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A man of action and service

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From the gold fields of Western Australia to Brazil’s rubber plantations and the battlefields of the First World War, Guernseyman Thomas Hutchesson had an adventurous life and a distinguished army career. Alan Cross tells his story

A portrait of Thomas Hutchesson, a decorated career soldier and a driving force behind the foundation of the Guernsey Sporting Club.

GUERNSEY’S losses in the First World War through death and injury were immense and quite disproportionate for such a small community. We were rightly reminded of this in 2017 when many Guernsey families remembered relatives who lost their lives 100 years ago fighting with the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry in the battles at Cambrai and Les Rues Vertes in November 1917. This year, those who fell at Doulieu in April 1918 will also be remembered.

Others who fought in that appalling conflict survived and returned home, physically unscathed if mentally scarred, to piece together their lives. Such men, uncommemorated on rolls of honour and war memorials, may also, if they remained childless, have left no one to remember them.

One such is Thomas Hutchesson (Old Elizabethan 2509), born in Guernsey on 19 January 1879, the third child of Francis Pery Hutchesson, manager of the Old Bank, and Seigneur of the Fief Le Comte, and Charlotte Frederica Elizabeth, née Hay-Graeme.

As a boy Thomas lived with his family in the Oberlands, St Martin’s.

He attended Elizabeth College from 1888 to 1893, but left aged 14 and attended the Séminaire et Collège at Valognes in Cherbourg, presumably to improve his French.

He didn’t stay long. In 1894, aged just 15, he set sail to join the gold rush in Western Australia. There he remained until at the outbreak of the Second South African (Boer) War in 1899 he enlisted with the Western Australian Permanent Infantry as a private. His unit soon converted to horseback and served from 1900 as the Western Australian Mounted infantry until the war ended in May 1901.

Thomas served throughout, earning the Queen’s South Africa Medal with five clasps and the King’s South African Medal with two bars. He clearly made his mark as both horseman and soldier and in addition to his other campaign honours he became galloper to General Sir John French and was mentioned twice in despatches.

Returning to Guernsey in 1902, Thomas joined the RGLI as lieutenant, becoming captain in 1904. In 1906 he inherited the Seigneurie Le Comte from his father and his grandfather before him. In this time his residence seems to have changed from St Martin’s to Les Touillets in the Castel, but very soon after his father’s death he went to Brazil to set up as a rubber planter and stayed there until 1910.

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In 1913 he married Ada, nee Wilde-Rice, from Lancashire, but sadly, just two years later she died, perhaps of complications to do with childbirth. She left £147 in effects.

On 14 February 1915 Thomas was appointed captain (temporary) in the Royal Irish Regiment.

After training in Ireland he went to France with D Company in December 1915 and took command of the Machine Gun Detachment as a captain. On 8 December 1916 he was promoted to major, taking over as second in command of the 6th Battalion RIR, and a year later he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel.

On 1 January 1918 he was awarded the Military Cross and transferred to command the 19th London Regiment in January 1918, which post he held until December 1918.

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In late 1918, he married his second wife, Louise Violet Winifred Holland. He was aged 40, she 34.

From March to July 1919 he was given command of the 15th Battalion West Riding Regiment, Rhine Army and then transferred to Dublin to command the 52nd Welsh Regiment, a post he held until its demobilisation and his release from active service on 16 March 1920.

Subsequently he commanded the 1st Battalion Royal Guernsey Light Infantry (Militia) for 18 months and then was placed on the Officer Reserve List for the Royal Guernsey Militia as a major.

Regrettably for him, he then had to engage in a lengthy correspondence with the War Office and the Treasury solicitor, since the authorities were pursuing him for repayment of £90.14s.3d, claimed to be their overpayment to him for his military service. He managed to repay £24 of this sum, but was then pursued again for the balance. It seems that the dispute hinged on the length of time during which he had held the rank of Lt-Col.

On his return to Guernsey, Thomas Hutchesson had a crucial role in the setting up of D Company and the men of other Irish Regiments, e.g. the Fusiliers and the Rifles, as firstly the Royal Irish Association (31 March 1919) and then the Guernsey Sporting Club (13 January, 1920), and negotiating the purchase of Warwick House.

The minute book shows him as very active and involved up until 1923, when it reads, on 1 June, of ‘the president’s absence from the island’ and a comment in the same minute that the 16 and 19 March minutes had not been signed by the president. However, in 1924, at the annual general meeting, Thomas is reported as expressing a strong opinion about the importance of the club and the need to stay true to the spirit of its foundation.

Then the record falls silent.

He may have returned to Brazil to attend to his rubber plantation, as on 7 December 1930 he is recorded as disembarking as a first class passenger in London from the Andalucian Star of Blue Star Lines, which had originated in Buenos Aires, picking up more passengers in Rio de Janeiro en route.

During the 1930s he continued to live at Les Touillets, Castel, and to play his role in the community as Seigneur of the Fief Le Comte, and an active member of the Castel parish community.

He died in Weymouth on New Year’s Day 1940, just short of his 61st birthday. Probate lists his effects as valued at £1,020 6s 5d, granted to his widow Louise, with his brother Charles acting as joint executor.

Louise lived on to the age of 88, dying in Surrey in 1972.

Thomas is buried in the family tomb in Candie Cemetery.

u Alan Cross is the archivist for the Guernsey Sporting Club.

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