Braithwaite, Valentine Ashworth


Lieutenant / Somerset Light Infantry

1896 - 1916
Biography:

Valentine Ashworth Braithwaite was born 14 February 1896, the son of Lieutenant General Sir Walter Pipon Braithwaite and Jessie Adine, daughter if Caldwell Ashworth.

He came to Winchester from Twyford School in January 1910 and was in E House, Morshead's. The Wykehamist shows that he rowed for his House, and was a good racquets player. After leaving school in the summer of 1912, he worked for a year for an insurance company, then applied to enter Sandhurst.

He obtained his commission from Sandhurst in the 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry in August 1914 and went to France the following month, seeing action almost immediately at Le Ghers after which he received the MC for gallant conduct and 'for services rendered in connection with Operations in the Field'. He was also mentioned in despatches. Shortly after this he became ill with influenza and was not fit again until the end of November.

On Boxing Day 1914 he reported to the Regimental Surgeon with swollen feet and numb toes; he was suffering from frostbite and given ten days sick leave. Although he saw several medical boards he was away from his regiment for the next three months. Soon after being declared fit again he went to the Dardanelles as ADC to his father, the Chief of the General Staff, and was again mentioned in Despatches.

In 1916 he resigned his appointment as ADC in order to rejoin his battalion in France. He fell at Serre on 1 July 1916, the first day of the British advance in the Somme Valley, while in command of one of the leading platoons of the 11th Infantry Brigade. He and 17 other officers were all shot as they left their trench. His body was never recovered.

Like many others he was simply posted as 'missing in action' and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. When his father received the telegram informing him of his son's death, he asked if it could be re-worded 'killed in action' rather than 'died', stating, 'I think, perhaps, it is not too much for a soldier to ask the War Office to do for a soldier's Son'. The War Office refused this request. General Braithwaite was determined to find his son's body and visited the battlefield in early 1917 looking for signs of where his son might have fallen. In June 1921 his father bought just over 1000 square metres of land at the spot where he believed his son had died. He then erected a private memorial in the form of a stone cross on the land. It turned out, however, that the cross had been erected on a different piece of land to that which his father had purchased. The local farmer was also complaining that the memorial was hampering cultivation and so it was moved to its present location, outside the wall of the Serre Road No 2 Cemetery on the Somme. It is inscribed: 'In Memory of Val Braithwaite, Lieutenant 1st Battalion / Somerset Light Infantry who fell in action near this spot / 1st July 1917. / God buried him and no man knoweth his sepulchre'. 

He is also commemorated by a wooden cross now in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral, inscribed 'Lt. Val Braithwaite, 1st Bn PA Somerset Light Infantry, who died near this spot / 1 July 1916'. Temporary crosses like these where usually placed on graves by the CWGC before permanent markers were erected. However as there never was a known grave for Braithwaite it seems likely that the wooden cross was placed on the spot his father deemed most likely until it was replaced by the stone cross. The wooden cross was returned to Winchester where Lt Braithwaite's uncle was a Canon. The Somerset Light Infantry was also known as Prince Albert's, hence the PA on the cross.

Photograph of the stone cross at Serre Road: www.webmatters.net/txtpat/?id=572

His cousin, Captain Philip Pipon Braithwaite, was killed in action and buried at Haifa War Cemetery, Palestine. He too is commemorated in Winchester Cathedral.


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