“A famous cousin” – Arras North – Page 104

Throughout “Visiting the Fallen” there are many references to men buried or commemorated in and around Arras who have connections to people who are perhaps better known to us. One of them happens to be Captain Charles John Beech MASEFIELD MC. He was wounded in a raid near the outskirts of Lens on 1st July 1917 while serving with the 1/5th North Staffordshire Regiment and died the following day in German captivity. His remains were brought to Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery after the war (Plot VI.H.23)

His more famous cousin was the poet and writer, John Masefield, who for a time served as a medical orderly in France with the Red Cross. During the Gallipoli campaign he ran a motor boat ambulance service, partially financed by his friend and novelist, John Galsworthy, author of ‘The Forsyte Saga’. Later, he went to the United States where he pleaded the Allied cause. As well as writing a book on Gallipoli, he also wrote two books about the Somme. “The Old Front Line”, published in 1917, is still a book I refer to from time to time for its superb topographical detail. The other work, “The Battle of the Somme”, which appeared in 1919, is not so well known these days, though his collection of letters written between 1915 and 1917, and edited by Peter Vansittart, is still around and worth reading.

In 1930 John Masefield became Poet Laureate. His cousin, Charles, was also a published poet, though his verse has since been eclipsed by John’s work. As well as poetry, Charles managed to write a novel and a guide to the county of Staffordshire. A biography of him, “The Life and Times of Charles Masefield, MC”, has since been published, written by Graham Babbington. Charles had shown early promise as a writer and had even won a prize for English verse during his final year at Repton.

His childhood appears to have been a very comfortable one. He grew up in the countryside at the family’s home, which was a substantial estate known as Abbots Haye in Staffordshire. After attending Repton, he joined his father who worked as a solicitor, as did his grandfather. He initially served with the 3/5th North Staffordshire Regiment, but later transferred to the 1/5th Battalion. In January 1915 he wrote a poem entitled, “Two Julys”, and another in July 1915: Sailing for Flanders”. In May 1917 he returned to France after spending some time at home settling matters of estate following the death of his father. That same month, he penned another poem, “In Honorem Fortium”, which contained the prophetic line: ” I sometimes think that I have lived too long.” Barely a month later he was dead.

John Masefield’s son, Lewis Crommelin Masefield, himself a novelist, musician, naturalist and journalist, was killed in North Africa during the Second World War serving as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps. His death occurred on the 29th May 1942 and he is buried in Knightsbridge War Cemetery, Acroma, in Libya. Major Robert Masefield, John’s distant cousin, was killed on the 24th October 1914 serving with the 1st King’s Shropshire Light Infantry and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial. Other distant relatives are: 2nd Lieutenant Jack Valentine Masefield, who was killed  on the 1st December 1941 serving with the New Zealand Artillery. He is also buried in the same cemetery as John’s son, Lewis. Lieutenant John Aidan Beech Masefield also fell during the North African campaign. He was killed on the 1st September 1942 serving with the Royal Tank Regiment and is buried at El Alamein War Cemetery in Egypt.