The information in this and the other brief biographies of the Nugee family on this website have been assembled from genealogical sources greatly augmented by family memoir written by Andrew Nugee, and generously made available by Mr Julian Walker. Andrew was the youngest of the three sons of Reverend Francis Edward Nugee, Rector of Muston 1903-1913, and his wife Edith Isabel (née Alston). Their children were: Elizabeth Catherine (born 1889), Laura Christine (b.1890), Francis John (b.1891), George Travers (b.1893) and Andrew Charles (b.1895). We are greatly indebted to Mr Walker and hope this short account, and those of the other two sons, John and George, capture the spirit of service and sacrifice of this remarkable family.
Andrew Charles Nugee was born at the Rectory in Shelton, near Newark, on the 28th October 1895, and baptised on 30th November. The Nugees had come to Britain as Huguenots who fled from France after the repeal of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 … “bringing little with them but their steadfast faith, their sturdy independence and their native industriousness”. His father was a parish priest in the Church of England. In the summer of 1897, when Andrew was not yet two, they moved from Shelton to Croxton Kerrial, in Leicestershire, where his father had been appointed vicar. In 1903, his father became Rector of Muston, and so they left Croxton and moved into the Rectory at Muston. Holidays were spent at Muston Rectory until 1913. There was also a regular winter sports holiday each year till the First World War put a stop to it.
In May 1904, aged eight and a half, Andrew went to Mr Buckland’s prep school at Laleham, Berkshire. Here, he received a broad education which included military training. “Once a week, weather permitting, Drill-Sergeant William Bates came to take us in p.t. He made a fine military figure, with a carefully waxed moustache, blue uniform with red stripes down the trousers, the gold stripes of his rank and a peaked cap covered with gold lace. We were all issued with a pair of dumb-bells and a dummy gun. The latter was used for various exercises, but sometimes we were put through the motions of sloping arms. These weapons had a hammer, and a pin for a percussion cap. Very occasionally we were given a metal percussion cap, and then came the order ‘Make ready,’ followed by the click-click as the hammers were pulled back and the cap placed upon the pin. ‘Present arms,’ and up went the rifles in a waving line of barrels. Then ‘Fire!’, followed by the crack of a ragged volley as the triggers were pulled and the hammers came down on the caps”.
Andrew also took up target shooting while at Laleham, though it was becoming clear that he was short sighted. “Further evidence for this was apparent on the exciting day when the Nulli Secundus flew from Farnborough to London and back, 5th October 1907. She was the first dirigible airship of English design and manufacture, and passed over in full view of the school – but although I could hear the sound of her engines I could not see her. Soon afterwards I was taken one holiday to Mr Lawes, the ophthalmic surgeon in Nottingham. His verdict was short sight and astigmatism, and I was duly fitted out with spectacles”.
He followed his brothers to Radley College, gaining an entrance scholarship in the summer term of 1909. It had been decided, in 1908, to form an Officers’ Training Corps at Radley, on a compulsory basis. Andrew recalled that in 1910, the camp they went to was on Cove Common, Farnborough, where there were nearly four thousand boys, formed into four battalions. They had long and tiring field days and other exercises. The training was still for open warfare of the South African type. Trench warfare, which in a few years’ time they were to experience, had not been thought of.
In July 1914, there were glorious peaceful summer days, but the threatening war clouds were massing, and they were made to realise that things were pretty bad when the fixture against the Cowley Depot of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry was cancelled because they were confined to barracks. The OTC camps had also been cancelled, so things were moving. It was under these clouds of threatening war that he finally said farewell to Radley, and returned home to Leicester.
The diaries from 1914 record that his Father was often unwell. It was decided to take a holiday in the Alps. Even though the war clouds were so menacing, his parents did not leave England till 26 July. Many in the general public still thought war was quite impossible.
