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ยป Richard Thomas Cyril Willis-Fleming
 
 

Richard Thomas Cyril Willis-Fleming

2nd Lieutenant Richard Thomas Cyril WILLIS-FLEMING
Royal Horse Artillery (TF)

Richard Thomas Cyril Willis-FlemingDate of birth: 3 August 1896
Date of death: 4 August 1916

Died of wounds received in action aged 20
Buried at Kantara War Memorial Cemetery in Egypt

Richard Thomas Cyril was the second son of John and Violet Willis-Fleming of Chilworth Manor, Hampshire.

He was educated at Durnford School and Winchester College. He gained a place at Oxford University, but in March 1915 obtained a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the1/1st Hampshire Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery.

He commenced Service in 1916, a Lieutenant in the Royal Horse Artillery. He died in August 1916 at the Battle of Romani, Egypt. The Durnford Memorial Book of the Great War, 1914 - 1918 (published in 1922) said of him:
The Battle of Romani was Dick Fleming's first fight, and had it been a football match he could not have entered into it with a greater sense of enjoyment, for he had in him something of the stuff of which the Elizabethan Adventurers were made, and just as suspense did but sharpen his nerve, so did difficulties only brace and steady his effort. His cheerfulness was infectious and irresistible, and it was said of him that nobody worthy of the name of human being could resist the spell which he cast about him. From boyhood he was devoted to country pursuits and had an astonishingly intimate knowledge of wild life, often acquired with a fine disregard of the niceties of the Game Laws. It was his good fortune to serve in a theatre of war which gave his qualities their widest scope, and how great was the position that he won in the affection of the Brigade can be realized from his Colonel's tribute after his death:  "I would rather have lost the battery than lost that boy."

“At 5, Dick Fleming was sent to get fresh ammunition at the Dump at Railhead.  I saw him just before he went.  I then went down to the guns to relieve Elliot, and I hadn't been there half an hour, when a message came to me that Fleming was slightly wounded in the head.  Elliot came down later and told me I should never see him again.  I nearly broke down - hardly believing it.  Elliot then told me he had received a piece of bomb right through his head, that he was unconscious all the time, and his death was expected any minute.

“From that moment my life seemed to change, and these shells and bombs which had seemed to do such little damage to our battery had now a very different aspect. The very thought that one so young, good and happy had been the only one to be taken from us, made me lose a bit of that confidence in myself that hitherto had kept me from fear.  I only wish you had known Dick Fleming as I knew him.  I was completely in his confidence, and a more delightful, gentlemanly, brave, keen, manly, cheerful and clean-minded boy has ever to my small experience - or anyone else's who knew him - existed.

“I don't think that for a long period of time just before he died (he passed away at 9.30) I could think of a single fault, either that he could or couldn't help. He had everything! Even brains. He had read more than anyone I know for his age, and he read quickly, as his brain worked quickly and he could take things in quicker than most people. You should have seen the letter the Colonel wrote about him. These are extracts:-

"I used to try and talk to him as much as I could, not to teach him his work - he knew that - but to learn something of manners and courtesy, which he possessed in a degree higher than in anyone I have met.

"I have met one or two boys in my experience of his nature who have reached such a height of perfection possible in this world, that they have nothing else to learn, and in every case that I can remember, they have had an early death.

An English Gentleman is what I would call him, though not a typical one, as that wouldn't be a very praiseworthy attribute. An Ideal English Gentleman - an ideal man
- is a perfect description of him. “

How I shall miss him after the war! "After the war", that was always his expression. He was full of adventure.  He was going to Cyprus on his way home, or through Palestine, and one day he was going to take a trip to Newfoundland; he loved all sport, and there you could get any amount of fishing and shooting.  His was not only talk, as in most people, he intended to do it.  He had already proved his bravery in his mountain-climbing in Switzerland. Our trip to Cairo together I shall never forget all my life.

