I first researched Francis Lansdown for my original Cheadle area website. Regimental records published after the War recorded that he had "died". This was usually used to denote a death from natural causes or, at least, one unconnected with the fighting. It seemed of little further interest and I though no more of it. Subsequently, I was contacted by another researcher who was looking into the men remembered on his village war memorial. One was Francis - and the researcher had surprising news. As will be seen later, rather than a death from natural causes, Francis had died in a way probably unique amongst the men on our local war memorials.
Francis was born on 20 September 1894, the second child of Francis and Christine Emily Lansdown. Francis, senior, was a Minister in the Congregationalist Church at Chard in Somerset. Shortly after Francis was born the family, which included his older brother Arnold, moved to Leicester. The 1901 Census shows them living at 121 Hinckley Road in the Westcoates area of the city. There were now five children, including Douglas (5), Christine (2) and Norman (1). As was common for the middle classes of the time, they employed a live-in general servant, 24 year old Elizabeth Sharp.
Francis was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School in Leicester (and is still remembered on the School's War Memorial which includes the names of 187 former pupils who fell). The School, now a sixth form college, still has a summary of Francis' school record amongst its archives. It shows he started at the school for the summer term of 1902 and was there until 1910. He appears to have been a "middling" student, although in February 1908 and, again, in December 1909, he was reported for copying another pupil's work.
When War was declared in August 1914, Francis was serving his apprenticeship as an electrical engineer with the Dynamo Ltd, Old Trafford, Manchester. He lived nearby at 2 Tennis Street.
He was also serving as pre-war member of the 6th (Territorial) Battalion, Manchester Regiment (service number 2313) and was mobilised when War was declared. The Territorials were formed for home defence purposes only but, on 10 August, they were invited to volunteer for overseas active service. Across the country over 90% did volunteer and Francis was one of them. He signed his attestation papers on 1 September. They show him to have been 5' 9" tall with a 35.5 inch chest. The examining doctor noted he had good vision and good physical development. Francis' medal entitlement records, at the National Archives, confirm that he went on overseas service seeing action at Gallipoli. On 25 October 1915, then an acting sergeant, he applied to become an officer. Francis noted that he could ride a horse and expressed a preference to be sent to the 3/4th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment.
He received his commission, as a 2nd Lieutenant on 2 May 1916 and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, British West Indies Regiment. The Regiment comprised men from the West Indies (with white British officers). Until 1918, the War Office did not involve the Regiment in front-line fighting duties, considering it inappropriate for black troops to fight against Europeans. Therefore, the troops were mainly employed on labouring duties in the reserve areas. On 18 April 1917, Francis was admitted to 2nd Australian Stationery Hospital with appendicitis. He returned to duty on 9 June and was temporarily assigned to the 5th Battalion. On the 26th, he was promoted to Lieutenant and, on 29 July 1917, he rejoined the 1st Battalion.
On 12 August, one of Francis‘ men was brought before the Commanding Officer charged with a minor offence. It is not known what Acting Lance Corporal Fitz Arthur Rojas (a 26 year old Trinidadian) had done wrong, but Francis gave evidence that he was "useless as an NCO". The CO punished Rojas by removing his acting rank and returning him to being a private.
In the early morning of 14 August, Private J Emmanuel was going round the tents waking up his mates. He recounted "I saw Mr Lansdown lying, with his arms thrown over his head on the platform outside his dugout. He was dressed in pyjamas and, judging by his position, it at once struck me he was dead." Sergeant Crichton quickly came to help Emmanuel and examined Francis. He was dead. He had been shot in the chest - the bullet exiting through his back. There was blood on his bed indicating Francis had been shot whilst asleep.
Suspicion immediately fell on Rojas when he couldn't be found. He had, however, left several letters in his tent.
He wrote to the Commanding Officer "Sir. Pte Rojas has left his compliments to you. I may have a chance of making it good with you but I don't know yet. If I get the chance I will. Remain your obedient servant - F Rojas. NB. I can't stick this any longer"
To the Regimental Sergeant Major "A Warning to European NCOs. If I had the opportunity of making and (sic) I would do so. But I am going to try my best to many as I can because I am "fed up" with you bastard. Two others Sergeant Valentine and Sergeant Greaves also, but I am going to try."
To the Battalion "Boys. I have this day given myself as a sacrifice for the good of you all. We has left our homes as volunteers but we are now slaves but I hope the others will take example by my deeds. I am one who lives for libity (sic) sake and die for same. Remain a true son of Trinidad. "
There was another letter also intended for the commanding officer "Sir. I am sorry you did not listen to me the day I asked you to be transfer (sic) from this "Bat" because I knew what was coming off. I was charge this morning for nothing a simple matter and the officer take upon himself to say take away his stripes so I take away his stars".
Rojas was found the next day. It appeared he had shot himself. The Battalion War Diary simply records "No. 1514 Pte F A Rojas "C" Company" died from gunshot wounds (not in action)."
There was an Enquiry which concluded that Rojas had murdered Francis whilst of "unbalanced mind". They are now buried in adjacent graves. Francis' death was reported in the Leicester Daily Mercury on 21 August bit, at that time, the circumstances were not known. There does not appear to have been a later report.
The War Office wrote to Rev. Lansdown in November 1917 detailing the results of the Enquiry. It concluded "He was shot by a man of his Regiment a native of Trinidad during the night, apparently as an act of revenge because he had been reduced in rank for misconduct. The man has deserted. Your son's death must have been painless as he was shot through the heart." It is, perhaps, strange that the letter should mention that Rojas has deserted as, whilst this might have been technically true at the time, he had by then been dead for three months. The Lansdowns might reasonably have concluded that he was still free and "on the run".
Francis' effects were also forwarded to the family. These included two wrist watches, photographs, two devotional books, a tobacco pouch, two pipes and a cigarette case, a "Valet" safety razor, magnifying glass, six fountain pens and three diaries.
Francis' precise connection with Cheadle Hulme is unknown. It is not thought that he ever lived in the immediate area. It is understood that he is remembered on the Memorial by the family of Cyril Lambert Mellor (also remembered) to whom he was related through his mother's side. Christine Lansdown's father was Joseph Lambert, a travelling Methodist minister.
Francis is also remembered on the War Memorial at Sutton-on-Sea, Lincolnshire. Again, his precise connection with the area is unknown but it is thought that the family spent holidays there and Rev Lansdown is known to have preached locally while he was visiting.
During the winter of 2003/2004, a small cylindrical white marble Memorial was discovered in the garden of an antiquities collector and dealer in Gaza City. The rather crudely carved damaged stone is inscribed "Memorial of Lt FAS Lansdown 1st BWIREG Died 14AUG1917". It is not known where this Memorial came from or who had it made. At the time of writing (August 2006), enquires are still being in Gaza to see if these were common place items, perhaps purchased by comrades and placed at the graveside.
Enquiries have also been made in Trinidad to see if any more can be discovered about Fitz Rojas' family background or the circumstances of his death but an appeal in the local newspapers has brought no information. His service file was one of very many which were destroyed in a fire during World War 2. These may have contained the answers to some of the questions that still remain. It is not known, for example, if there was any formal enquiry into his death. If there was, did it actually concur with the assumptions made here that he had killed himself. Similarly, it will probably never be known why nobody in the camp appears to have heard the rifle shot which killed Lansdown.