Andrew was still at home. He described being in Leicester in the days before war was declared. “On the Saturday, 1 August, Geoffrey [a friend] and I were out in the town when we heard a band with drums. We went to see what it was. It is difficult to put into words, without appearing to be over-sentimental and emotional, and impossible to explain to a generation so different in outlook and, apparently, in accepted standards, the sense of pride and patriotism which welled up in everyone at the sight and sound of troops on the march. And at that moment, with the war clouds hanging so threateningly over our heads, those feelings were increased tenfold. As we drew nearer to the sound of the drums we found crowds gathering on the pavements and distant cheering coming towards us as the lively march from the brass, the regular thud of the big drum and the beat and rolls of the side-drums came nearer. Round the corner it came, and then we could see the band, followed by the colours cased, with their escort, and behind them, marching to attention in column of fours, the 4th Territorial Battalion the Leicestershire Regiment, the old 17th Foot. They were the town – Leicester had not yet been given the status of a city – battalion of the regiment, marching to entrain for their annual camp on the Lincolnshire coast. How fine they looked in their full dress – scarlet tunics, blue trousers with scarlet stripe, spiked helmets and brass gleaming in the sunshine. The brass of badges and buttons gleamed in the August sun. They well deserved the cheers of their fellow townspeople. So we watched them march away and wondered what lay in front of them.
They came back again less than a week later, but this time in khaki service uniform. The scarlet and gold and blue were put away – put away for ever. Never again on English roads or parade grounds would be seen a battalion of the infantry of the line in full dress. We had witnessed the passing of something which had marked out history for two and a half centuries: the red coats of the British infantry. Those red coats had earned the respect and fear of every army we had had to fight, and had brought assurance or protection and support to those in need wherever the Union Jack flew. It was their final March Past, not to salute some great general but to receive the willing salutations of their fellow citizens, many of whom in a few days would be joining them on the road which led, for so many, to a grave in Flanders and on to ultimate victory. The red coats have gone and we now have just the No. 1 Blues, or the khaki battledress. The men who wear these duller uniforms have the same spirit of devotion to duty and heroism as their grandfathers who once wore the scarlet, we can be sure of that. But we who knew and were proud of the old full dress can only be sorry for its disappearance. And what happened to those red coats and blue trousers? It was generally believed that they were deliberately cut up into the circular and square patches which were subsequently sewn into the backs of the uniforms of prisoners of war.”
At this time, the Warden [of Radley] offered him for a regular commission into Woolwich or Sandhurst. He duly attended the board at Burlington House for interview and medical examination, but to his distress was turned down because of his poor sight.
Unable to enlist, he went up to Oxford. At Oxford, he felt like someone who couldn’t swim being thrown into the deep end; he was struggling to keep my head above water. He offered himself for the scholarship exams of various groups of Oxford colleges but without initial success. However, he wanted to go to Magdalen, and this college accepted him as a commoner. So he was down to go up to Magdalen College, Oxford, in October 1914. But he did not abandon his hopes of being commissioned. Through the OTC, he learned that a Colonel Nugent, who was raising a new battalion of the Rifle Brigade, would accept him if him if he could pass the medical. It was touch and go, but this time the doctor signed up his papers and he “left his consulting room walking on air with that precious medical certificate in my pocket”.
He was given a temporary commission and posted to the 9th Service Battalion the Rifle Brigade, initially at Malplaquet Barracks, Aldershot, then to Petworth in Sussex on 1 December, 1914. Here he was posted to command No. 7 Platoon of B Company. In February they moved to Talabera Barracks, Aldershot, where he found himself one day in Battalion Orders promoted to lieutenant.
[The 9th (Service) Battalion of the Rifle Brigade was formed at Winchester on the 21st August, 1914, as part of K1 and came under command of 42nd Brigade, 14th (Light) Division. It moved to Aldershot, going on to Petworth in November and returned to Aldershot in February 1915. In May 1915 it landed at Boulogne. It remained fighting on the Western Front. On the 27th April, 1918, it was reduced to cadre strength, and on the 3rd August 1918 it was disbanded.. Information from The Long Long Trail]
After Easter the weather turned really cold . He was taken ill with pleurisy, and given sick leave. He returned to barracks too late to leave with his platoon for the Western Front. Passed fit only for light duty, he was sent to the 5th Battalion Rifle Brigade on the Isle of Sheppey, in June 1915. Later, he was transferred briefly to the 14th Battalion at Belhus Park, near Purfleet, but found they had little use for him. He was at last passed fit for general service, but was still unable to re-join his battalion. He read that two of its subalterns had been killed, which showed that the battalion, and therefore presumably the whole division, was actually in the line somewhere. Then he received a telegram ordering him to return at once, and proceed overseas to join the 9th Battalion.
