Sturt, Philip Charles Napier

He was the second son of Geoffrey Charles Napier Sturt (H1897-1901), of Painswick, Gloucestershire, and 10 Perceva Avenue, Hampstead. His mother was Edith Frances Sturt, the daughter of Philip F. Wood CB, KC. He followed his elder brother Anthony N. Sturt (I1925-30) from Beaudesert Park to Sunnyside.   Sturt was a natural soldier, and though no great games player fenced for both the school and RMA Woolwich, from which he passed out well in December 1933. Though his heart was in his soldiering, he loved the country and music, playing the violin.

After four years home service he went to Singapore and Hong Kong in 1937, volunteered to come home in 1939 and after being on the Staff in Iceland in 1940 as a Captain GSO3, went to the Staff College. He then served first as Brigade Major, RA, in Northern Ireland in 1941, and then in 1942-43 as GSO2 on IX Corps HQ Staff preparing for the assault on Tunis and Bizerta.  Sturt was then appointed to the Allied Force HQ Staff, but soon insisted on going back to regimental work, and went to Italy in September 1943 with 74 Medium Regiment, RA, as battery commander of 100 Battery.

By the start of 1944 the Allied advance in Italy was stalled in front of the German Gustav Line, about a hundred miles south of Rome. The key to the line was the monastery at Monte Cassino.  First built in AD 529, it was the home of literary and artistic treasures.

In October 1943, however, the Germans had recognized the strategic importance of the monastery, which lay directly along the route from Naples to Rome. The ridge upon which it was located was the best defensive spot south of Rome. German forces had taken over the area around the monastery, whereupon most of the monks had been evacuated to Rome.   The Germans had not actually occupied the fortress-like monastery buildings themselves. The Allies also quickly appreciated the importance of the monastery as a strategic stronghold and determined that it must be taken from the Germans in order to clear the way to Rome. Therefore in early January 1944 the first Allied shells hit the monastery, destroying the cloister and portico. Over the following months, there were several  successful attacks by the Allies on the monastery. Allied troops and commanders were convinced that the monastery itself was in use by the Germans as an observation post and it was decided that the monastery must be destroyed.  Just after 9 a.m. on February 15th 1944 the Allies razed the monastery to the ground and within half an hour this beautiful and historic building had been reduced to rubble.

The Germans moved into the rubble of the monastery soon after its destruction, and the ruins proved a far better fortress than the intact buildings would have been. The Allies have with some justice been accused of an act of cultural vandalism; and the fighting went on.

For the Third Battle of Cassino, in March, it was decided to mete out the same treatment to the town of Cassino, at the foot of the massif. Sturt was commanding his battery during the resulting heavy bombardment of Cassino on Wednesday March 15th 1944, when the Allies dropped 1,250 tons of bombs and fired 195,969 shells (1200 tons) in seven and a half hours, at the start of their major offensive.

However some of the American aircraft involved in the bombing had let their bombs loose well to the south of Cassino, and the bombs had fallen on Sturt’s unit. He was killed by a direct hit on his command post, as the battery war diary states:

“March 15th 1944, ½ mile south of Cervaro  Fine. The war diary for March from the 1st to 14th has been lost in fire. At 1030 American heavy bombers attacking Cassino (8520) dropped a stick of bombs four miles short of their target, hitting the Battery Command Post and No.3 gun with a very large bomb each. The dead are Major P.C.N. Sturt RA, Lieutenant H.A. Broad RA (Battery Commander and Command Post Officer), four Command Post Acks [signallers], the No.1 of the gun, and five other Gunners: total 12.”

Sturt’s Colonel wrote of him:  “He commanded his Battery with great efficiency, and was such a gallant and unassuming person that I always knew he could be utterly relied on to do his job really well.”

Sturt had been mentioned in despatches in September 1943 for services in North Africa, as well as on another occasion. He was killed at the age of twenty-nine, and lies in grave II.E.3 of the Cassino War Cemetery. On his grave, the inscription, chosen by his family, was:

qui procul hinc,
qui ante diem periit,
sed miles, sed pro patria
sturt, philip charles napier
(He died far from home,
He died before his time;
But as a soldier, and for his country.)

The quotation is from Henry Newbolt’s poem, Clifton Chapel.

War: World War 2

  • Surname: Sturt
  • Forenames or initials: Philip Charles Napier
  • House: I
  • Years in School: 1927-1932
  • Rank: Major
  • Regiment: Royal Artillery
  • Date of Birth: 28th April 1914
  • Date of Death: 15th March 1944
  • How Died: Killed in Action
  • Location in War Cloister: Inner F1
  • Decoration: NA
  • Burial Site: Cassino War Cemetery: Grave II.E.3