.
Their first child and only son, Roland Arthur Ll.D., had been born in April 1892, and was thus the eldest of the new generation. Whither he was being despatched, aged 15 months, from Charing Cross, I cannot say. I can just remember Roland as a boy, from a short visit I paid to their home at Birkenhead, in 1906 or so, I think, when he operated before my admiring and envious eyes a daylight film-developer, great improvement, as it seemed to me, on the dark-room in which at that date G[eorge] and J[ack] Ll.D. used to spend so many hours in developing plates. For one reason and another we saw little of him in later years, and had, I think, more or less lost sight of him when the news came, late in 1918, that he had been killed in France. Maurice Ll.D. wrote and had privately printed a short account of him, a copy of which I have, given to me by his sister, Dr. Mary.
Roland was at Trinity, Cambridge, (with a scholarship) when the war broke out, having had his previous education as a day boy at Birkenhead School, of which he became head, playing also in the XV. He was too short-sighted for most branches of the service by the severe standards prescribed in the early days of the war, and became an officer in the A.S.C. in October 1915. He was sent to Serbia, where he played his part in the retreat and evacuation of the Serbian army to Corfu, and was awarded the Serbian Distinguished Service Medal. He then had eleven delightful months in Corfu, enough, one might think, to sap the patriotism of any man. But in the spring of 1917, having meanwhile been moved to Salonica, he "became increasingly desirous to play a more active and less sheltered part," and, well understanding what he was about, applied to be transferred to the Infantry, where bad eyesight was by now no longer regarded as a bar. The application was granted. In June his battalion of the Royal Fusiliers was ordered to France, and, on the 4th October, only 7 weeks from the armistice, he was shot through the head by a machine-gun bullet, leading his platoon in the attack on the Hindenburg Line at Le Catelet: as good an example as any of the grandeur and futility of our day and generation.
'In August 1894,' writes Lady Ponsonby, 'Sylvia and Arthur came to the Mill House by the sea for the holidays — and this became almost a regular occurrence every summer, I think. From my diary: "Arthur and Sylvia came down to the Mill House for the summer which much delighted my heart: she is as sweet and dear as ever. They are very flourishing and content on £400 a year — but it is a miracle ... I would rather marry her than anyone I know, she is wonderfully fascinating and good ... Mother's birthday which we spent quietly with Sylvia to tea. Discussed cancer, and whether marriage was happy, and whether one would rather be born or not.”’ This is tragic in the face of after events — but I will enlarge later on this curiously serious note in S., and what I call her apprehensive imagination.
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