Into the Front Line
On the afternoon of 12 July, 1915, he set out for the Front, by coincidence on the very same day his brother John left Southampton to join the 1/4th Leicestershires, whose division, the North Midland Territorials, were next to his in the line at Ypres. They were probably stationed less than a mile apart. His brother George was not too optimistic about his commission in the Rifle Brigade. He was very glad his young brother had got a commission, but was sorry it was in the infantry as casualties in that arm were very heavy. The horrors of gas had burst upon them in April, catching the men unprepared.
He arrived at the railhead west of Ypres, and was issued with anti-gas equipment. It consisted of two items, a pair of goggles with close-fitting rubber round the glasses which gave no protection to nose or mouth, and a thin grey flannel hood which went all over the head and was to be tucked into the collar of the tunic. There was a piece of talc sewn into it as an eye-piece, but there was no breathing apparatus. You breathed through the impregnated flannel. He would have been in a hopeless plight if he ever had to wear them. The goggles would not fit spectacles, which would have steamed up at once under the hood. He never did have to use them.
He got into one of the wagons which took rations and other stores up to the battalion. It was pleasant when they set out from Poperinge behind the line, but closer to Ypres the guns became more evident. Vlamertinghe had had a pasting, gaps in the poplars became frequent and more and more houses showed signs of shellfire. Ypres, of course, was pretty well knocked about, but was still inhabited by many of its Belgian population.
The battalion was to be found in support trenches across the Menin Road about half a mile behind the front line, but the ration train turned into the Battalion HQ. It was dark and late, and the colonel told Andrew to share his dug-out. The next morning broke fine and bright, and birds were singing, but enemy trenches lay within a mile as he stepped briskly down the middle of the road, till the guide said to him, “We’d better get under the hedge, sir. They can see us here”.
The support trench at Hellfire Corner where B Company was stationed was not comfortable. The only way in or out was above ground, in full view of the enemy on the ridge less than half a mile away. The orders were very strict. There was to be the barest minimum of movement by day and no lighting of anything by day or night, not even a candle, in case smoke or light should declare their presence. They lived a nocturnal existence, coming out after dark in search of food.
He reported to the commander, Herbert Garton, who told him not to move about or show himself to the enemy, and not to make any noise as all the men had been out all night taking stores and rations up to the front line. He explored the trench down to the ruined houses by the Menin Road, but retreated when shells fell nearby. A subaltern, Hesseltine, emerged from a dug-out and suggested showing him the lie of the land. They stood with their heads just over the parapet, observing the line of German trenches opposite, when there came the whine and explosion of a shell not many yards behind. Then came a second shell. They had been spotted. Hesseltine took him into his dug-out and made room for him to stow his gear, then he took him off to find his platoon.
The few days in the support trench were dull in general, but one night B Company had to carry stores and rations up to the front line, leaving at dusk in twos and threes, running like hares to the shelter of the trees along the road. They were to carry RE stores: empty sandbags, sheets of corrugated iron, props for supporting the sides of the trenches and so on. Heavily laden, they marched to the front line. The location was at the apex of the Ypres salient. The front line on the left of the Menin Road ran just short of the ruins of the chateau of Hooge, then curled back southward and northward. As they marched towards the front line, Very lights went up from lines right behind their left shoulders and right, leaving only a narrow gap of darkness behind. The enemy dominated the whole of the salient. He could fire his artillery on them from three sides. After depositing their loads they fell in again, ready to march back to Hellfire Corner. Herbert Garton went to report to Battalion HQ. There seemed little sense in standing in the open only a few hundred yards from the enemy who might open up at any moment, so when the CSM reported that all the parties were present and correct, Andrew gave the order to march off. Garton was very annoyed that they starting off without him, but it seemed to have been the sensible thing to do, and they got back without incident.
