The Family Friend: Beauchamp Frederick Friend

1.Envelope for letter from Beauchamp Frederick Friend to James Milner, 5 September 1915 (NPG41/4/3)

‘Cheer-y-o-old bird’

In September 1915 James Milner received a letter from a 26 year-old officer in the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) [1]. Addressed from ‘The Trenches’ and signed off ‘Cheer-y-o-old bird, Beauchamp F. Friend, Somewhere in France’ it evokes a dynamic shared with Germans only 25 to 30 feet away and ‘quite inclined to be friendly, chucking over newspapers and shouting out to us, but you are a goner if you show your head over the parapet.

2.NPG x196883 Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener published by Rotary Photographic Co Ltd, 1914-1916

Friend’s letter, recently discovered in the archive, voices many pressures we associate with trench warfare including weariness, ‘I have been out in Blooming Flanders for getting on four months now and have had quite enough of it... I have been in the firing line practically all the time and am quite used to it now’. He describes the environmental challenges, ‘It has been raining like Hades for the last week and the trenches are an awful mess, everything and everybody is wet through and if it weren’t for a wee drappie now and again I should sit down and cry.’ He contrasts his ‘nerve wracking’ stress and sense of pride as an officer, ‘it’s a devil of a strain as you have got all your men to look after as well as yourself and if you are in a devil of a funk you mustn’t show them that you are. But by Jove K’s [Kitchener’s] Army is Splendid, there’s no other word for it; we were inspected by him the other day’ [2]

3.Letter from American Express Company to James Milner, 3 February 1920 (NPG104/11/1)

Believing the hostilities could soon end Friend writes, ‘This bally old war looks as if it was going on for ever from the state of things out here but I don’t see how it can much longer’. Against Friend’s expectations the conflict continued for a further three years. Thankfully another letter came to light recently in the archive confirming that he survived them. In February 1920 the American Express Company wrote to James Milner requesting a character reference for Friend [3]. Milner responded claiming an acquaintance of fifteen years or more, referring to Friend’s war service and pre-war work experience in the Eastern Telegraph Company.

5.© IWM (Q 1429) Photograph by Lieutenant Ernest Brooks: Men of the Royal West Kent Regiment receive their pay from an officer in a shell hole near Mouquet Farm, October 1916

4.© IWM (Q 1429) Photograph by Lieutenant Ernest Brooks: Men of the Royal West Kent Regiment receive their pay from an officer in a shell hole near Mouquet Farm, October 1916

Tracing Friend’s story

What clues lie beyond the Gallery’s archive? A good starting point for researching those who fought in the Great War are medal index cards held at The National Archives. These often include many abbreviations and acronyms to decipher but Friend’s card contained virtually no data beyond his rank and regiment. Only the phrase ‘suspense list’ appeared where medals should have been recorded. This suggested his awards were forfeited, but why?

Fortunately War Office papers relating to Friend’s service as a military officer also survive at The National Archives. These show he applied for a temporary commission in August 1914, aged 25. His application outlined relevant skills and experience: horse riding and service as a special constable attached to the South African Police. In November 1914 he was appointed Temporary 2nd Lieutenant in the 6th Battalion of the Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) [4]. Under command of 37th Brigade in 12th (Eastern) Division they landed at Boulogne on 1st June 1915. By summer 1916 Friend had attained the rank of Temporary Captain.

5.© IWM (Q 61326) Ruined houses on the Bethune-Arras road at La Targette, 28 February 1916

5.© IWM (Q 61326) Ruined houses on the Bethune-Arras road at La Targette, 28 February 1916

He returned to England from France at least twice during the war. Medical boards state he was struck by fragments of shell in May 1916 whilst at Bethune sustaining two wounds: one to his superior iliac spine ‘about the size of a threepenny bit’ and another to his left thigh ‘about the size of a sixpence’ [5]. Friend requested a wound gratuity because he was injured when on duty as 37th Brigade Grenade Officer but the War Office decreed the damage insufficiently severe to qualify. A second reappearance in England was documented in November 1917, when he was admitted to the Prince of Wales Hospital for Officers in Marylebone. Reports characterised his condition as albuminuria, a possible symptom of kidney disease, and cited the origin as active service conditions at Arras. Records suggest events then took a dramatic turn: in December 1917 Friend absconded from hospital. He was apprehended in January 1918 and reprimanded by a Court Marshal in February but failed to report to a reserve battalion in April as instructed. He surrendered to military authorities in May and was put before a Court Marshal in August 1918. Found guilty of one charge of absence without leave and three charges regarding dishonoured cheques he was dismissed from His Majesty’s Service.

After the War

A letter within Friend’s War Office records suggests a further dimension to his story. In March 1920 a concerned Mrs Hunt of Sidcup queried Friend’s military record. Friend was her daughter’s fiancé but her son had recently written from India advising against the marriage. An informant had indicated to him that Friend was utterly bad, and was cashiered out of the West Kents for overstaying his leave and monetary matters’. Military authorities forwarded to Mrs Hunt the notice of his dismissal as published in the ‘London Gazette’ of 7th October 1918. Tantalisingly these are the last communications on Friend’s file so it is unclear how this chapter closed but online sources suggest a new start for him: in August 1921 Friend appears as a ‘telegraphist’ on the passenger manifest of a ship bound for Cape Town in South Africa. A short newspaper notice suggests he died there many years later in 1946.