Raymond Asquith

Raymond Asquith
Raymond Asquith02.jpg
Born6 November 1878
Died15 September 1916(1916-09-15) (aged 37)
Near Ginchy, France
Resting placeCWGC Guillemont Road Cemetery
NationalityBritish
EducationWinchester College, Balliol College, Oxford
OccupationLawyer
Spouse(s)Katharine Frances Horner
Children
Parent(s)

Raymond Herbert Asquith (6 November 1878 – 15 September 1916) was an English barrister and son of British prime minister H. H. Asquith. A distinguished Oxford scholar, he was a member of the fashionable group of intellectuals known as The Coterie, notable for their unconventional lifestyles and lavish hospitality. Like several of them, Asquith was killed in action in the First World War.

Career and honours

Asquith was the eldest son and heir of British prime minister H. H. Asquith. by his first wife Helen Kelsall Melland (died 1891).

He was educated at Winchester, from where he won a scholarship to Balliol in 1896, taking with him a reputation for brilliance. He won the Ireland, Derby, and Craven scholarships, and graduated with first-class honours. Elected a fellow of All Souls in 1902, he was called to the bar in 1904.[1] The tall, handsome Asquith was a member of "the Coterie," a group of Edwardian socialites and intellectuals.

Asquith was junior counsel in the North Atlantic Fisheries Arbitration and the British Wreck Commissioner's inquiry into the sinking of the RMS Titanic, and was considered a putative Liberal candidate for Derby. However, his rise was interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War. He was initially commissioned, on 17 December 1914, as a second lieutenant into the 16th (County of London) Battalion, London Regiment.[2] He was transferred to the 3rd Battalion, Grenadier Guards, on 14 August 1915[3] and assigned as a staff officer, but he requested to be returned to active duty with his battalion, a request granted before the Battle of the Somme.

While leading the first half of 4 Company in an attack near Ginchy on 15 September 1916, at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, he was shot in the chest but famously lit a cigarette to hide the seriousness of his injuries so that his men would continue the attack.[4] As a result, he died while being carried back to British lines. He was buried at Guillemont in the CWGC Guillemont Road Cemetery, [Plot I. Row B. Grave 3.] where his headstone is inscribed 'Small time but in that small most greatly lived this star of England',[5] a concluding line from Shakespeare's Henry V, about a warrior king who died in his thirties after campaigns in France.

In his 1928 obituary tribute to Herbert Asquith, Winston Churchill eloquently summarized Raymond's last moments:

"It seemed quite easy for Raymond Asquith, when the time came, to face death and to die. When I saw him at the Front he seemed to move through the cold, squalor and peril of the winter trenches as if he were above and immune from the common ills of the flesh, a being clad in polished armour, entirely undisturbed, presumably invulnerable. The War which found the measure of so many, never got to the bottom of him, and when the Grenadiers strode into the crash and thunder of the Somme, he went to his fate cool, poised, resolute, matter of fact, debonair. And well we know that his father, then bearing the supreme burden of the State, would proudly have marched at his side"[6]

The writer John Buchan devoted several pages of his autobiography Memory Hold-the-Door to his memories of Raymond Asquith and their friendship. He perceptively noted of Raymond's character:

"I do not think he could ever have been called popular. He was immensely admired, but he did not lay himself out to acquire popularity, and in the ordinary man he inspired awe rather than liking. His courtesy was without warmth, he was apt to be intolerant of mediocrity, and he had no desire for facile acquaintanceships. Also - let it be admitted - there were times when he was almost inhuman. He would destroy some piece of honest sentiment with a jest, and he had no respect for the sacred places of dull men. There was always a touch of scorn in him for obvious emotions, obvious creeds, and all the accumulated lumber of prosaic humanity. That was a defect of his great qualities. He kept himself for his friends and refused to bother about the world. But as such who were to his friendship he would deny nothing. I have never known a friend more considerate, and tender, and painstaking, and unfalteringly loyal. It was the relation of all others in life for which he had been born with a peculiar genius."[7]

Asquith's grave in Guillemont Road Cemetery
Memorial tablet in Amiens Cathedral
Memorial in St Andrew's Church in Mells
Battlefield cross for Asquith, in St Andrew's Church in Mells

Memorials

A memorial tablet to Asquith was erected in Amiens Cathedral. The inscription, in French and Latin, states:

Priez pour l'âme de RAYMOND ASQUITH Lieutenant aux Grenadiers de la Garde Royale. Fils ainé de Herbert Henry Asquith premier ministre du Royaume Uni. Né le 6 Nov. 1878. Tombé au champ d'honneur près de Guinchy le 15 Sept. 1916.

O ORIENS SPLENDOR LUCIS AETERNAE VENI ET ILLUMINA SEDENTES IN TENEBRIS ET UMBRA MORTIS. Gloriae memor posuit conjux.

He is also the subject of a memorial in St Andrew's Church near the family home in Mells in Somerset, and is listed on Mells War Memorial; both memorials were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, a friend of the Asquith family.[8] The St Andrew's Church memorial wording is:

In piam memoriam Raymondi Asquith Coll. Wintoniensis et Balliolensis scholaris Coll. Omnium Animarum socii qui in foro et republica ad omnia ingenii virtutisque praemia spe et votis aequalium destinatus medio in flore aetatis armis pro patria sumptis fortiter pugnans occidit defunctum terra tenet longinqua et amica desiderio inexpleto prosequuntur sui
N. VI NOV. MDCCCLXXVIII OB. XV SEPT. MCMXVI[9]

This translates as:

In loving memory of Raymond Asquith Scholar of Winchester College and Balliol College Fellow of All Souls College Who was destined by the hopes and desires of his contemporaries To win all the rewards of intellectual talent and virtue. In the middle of the flower of his life He took up arms for his native-land and died fighting bravely. A distant and friendly land holds him now he is dead. His family and friends mourn him with unrequited longing. Born on the 6th of November 1878, died on the 15th September 1916.[10]

Raymond and his wife Katharine are portrayed in Phoebe Traquair's apse mural in All Saints, Thorney Hill, England.

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