LIEUTENANT CYRIL SHAKESPEAR BEACHCROFT
12TH OCTOBER 1917 AGE 32
BURIED: POELCAPELLE BRITISH CEMETERY, BELGIUM
"At the usual evening hour the chapel bell began to toll, and Thomas Newcome's hands outside the bed feebly beat a time. And just as the last bell struck, a peculiar sweet smile shone over his face, and he lifted up his head a little, and quickly said, "Adsum!" and fell back. It was the word we used at school, when names were called; and lo, he. whose heart was as that of a little child, had answered his name, and stood in the presence of The Master."
The Newcomes 1855
William Makepeace Thackeray 1811-1863
This is a very touching and many-layered inscription. The fictional Colonel Thomas Newcome, who died at The Charterhouse, was educated at Charterhouse School, just as Thackeray had been - and Cyril Beachcroft too. 'Adsum' is the word Carthusians answered and still answer to their names at registration. It means 'present', and on a gravestone it implies still living and present with Christ.
The name Colonel Newcome became a byword for a virtuous man, a gentle, even perhaps a literary, soldier. So much so that when in 1906 the playwright Michael Morton adapted The Newcomes for the stage under the title 'Colonel Newcome', there was much public speculation about which actor might be worthy enough to play the role - and much dubious criticism when Herbert Beerbohm-Tree was chosen. Some people thought his German ancestry made him unsuitable; the idea of his 'guttural accents' uttering the famous 'Adsum' was too much for them to contemplate. In the event, Tree was a triumph in the role. The play was even more popular when it was revived during the First World War. Tree, still in the title role, toured with it through the United States and Canada during the winter of 1916-17. The ostensible aim of the tour was to raise money for Britain's wounded soldiers, but presumably it was hoped it might also raise support for Britain's war.
In 1914, Cyril Beachcroft, a solicitor with the family firm of Beachcroft, Thompson, Hay and Ledward, was married with two daughters. Having been a member of the Inns of Court OTC between 1909 and 1912 he rejoined it immediately on the outbreak of war. By October 1914 he had been commissioned into the Dorset Yeomanry where he spent the three years on home service, training troops. In July 1917 he requested a transfer to the Household Battalion, an infantry battalion drawn from reserve units of the Household Cavalry, so that he could be sent to the front. Within six weeks of his arrival he was dead, killed leading his men into an attack at Poelcapelle, his body not recovered from the battlefield until December 1919.
It was his wife who chose his inscription, linking him through a single word with Charterhouse, the Resurrection and a fine, even though fictional, English gentleman.
Beachcroft, who had managed to survive for the junior officer's classic six weeks, also earned a classic tribute from one of his fellow officers:
"We all feel we have lost a man who can never be replaced ... Quite fearless, and always cheerful; he is an example of all one loves best in a man."
There you have it - fearless and cheerful, it's what soldiers most admired in each other.
Cyril Beachcroft's elder bother, Eric, served with the Dorset Yeomanry in Palestine where he was severely wounded in November 1917. Invalided home, he remained in hospital and then convalescent until discharged from the army in 1919.