After a week, the battalion was relieved and sent back into rest bivouacs near Vlamertinghe, where they passed a quiet week engaged in a general clean up, seeing to equipment, and building redoubts on a defensive line behind Ypres. There were letters to be written, and those of the platoon to be censored. In one letter, the young soldier had put two poppies he had picked from a Flanders field, and told his mother he would always try to put a flower into his letters. Flanders poppies! They must have been among the first that were sent home, swelling into the mighty flood which now descends in its million from the Albert Hall on every Festival of Remembrance. The men were chiefly from the industrial Midlands and North, the chief recruiting ground for the Rifles. They were steady, reliable and well disciplined, but not many of that first lot survived. There was heavy fighting at the end of July and beginning of August, and when the division was taken out of the line, Andrew’s battalion numbered no more than four officers and under fifty men unhurt.
The week in rest soon passed, but before they left the brigade chaplain, the Rev. Guy Bonsey, celebrated Holy Communion. The altar was a few planks on top of ammunition boxes. It was a bright sunny July morning with nothing but the distant sound of guns to disturb them, or perhaps to remind them of the stern test they were shortly to face. On Monday July 26th they set off in the early evening up to the front line to take over from the 9th of the 60th Rifles (the Kings Royal Rifles). They skirted round Ypres, as the enemy had a ‘pleasant’ custom of sending a good-night greeting of shell-fire into the town. One of the British field batteries was firing intermittently, as they continued by the Menin Road to the front line.
On the right the line was held by the 4lst Brigade, which was well forward of the 9th Briagde’s line on the north of the road. There were less than fifty yards in places between our front line and the Germans. Behind this line were trenches into which went our Battalion HQ and A Company and three platoons of B. Andrew’s platoon had the first part of the trench north of the road, where the road ran on an embankment over a dip containing a little stream which ran in a large culvert which provided the only communication between us and the rest of the battalion.
[Lyn MacDonald, in The Roses of No Man’s Land, graphically describes the fighting into which Andrew Nugee was pitched (pp.101-102): “At the tip of the salient was the most miserable, the most most desolate, the most violent and dangerous spot on the Western Front. … they had called it Hooge Chateau; now they called it Hooge Crater. So bitter was the fighting at this point where the line had crystallized, so intense the bombing and the shelling, so pulverising the mining and the counter-mining, that nothing remained but a vast pit in which a whole battalion might have drawn up with room to spare. … It was the Rifle Brigade, in tenacious possession of the newly captured German trenches, which bore the appalling brunt of the liquid fire attack … “]
July 29th and 30th, 1915
They settled ourselves in, posted sentries, allotted dug-outs and waited for what might come. Two days passed without incident, but on the Thursday, July 29th, a number of shells came over, some landing very close. One of the men was badly wounded and the stretcher bearers carried him away. The Medical Officer, Marshall, was very good and they were lucky to have him: he wore the ribbon of the medal given for polar exploration. Then there was a shrapnel burst some way off, and a ping as one of the bullets from it struck the side of the trench a few inches from Andrew’s head, a close shave.
It was his custom to be out and about during the hours of darkness, to enjoy the quiet as he went from sentry to sentry to see that all was well. Suddenly, just as a glow was beginning to show in the eastern sky, there was a brilliant light on the other side of the road and there came the crackling sound of fire. Then every enemy gun round the salient opened up on them and our own guns answered.
News came through that the enemy had attacked in front of Hooge with liquid fire, the first time this devilish weapon had been used. They had followed that up with a strong attack, which had driven the battalion holding that sector back and captured our front line on that side of the road. One or two survivors reached our trench, and we expected to be under attack at any moment. But it never came. The bombardment seemed terrific, but was nothing compared with what the Western Front became used to later on. Eventually the firing ceased, and the riflemen were able to relax a bit. A few walking wounded came through, but the trench was too narrow and twisty to get a stretcher through, so stretcher cases had to wait till after dark, when they could be carried out above ground. Andrew admitted that after the shelling of the morning, he was very frightened, and thankful for the companionship of his men.
The next morning passed quietly, with the British guns firing spasmodically, perhaps to show that they were still there. A German aeroplane flew over the British areas. Artillery shells burst around it, but none did it harm. It was watching the other two battalions of the 41st Brigade and the 9th of the 60th marching up from rest for a counterattack, suffering considerably as they made their way.
