Rudolph Vincent Surr 1891-1916

Today’s post is the combined work of two volunteers, Tony McGarry who has a particular interest in the soldiers in our collection, and who carried out the initial research on this subject and Elizabeth Cooper who wrote the research up into today’s wonderful blog piece. Elizabeth is new to the project but an experienced researcher in her own right and as always it has been wonderful to see the images in our collection through fresh eyes.  

Thank you Tony and Elisabeth for today’s article…..



In 1881 Elizabeth Surr, the education reformer, was living with her family in Islington.  Married to a silk merchant with five children she was a member of the London School Board set up as a result of the 1870 Education Act.  She represented Finsbury and campaigned on radical issues such as maternity pay and the rights of married women teachers to continue working. Alongside other women on the board she challenged male bias and convention on the School Board – proposing equality of education for girls, and exposing the neglect and fraud at some of the Industrial schools set up for poor working class boys.  She also wrote many books for children.  Her granddaughter said that as well as being one of the first women elected to the London School Board, she is also one of the first women in a ‘Punch’ cartoon.

So why did she die in relative poverty in California, and why did an image of her grandson lie in a basement in Sutton for nearly one hundred years?  California in the 1880s was a land of opportunity and it could be assumed that the Surrs had gone to take advantage of this when they emigrated in 1884.  But both Elizabeth and her husband Joseph were in their sixties, their sons were still teenagers and their daughters did not join them.  Their eldest daughter, Jane, had just married Randolph Krause – a friend of the family. Why would they leave London?

They did not leave as hopeful immigrants to the fast developing West. According to their great-granddaughter, Jane Surr Burton, Joseph went bankrupt and to avoid the shame that this would bring to the Surr family in London his brother, Watson Surr, paid for the family to go away to obscurity in the US. What were the feelings of the family as they stood on the deck of the City of Rome as they left Liverpool for New York via Ireland in May 1884?

By 1892 the family was living on a farm in Linda Vista, San Diego and the San Diego County Voter Registration lists Joseph and his sons as ranchers.  Our story now turns to one of those sons – Edward Vincent who had left London when he was fourteen.  Now 22, he had married Paula Krause – Randolph Krause’s sister.  Paula and Randolph’s parents had been German missionaries in the South Sea Isles, where Paula had been born, and Randolph had been born in Australia.  Paula came out to the US in 1886 travelling by rail across America to join the family.  Had she met them before?  There is no record. Vincent and Paula married in 1890 and they moved with the family to the fast growing Coronado Township near San Diego where Vincent was now working as a bookkeeper. They became American citizens and their first child Rudolph, was born on 6th August 1891, followed by Elizabeth, Margaret and Muriel.  Apparently Muriel was known as Bish as when she was born she was as ‘red as a bishop’!  They were becoming part of the American Dream.

But at the end of 1901 their lives changed again.  First, Elizabeth Surr died in November aged 75, and then Paula died in December – possibly of cancer – aged just 37. Before her death Paula had requested that the children should go to live with Jane and her brother in England.  They had no children themselves and perhaps would be able to provide a more financially secure and stable future for the children.  According to Jane: ‘Grandpa loved and sorely missed his first set of children’. It must have been a very difficult decision to send them off on the train to the East Coast and the sea journey to England. – and such a frightening and confusing time for the children. They were still very young – 10, 8, 4 and 2.

The passenger list for the Oceanic which left New York for Liverpool on 12th March 1902 includes R Howard Krause.  He probably would have come to the US for his sister’s funeral and to take the children back with him. He is listed as being in the Saloon – but there is no record of the children being on board.  It is possible that they travelled with someone else – Muriel was only an infant – but no other family member left the US for England until 1906.  Vincent remarried after a couple of years and by 1906 he was living and working in the Philippines with his new family.

Randolph and Jane were living in Kidderminster -it is hard to imagine how the children adjusted to Kidderminster after a life on ranches in California.  In 1906 Rudolph was sent to Malvern College, where he stayed for three years.  Here, he would have made new friends and he would have enjoyed being part of a community – he was a member of the Officers’ Training Corps (Junior Division) illustrating an ability to work as a team and leadership potential.

He went on to Birmingham University in 1909 to study Commerce under Professor Ashley leaving with First Class Honours. Birmingham University had opened in 1900 and Professor Ashley founded England’s first Faculty of Commerce in 1902. The aim was to ‘educate the officers of the industrial and commercial army – who will ultimately guide the business activity of the country’ He wanted his students to ‘understand the importance of the international context in which business operated.’ Rudolph would have been aware of this as his uncle often travelled to London and Vienna for work.

