George Archer-Shee - British Cause Célèbre

Discussion in 'Military Biographies' started by liverpool annie, Jun 2, 2009.

  1. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    In Memory of

    3rd Bn., South Staffordshire Regiment
    who died age 19
    on 31 October 1914
    Studied at Stonyhurst College and Royal Naval College, Osborne. Was the subject of Terence Rattigan's play "The Winslow Boy".

    Remembered with honour

    George Archer-Shee (May 6, 1895 – October 31, 1914) became a British cause célèbre in 1910 when the issue of whether he stole a five shilling postal order ended up being decided in the High Court.

    Archer-Shee had become a cadet at Osborne Naval College in January 1908. The College, in the grounds of Queen Victoria's favourite home on the Isle of Wight, educated and trained Royal naval cadets for their first two years, from 14 to 16. On October 7, shortly after the start of the autumn term, a fellow cadet, Terence Back, received a postal order from a relative for five shillings. That afternoon, Archer-Shee received permission to go to the Post Office outside the grounds of the school to buy a postal order and a stamp, as he wished to buy a model train costing fifteen shillings and sixpence. When he got back to the college, the theft of Back's postal order had been reported and the clerk-in-charge of the Post Office, Miss Tucker, was sent for. She produced the cashed postal order for Back, and stated that only two cadets had visited that afternoon: the same cadet who had bought a postal order for 15s 6d had also cashed the 5s order.

    When the Admiralty wrote to Archer-Shee's father Martin (an official of the Bank of England) telling him that his son was being expelled, he instantly responded that "Nothing will make me believe the boy guilty of this charge, which shall be sifted by independent experts". The family were devout Roman Catholics and the background in bank management meant that the sons had all been brought up to regard misuse of money as a particularly heinous thing. Martin Archer-Shee engaged lawyers and through the connections of George's half-brother Martin Archer-Shee (junior) who was active in politics and later, in 1910, to become a Member of Parliament, obtained the services of Sir Edward Carson as the family's barrister: Carson was regarded as one of the best barristers in practice at the time, and had a son who had been to Osborne. Before he took the case, Carson subjected the boy to questioning to test his story, and satisfied himself of the boy's innocence. Carson resorted to an archaic legal device called a petition of right against the Crown to bring the matter before the courts.

    It took many months to bring the case to trial, but it was heard from July 26 1910. Carson's opening remarks resonate through the following century. A boy 13 years old has been labeled and ticketed for all his future life as a thief and a forger. Gentlemen, I protest against the injustice to a child, without communication with his parents, without his case ever being put, or an opportunity of its ever being put forward by those on his behalf. That little boy from the day that he was first charged, up to this moment, whether in the ordeal of being called in before his Commander and his Captain, or whether under the softer influences of the persuasion of his own loving parents, has never faltered in the statement that he is innocent.The extent to which the Admiralty's charges would fail became obvious when Carson had successfully shown that the elderly postmistress, Miss Tucker, could easily have been mistaken. She admitted that to her, all of the cadets looked alike, and that, in the course of dealing with one cadet and the various tasks of her duties, another could have stepped into his place without her noticing. This was reinforced by the fact that, when given the opportunity to point out Archer-Shee from among other cadets, she was unable to do so. On the fourth day, July 29, the Solicitor-General, Sir Rufus Isaacs, accepted the statement that George Archer-Shee did not cash the postal order "and consequently that he is innocent of the charge. I say further, in order that there may be no misapprehension about it, that I make that statement without any reserve of any description, intending that it shall be a complete justification of the statement of the boy and the evidence he has given before the court."

    The family then began to press the Admiralty to pay restitution. The First Lord of the Admiralty said on March 16, 1911 that he thought the House of Commons would think it inappropriate; the family then circulated a booklet giving their side of the case. On April 6, the Naval Estimates came up for debate, but many Members of Parliament raised the Archer-Shee case (both for and against, though most supported compensation) that the Admiralty were forced to concede a Judicial hearing to decide the matter, lest the business be 'lost' (a Parliamentary term meaning postponed to a future day). Viscount Mersey reported that the family should be paid £4,120 to cover their costs, and £3,000 compensation "in full settlement of all demands", and the money was paid that July.

    After his expulsion from Osborne, Archer-Shee returned to Stonyhurst College (where he had been educated before going to Osborne). He went to the United States to work in the Wall Street firm of Fisk & Robinson, but returned home to enlist in the Army at the start of World War I. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the First Battalion, the South Staffordshire Regiment, and was killed at the First Battle of Ypres in 1914. His name is inscribed on the war memorial in the village of North Woodchester in Gloucestershire where his parents lived. It is said in the Carson family that he joined the South Staffs at the suggestion of Sir Edward Carson, whose nephew, FE Robinson, had recently joined that regiment. Their names are close together on tablet 35 of the Menin Gate in Ypres, Teddy Robinson having been killed 3 days before Archer-Shee.

    Cadet Terence Back remained in the Royal Navy and was promoted to be a Captain from 1939. He served on the Arctic Convoys during the Second World War.

    The case was the inspiration for the play The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan. Although the legal details of the case follow very closely the real story, the family relations are almost entirely fictionalised.

    Names on the Woodchester War Memorial
    Remember 1914-1918
    G. Archer-Shee, Charles. F. Boulton, W.J. Brinkworth, F.P.Click, W.J.Cook, E.J.Clift, W.A.Cox, W.J.Fruin, T.A.Horwood, M.J.Howell, Edgar Miles, Arthur Rigsby, G.H.Ricketts,
    E.Wear, H.J.Wagner.
    Remember 1939-1945
    A.F.Clift, B.P. Cordwell, W.M.Graham, A.Hall, I.E.G. Hall, C.L.Harnden, E.Lee, E.H.Weaver.

    The War Memorial is on the road between North and South Woodchester, halfway between the two villages. The cross is Ionic and is carved from Minchinhampton stone. The cost was raised by public subscription and it was unveiled at a ceremony on 31st October 1920. A large crowd was present in spite of the rain and the Stroud Military Band provided music. At 3pm. it was unveiled by W.Dillen Ricketts, a former schoolmaster at Woodchester. Prayers were led by the Rev. R.Nott of Ebley, a scripture reading was undertaken by the Rev. W.J.Fox of the Baptist church. The Rev. E.H.Hawkins read the solemn dedication and the Rector the Rev. G.E.Watton read the inscribed names.
    A two minute silence was then observed.
    There are also war memorial tablets for both wars in the parish church.

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