After an hour or so they received orders. At noon there would start a concentrated barrage from our guns on the trenches which the Germans had captured, then after forty-five minutes these three battalions would attack, the 9th 60th through us and the other two on the right side of the road. But the morning lull had given the enemy time to consolidate, bring up his machine-guns, put out wire and so on, and the result a costly failure. At noon our guns opened up, answered immediately by enemy artillery fire on our trench lines where the three battalions had mustered for the counter-attack. Andrew Nugee was sitting at the bottom of the trench. He looked at his watch. It was 12.35. “Ten minutes more sergeant”, he said, and then there was a flash on the parapet just above them. He felt a heavy blow on his forehead and everything went black. He put his hand to his face and felt a hole between the eyes which seemed to be above the size of a cricket ball.
He was so numbed by the blow of shell splinters that he felt no pain or anything like that. Neither was he knocked unconscious. He stood up, but his left leg, which had been broken, gave way. Sergeant Blackburn called out, “Man hit here”. The sergeant had both arms broken, and the corporal and rifleman next to him had both been killed. Sergeant Willey and a bugler from C Company came to their aid. The bugler held Andrew up while the sergeant applied the first field dressings. He had a piece of shell in the upper right arm, so they tore the tunic to get to it and bind it up too. All the time they heard bullets crack as they sped across the trench and the whine of shell splinters passing overhead. The men had to duck several times. Andrew kept asking if they were all right. They assured him that they were. Then the sergeant muttering to himself, “Damn it all, where is it?” and began to press and pinch his right collar, looking for the pressure point to stop his bleeding.
Colonel Chaplin had led his men out of our trench up the slope that hid the enemy lines. As he topped the ridge he was the first to fall. The battalion pressed on, and many fell. Some got through to our old front line, only to find that the enemy had never occupied it. The battalions attacking on the south side of the road made no progress and fell back, leaving many killed and wounded, amongst them Lieutenant Gilbert Talbot, the son of the Bishop of Winchester, in whose memory Talbot House – Toc H – was named.
Andrew was carried into a dug-out. Someone was always with him ready to give a drink from a water-bottle, for in the periods of consciousness the thirst was hard to bear. There were hundreds of casualties on both sides of the road, and the MO was overwhelmed. He did come up once to see, but he could do nothing. At last it grew dark enough to move the stretcher cases. There was not much room, but the men did their best. Sergeant Woodbridge called, “Goodbye, sir. I’ll look after the boys till you come back.” Alas, he was killed about a week later. So the journey to the regimental aid post began. He could hear the men’s feet splashing in the water, and the Second in Command came to wish him good luck. A bit further on, the forward stretcher-bearer fell into a shell hole in the dark. “Lor”, he called out, “I’ve sat on ’is ’ead.” So in fact he had, but Andrew was much more sorry for him than for himself over that little episode.
They reached the aid post, where Captain Marshall and his team of RAMC were up to their eyes with work. Luckily it was a dry night and so they could all be dumped in the open. He began to feel very cold as well as continually thirsty. The RAMC sergeant put his greatcoat over him. There was nothing much they could do. They did not attempt to change the first field dressing, lest the bleeding should start up again. Dr Marshall provided a couple of bitter-tasting pills to suck, probably of morphia.
Andrew lay there, sometimes conscious, sometimes in blissful oblivion. He heard the doctor saying something like, “They can’t go yet. There’s a man here who should have gone among the first.” His stretcher was lifted and carried, and put down again. There were sounds of many voices and of engines running. At last, he was carried to an ambulance, and off it went, along a side track then the pavé of the Menin Road and, to the sound of an occasional shell and bursts of small-arms, quickly to the Brigade Field Ambulance.
Here were the sounds of great activity. The voice the padre, Guy Bonsey, said, “Hullo, old man, what can I do for you?” In spite of all that was going on, he was soon back with a hot cup of tea, the best drink ever. They did not meet again until the 1950s, in the Stewards’ Enclosure at Henley.
Hospital and rehabilitation
He was taken to No. 10 Casualty Clearing Station at Abele, near the railhead at Poperinge, where his leg could be set and he could be generally cleaned up and the dressings changed. He sent his father a letter, intending it to allay anxiety, simply saying he had had a smack in the face and a broken leg and there was nothing to worry about. When he had finished dictating it, he was asked “Is that true?” He found afterwards that his aid, the chaplain, had sent a more detailed account of what had happened. In fact, they took a dim view of his prospects. John Nugee was wounded a week or so later and came to the same CSS, where the sister said, “We had a man through last week of that name.” “Yes,” he said, “my brother.” “Oh,” she said cheerfully. “he won’t live.”
