Research for today’s post comes from James Crouch of the Banstead War Memorial Project, who often brings us wonderful insight to the lives of our sitters of which we are incredibly grateful! Demolished around 1980, Banstead Hall was a Boys School for a century and we have several Knights-Whittome photographs of its students in our collection. The focus of the piece today is of the school’s founders son, Harry Maitland, who faced many changes and unfortunate health trials throughout WW1.
Henry Jervois Ruault Maitland, known as Harry, was born at Banstead Hall on 3rd April 1898. He was baptised at All Saints on 7th May, just two days before George Stephenson Wingrove, another Navy man with a memorial plaque in the church. He was the son of Edward and Mary Maitland.
Edward had worked at Harrow as an assistant master before coming to Banstead in May 1889 to establish a preparatory school for boys up to the age of fourteen at Banstead Hall, a grand house fronting on the Brighton Road and standing between the Brighton Road and Bolters Lane. Today only the lodge (South Lodge) and a single gatepost survive but the house stood for nearly a century.
Edward married Mary Ethel Leontine Clemence Ruault on 30th July 1889 at the church of St Barnabas, Kensington. Mary was the daughter of Pierre Ruault, one of Edward’s colleagues, a professor of modern languages at Harrow. Some of the Ruault family also feature in images in the Past On Glass collection. Edward and Mary had a son, John, on 3rd August 1890, a daughter, Margaret Vera, in 1894, and Harry was born four years later.
The school was a success and Edward bought the freehold in 1891 and later bought more land east and north of the Hall for playing fields. The Maitlands were soon woven into the fabric of village life, with Edward holding a number of positions of responsibility. He was also a member of Banstead Cricket Club and both of his sons, John and Harry, played for the 1st XI when they were old enough.
Harry lost his father in February 1902, when he was just four years old. The Vicar of Banstead, Reverend Buckle, noted Edward’s death in his diary as “an irreparable loss to all Banstead.” Mary took over the running of the school until John was old enough to succeed her.
Young Harry attended his family’s school between 1906 and 1911 before going to Harrow in early 1912, where he was in Mr Rendall’s House. He left shortly at Christmas 1914 and seems not to have gone on to university and instead returned to Banstead Hall.
Harry joined the Royal Naval Air Service in April 1916 and received a temporary probationary commission as a flight sub-lieutenant on 2nd July of that year. He underwent three weeks of basic training at the R.N.A.S. depot at Crystal Palace and then was taught to fly at R.N.A.S. Chingford, Essex. Chingford was a training establishment and airfield located on low-lying, marshy ground, crisscrossed by streams and often flooded and there was usually ground mist or fog at night, hardly ideal for an aerodrome.
Most of Harry’s initial training would have been in a classroom and it would be a few weeks before he was flying. He would have received about 10 hours of flights with an instructor before taking to the air by himself and then 4 hours of instructed flight before he took up the next model of aeroplane by himself. He would have gone on to defend his country against Zeppelin bombing raids or serve with a fighter squadron and fight in the skies over the trenches in France or Salonica but at a medical examination on 19th February 1917, possibly at Banstead Hall following an accident, it was discovered that Harry had heart disease. His flying career was over almost as soon as it had begun.
Harry’s commission was terminated on 19th February but he received a new commission just two days later, as a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He joined the Trade Division and was sent to Naval Control in Halifax (known as “Navcon Halifax”), Nova Scotia, Canada. The British Grand Fleet were masters of the surface of the sea and managed to keep the German High Seas Fleet stoppered up in harbour for almost the whole of the war. The Royal Navy sealed off the North Sea and English Channel to blockade Germany, while the French blockaded the Adriatic to close their southern supply route. The blockade proved very successful in aiding the military effort if at the appalling human cost inflicted on the German civilian population, who were reduced to dire straits through famine.
In order to stop ships from running the blockade, from February 1917 onwards, neutral merchant ships making a transatlantic voyage to or from the still neutral U.S.A. or South America were required to call at one of several ports, including Halifax, for examination of their cargo, passengers and documents in order to check that the right cargo was being sent to the right place, that no contraband was being smuggled by either the crew or passengers, that all passengers had valid passports and didn’t raise any suspicions when questioned about their voyage and that enemy aliens were not carrying letters, gold, more currency than was reasonable for personal expenditure on the voyage or weapons and ammunition. Halifax’s Bedford Basin was ideally suited for the job as there was no communication with the shore and gave no opportunity for goods to be loaded or unloaded before or after examination. A “practically unlimited” number of ships could be held in the basin without blocking piers or harbours, useful if you wanted to detain a neutral ship for some time.
There was a lack of experienced British staff to carry out examinations at Halifax and so a team from the Examinations Service, including Harry, was sent out. He was just one of several new recruits in the contingent sent to Canada, although there were some experienced examination officers with them. They began their duties on 11th March.
Harry was still in Halifax on 6th December, when the French munitions ship Mont Blanc collided with the Norwegian cargo ship Imo, causing the largest pre-Atomic Age explosion, which resulted in 2,000 people being killed or dying from injuries, 8,000 people being injured and 25,000 made homeless. Ships were lost in the blast but those in Bedford Basin suffered only slight damage and Harry and the men of the Examination Service were safe. The damage was extensive and Halifax was temporarily closed as an
examination station but reopened just a week or so later.
It was at a time of uncertainty over the station’s future, in February 1918, with two potential vacancies for a lieutenancy; the chance of a posting to New York or a reduced role for Halifax. Harry applied for a promotion; he was refused.
Later in March 1918, news reached home that Harry was dangerously ill with scarlet fever. Nowadays it would be straightforward to treat with antibiotics. A slight improvement came during the next few days but the infection spread to his lungs and he developed pneumonia. Harry died at Halifax on 17th March 1918. He was just 19 years old.
Harry is buried in St John’s cemetery, Halifax. He is commemorated on a plaque in All Saints, on the Garton Memorial in the churchyard, on the panels in the Lady Chapel, All Saints, on the Cricket Club’s Roll of Honour and on the lost memorial panels, which once hung in the chapel at Banstead Hall School.