On paper, the book runs to 630 pages. Each page lists, in alphabetical order, about 10 names, followed by between two and 12 lines of information about a solicitor in khaki or navy blue, usually including date of admission or to whom articled, date of joining the forces, unit, rank, and where military service took him. On most pages, at least three entries include a terse line about wounds, disease, shell shock or death.
The Record of Service of Solicitors and Articled Clerks with His Majesty's Forces 1914-1919 was compiled after the war from on 'brief particulars' submitted by solicitors, their firms, or next of kin. The Law Society requested 'for convenience of filing... that each individual's particulars be communicated on separate sheets of paper.'
These are the starting point for 6,000 personal stories that were ordinary for their day, but 100 years on make quite extraordinary reading.
An example, drawn at random, tells a typical one. 'GUY CLIFTON DAVIS. Articled to H.J. Shepard, of 40 Chancery Lane, W.C. Joined Sept. 1914 as Private, Inns of Court O.T.C. Gazetted 2nd Lieut. 7th Batt. Northumberland Fusiliers Feb. 1915, and went to the Front following April, promoted Lieut. June 1916. Wounded April 19, 1918. Died in Casualty Station in France May 11, 1918.'
From these details we can construct with the help of other sources the story of a young man (women were not yet admitted) relinquishing the tedium of articles within days of the outbreak of war. As a gentleman - a doctor's son, with a university education, Davis was accepted for training as an officer: he enlisted in the Inns of Court territorial battalion, which during the war became as an officers' training corps (OTC). He would have spent the next few months in camp in 'Kitchener's Field', Berkhamsted, being instructed in rifle drill and trench digging before being commissioned as an officer in the Northumberland Fusiliers, the 'Fighting Fifth', at the rank of second lieutenant, leading a platoon of up to 40 riflemen.
Davis reached the front in the run-up to the second battle of Ypres, famous for the first use of lethal gas as a weapon. An extract from the battalion's war diary for 26 April reads: 'Moved up into the firing line... the men advancing at the double in extended order. The battalion suffered heavy casualties until it gained the shelter of [a] trench.'
Davis survived, to gain his second shoulder 'pip' as a first lieutenant and a 1 shilling rise in his daily pay, to 8 shillings and 6 pence (42.5p). On 22 June 1916 the battalion recorded 'A quiet day in the trenches', but in September that year it took part in the latter stages of the Battle of the Somme. With military understatement, the battalion diary describes a desperate attack in the bloodbath of High Wood: 'The enemy directed a very heavy machine gun fire... This to a certain extent broke up our orderly lines'.
A year later, the Northumberlands went over the top again, in the fight for a Belgian hamlet, Passchendaele, whose name would become synonymous with the war's horror. Davis seems to have survived all that, though he was invalided twice home with trench fever, only to be mortally wounded in the British counter attack to the final German offensive of the war. The fact he was held at a forward casualty station rather than being evacuated to hospital suggests he was not expected to live, but he hung on for three weeks.
He was 23, and the second son of Dr Robert and Ellen Davis, of Orpington, Kent, to die in the war. He lies in the beautiful little Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Wavans, alongside 40 comrades and three Germans.
Davis's story may sum up all we expect to read about the Great War, but of course it was not universal. The Record of Service reveals an extraordinary range of experiences.
Solicitors joined the forces at all ages. Most were in their early twenties, but Henry Auty of Auty & Sons, Sheffield, served as a lieutenant despite being admitted in May 1879. His near contemporary, Charles Greenwood, admitted 1878 and member of Greenwood & Greenwood, Temple EC, was mobilised as paymaster, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. This City gent, well into his 50s, records that he 'accompanied the troops' on Winston Churchill's quixotic 1914 expedition to save Antwerp from the German advance. Walter Clifford Phillips, admitted 1880, was re-gazetted as a lieutenant in 1914 and served until 1919, conducting a 'special mission' to investigate the fate of missing soldiers.