His leg was attended to at the CSS, but everything else seemed the same. Andrew remarked in his memoir that it was strange how the big wounds didn’t hurt at all, but little scratches did. The shell had been a whiz-bang, a small shell filled with very high explosive which burst into small fragments on impact. That was fortunate, perhaps, in that had “big stuff” been flying around it would probably have been fatal. A bit of metal in his knee only came to light forty years later. He had no idea it was there for all that time. One in his right arm was left there, as it did no harm.
An X-ray taken in early August of his head shows two or three fragments in the back of his throat. They too were left, because it was felt that, so long as they did not start to move, they will do no harm. Andrew often wondered whether his leather equipment had saved him from a nasty stomach wound. His batman had collected everything of his from the trench, including his valise. The contents of the left pouch came back, but the spectacles in the right pouch did not. Perhaps that pouch took some more shell splinters and so saved him.
The hospital train made its slow journey to the base, and early on the morning of Sunday 1st August it arrived at Le Touquet, where he, and the other wounded officers, were taken to the Duchess of Westminster’s hospital in the casino. Soon after, his mother and brother George arrived to see him. George did not stay long as he had to get back to his battery. A little later, his father arrived, and he underwent a further operation, the last for some time. Mr Lister, the ophthalmic surgeon and consultant to the BEF, examined him. The right eye was out, and the blow on the forehead had split the retina in the left eye. There was no treatment for that, only for the patient to lie completely still in the hopes that the retina would stick together again. There was a large area of damage, and so he warned my parents that probably I would never see again.
[Another passage in Lyn MacDonald’s The Roses of No Man’s Land (pp.73-74) talks about the Duchess of Westminster’s Hospital at Le Touquet: She had a villa at Le Touquet, and very soon after the war broke aout she went there with some other ladies who were all friends of hers to start a hospital… They went to the Red Cross asking for trained nurses to go there and nurse the wounded. They took pains to welcome incoming patient: When the convoys came in we all rushed to attend them … the Duchess and the other ladies … always dressed themselves up in full evening dress! ‘It’s the least we can do to cheer up the men’ … with diamond tiaras and everything. … one man said, ‘We thought we were going to Hell and now it seems we are in Heaven!’ This was nursing in the grand style, though Andrew would not have been able to see the ladies in their splendour.]
John was nearby in hospital at Le Treport. So their father went over to see him, and returned with the reassuring news that his wounds were not severe, two or three shell splinters in his back, not deep, that could easily be taken out. When that was done he would be sent back to England. Towards the end of August it was decided that Andrew could also go back to England, and after a few days he was on a hospital ship from Boulogne.
He was taken first to a small hospital in Park Lane and seen by Mr Cheatle, a Harley Street ENT specialist. He was then offered a place in a convalescent home called Sandacres, on the narrow strip which between Poole Harbour and the sea. His sister Elizabeth had written to the National Institute for the Blind to ask if they had second-hand typewriters, explaining why she asked this. She received a reply from Arthur Pearson at St Dunstans, the ‘Training Centre for Blind Soldiers and Sailors’, at Regent’s Park, London, who offered to come and talk about his coming to this training centre. Andrew had his final medical board in November 1916, which rated him as 100 per cent disabled. This earned him a wound pension, at first at the rate of £150 per annum plus 3s a day retired pay.
If a man had been wounded and unfit for service overseas, but was fit for home service, apart from his chevrons there was nothing to show why he was not back with his unit, so a stripe of gold cord was awarded to place above his service chevrons. Then there were the war medals. Apart from the decorations there were four of them, given for service in all theatres and on every sea. First was the Mons Star, given to those who had served in France from the outbreak of hostilities to the end of October 1914. The 1915 Star, similar to the Mons Star, was given to all those who had served from the end of the Mons period to the end of 1915. These were all volunteers. Then there was the British Empire War Medal, and fourth the Allied Victory medal. For those who had been mentioned in dispatches there was a bronze palm leaf to be sewn onto the ribbon of the war medal. These last three were irreverently named Pip, Squeak and Wilfred. Andrew Nugee was awarded “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred”, one blue service chevron and a wound stripe. He was also awarded the Silver War Badge No.3371.
