Willis-Fleming, Richard Thomas Cyril

The second son of John Edward Arthur Willis-Fleming and Violet Willis-Fleming, the daughter of Admiral Sir Augustus Phillimore. His brother, Brigadier John Brown Phillimore Willis-Fleming was also at Winchester (E 1908-1913). The family were prominent Hampshire landowners with properties at Binstead House on the Isle of Wight and Stoneham Park, near Southampton. Born at Chilworth Manor, Southampton, he came to Winchester from Durnford House, Langton Matravers and is commemorated on the school’s war memorial in the local church.While at Winchester, he shot at Bisley for the Cadet Pair in 1913; was a keen naturalist and contributed many photographs of birds to the reports of the Natural History Society.

He entered for Christ Church, Oxford but was gazetted in March 1915 to the 1st Hampshire Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery as a Second Lieutenant. The Hampshire Battery were on home service from 1914 to 1916 but were then ordered to Eqypt, equipped with howitzers. The battery’s first camp was at Kantara where Willis-Fleming joined them from Alexandria on 17th March 1916.

Conditions were harsh: “The sand was so hot that it was impossible to walk on it with bare feet when bathing. Sandstorms were frequent. Scorpions and centipedes began to make an unwelcome appearance in blankets and between sand-bags.” Willis Fleming was involved in the Battery’s first direct contact with the enemy, when he was in charge of a party at Romani, and subjected to an air attack. “On June 1st, a German aeroplane circled over the camp, and then flew over Romani, where it dropped six bombs, killing one officer and ten men, and wounding ten men. Thirty-six horses were killed, and a great many of the Australian horses broke loose. The Battery horses were watering at the time, under Lieutenant [Willis-] Fleming, who gave orders for the men to scatter with their horses.”

It was the first experience of hostile aircraft, an experience which increased in frequency and unpleasantness. On June 19th, three British aircraft had failed to return from a raid on the Turks at El Arish. One of them had come down at Ogratina, twelve miles from Romani. A few days later Willis-Fleming and his men successfully towed the damaged machine back to British lines.

At some point late in the afternoon of 4th August Willis-Fleming fell during the Battle of Romani, the 1st Hampshire Battery’s first casualty of the war. “Second-Lieutenant [Willis-] Fleming, who had been in charge of the parade which at 0730 came under shrapnel and machine-gun fire, had returned at 1600 from a reconnaissance, and was on his way to replenish ammunition, when he was mortally wounded by a bomb from an aeroplane. He was taken to the 3rd Lowland Field Ambulance, where he died in a few hours, without having regained consciousness. This was the first casualty in the Battery, and the news was received with inexpressible grief.”

Lieutenant Willis-Fleming is buried in Grave F.2888 of the Kantara War Memorial Cemetery.

In 1917 his father oversaw the construction of two identical “war shrines”, one at Stoneham and the other at Havenstreet on the Isle of Wight, dedicated to the memory of his son and of other local war casualties. Constructed for a total of £912, the shrines, 23′ wide and 9′ deep, were built using Quarr stone from the Isle of Wight with rafters, beams and doors of oak, with stone-tiled roofs. On each roof were fixed two iron crosses, attributed to Eric Gill, with the inscription “But they are at peace for God proved them and found them worthy for himself”. The two shrines were dedicated in 1918, with flowers laid regularly and the children of the local Sunday schools being taken there. An annual Easter Day service was held at the Stoneham shrine.

However, in 1947 the last member of the Willis-Fleming family left North Stoneham, and the park was sold to a developer. By the 1960s the shrine was in poor condition, vandals having taken their toll and by the 1980s was derelict and roofless.  The decorative ironwork had been stolen. In 1999, the local council undertook tidying-up, since the park in which the Stoneham shrine stands was designed by Capability Brown. The shrine’s walls and floor are now surrounded by a group of mature beech trees.   The Isle of Wight shrine was also in a state of disrepair by 1962 although it was restored by Willis-Fleming’s older brother John.

Further information about Richard Willis-Fleming can be found here: http://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/cathedral/memorials/WW1/Richard-Willis-Fleming; http://www.willisfleming.org.uk/dicksdiary/

War: World War 1

  • Surname: Willis-Fleming
  • Forenames or initials: Richard Thomas Cyril
  • House: E
  • Years in School: 1910-1914
  • Rank: 2nd Lieutenant
  • Regiment: Royal Field Artillery
  • Date of Birth: 3rd August 1896
  • Date of Death: 4th August 1916
  • How Died: Killed on active service
  • Location in War Cloister: Outer F5
  • Decoration: NA