They came from far and wide. A number, like Harry Colin Clarke, admitted 1903, returned from British Columbia in 1914 (he was killed in 1916). Leo Burton Feeny, of Boston, Massachusetts, admitted in 1901, served with the McGill University Overseas Corps. John Hellard, admitted 1906, practised in Colombo but joined the Somerset Light Infantry in 1915 and was killed on the first day of the Somme. John Leslie Thomson, admitted 1911, was with the Royal Indemnity Co in New York and joined the Canadian Army. He seems to have survived being 'shot by sniper' in 1916. Arthur Vivian Perry, admitted 1913, was 'practising in Hankow, China' when he enlisted as a private in the Royal Army Service Corps.
They served in all ranks: Wilfred Thomas de Berdewelle Barwell, evidently a 'gentleman' with his own Seaford firm, joined in September 1914 as a private in the Royal Fusliliers, rising to major in 1918. Frank Howard Butcher, admitted 1910, of Slaughter & May, 18 Austin Friars EC, served as an ordinary seaman in the Royal Navy. Cecil Henry Whittington, admitted April 1901, and practising at Queen Anne's Chambers, Westminster, joined the Royal Flying Corps in April 1916 and rose to Brigadier-General.
Flying attracted a high proportion of young officers from the legal world, despite the appalling dangers. The Record of Service includes some colourful details of their fate: 'Crashed after collision in mid-air Easter Sunday 1917'….'Attacked by several enemy aircraft and forced to the found in the German lines'... 'shot down out of control'. Rowland Wynne Frazier, admitted 1912, survived being shot down in his Henri Farman biplane off the coast of Bulgaria in 1916. Alfred John Chapman of Burton-on-Trent was less lucky: 'Killed in aerial fight over the enemy's lines near Cambrai, 18 September 1918.' Edgar Henry Collison 'died from the results of a flying accident in Norfolk, 26 June 1916.'
Some solicitors' war stories seem to come straight out of the works of John Buchan. Jack Valentine Hay, articled in Bloomsbury, joined the intelligence corps on 5 August 1914, was a despatch rider at the Battle of the Marne and picked up the Legion d'Honneur for 'contre espionage' work for the French before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps.
James Harris, articled to his father in Winchester, was mobilised in August 1914, went to France and Mesopotamia where he was 'taken prisoner by Turks at Fall of Kut el-Amara April 29, 1916. Escaped from Prisoners' Camp in Asia Minor Aug. 7, 1918. Trekked 350 miles to coast of Asia Minor, captured Turkish tug (motor) and crossed to Cyprus 100 miles, arrived there Sept. 13, 1918'.
Some names are instantly familiar from the legal scene today. Roy Pinsent, member of Pinsent & Co of Birmingham, served as a signals lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. Cyril Shakespear Beachcroft, member of 'Beachcroft, Thompson & Co of 9 Theobalds Road, WC' was another August 1914 volunteer to the Inns of Court OTC. He was killed in action in 1917.
Many solicitors found what looked like cushier billets, noted with the phrase 'Served at home'. Arthur Edward Chevalier, admitted 1887, found himself as staff adjutant at Knockaloe Alien Prisoners of War Camp, Isle of Man. Some evidently felt the need to rebut any suggestion of shirking in their entries: 'Discharged 18 July 1917, after three months in hospital'… 'Discharged owing to illness and subsequently rejoined' ... 'engaged for foreign service but in consequence of injuries received on manoeuvres was forced to serve at home for whole period'.
Home service was not necessarily without peril. Sir Augustus Montague Bradley, admitted in 1888, found himself in the thick of the Dublin Easter Rising. The first legal fatality of the war may have been Edward Molyneux Cohan, articled to G.M. Magee, Liverpool. He was killed on 5 August 1914 'as the result of an accident during mobilisation, when on duty on Salisbury Plain'. There were many other perils: one unfortunate solicitor 'died of spotted fever in Fulham Military Hospital' on 3 May 1917.
In action, the first to die may have been Denys Ainslie, articled to his father, in Surrey Street ,WC. He was killed in action on 24 October 1914 at the first battle of Ypres, inaugurating the Roll of Honour that was to lead the Gazette's news pages for four years. By mid 1916 it was regularly filling three pages a month.