Our Major has written to his people.  I should like to, but don't want to burden them with letters that only add to their sorrow.  What a fine fellow the British Empire has lost!  A photograph of his grave in the heart of the desert I shall get if I can.  On the day of the fight he was as cheerful as ever, and his heart was in it, and any of us would have died to let him see the end of the battle.

You should see the letters the men are writing home about him!  One man wrote a long poem of Dick, but I am afraid it bordered on the comic, though every word of it was meant, and some quite pathetic.”

He died on the day after his 20th birthday.

Taken from Dick’s Diary on the Stoneham War Shrine website, copyright © 2008-2010 Project Steering Group / Trustees of the Willis Fleming Historical Trust. All rights reserved

Two war shrines were erected in 1917 at North Stoneham and Havenstreet by John and Violet Willis Fleming in memory of their second son, killed in action on the day after his twentieth birthday. There was a popular movement for building such shrines during the Great War, which was distinct from the parish and civic war memorials erected in the years after the war.   At a combined cost of £912, the two Shrines were built to an identical design, and similarly positioned on the brows of low, prominent hills, in peaceful locations away from roads and other buildings.

Local newspapers reported the occasion of the two Shrines' dedications in 1918, and described the structures:

"The building [at Havenstreet], which is built of stone from the Fleming quarries, consists of three compartments. In the centre is an altar and crucifix on either side of which have been temporarily fixed the names of those who have so nobly and heroically made the supreme sacrifice. The compartments on either side are intended for prayer, and are enclosed with oak doors, while the centre gate consists of handsome iron scroll work."

"The shrine [at Stoneham] is divided into three distinct divisions, the central and largest containing an oak altar and crucifix with vases of flowers, and two smaller ones to ensure privacy, having a pre-dieu and an aperture, through which the altar is visible."   The oak fascias on the front of both Shrines were carved with the inscription:  'BUT THEY ARE IN PEACE FOR GOD PROVED THEM AND FOUND THEM WORTHY FOR HIMSELF'

An additional, central inscription on the fascias of both Shrines dates from 1919 or later (the following is from the Stoneham Shrine):
'TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND TO THE DEARLY LOVED MEMORY OF THEIR SECOND SON RICHARD THOMAS CYRIL LIEUT. 1/1ST BATTERY HANTS R.H.A. BORN AUG 3RD 1896 KILLED IN ACTION AT THE BATTLE OF ROMANI EGYPT AUG 4TH 1916 AND TO THE MEMORY OF THOSE FROM THE PARISH OF NORTH STONEHAM WHO ALSO LAID DOWN THEIR LIVES IN THE GREAT WAR 1914-1919 THIS SHRINE IS DEDICATED BY JOHN & VIOLET WILLIS FLEMING OF STONEHAM PARK'

The roll of honour at the Stoneham Shrine listed the names of thirty-two fallen soldiers headed with the words: 'PRAY FOR THE SOULS OF THESE GALLANT MEN'
For many years fresh flowers continued to be placed on the altars of the Shrines, and Sunday School children taken there to pray. An annual Easter day service was held at the Stoneham Shrine, and the congregation of St Nicolas would regularly process from the church to the Shrine with a processional crucifix and banner.
It seems that no provision was made for the maintenance of either Shrine after the Fleming Estate land auctions of 1953 and 1956. By the 1960s, both Shrines were in a poor condition. (It should also be noted that there had always been mixed feelings towards war shrines in general, and some dissent). After 1947, no members of the Willis Fleming family lived in the North Stoneham area.

The Havenstreet Shrine survives in near-original condition (2011).  In 2005 it was proposed to partially restore the Stoneham Shrine, based on the recognition that the Shrine is an important, forgotten memorial. This was prompted by the formation of The Willis Fleming Historical Trust, and by Eastleigh Borough Council's desire to continue to improve Avenue Park as an amenity for local people.

(photograph Stoneham War shrine Book of Remembrance)

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