When HRH the Prince of Wales visited the museum earlier this month, he spoke to one of the donors of material to our project: Mrs Susan Fawcett-Gandy of Cwmgwdi, Brecon. Today’s blog looks in some more detail at the war service of Susan’s father, Alwyn Fawcett. Alwyn was a Lieutenant (and later a Captain) in the Royal Field Artillery, and fought in France and Mesopotamia in the First World War. Schooled in Edinburgh, he excelled in Classics, and during the war he would write letters home to his parents in Latin to bypass the Army censors. After leaving school, Fawcett joined the Royal Artillery as a regular, and was a Second Lieutenant when the war broke out.
Initially deployed in France, Fawcett took part in the fighting around Loos in September 1915; in one engagement, he was in command of an artillery piece that was dug in to a trench parapet; with it he provided covering fire for advancing troops, who managed to capture some German trenches. In the battle he witnessed the first use of poison (chlorine) gas by the British Army. He was very slightly wounded by a piece of shrapnel, passing it off as just a graze, but remarking: ‘if I had been standing 3 inches more to the right, I would have gone west.’
Shortly after the battle of Loos, Fawcett was redeployed to Mesopotamia to fight the Ottoman Turks. He won the Military Cross for swimming across the Tigris River while under fire, taking a rope to tie at the other side thus allowing his fellow troops to cross. He was very modest about this act of bravery, claiming that he did not deserve the award. In one instance, his pet dog ‘Fritz’, was separated from him during a battle, and later caught by the Turks and hung from a tree. Fawcett was understandably greatly angered at this, as he had adopted ‘Fritz’ in France – the dog had been born under an artillery limber carriage – and had taken him with him everywhere he went.
Fawcett remained in Mesopotamia for the rest of the war. He was a keen horse rider, and took part in various racing events. In one letter home written shortly after the Armistice, he describes participating in a number of such races in Mesopotamia, including a steeplechase. In the same letter he also bemoans the general boredom experienced after the fighting was over, remarking: ‘This is a beastly spot, and it is the doing of fate to be stuck here while everyone else is having such a good time. There is nix to do, no shooting, hunting….’
Fawcett ended up purchasing his horse, originally a captured Turkish Army horse (which he named ‘Winkle’), from the Army. He was stationed in India for a time after the war, and rode in a number of equestrian events, including the 1921 Army Cup Challenge at Lucknow, which he won. In the same year, the then Prince of Wales (future Edward VIII) rode Winkle in a race during his tour of India.
Fawcett was, like many, greatly embittered by his war experiences and found it difficult to adjust to civilian life upon returning home. Sadly he took his own life when his daughter Susan was very young. Some of his letters and photographs will soon be available to view in the archive.