In June 1916 while training in typing and braile at the St Dunstan’s centre, many people came in to read to them, among whom was Lady Haig, “a most friendly soul”. Andrew mentioned the way in which she could read out of the paper, “The following communiqué was issued by Sir D. Haig” without any emotion in her voice, just as though she had no personal connection with the C in C at all.
He was put under a young aural surgeon, Edward D.D. Davis of the Charing Cross Hospital. He soon had to get busy, as abscesses began to form in the frontal sinuses and many operations became necessary. In the late 1950s, a piece of metal began to show itself in the roof of his mouth. The operation for this was not pleasant. The local anaesthetic worked well, but it felt as if his mouth was filled with the whole canteen of cutlery as Mr Davies searched for the offending piece of shell. At intervals he would say, “Sucker, please, Sister” and then she would apply that instrument to draw off the blood and saliva. There was some difficulty in running the metal to earth, but eventually his patient felt a rattle against his bottom teeth. “There it is, Nugee” he said, and it was all over, except for a hole in the roof of his mouth which felt as big as a golf ball.
Starting a new life
When he got back home, his Father asked, “What are you going to do now? Would you consider being ordained? You have enough sight for that”. But Andrew declined, saying he wanted to try his hand as a fruit farmer. He was in touch with a Mr Whiteley, who was supervising Three Springs Farm, near Pershore, on behalf of Mr Hugh Mumford, who was with the Army in the Middle East. So he went see Mr Whiteley, who arranged for Mr Mumford’s elderly mother to take him as a lodger. There was a cottage hospital at Pershore, and the matron there very kindly agreed to see to the dressing on my head. So, early in 1917, all was set. Most of the farms at Pershore at that time were small but intensively cultivated. Three Springs was no exception, growing plums, apples and raspberries, with acres of vegetables. The U-boat blockade was at its height; food was very short and much of it of poor quality. Everyone had a ration card, but that card did not always guarantee that one would get one’s full rations.
He was content to carry on, but one Sunday in that summer of 1918, in church, he became aware of a presence, which he describes as being as real as any material presence could be. From then he knew that he had to offer himself for ordination. So he returned home and arranged to go back to Magdalen to read for a degree.
All this time Andrew had had the support and encouragement of his childhood friend, Elizabeth Walls, from Boothby Hall, Lincolnshire. They had not seen much of each other during the war years, but letters between them had been frequent. She and her sister Dorothy had volunteered at a Red Cross hospital at Earl’s Colne, and then transferred as VADs to St Thomas’s in London. They had a very hard time of it, but they kept their spirits up and their sense of humour. They were billeted in Lambeth Palace, where they had a cavernous room somewhere in the lower regions near to the great stove that ran the central heating. This was perhaps the most comforting part for them, as it meant they could keep reasonably warm. Elizabeth and Andrew were not at this time engaged, but she was quite looking forward to life on a fruit farm. Nevertheless, she took his change of plan without complaint.
He put himself down for the Pass School Groups, as it was called. This meant reading for at least three different subjects, one of which had to be a language group. He chose History, Divinity and Classics, and the college found a wonderful reader named Mrs Calendar, who had lost two sons in the war. Then, late in October, the deadly influenza epidemic struck. Years of war weariness, anxiety and lack of food had left the whole population open to infection, and with little resistance with which to meet it. There was one terrible day when eleven military funerals set out from the hospital in Oxford. Andrew caught it, and so did another of his small company at Magdalen who, after making good progress, eventually succumbed and died. Andrew was more fortunate. At St Thomas’s, Elizabeth went down with it too. She also made a good recovery, and they decided to have their convalescence together at Boothby. During that time at Boothby, they became engaged and planned to be married at Spilsby, Lincolnshire, in January 1920. Andrew was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Arts, University of Oxford, in time for the wedding.
The young couple went on to Lincoln, where Andrew attended Lincoln Theological College, or the Bishop’s Hostel as it was otherwise known. In May 1921, he progressed to ordination and his first curacy, at St Thomas’s, Winchester. He was ordained deacon at the end of May 1921, and then into the priesthood at Winchester Cathedral on Trinity Sunday, 11 June 1922. He remained for four and a half years at St Thomas’s, but then he felt it was time he moved. He was put me in touch with the Rev. Selby Lowndes, vicar of Bramley, near Guildford, who agreed to have him as his assistant. So they moved to Bramley in May 1926, in the middle of the General Strike.
