It was a picture of a handsome young soldier with these words written beneath: "We knew him well and as we knew we loved admired and honoured him. He lived a man and as a man he died - looking on death as but a new Parade. He just fell in".
For as long as I can remember I have had an interest in all things relating to the era of the Great War, so when I saw the sad expressive eyes of this gallant young soldier and read the moving words written below his picture I knew I had to discover more about the way he lived and died.
My only information was on the reverse of the photograph - his name, Arthur bullock. I consulted a book called Officers died in the Great War' - his name was there! He was Captain Arthur Ernest Bullock RAMC (Att. 4th Middlesex Regiment). Killed in Action. 26th September 1915".
My next question was where were the 4th Middlesex at the time he was killed. I obtained from the National Army Museum a copy of the War diary for the days leading up to Arthur's death. This revealed that on the 25th September the 4th Middlesex were in Belgium and being held in reserve for the attack on Bellewaarde Ridge, subsidiary to the main operations at Loos. It was during an artillery duel with the Germans the following day that Arthur was shot through the head by a stray bullet as he tended the wounded on the battlefield.
I next approached the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. From them I learned that Arthur was the eldest son of Mr Joseph and Mrs Ada Bullock of St Leonards on Sea in East Sussex. (By a strange coincidence I had just returned from a holiday in St Leonards!). I established that the photograph was taken on his last leave home and the same month that he was to die. The look in his eyes almost seems to foretell his fate. Or maybe it reflects the unimaginable suffering this young man of 26 had seen. It was painful for me to imagine.
I wrote to the St Leonards on Sea local paper asking if anyone had any information on Arthur or his family. A local author interested in the Great War replied, saying that he had discovered in a reference book that Arthur had attended St Paul's School and trained at St Mary's Hospital I had to know more
Immediately I wrote to St Paul's School and was delighted when I received from the archivist photocopies of group portraits of the gymnastic and swimming teams, both of which featured Arthur -but I was saddened to think of this energetic young man lying lifeless on the muddy blood-soaked battlefield
From Kevin Brown, the St Mary's Hospital Archivist, I received a copy of a moving obituary printed in the Hospital Gazette. This revealed that Arthur had a fiancée, Miss Elizabeth Cox. She was a young nurse training at St Mary's who later became Sister De Hirsch. It seems they must have made many secret trysts before becoming engaged, as relotionships between the Doctors and Nurses were then strictly forbidden.
Following Arthur's death, Elizabeth left the Hospital, probably overcome with grief. In later years, however, she returned, and became Sister of the Military ward for wounded soldiers.
When war broke out Arthur joined up at once, perhaps not wishing to miss the opportunity of a new type of medical experience. His obituary shows that he distinguished himself. One of his stretcher-bearers wrote "There are many who owe their lives to him, for his self confidence and skill enabled him to attempt dangerous surgical work in the most difficult surrounding?. "
The items that I most treasure from all my research are two letters printed in the Hospital Gazette that were sent home by Arthur during the first year of the war. I find them very evocative. In the first he writes, "It seems extraordinary that we should be desolating everything, and except for a few forcible reminders, at times it is difficult to realise that war is really in progress. The birds sing just the same, though heavy firing and bursting shells surprise them continually. Only yesterday morning I saw a robin singing merrily away in a place where a terrific shell explosion had rent the air only a few seconds before'. He ends optimistically "I am very fit, very brown, eat like a lion, have congenial work and companions, sleep well and have little to complain of".
In contrast, the second letter describes an "exciting journey...crawling along ditches and keeping low" to treat a wounded officer in a trench. On their return, when "a shower of bullets greeted one if the smallest piece of one's body was to be seen", the orderly got shot so that Arthur (who had been a rugby player as a student, had represented the United Hospitals in swimming, as well as being a keen gymnast) had to carry him on his back the rest of the way.That evening there was night attack by the British Troops and a general advance followed. Arthur describes how, in a captured village, he found an old man in bed seemingly ignorant of the bombardment going on all around
Recently I obtained from the National Army Museum a photograph of Arthur standing in the shelled ruin of the Regimental Aid Post. I have also visited the house where he was born and brought up, and had tea with the famous lady novelist who now lives there. She told me she had heard my letter drop onto the doormat just after typing '1915' at the top of the first page of her new novel. The novel was to have the house as its setting at the time of the Great War!
I was curious as to who had written the words on Arthur's photograph. I learned from "Ruvigny's Roll of Honour" that a school friend of Arthur's, a certain Reverend Kenneth Crisford, who had known him for many years, and was to bury him in an impressive service attended by the officers and men of his regiment (despite it being in the trenches - so a testimony to Arthur's popularity), had been according to 'Crockfords', the Vicar of a church near Yeovil in the 1950's. I wrote to the present incumbent and as a result come across some music sheets handwritten by the Rev. Crisford which are clearly in the same hand as the words on Arthurs' photograph.
Arthur is buried in Brandhoek Military Cemetery, Vlamertinghe, Belgium. His tombstone bears the inscription
'E'n as he trod that day to God, so walked he from his birth
In life he had shown a social conscience in setting up the St Paul's Mission at King's Cross for disadvantaged working class boys. In 'Ruvigny's Roll of Honour' Captain Farrow of the 4th Middlesex wrote of Arthur: "He was one of the most beloved Officers in the Regiment and always ready to assist anyone...I have never met a doctor who had his work so much at heart and who was so much loved in the battalion. He carried out his work without fear and though he had many narrow escapes and terribly hard times in his dugout, nothing ever upset him. A braver soldier never entered a battlefield".
I am still searching for any living relatives or friends of Arthur and would be especially pleased to hear of any medals or other personal items that belonged to him. I am determined that Arthur's sacrifice, unlike that of so many others, will never be forgotten.