Sunday 14 April 2024

William Somerset Maugham CH (1874 – 1965) – British writer who served as an Ambulance Driver in WW1

William Somerset Maugham was born in the British Embassy in Paris, France on 25th January 1874. His parents were Robert Ormond Maugham (1823–1884), a solicitor, based in Paris and his wife, Edith Mary, née Snell. William's father handled the legal affairs of the British Embassy in Paris.

Shortly before William's birth, the French Government proposed a new law under which all boys born on French soil to foreign parents would automatically be French citizens and liable to conscription for military service. 

The British Ambassador, Lord Lyons, had a maternity ward set up within the embassy – which was legally recognised as UK territory – enabling British couples in France to circumvent the new law, and it was there that William Somerset Maugham was born.   

From 1885 to 1890 William attended The King's School, Canterbury, Kent, UK, where he was regarded as an outsider and teased for his poor English (French had been his first language), his short stature, his stammer, and his lack of interest in sport.

A legacy from his father enabled William to go to Heidelberg University to study when he was sixteen. His aunt, who was German, arranged accommodation for him. For the next year and a half he studied literature, philosophy and German.

From 1892 until he qualified in 1897, William studied medicine at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School in Lambeth.

By 1914 William was famous – he had written thirteen plays and eight novels.  He was too old to enlist when the First World War began, so he volunteered to serve in France as an ambulance driver for the British Red Cross.

In 1954, William was appointed Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) and was invested by Queen Elizabeth II at a private audience in Buckingham Palace.

The Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) was founded by King George V in 1917 to recognise outstanding achievements in the Arts, Sciences, Medicine and Public Service. 

Somerset Maugham died on 16 December 1965.