Sunday 17 July 2022

Hugh Seymour Walpole (1884 - 1941) - British writer

Walpole, c. 1915
The writer Sir Hugh Walpole, CBE (13 March 1884 – 1 June 1941) had a very interesting First World War. Poor eyesight meant he could not join the British Armed forces or the Police, so he accepted an appointment with “The Saturday Review” and “The Daily Mail” to travel to Russia to report on their WW1 Fronts. Walpole was appointed an officer in the Russian Sanitar, which is part of the Red Cross and deals with the evacuation of wounded from the trenches, as well as assisting at Base Hospitals.

While in training for that, Walpole learnt Russian. In the summer of 1915 he served on the Austrian-Russian Front, assisting at operations in Field Hospitals and collecting the wounded and dead from areas of combat. As Walpole wrote to his friend Arnold Bennett: "A battle is an amazing mixture of hell and a family picnic – not as frightening as the dentist, but absorbing, sometimes thrilling like football, sometimes dull like church, and sometimes simply physically sickening like bad fish. Burying dead afterwards is worst of all." (Walpole was friends with writers Henry James and Arnold Bennett, who encouraged the young Walpole with his writing.)

During a battle in June 1915 Walpole single-handedly rescued a wounded soldier who his Russian comrades had refused to help. Alone, he carried one end of the stretcher and dragged the man to safety. For this action Walpole was awarded the Russian Cross of Saint George.

Russian Cross of
St. George

In late 1917 it became clear to Walpole and to the British authorities that he was no longer much use in Russia. His departure on 7th November 1917 meant that he missed the start of the Revolution. In London, Walpole was appointed to a post at the Foreign Office in its Department of Information, headed by John Buchan. Soon after returning, he volunteered for the British Army but failed the medical examination due to poor eyesight. Walpole continued to work in the British Propaganda Department when it was reconstituted under Lord Beaverbrook in April 1918, and remained there for the rest of the war, resigning in February 1919. He was awarded a CBE for his services during WW1.

Walpole received a knighthood in 1937.

The Cross of Saint George is a state decoration of the Russian Federation. Initially established by Imperial Russia and officially known as the Decoration of the Military Order of Saint George between 1807 and 1913, the Cross of Saint George was reinstated into the Russian awards system in 1992.

The British CBE

The CBE - The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire - is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service. It was established on 4th June 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes across both civil and military divisions, the most senior two of which make the recipient either a Knight if male or a Dame if female.

Photos: Walpole c. 1915, the Russian Cross of St. George and the British CBE

Sources: Wikipedia

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