Tennant, Edward Wyndham

The son and heir of Edward Priaux Tennant, Liberal Member of Parliament for Salisbury from 1906 and created Lord Glenconner in 1911. His mother was Pamela Tennant, daughter of the Hon Percy Scawen Wyndham, and his aunt, his father’s sister, was Margot Asquith, second wife of the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, father of Raymond Asquith (Coll. 1892-1897) Grenadier Guards, killed in action 15th September 1916 (see individual entry). From 1906 the Tennants lived at Wilsford Manor near Amesbury.

Born at Stockton House, in Wiltshire, Tennant spent four years at West Downs where he was a keen cricketer, playing in the school’s 2nd XI in 1909 and 1st XI in 1910, and he also shot for the school. He also edited and wrote poetry for the school magazine. He joined Chawker’s, then run by Mr Blore, in 1911 and showed considerable literary ability. Although he did not enjoy his time at Winchester, he did make many friends, asking them home for the holidays. He also enjoyed riding his motorcycle, with a placard attached to the back saying “Apologies for the dust”. He left Winchester in 1914, a year early, intending to go to Germany to learn the language in preparation for joining the Diplomatic Service. However, on the outbreak of war he immediately joined the army, although he was still just 17 years old.

On 15th August he was gazetted to the Grenadier Guards and spent a year training in London, involving long marches which toughened him up (his nickname in the Battalion was the “Boy Wonder”). Early in 1915 he went down with jaundice but soon recovered. In May 1915 he moved to Bovingdon Green Camp in Marlow though he was unwell in July, which necessitated two weeks sick leave. On his return to duty he was assigned to the 4th Battalion, formed at Marlow in 1915. One of the other subalterns was Harold Macmillan who wrote about that summer in his autobiography “Winds of Change 1914-1939” – Macmillan 1960): “Among the leading spirits was a young man of singular charm and attraction, Edward Tennant (‘Bimbo’ to all). Born of talented parents, he seemed to illustrate in his person all the Elizabethan ardour that still gave some enchantment and excitement to war. His life was not destined to be long; but he has left to all those who knew him a lasting memory. Of the many volumes written about the young men of those days, none is more moving than Lady Glenconner’s tribute to her son.”

By August 1915 he was in charge of a unit of signallers, and was sent to the front with his battalion.  His battalion saw action for the first time at the end of September, at Loos. The attack began on 25th and although Tennant was not involved, the 4th Grenadiers were called forwards on 27th when they were warned they would be attacking Hill 70. The attack was carried out in heavy shell fire and succeeded in its objective.  As second-in-command he had been held back in case of heavy losses. His company commander had however been shot through the arm and Tennant was called upon to temporarily stand in for him. He was replaced by Lieutenant Osbert Sitwell who wrote about him at length in his autobiography, “Volume IV, Laughter in the Next Room” published by Macmillan in 1949.

The battalion had suffered some 340 casualties at Loos and the sight of corpses piled between the two front lines inspired one of Tennant’s poems, entitled “The Mad Soldier” written in June 1916.

In October he was in hospital, not wounded, but probably suffering from some form of shell-shock and in late November went home on leave. He was back in France by 11th December and in the middle of March 1916 had arrived in the shattered town of Ypres. He wrote home describing the desolation of the scene: “After lunch Osbert and I went for a walk through the town. I have never seen such an abomination of desolation – not a single whole roof in the town; shell holes thirty feet in diameter and fifteen feet deep, full of green water; twisted iron staircases standing alone in the ruins of a house; everything knocked down except the tottering top storey bathroom which stands on a pyramid of débris.”

From mid-June and for much of July the 4th Grenadiers alternated between the trenches of Ypres Canal Bank or the rest camp at Poperinghe. Tennant’s birthday was also the first day of the Battle of the Somme but his unit was far away from it and life seems to have been fairly quiet. He performed frequently in battalion concerts and made several trips on his motorcycle to Calais for lunch with friends. A book of poems “Worple Flit and Other Poems” was published in September 1916 and “Wheels, an Anthology of Verse”, was published posthumously by Blackwell the following year.

On 9th September his Battalion relieved troops in the front line at Guillemont where they were subjected to heavy shell-fire and sniping. In three days the battalion had suffered 17 killed, 77 wounded and 5 men missing. That night they advanced to Carnoy and then to Trones Wood.

15th September 1916, the opening day of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette was an expensive day for Winchester. Eleven Wykehamists were killed or mortally wounded on the Somme that day, including Captain Arthur Innes Adam (Coll.1907-1912, 1/1st Cambridgeshire Regiment); Lieutenant Raymond Asquith (Coll.1892-1897, 3rd Grenadier Guards); Lieutenant-Colonel Eric William Benson MC (A1901-1906, 9th KRRC); Major Charles Blair-Wilson (I1908-1913, 42nd Canadian Infantry); Lieutenant George Macpherson (I1909-1915, a tank commander in the Heavy Section of the Machine Gun Corps); Lieutenant Warine Frederick Martindale (B1907-1912, 1st Scots Guards); Captain Desmond Clere Parsons (E1903-1908, 2nd Irish Guards); Lance Corporal 73832 Henry Mark Ruddock (H1908-1913, 28th Canadian Infantry); 2nd Lieutenant Evelyn Godfrey Worsley (A1898-1903, 3rd Grenadier Guards); 2nd Lieutenant Geoffrey Wilfrid Penfold Wyatt (D1909- 1915, 1st East Kent Regiment); and Lieutenant Raymond Gilbert Hooker Yeatherd (F1904-1908, 2nd Dragoon Guards).

Tennant wrote home describing the experience, how difficult he found it and how thankful he was to be alive at the end of it. Tennant’s company remained in the line near Combles, south east of Guillemont, on the night of 21st/22nd September, and while he was out sniping, he was killed. His Commanding Officer wrote to his parents: “Bim was sniping when he was killed instantaneously by a German sniper. His body is buried in a cemetery near Guillemont. The grave is close to that of Raymond Asquith, and we are placing a cross upon it and railing it round today.” Tributes poured in, one of which so moved his mother, that she quoted from it on the memorial erected to her son in Salisbury Cathedral. “When things were at their worst, he would pass up and down the trench, cheering the men, and it was a treat to see his face always smiling. When danger was greatest his smile was loveliest.”

Tennant’s poem “Home Thoughts from Laventie” was published in The Times on 29th September and on 10th October a memorial service was held at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, the time arranged specifically so Members of Parliament could attend. A Memoir was written by his mother (who became Viscountess Grey of Falloden after her husband’s death in 1920) entitled “Edward Wyndham Tennant: A Memoir by his mother with Portraits in Photogravure”.

War: World War 1

  • Surname: Tennant
  • Forenames or initials: Edward Wyndham
  • House: F
  • Years in School: 1911-1914
  • Rank: Lieutenant
  • Regiment: Grenadier Guards
  • Date of Birth: 1st July 1897
  • Date of Death: 22nd September 1916
  • How Died: Killed in Action
  • Location in War Cloister: Outer G2
  • Decoration: NA