Reginald Palmer (1893-1917)
Standing in a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery or at a mass memorial such as Thiepval it can be easy to lose the individuality of each of the soldiers – what they looked like, who they left behind, what their dreams and ambitions had been, and what they might have achieved if they had survived.
In our own family Reginald Palmer, cousin of my husband’s grandfather sat on the periphery of the Palmer family tree for some time until the local newspapers, Fife Advertiser and Fife Free Press allowed a glimpse of this talented young artist.
Reg Palmer, London Irish Rifles
Reg was born in 1893 at Egham and following the death of his mother and three younger siblings Reg aged 8 moved to Scotland with his father and siblings in 1900. I wrote about his father Alfred earlier this year and his connection to Scotland and the linoleum industry.
He attended West Public Primary School from 1901 then Kirkcaldy High School in 1905 maintaining his education with continuation (evening) classes at the High School through to 1914. During his school years, Reg won certificates of excellence and his talent as an artist becomes apparent in his continuation classes.
From 1908 he studied art at the High School and in his second year was presented with a 1st class certificate in Painting from Still Life, Drawing, Ornament and Figure Details and again in 1912 along with City & Guilds 1st class certificates in freehand drawing in outline, Drawing from the antique and 2nd class certificates in drawing in light & shade and painting ornament. In 1914, then aged 21, Reg won the overall Silver Medal for excellence in the Art Course at Kirkcaldy High School Continuation classes.
In 1901 and 1911 the family lived at 11 Novar Crescent, Kirkcaldy and Reg followed his father and brothers Frank and Fred into the linoleum industry where he became an apprentice designer at Barry, Ostlere and Shepherd Ltd.
Image courtesy of Pamela Roberts, Pinterest
His future as a linoleum designer was cut short by the outbreak of war and despite poor eyesight, he persisted and eventually enlisted into the Middlesex Regiment (Service No G/12771). He was serving with the London Irish Regiment when he was killed in action on the 27th February 1917.
The London Irish Rifles were originally formed in 1860 during the Victorian Volunteer Movement as the “28th Middlesex (London Irish) Rifle Volunteer Corps”. In 1908, they transferred to the Territorial Force and were renamed the “18th (County of London) Battalion, the London Regiment (London Irish Rifles)”.
‘No sooner had the call to arms gone forth than he volunteered for service’
The Fifeshire Advertiser reported his death on 3rd March 1917
“We regret to report that sad news has reached the home of Mr Alfred Palmer, 2 Whyte-Melville Road, Kirkcaldy. A Chaplain with the Forces at the front has written to Mr. Palmer informing him that his son, Private Reginald Palmer, London Regiment, was severely wounded on Monday 26th Feb., and died the following day. Private Palmer who was 24 years of age was greatly esteemed by all who knew him. He was a designer with Messrs. Barry, Ostlere and Shepherd Ltd., floorcloth manufacturers, and enlisted a year ago. His preliminary training was short and he had been nine months at the front when he made the great sacrifice”.
Another comrade died on the 26th of February, Rifleman J Board and is also buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium. The war diary adds no further detail:
February 24th to 27th – Canal Sector.
Relieved 17th Battalion in left sub-sector Canal sector.
In the line – quiet.
The following Saturday, 10th March 1917 the Fife Free Press carried a more informative and poignant article and the precious photograph above.
Mr. Alfred Palmer, 2 Whyte Melville Road, Kirkcaldy, has received a letter from a chaplain to the forces in France intimating the death of his son, Private Reginald Palmer, London Regiment. The states that Private Palmer was wounded severely on Monday 26th February, and died shortly after midnight. He was 24 years of age and before the war was employed as a designer with Messrs. Barry, Ostlere and Shepherd Ltd., floorcloth and linoleum manufacturers. No sooner had the call to arms gone forth than he volunteered for service, and was twice rejected for eyesight before he was ultimately enlisted. After being some time in training he was one of a number from his regiment who volunteered for active service, and now he has made the supreme sacrifice. F.C. Panton, a comrade writing as follows to the father of a gallant soldier, under date 1st March (he not being aware that the accident had terminated fatally), says:
Rifleman Reginald Palmer, Service number 592753, 18th Battalion London Regiment (London Irish Rifles) died of multiple gunshot wounds on 27th February 1917 and is one of the 10,786 buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium. Grave Ref. x1.B.8A. The commemorative wording was chosen by his father.
Greater Love Hath No Man Than This
He is also commemorated on his mother’s headstone in St Mary’s Churchyard, Staines, and on his father’s gravestone at Bennochy Cemetery, Kirkcaldy.
He is one of the 1,048 names listed on the Kirkcaldy War memorial.
Perhaps, Alfred his father was one of those in this film of the crowd watching the unveiling of the memorial here?
His name is also on the rolls of honour at St Peter’s Episcopal Church, Kirkcaldy, and Kirkcaldy West School.
As I go down the highway
And through the village street
I hear the pipers playing
And the tramp of marching feet
The men I worked and fought with
Swing by me four on four
And at the end you follow
Whom I shall see no more
In Memorium, Lt E Alan Mackintosh
British Newspaper Archive various editions of Fifeshire Advertiser; 15 July 1905, 8 September 1909 and 9 September 1911; Fife Free Press 28 December 1901, 14 September 1912, 13 September 1913, and 12 September 1914.
National Archives Kew, Medal card
National Library of Scotland, Unveiling of Kirkcaldy War Memorial
Commonwealth War Graves
Klak, Eduard. And Klak, Janet. (2002) The Register of the Fife Fallen in the Great War 1914-1919. Volume 1. Kirkcaldy and Dysart Fallen