JOHN KEKEWICH

Captain, D Company, 8th Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment)
Killed in Action, 26 September 1915, aged 24
Remembered with honour on the Loos Memorial, Pas de Calais, France
 

Captain John Kekewich

John was the son of Lewis Pendarves Kekewich and Lilian Emily Hanbury of 3, Beaumont Mansions, Fourth Avenue, Hove, Brighton. The Book of Remembrance in Holy Trinity Church, Forest Row was signed by his mother, Lilian Kekewich, of 14, Adelaide Crescent, Hove.

John is commemorated on the Forest Row War Memorial because the Kekewich family lived between 1909 and 1915 at Kidbrooke Park in Forest Row. Lewis, born in 1859, was a metal broker with trading links with Germany. This connection led to a serious decline in trade on the outbreak of war in August 1914 and required the family to move from Forest Row to London. There was also another local connection in that in 1915 John was engaged to Stella Mundey of Wilderwick, East Grinstead. John is also remembered with honour on the Lord's Cricket Ground Roll of Honour.

John was born in 1891 at Twysdens, a property leased by Lewis Kekewich in Foots Cray, Kent. His birth is recorded in the Bromley birth register during the April-May-June quarter.

Lewis and Lilian had seven children, John being the sixth. Four of their sons, Captain Hanbury Lewis, Captain George, Captain John and Captain Sidney, fought in the war but only Sidney survived although he was seriously injured.

In the 1901 census John is recorded as a boarder at Wellington House School, Westgate-on-Sea. He was one of 45 boy and girl pupils listed together with 12 servants and the Head, Mr Herbert Bull, described as 'in Holy Orders and Schoolmaster'. John continued his education at Eton, where he probably served in the Officer Cadet Corps. He is therefore also commemorated on the Eton College War Memorial.

John does not appear in the 1911 census possibly because he was abroad at the time. His name does appear on the incoming passenger list of the S.S. Royal Edward, a Canadian Northern steamship arriving at Avonmouth from Montreal, Canada on 20 June 1912. He was travelling first class with his elder sister Evelyn Kekewich, aged 24, and they stated that their intended future permanent residence was to be England.

John enlisted at the start of the war in September 1914, joining the 8th Battalion, The Buffs, at Shoreham Camp. The Buffs, the East Kent Regiment, were formed at Canterbury in September as part of Kitchener's Third New Army. From September 1914 to October 1915 they were part of 72nd Brigade, 24th Division.

Early organisation of John's battalion was described as 'chaotic', with rifles only being issued in July 1915 and their first experience of action proved to be disastrous.

The battalion embarked for France on 31 August 1915 and after a few days was required to make a forced march to act as a reserve for the intended British assault at Loos. On day one of the Battle of Loos they were too poorly placed by British headquarters to be of real use in the battle formation. On 26 September at 10.30am they were ordered to go 'over the top' at 11.00am. Captain John Kekewich was in command of C Company. The brigade advanced under heavy shelling and increasingly accurate machine gun fire. Despite heavy losses some soldiers reached the thick band of barbed wire in front of the German trenches but were unable to get through and were forced to retire. They suffered heavy shelling, some being out in the open for nearly four hours. Many of the wounded could not be rescued that night as German machine guns covered all the approaches. It is believed that John Kekewich was one of these wounded men left lying in No Man's Land. It was said that he was offered assistance but refused it as it would be too dangerous for his men to take the risk. The advance lasted just 55 minutes before the decision to retire. 24 Officers and 610 other ranks of the Buffs were lost. Only one officer survived.

John Kekewich's body was never found. He was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal and the 1914-15 Star. The medal citation reads 'Death Accepted' September 26th 1915. In other words there was no body.

The Loos Memorial

Designed by Sir Herbert Baker and unveiled in August 1930, the memorial commemorates 615 officers and men who fell in one area during the Battle of Loos in 1915. The names were recorded on memorial panels when losses in battle were officially declared but where there was no known burial or where graves could not be identified. John Kekewich is recorded on panel 15-19.

Captain John Kekewich commemorated on the Loos Memorial

On 27 September John Kipling, son of Rudyard Kipling, also died during the Battle of Loos.

John Kekewich's eldest brother, Captain Hanbury Lewis Kekewich of the Sussex Yeomanry, died in Palestine, aged 32, on 6 November 1917. His brother, Captain George Kekewich of the City of London Yeomanry (The Rough Riders), also died in Palestine, aged 28, on 28 October 1917. Both were buried, quite close to each other, in Beersheba Military Cemetery, Gaza.

Kevin Tillett