Tennant, George Christopher Serocold
The eldest son of Charles Coombe Tennant and Winifred Tennant of Cadoxton Lodge, Vale of Neath, South Wales, before coming to Winchester he was at West Downs. He did not enjoy his time at Winchester – it is clear he was bullied both at West Downs and at the College. In June 1915 he suggested to his mother that he should leave the school at the end of term. “I am not very happy here and often feel lonely – there is no sort of intellectual companionship with the boys in my house”. His love of music and literature was, as he put it, despised by a large number of his colleagues in his house.
He goes on: “The upper part of the house (just below the prefects) can do more or less what they like without interference from the prefects….. I will only add that I do not know nor can I find out who has committed these acts of hostility…….. I do not know who threw my books on the floor or poured my own ink and brilliantine and glue on them; who tore in half a new tie I had not yet worn; who broke the glass of my pictures frames….” the list of his torments goes on. Eventually his housemaster, A E Wilson, stepped in and wrote to his mother and persuaded him to stay. “The general tone of the House is emphatically not intellectual… I have a set of big men who are pure Philistines, with whom Christopher would never get on…. Most of them are leaving this term, and I think Christopher will be happier next term. It would be a very great pity for him to leave now”.
He was a keen cricketer and golfer and as time went by came to like Winchester more, although as his mother recalled “It is true to say that having “gone through the mill” he maintained a critical attitude towards the public school system as he had known it”. She went on, “It gave him a sturdiness of character and an independence of outlook which prevented him from drifting, and the experience was no doubt wholesome.”
He went to Trinity College, Cambridge and then entered Sandhurst, passing out twelfth on the list in April 1917. He was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion Welsh Guards on 30th April 1917, and rather surprisingly, suddenly found his feet, the regimental system giving him a sense of purpose.
He went out to the front on 9th August 1917, reaching the reinforcement camp at Proven in Flanders, on 17th. The following night he had his first taste of the war when “we were told the German aeroplanes were over; we heard bombs dropping about a mile off, and saw shrapnel bursting…. This morning (19th August) I was sitting in my tent after breakfast when I heard a commotion, and rushed out just in time to see one of our aeroplanes, which was at a good height, turn nose downwards and fall with a crash. It was a wonderful sight. The aeroplane fell very rapidly, and landed about half a mile away. I do not know what the cause of it was”.
He was due to go on leave on 4th September but on the night on 31st August his battalion was moved into the line. “We are going to a very quiet part of the line, which is a good thing”. His orderly, Private William Rees, later described Tennant’s conduct over the next couple of days:
“I first had speech with Mr. Tennant on the evening of Friday, August 31st, when No.4 Platoon started for the front line. When we were marching up, Mr. Tennant called out for me, and said, “Come and walk ahead of the platoon with me.” We therefore walked up to the front line – some nine miles – side by side. Mr. Tennant asked me if I was a Welshman, and on hearing that I came from Port Talbot talk fell on Wales and home affairs. We got into the trenches after much clambering over mud and shell-holes, and established ourselves in a concrete blockhouse. This had a concrete flooor, the ceiling and sides being boarded; it was pitch dark, and was lighted by candles…
After looking round, Mr. Tennant said to me that he wanted to go and inspect the machine-gun posts out beyond No Man’s Land. These were in charge of Corporal Llewellyn, a Swansea man, since wounded. Mr. Tennant was dressed as a private soldier, with black top boots, shrapnel helmet, and a rifle slung on his shoulder. He had both his revolvers.
We started over No Man’s land to visit the machine-gun posts. Mr. Tennant was a good soldier. He didn’t know what fear was, but he was not reckless or foolhardy. In going over No Man’s Land we were under a hail of shells, and had to throw ourselves into shell holes several times. A bombardment was going on, and the German snipers were awful; no one could move but he had a bullet past him. It was brilliant moonlight all the three nights Mr. Tennant was in the trenches, which made it more dangerous. We got to the Lewis-gun posts, and after inspecting them made our way back to the dug-out.
Hobbs had by this time arrived with the kit and provisions. A green bolster-shaped kit bag belonging to Mr. Tennant was in the dug-out, and he used this as a seat. He read a good deal both from a paper-covered book and a small blue book. He also wrote some letters, and censored a number of men’s letters. He received letters himself in the trenches, and told me he was so disappointed that his mother could not meet him in Paris where he was going on leave on September 4th. He was specially loved by us men because he wasn’t like some officers who go into their dug-outs and stay there, leaving the men outside. He had us all in all day long; his dug-out was full of private soldiers the whole time, many smoking, others writing letters. Our rations had not come up to begin with, and Mr. Tennant gave us out cigarettes. The men would have done more for him than for many another officer because he was so friendly with them and he knew his job. He was a fine soldier, and they knew it.
After coming back from inspecting the outlying machine gun posts, Captain Gibbs came in and questioned Mr. Tennant as to the position generally. Mr. Tennant said he had been out and inspected the posts. Captain Gibbs said, “We’d better go out again and make sure.” Captain Gibbs, Mr. Tennant and I then went out and again visited the machine-gun posts. This No Man’s Land was strewn with dead – groups of them lying here and there. Mr. Tennant appeared quite calm and undisturbed – he was perfectly cheerful during the whole time he was in the line.”
He was killed by shell-fire at Langemarck on 3rd September 1917 during the Third Battle of Ypres. His friend, Basil Webb (K1912-1916), killed in action 1st December 1917 (see individual entry), who joined the Regiment at the same time, wrote to Tennant’s mother: “With regard to his death, I know you have heard the whole story from his servant, Hobbs. It was quite unavoidable, just one of those bits of bad luck which go to make up this business of war. The great thing is, he was doing his job up in the line, and did not get hit by a stray shell miles behind, which is the fate of many poor people. Also he was killed practically outright and suffered nothing. If he was going to be knocked out it could not possibly have happened in a better way. But even so, the whole thing is a horrible affair, and I can only express my sympathy with you…..”
Tennant was the subject of a book published in 1919 entitled “Christopher: A Study in Human Personality” by Sir Oliver Lodge, a well-known spiritualist and friend of Tennant’s mother who shared his interest in spiritualism and life after death.
In October 2004, whilst moving a pulpit, workmen laying a carpet in the parish church at Elverdinge, near Langemarck, found under it a small brass plate with the inscription: “Orate pro anima CHRISTOPHER SEROCOLD TENNANT, 2nd Lieut. Welsh Guards, of Cadoxton, Neath, Wales. Born 1897. Fell in Action 3rd Sept. 1917 near Langemarck. Aged 19. Dearly Loved. Ex voto matre sua. Sancta Teresia a Jesu Infante ora pro nobis.”
- Surname: Tennant
- Forenames or initials: George Christopher Serocold
- House: K
- Years in School: 1911-1916
- Rank: Second Lieutenant
- Regiment: Welsh Guards
- Date of Birth: 10th October 1897
- Date of Death: 3rd September 1917
- How Died: Killed in Action
- Location in War Cloister: Outer G2
- Decoration: NA
- Burial Site: CANADA FARM CEMETERY, YPRES: Grave II.D.1