Philipps, Roland Erasmus


Roland Erasmus Philipps was the second son of the Rt. Hon. Lord St. Davids, 1st Viscount St Davids PC of Richmond Terrace, Whitehall, London.   His father’s first wife, Leonora, was German and the daughter of  J Gerstenberg; she died in 1915.  His older brother, Captain the Hon.  Colwyn Erasmus Philipps, was killed in action in May 1915.   Roland came to Southgate House (Hawkins’) from Twyford School. He went up to New College, Oxford in 1907 and on leaving the University worked for 6 months in the office of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, based in Liverpool.  One weekend, whilst on a country walk, he met some members of the local Boy Scout movement and during a conversation, discovered that they were short of leaders, and volunteered to help.   Thereafter the Boy Scout movement was to dominate his life.

In 1912 he came to London to work for a short time in the Union Castle Steamship Company’s offices, although choosing to live in Bethnal Green, a desperately poor and run down area of London.  He appeared at Imperial Scout Headquarters “clamouring” as he put it “for a job” and was appointed Assistant Commissioner for Wales and later wrote some popular handbooks for patrol leaders.  He went on to be District Commissioner for East and North-East London and Advisory Commissioner for Preparatory Schools.  Every kind of social service claimed his interest. He worked on behalf of Dr. Barnardo’s Homes, the Waifs and Strays Society, the Mission to Seamen and other charities, and shortly before the war was adopted as prospective Liberal Candidate for South Glamorgan. He bought a house, 29 Stepney Green, as a centre for the Boy Scout Movement, which became Roland House, and although sold in the 1960s, is still known by that name.

In August 1914 he volunteered and was gazetted to the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers and left for France at the end of March 1915, although both he and his brother Colwyn were back in England only a matter of days later for their mother’s funeral.   Before his return to the front he had lunch with Baden-Powell and stayed with him at his house in Ewhurst, Kent on 12th and 13th April.   Around this time, he was promoted to the rank of Captain.

On 13th May 1915 his brother Colwyn was killed in action leading his regiment of the Royal Horse Guards in a bayonet charge against the German trenches.  Coming such a short time after the death of his mother, and the death of his best friend, Anthony Slingsby, in action, this was a heavy blow.  It made him realise that the chances of his own survival were not very high.

In October 1915 Lieutenant Arthur Basil Kemball Cook (College 1898-19014; Staff 1914) joined the 9th Royal Fusiliers; both died on the same day on the Somme in July 1916.

He was awarded the M.C. in March 1916 for conspicuous gallantry during an attack on the infamous Hohenzollern Redoubt at Le Bassee, during which he received three bullet wounds and a severe cut.  Despite the wounds to his shoulder, sources state that he received his wounds going to the aid of wounded men, he himself killed four of the enemy with his revolver.   He was sent home to recover but was back with his battalion by the beginning of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916.

On 3rd July he was in the front line at Ovillers and came under heavy German fire, Phillips’s trench receiving a direct hit, which opened up his old shoulder wound although he refused to leave the line. Early in the morning of 7th July while waiting for the signal to attack, his trench received a direct hit from a shell and he was buried in the resulting chaos. His men dug him out just in time for him to lead the assault. He was almost immediately wounded in the leg by shrapnel and knocked down. He struggled on but was shot through the head when nearly upon the enemy trenches.

20 officers and 508 other ranks of 9th Royal Fusiliers were killed that day.  He was buried in the Aveluy Communal Cemetery Extension.

After the war a party from Roland House visited the battlefields and paid Philipps’ grave a visit, where they decorated it with the Scout badge.  Later the original wooden cross was taken to Roland House.

Further details of Philipps’ involvement with the Scout movement can be found on: http://scoutguidehistoricalsociety.com/roland.htm

He left his house in Stepney to the Boy Scout Movement and for a time it became the residence of the Commissioner. It then became a stopping off point for ex-scoutmasters on their way to the Front. After the war it would house orphans needing accommodation, and would also provide a meeting place for Scout officers, a library and visitors’ accommodation. It was sold in the 1960s.

War: World War 1

  • Surname: Philipps
  • Forenames or initials: Roland Erasmus
  • House: F
  • Years in School: 1903-1907
  • Rank: Captain
  • Regiment: Royal Fusiliers
  • Date of Birth: 27th February 1890
  • Date of Death: 7th July 1916
  • How Died: Killed in action
  • Location in War Cloister: Outer C5
  • Decoration: M.C.
  • Burial Site: AVELUY COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION, NEAR ALBERT: Grave H.32