CAPTAIN ROBERT VAUGHAN KESTELL-CORNISH MC & BAR
17TH JUNE 1918 AGE 22
BURIED: BOULOGNE EASTERN CEMETERY, FRANCE
If ever "the voice of a schoolboy rallied the ranks" it was nineteen-year-old Second Lieutenant Robert Kestell-Cornish at Hill 60 on the 1 May 1915. Hill 60 is not much of a hill being merely displaced spoil from the building of the Ypres-Comines railway line. Nevertheless, in the flat fields of Flanders it was of huge strategic importance.
On 1 May 1915 the 1st Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment were holding the front line when the Germans launched an assault on their trenches, preceding the attack with a devastating gas attack, killing and immobilising many of the men. With the line fatally weakened and a German attack imminent, Kestell-Cornish called four other survivors to mount the parapet and fire through the mist of gas into the approaching German soldiers. Convinced that the line was much more securely held than they had expected, the Germans withdrew just as British reinforcements arrived. For his bravery and prompt action Kestell-Cornish was awarded an immediate Military Cross, 'in the field'.
Robert Kestell-Cornish left school, Sherborne, at the end of the Summer term 1914 destined for Worcester College, Oxford. But when war was declared, he joined up immediately. A month after the award of his Military Cross, he was promoted Lieutenant and eight months later, in February 1916, to Captain. The following February he received a Bar to his MC for 'marked courage and ability'.
In September 1917 he joined the Staff attached to the Divisional HQ. He was wounded on 8 March 1918, the only information I've found says that he was "wounded beside his general". Perhaps they were on a tour of inspection. Kestell-Cornish's leg had to be amputated and he died in hospital in Wimereux three months later.
His father, Vaughan Kestell Kestell-Cornish, for many years the British Consul in Brest, chose his son's inscription. It comes from an elegy written by Maurice Baring (1874-1945) in memory of Julian Grenfell who died of wounds in May 1915 aged 27. The poem was published in The Times nine days later.
To Julian Grenfell
Because of you we will be glad and gay,
Remembering you we will be brave and strong;
And hail the advent of each dangerous day,
And meet the great adventure with a song.
And, as you proudly gave your jewelled gift,
We'll give our lesser offering with a smile,
Nor falter on the path where, all too swift,
You led the way and leapt the golden style.
Whether you seek new seas or heights unclimbed,
Or gallop in unfooted asphodel,
We know you know we shall not lag behind,
Not halt to waste a moment on a tear;
And you will speed us onward with a cheer,
And wave beyond the stars that all is well.