After University Rudolph began work as a clerk with Baldwins Ltd, which was an important local iron and steel manufacturer in Kidderminster.  At some stage he became interesting in scouting. Scouting for boys had been published in 1908 and Rudolph became a scout leader either at University or back in Kidderminster – once again demonstrating his leadership qualities. The first Scouts’ meeting was held in Kidderminster at the end of 1908 and by 1911 there were 15 troops and over 400 boys in the district. Baden-Powell came to inspect the Scouts in 1911 and over 6,000 people turned out to greet him.  Rudolph’s uncle was the District Commissioner during the war so it is likely that Rudolph was a scout leader in Kidderminster.

In August 1914 War was declared and Rudolph was quick to enlist – attesting on 2nd September in London, 1914. He was posted to the 18th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (also known as the Public Schools Brigade) as Private 2129 and it is likely that other school friends would have enlisted at the same time.  The records state that he was 5 ft. 8 inches in height, weighed 154 lbs and his physical development was fair.  He could also ride a horse – did he learn at Malvern, or was this from his childhood in California?  But Rudolph, despite his patriotism and rush to join the war, was still an American citizen. In late September he applied for naturalization and took his oath obtaining a Certificate of Naturalization to an Alien. The London Gazette on 2nd October 1914 announced that Rudolph Vincent Surr was now a British citizen.


The photograph we have of Rudolph was taken on 17th December, 1914 – he looks a slight figure and younger than 23 in his stiff new uniform. The 18th Battalion was posted to Woodcote camp just outside Epsom – which is why his image is in the Knights-Whittome collection.  Did he send the photograph to his sisters?  Or perhaps his father? On 12th October, 1914 it is likely that Rudolph would have been one of the 3,000 troops from the Public Schools Brigade inspected by King George V on Epsom Downs. In January 1915 Kitchener came to inspect the troops on the Downs and we can assume that Rudolph was there, too.  Both occasions must have been moving for the patriotic young soldier.

The 18th Battalion finally landed in France in November 1915, but without Rudolph. In May 1915 he had been commissioned into the Worcestershire 5th Battalion as a Second lieutenant (on probation) and he arrived in France at the end of October 1915.  The 24th Trench Mortar battery was set up in January 1916 and Rudolph was seconded to it in June.  The Somme Offensive began in July and in August Rudolph was promoted again.  But on the 31st October 1916 he was killed in action.  The War diary for the 24th TMB lists Rudolph as a casualty but gives no further details. The weather was wet and cold, there was heavy shelling all day and the trenches were deep in mud.  On that day many men died in France and Rudolph became another statistic – lost in the mud of the Somme.  His body was not found.

Back in England his uncle had agreed to ‘place all scouts under civil authorities to aid the war effort’ – thirty-six of Rudolph’s scouts were also at the Front. Randolph Krause was also spending time at the Glasgow site of his company increasing the production of shells for the Army. Rudolph’s sister Elizabeth was also involved in the War Effort – in 1914 she was a demonstrator in the Food Production Department, then an organizing secretary in the Land Army.  The telegram arrived on 6th November 1916 with little information – their father learnt the news two days later.

The Kidderminster MP, Stanley Baldwin sent a letter of condolence to Mr and Mrs Krause written from the Carlton Club – it is possible that they were acquaintances, but Rudolph had been an employee at Baldwins Ltd.  Professor Ashley also wrote – he must have been aware of the number of officers that he had hoped would run the new commercial world, including Rudolph, but who were instead dying in France.

Rudolph is remembered on the Malvern College Roll of Honour, the Kidderminster War Memorial, the Thiepval Memorial and the Scouts’ Roll of Honour.


His sisters went on to marry and to have children of their own.  Elizabeth was awarded an M.B.E. for her work with the Land Army during the Second World War and became Northamptonshire’s first woman mayor. Margaret went to Australia and Muriel – Bish – went to see her father in 1947 with her husband and sons.  Jane Surr Burton remembers them all with great fondness.


Military research by Tony McGary

Additional research: Elizabeth Cooper         (23rd March 2014, and 30th October 2014)


Martin, J. Entering the Public Arena: the female members of the London School Board, 1870-1904.  History of Education. Vol. 22, 1993. Issue 3, pp225-240.


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