Date of birth: 1895
Date of death: 23 July 1916
Died in action aged 20
No known grave
Roland Gerard (known to his family as Ged) was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1895, the eldest of the five children, and the only son, of James Louis Garvin [1868-1947] and his wife, Christina Ellen nee Wilson.
James Louis Garvin’s father died when he was two, he had been brought up by his mother in impecunious circumstances, and was self-educated. He was an influential British journalist, author and editor, being Editor of the Observer [1908-1942] and Editor-in-Chief of the 14th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica [1926-1932].
In July 1914, the Garvin family were living at 9, Greville Place, London and the 18-year-old Roland Gerard was near the end of his final term at Westminster School. Hostilities commenced on his last day at school, Britain declared war the following week. Although he had won a history scholarship to Christ Church and was due to come up that October, on Friday 28 August he enlisted in the 7th Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment, part of the 19th (Western) Division. After nearly a year in the regimental training camp in Hampshire, the 19th Division left for France on 17 July 1915, on board the SS Onward. After landing in Boulogne, the battalion began marching to the Lys sector of the Western Front.
Ged's first communiqué home was a hurriedly written field card…
“Sunday 18 July 1915 Boulogne, Pas-de-Calais
Dear Mummy and Dad
I'll write you snatches now and again and post it when I can; at present all letters are forbidden… we crossed the Channel in the dark, with all lights out. Three hundred yards or so to the right a destroyer escorted us, a swift thing rather blacker than the environing sea. We marched up through a dark town and settled down in this rest camp about three this morning... I went out at five o'clock for a look around. I wish you could have seen the town as it looked then, in the early brilliance of the sun. On the ridge to the left, between me and the water, the white walls shone and the red roofs of the houses. I'm going down there in a little while. I'll write you more tomorrow (perhaps). Ged “
Letters between his parents and himself were published in 2009
“We Hope to Get Word Tomorrow” edited by Christina Garvin & J.L. Gerard
Published by Frontline Books.
Ged was given leave at the end of October, returning to France on Tuesday 2 November "after five precious days that meant so much to us", as his father put it. He spent Christmas and the New Year in France and came home for eleven days at the end of March 1916, in advance of intensive training for the coming offensive on the Somme. In June and early July he was doing office work at 19th Divisional headquarters. He was promoted Captain and returned to the field.
On Thursday 20th July he wrote from Ravine near Mametz Wood
This is just a short note for you. We go into action in a day or two and I'm leaving this in case I don't come back. It brings you both, and to the girls and Granny, my very deepest love. Try not to grieve too much for me. I hope my death will have been worthy of your trust and I couldn't die for a better cause. Please give one of my books or something else of mine to Chidson [Hume Chidson, a schoolfriend] and each of the O'Sullivans [family friends]. Everything else and of course any money belongs to you to handle as you will. Bye-bye. Heart's love and kisses. xxx Ged
Friday 21 July : 9 Greville Place, London NW
My dearest old son
As it's Friday I can only send you a few hasty lines in pencil. My head was so crammed with business affairs yesterday that for once I forgot your letter, but felt something was wrong and wakened up about one in the morning, exclaiming sleepily but very loud: "Good heavens, I haven't written to Ged": Mummy was startled and then amused. She feels under God that you will surely come back to her and will be guarded through the war: that is why she is bright to a degree that will do you good to think of…
Your returned letters came in a batch today. What a funny little lump they make: one would have thought there would be a pile of stuff big enough to relieve the paper famine. They shall all be preserved for you like the others and what a sifting you will have and what huge archives you will have accumulated at your age. Of course there's no fresh letter from you and we didn't expect it. But we hope, all the same, to get word tomorrow… Love past words and God bless you. Dad
JL Garvin wrote one more letter to his son, on 24 July, but neither this, nor that of the 21 July, reached Ged. They were returned to 9 Greville Place unopened, the envelope of 21 July stamped "Return to sender": written on the front was "Killed in Action". This would have been a brutal way for Ged's parents to have learnt the news, but it was mercifully broken to his father by Waldorf Astor, the owner of the Observer, on Tuesday 25. Astor had learnt through private channels; official confirmation came two days later. So far as can be ascertained, Ged died shortly after 12.30am on 23 July, caught by machine-gun fire while leading his company against the strongly fortified German positions north of Bazentin-le-Petit. His body was never found.
His Effects amounted to £125 4s 2d., probate granted to his father. Ged’s mother died in 1918. J.L. Garvin never recovered from Ged's death, and it shaped many of his attitudes to subsequent events. He died of pneumonia in 1947.
Ged is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial Pier and Face 7A and 7B.
Registered Charity Number: 1143423