Quiller-Couch, Bevil Brian

He was the son of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, Professor of English Literature at the University of Cambridge and famous poet and author.  He came to Winchester from Horris Hill, becoming a House Prefect in 1908 and Head of his House in 1909. He went up to Trinity College, Oxford the same year and distinguished himself on the river; he had been a member of School IV at Winchester. He was captain of his College VIII, stroked a boat in Trials in 1911 and 1912, won the University Pairs in 1912 and 1913 and rowed in the final for the Goblets at Henley. He took a prominent part in the work of the O.T.C. at Oxford and passed into the Special Reserve.

He went to France in August 1914, with the 2nd Division, serving through the Mons campaign and then on the Aisne, before transferring to the Ammunition Column of 36 Brigade Royal Field Artillery.    This involved supplying the ammunition directly to the gun batteries of the artillery brigade, a role which brought him much closer to the front line.  He saw action at the First Battle of Ypres and later recorded taking 6 wagons of ammunition up to the line on 11th November, when 41 Brigade were heavily engaged.   He was slightly wounded the following day but made light of his situation in a letter home:  “Last night the wind and rain were phenomenal; I thought our bivouac would fly into the next field any moment, but she held on like a brick and with a wall of turf sods round for walls we kept dry and snug. The farmer came over this morning and complained that there were two horses in his dining-room and another in the lavatory, which was no doubt annoying. They were not ours though.”

He was awarded the M.C. for his work in late 1914/early 1915 but this was not gazetted until  14th January 1916, the details being:

Lieutenant Bevil Brian Quiller-Couch RFA (SR). Exceptional ability and energy during the time he was with the Brigade Ammunition Column on the Aisne and in Flanders from 20th September to 16th December 1914. On many occasions he showed great courage and initiative in bringing up his wagons. Since December in the Bethune district he acted as Orderly Officer until appointed Adjutant 10th June 1915. He has shown great zeal and ability. During the recent active operations at Festubert and Le Plantin in May his services were particularly valuable. It was a great deal owing to his energy and grasp of the situation that everything worked successfully and smoothly. This particularly applied to the tactical control of the French Group and  arrangements made in connection with this Group generally.

Quiller-Couch saw action at Festubert in May 1915 and as Orderly Officer was responsible for writing up the war diary.

By 1st July 1916 he was on the Somme and in August was promoted to acting Major, taking command of 9th Battery, 41 Brigade, serving with this unit for the rest of the war.   In March 1917 he was involved in a short spell of open warfare, writing about it on 22nd March: “I have been really having a great time. The morning I came up from the Wagon Line to the Battery, patrols had reported the enemy’s front trenches empty, and he was shelling villages and roads behind his lines. I promptly ordered the horses up, and by 1500 was crossing our trenches with one section. Movement was slow to begin with, as trenches had to be bridged and the going was very bad. However, once over the worst part we went roaming all over the country and had a glorious time coming into action and firing a few rounds at machine-guns in copses, then a few rounds at enemy cavalry. Meanwhile, the remainder of the Battery came on more steadily, and the transport had an awful time in shell-holes. The water-cart filled itself over the top, and the Mess-cart came in two, and such-like jokes. I spent nights curled up in my mackintosh in a ruin or behind a hedge…”

In September 1917, during the Third Battle of Ypres, he was wounded but refused to leave his battery for treatment, and was quite annoyed when his name appeared in the list of wounded. He was then involved at Cambrai, and in January 1918 was on leave in England.

In August the great British offensive began which signalled the collapse of the German forces, with Quiller-Couch leading his battery into action on 29th September at Noyelles.    His Battery saw action for the last time on the night of 4th November 1918 before going into reserve at Villers-Pol.    He wrote home of his feelings at the cessation of hostilities:  “I simply could not realize it as I stood there with the strange Sapper alone in the midst of the deserted Somme battlefield.”  Having commanded 9th Battery for two and a half years, he had the satisfaction of leading it into Germany with the army of occupation.

Immediately after the war he proposed to May Cannan, who accepted him and the date was set for their wedding.

He died of pneumonia in the great Spanish Influenza epidemic at Langerwehe, near Duren in Germany on February 6th 1919.   His D.S.O. was gazetted on 3rd June 1919, the date planned for his wedding.

Source:    “The Tears of War”, letters between Quiller-Couch and his fiance, May Wedderburn-Cannan, daughter of the Dean of Trinity College, Oxford, was published on 1st July 2000 by Cavalier Books.


War: World War 1

  • Surname: Quiller-Couch
  • Forenames or initials: Bevil Brian
  • House: B
  • Years in School: 1904-1909
  • Rank: Major
  • Regiment: Royal Field Artillery
  • Date of Birth: 12th October 1890
  • Date of Death: 6th February 1919
  • How Died: Died of pneumonia
  • Location in War Cloister: Outer C5
  • Decoration: D.S.O., M.C.