Captain William George Gresham LEVESON-GOWER
3rd company 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards and Staff
Date of birth: 12 March 1883
Date of death: 9 October 1918
Killed in action aged 35
Buried at Awoingt Military Cemetery Plot III. H. 1
William George Gresham was born in Rio de Janeiro to Arthur Francis Gresham Leveson-Gower and Caroline Frederica Leveson Gower (nee Foljambe) of Hadleigh House, Windsor. Arthur was in the Diplomatic Service, and their three youngest children were born in different foreign lands; by 1891 census the family was living in London at 4, Sussex Place.
William was at the preparatory school at Summer Fields in Oxford. Mrs Leveson-Gower died in 1895, the year before he went to Eton as a King‘s Scholar in College House; he was Captain of School in 1901, and left later that year. In 1896, he attended the Olympic Games in Athens. He came up to Christ Church as a Scholar in the Michaelmas Term of 1901. He took 1st Class Mods, 1903; and gained a 2nd Class Degree in Lit Hum, in 1905. William obtained a Clerkship in the Journal Office of the House of Lords in 1907 and was Called to the Bar of the Inner Temple in 1911. He joined the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps as a Private, Mounted Infantry, on 12 January 1907, and was promoted Serjeant, on 1 January 1910. He was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant, Squadron, Inns of Court OTC on 11 October 1911 and promoted Lieutenant on 21 May 1914.
He was seconded to the regular army on 5 October 1915, and on 15 May 1916 appointed as a Captain, GSO3 (General Staff Officer 3rd Grade), Eastern Command, 1915-16 and GSO3, 67th Division, 1916-17. On 27 December 1917 he returned to the Inns of Court OTC, but keen to get to the front line, he transferred to the Coldstream Guards and became a General Staff Officer with the rank of Captain in 1915. He left for France on 10 September 1918, joining the 1st Battalion at the front on 30 September.
On the morning of 9 October at 5.20am the battalion found themselves on the extreme left of the Guards Brigade line near Cambrai. Lieutenant Leveson-Gower was in charge of no 3 company, despite the fact that he had only been with the battalion for a week. It may be because of this that his company was held in reserve. In the darkness, in intense cold, and under a British barrage, the leading companies worked their way forward to within 400 yards of their first objective, the La Targette-CambraI Road, and at zero plus ten minutes they had taken it without opposition. During this time they took a few casualties from British shells which were falling short but they pushed on to the railway where they captured a few dugouts in the embankments and took a number of prisoners who were mostly wounded. They crossed the CambraI-Le Cateau Road and brought machine gun fire to bear on some retreating limbers (two-wheeled carts designed to support the trail of an artillery piece allowing it to be towed) from a German Artillery unit. They dug in on the other side of the road, and it was at this time that Lt LevesonGower was killed by a German shell at Awoingt, near Cambrai.
The Guards history says:-
“The death of Lieutenant Leveson-Gower is typical of so very many other similar cases that occurred in this cruel war, where a youth just budding into manhood entered the army, went through his training, and then arrived at the front to be cut off as soon as he got there. In the present instant this young officer joined his battalion full of hope and enthusiasm on 30 September, and within 10 short days he fell in his first encounter with the enemy”.
In his last letter home, written on 7 October, Leveson-Gower wrote “It really is a fact that I am commanding a company in the Coldstream Guards, an ambition beyond my wildest dreams”.
In his will of 29 September a codicil was found leaving “remembrances” to 20 children.
His name is carved on the House of Lords War Memorial panels in the Royal Gallery.
Sources: List of Etonians Who Fought in the Great War 1914-1919; Eton College Register, Part VII, 1899-1909; Oxford University Roll of Service; Inner Templars Who Volunteered and Served in the Great War; The Inns of Court O. T. C. during the Great War.
Parliamentary Papers hold the Papers of him and his family, which were deposited by Miss Victoria Leveson Gower, one of his two sisters, between 1968 and 1972. They include books of correspondence, diaries (including a diary of a visit to France in 1917), cuttings, watercolour paintings and photographs. There are also papers relating to his death in active service during World War 1, including tributes and a booklet to commemorate the unveiling of the Parliamentary War Memorial. There are also several published books which belonged to him.
The Papers of his friend Robert Bailey are held by the House of Lords Record Office. The papers include letters from Robert Bailey to William Leveson-Gower (BAI/13) and an obituary of Leveson-Gower (BAI/15).
The Sussex Records hold further Papers of the Leveson Gower Family of Titsey Place and include a Prayer Book inscribed “William George Gresham Leveson-Gower Jerusalem October 1898; Athens Christmas 1898”