A date recurring with terrible regularity throughout the record of service is 1 July 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. Among those killed on the British army's bloodiest day were 'Stephen Oswald Sharp, articled in Rotherham, Joined 11 September 1914, 12th Battalion York and Lancaster Regt. Killed in action 1 July 1916'... 'John George Todd, member of Maughan & Hall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, joined August 1914, commission in Tyneside Scottish, killed at La Boiselle 1 July 1916'... 'Frank Smith Brooks, articled to A.P. Brooks of Southport. 2nd Lt, 20th battalion Manchester regiment, killed in action 1 July 1916'... 'Louis Frederick Byrne, articled in Newcastle upon Tyne, 2nd Lt Northumberland Fusiliers November 1914, killed in action in Somme battle 1 July 1916'... 'Alfred Armstrong Caddick admitted 1894, Major, Royal Warwickshire Regiment: Went to France in spring of 1915 and remained until killed in action at the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916.'
One solicitor has a special connection with that day. Barnsley solicitor Sir Joseph Hewitt, admitted 1893, was the driving force behind, and first colonel of, the13th battalion York and Lancaster regiment. These were the 'Barnsley Pals', former miners who joined up together, trained together and on 1 July 1916 walked 'in parade-ground fashion' together into the German machine guns at Serre, on the Somme. The subsequent arrival of War Office telegrams at house after house in the same little Yorkshire streets created the abiding British folk memory of the war.
Hewitt, who died in 1923, submitted only a single modest line to the Record of Service: 'Served at home'. But listed just above him on the page, his articled clerk gets five lines. George Alfred Guest Hewitt was mobilised in August 1914 and wounded at Ypres and the Somme before being killed in Bourlon Village, France, on 2 November 1917. He was Sir Joseph Hewitt's son.
Many entries record decorations. Cecil Harold Sewell, articled to his father, H.B Sewell of Greenwich, joined in November 1914 and won the Victoria Cross saving the lives of a tank crew under fire in 1918. The award was posthumous.
Others record wounds, physical and mental. Basil Cozens-Hardy, admitted 1911, of Cozens-Hardy of Norwich was wounded 'leg amputated' near St Quentin in 1918. Charles William Buckwell of Brighton, admitted 1906, 'Suffered from shell shock 15 April 1918.' Many entries record 'gassed'.
Solicitors continued to die long after the Armistice Day in 1918. One of the last to be killed on front line active service John Victor Card, admitted 1911, managing clerk with Wm G. Card of Cheapside, who enlisted September 1914 as a private and saw action in France, Salonica, East Africa and Russia. He was killed in action near Archangel, March 25, 1919. Others died in the northwest frontier, in accidents and of course in the great influenza epidemic that followed the war.
The fortunate came home to get on with their lives. Reginald Bullin, admitted 1901, was mobilised on 4 August 1914, and as major, was second in command of 17th Hampshire Regiment from July 1915 to February 1919. 'For a time acted as legal adviser to Brigade headquarters.' He went on to a distinguished career, for example representing the Magistrates' Association on a three-year inquiry into 'ill-used or neglected children'. The inquiry 'came to the firm conclusion that there is no lack of services to deal with either offenders or victims, but there is inadequate co-ordination between the various services.' This was in 1956.
Geoffrey Vickers, who had interrupted his studies to serve with the Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment (Sherwood Foresters) and who won the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Loos in 1915, went on to a knighthood and partnership at Slaughter & May.
Gloucester solicitor Frederick Harvey, who had joined as a private in 1914, was decorated and commissioned before being taken prisoner, returned after two years in prisoner of war camps with a hatred of incarceration which inspired his work as a defence advocate. He eventually gave up his practice to become a poet and broadcaster.
Geoffrey Stuart King, an articled clerk who joined on 8 August 1914 as a private and served throughout the war winning the Military Cross as a machine gun major, rose to the rank of permanent secretary in the civil service, gaining a knighthood and presiding over the creation of the welfare state. When he died in 1981, his Times obituary noted that his 1918 wound had left him with intermittent deafness, but that had been no barrier to his career: 'His triumph over this disability was complete.'
Like all the solicitor-soldiers who made it home, he knew it could have been much worse.