Monday 28 April 2014

Philip Gosse - official Rat Catcher of the British Army during WW1

c. 1933
Philip was born Philip Henry G. Gosse in Kensington in 1879.  His father was Sir Edmund Gosse, one of the Forgotten Poets of the First World War, and his grandfather was the naturalist Philip Henry Gosse, FRS

Philip was educated at Haileybury, then sent to farming school, after which he went on the FitzGerald Expedition to the Andes to collect animals.

Philip studied medicine at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London then became a General Practitioner with a practice in Beaulieu in the New Forest.   He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1914 and served in WW1 on the Western Front and in India. For a time,  Philip was the British Army’s Official Rat Catcher Officer on the Western Front and he toured the camps lecturing about the importance of hygiene and care of food - especially left-overs and food waste.

After the War, Philip married Irene Marden in 1930 and moved to Sussex, where he wrote books and dug ponds.

In 1941, he matriculated from Cambridge University and went on to work as a research student at Trinity College.   He died in 1959.

As part of my research into Fascinating Facts of the Great War for my commemorative exhibitions in memory of my Old Contemptible Grandfather, I have been reading Philip Gosse’s book “A Naturalist goes to War” - which is fascinating.  He describes in detail the flora and fauna of the Western Front and it is astonishing how many animals, birds and flowers survived the bullets, shells and bombs.   

I found this extract from Philip’s book particularly interesting and decided to share it with you, under the heading “Fascinating Facts of the Great War”.

On pages 63 and 64, Gosse describes the amazing work of the Postal Section of the Royal Engineers, which dealt with all the post of the various British Expeditionary Forces in the theatres of WW1.

He finishes by printing a letter sent to his mother by Siegfried Sassoon from whom he obtained permission to reproduce the letter.   In the letter, written by Sassoon on 6th January 1916 from the 1st Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers on the Somme near Airaines, among other things mention is made of

“.. a young poet in this Battn., 19 years old and a temporary Captain – Robert Graves, son of Alfred Perceval. … R.G. writes moderately well and is a great admirer of Samuel Butler…”

From “A Naturalist goes to War” by Philip Gosse, first published by Penguin
Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex in 1934;  my copy published in 1944.