Cecil, George Edward
Born on 9th September 1895, at 20 Arlington Street, London, the son of Colonel Lord Edward and Lady Cecil, he had a long held ambition to be a soldier. His father was the fourth son of Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury and three times Prime Minister. He was thus a cousin of the Hon. Robert Palmer (C 1902-1907), died of wounds 21/1/1916 – see individual entry). His mother was Violet Georgina Maxse, daughter of Admiral Frederick Maxse of Dunley Hill, Surrey. She had studied art and music in Paris where she knew Rodin, Degas and Clemenceau and she had climbed the Eiffel Tower while it was still under construction.
George Edward Cecil entered Winchester College in 1909 and joined Moberly’s House. He passed into Sandhurst when 17 years old gaining a King’s Cadetship and was gazetted Ensign in the Grenadier Guards, his father’s old regiment, very shortly before war broke out. Aged only 18 he went to France with his Battalion on 13th August 1914. He acted as Orderly Officer to General Scott Kerr in the action at Landrecies on the night of 25th/26th August where fellow-OW Lieutenant Robert Cornwallis Maude, 6th Viscount Hawarden was killed (see individual entry).
Cecil was given command of a platoon in No 4 Company of the Grenadiers. The battalion was resting when the order came soon after midnight on 1st September to take up position just north of Vivieres. After this first encounter with the enemy the Battalion retired in good order into the forest at Villers-Cotterets where at about 11 a.m. there was a burst of gun fire, reportedly at point blank range. The Battalion suffered badly, losing most of its officers and men who were either killed, wounded or unaccounted for. They fought on till the remnants of the platoon were surrounded. Cecil then ordered bayonets to be fixed, and he fell leading his platoon to the charge with his sword in his hand.
The battlefield was visited by Cecil’s mother later that month, and in November that year Lord Killanin, brother of Irish Guardsman Colonel George Morris, who was also missing from the action at Villers Cotterets, visited to locate and exhume all those buried in a pit after the action of 1st September. Killanin’s party found 94 men, recorded their details where possible and reburied them under a cross on the original site. This became the Guards Cemetery. They found the four officers who had been killed and were able to identify them by clothing and personal effects: 2/Lt Cecil being identified by the initials on his vest. They were originally buried in a hastily purchased plot in the cemetery at Villers-Cotterets but after the War their remains were brought back to join their men.
Cecil Range was erected by his mother in 1916 to his memory. It was opened by Rudyard Kipling on the site of the present War Cloister. Cecil’s mother also erected a memorial on the roadside at the site of the action.
The engagement and its casualties is described in “Fifteen Rounds a Minute – the Diaries of Major “Ma” Jeffreys: The Grenadiers at War 1914″ edited by Michael Craster. “Stand To – The Journal of the Western Front Association” September 2005, no 74. Further details of the Guards Grave cemetery can be found here: http://www.webmatters.net/cwgc/guards_villerscotterets.htm
- Surname: Cecil
- Forenames or initials: George Edward
- House: B
- Years in School: 1909-1912
- Rank: 2nd Lieutenant
- Regiment: Grenadier Guards
- Date of Birth: 9th September 1895
- Date of Death: 1st September 1914
- How Died: Killed in action
- Location in War Cloister: Outer E6
- Decoration: NA
- Burial Site: GUARDS GRAVE, VILLERS COTTERETS FOREST Grave II.4