Four years later, at the beginning of 1930, his father felt he had sufficient experience to qualify for a parish of his own, and actively sought a parish for his son. Arrangements were made to leave Bramley in May, and Andrew to be instituted to the living of Little Houghton with Brafield-on-the-Green, near Northampton, which took place on May 15th, by Bishop Blagden of Peterborough. Sadly, at about this time, his father became seriously ill with an inoperable cancer, and he died after a short illness.
In Easter Week, 1932, he joined a Toc H pilgrimage to the Ypres Salient, organised for some thirty Radley boys by his brother, John. They were honoured to have the founder of Toc H, ‘Tubby’ Clayton himself, with them.
Eckington and St Dunstans
Andrew and Elizabeth were at Little Houghton from 1930 until 1938, when he decided to make another move. He was offered a crown living, at Eckington in Derbyshire. This was a very different proposition from anything he had experienced before, but he decided to accept, and they left Little Houghton in November, his institution and induction set for early in December. So he became vicar of Eckington, Renishaw and Spink Hill. This latter place must be almost unique in England, as it was even then almost entirely Roman Catholic, having once been the home of the De La Pole family. Renishaw was a very different kettle of fish. Its raison d’être was the Renishaw Ironworks, which had two blast furnaces and a foundry. The whole sky was lit up with a red glow from the molten metal as it poured out from the furnace. But it was quite a different matter when war broke out. That fiery glow would have been a most welcome beacon to any enemy raider, so the moulding beds had to be roofed over. In came the spider men building the high steel scaffolding and then covering it in with corrugated sheeting. To his great surprise, the manager came and asked Andrew to bless the furnace when it was ready for lighting.
Eckington itself was an overgrown mining village. On one side of the road at Eckington clustered the older houses, but further down the main road was Emmett Carr, or more popularly ‘Cuckoo’, a grim example of the worst type of the product of nineteenth-century industrial development.
One of the church sidesmen was a charge-hand underground at one of the local coal pits. He arranged for Elizabeth and Andrew to go down. It was evidently a memorable occasion, but after they had retraced their stumbling steps to pit bottom and so back to the cage, and up once more to sunshine and fresh air, they were thankful to be safely back on the surface.
The Second World War came. The ARP headquarters were set up in the Parish Council offices just across the road from the rectory. Andrew was duly appointed a chaplain for these services and issued with an anti-gas cape – how unpleasantly it smelt – a large pair of Wellington boots and a steel helmet with a white cross painted on it. The January 1940 ushered in one of the worst winters in memory. The censorship of news made it difficult to realise its countrywide severity, but up in Derbyshire they knew its rigours only too well. The undrifted snow was quite eighteen inches deep, and the frost was severe and continuous.
Also in 1940, the south coast became unsafe, and St Dunstan’s decided to evacuate its properties in the Brighton area to Church Stretton, in Shropshire, which became its wartime training centre. Andrew was asked to become chaplain to the training centre. He was at that time the only St Dunstaner in Holy Orders in Britain, but he did not want to leave Eckington and Renishaw, where he had been for four years. But, he knew, there were newly war-blinded patients, so he decided to accept the offer. As it turned out, but both he and Elizabeth enjoyed their time there.
Crowthorne and after
In 1946, they made another move, prompted by the Bishop of Oxford, who informed Andrew that the living of Crowthorne, Berkshire, would soon be vacant. His institution and induction, on September 30th , and was the start of fourteen years at Crowthorne. This parish contains Wellington College and Broadmoor Hospital, both of which had their own chaplain. At about this time, towards the end of the 1950s, Andrew began to notice a change in his sight, and with great reluctance decided to take to a white stick
In 1958, Andrew’s mother and sister, Elizabeth, were living in Eastbourne. During Easter week, his mother developed a slight cold, so Elizabeth kept her in bed. On the Thursday morning the vicar gave her Easter Communion. That evening she was taken with a heart attack, and died in a short time. She was buried in their father’s grave in Shangton churchyard. She was just three months short of ninety-nine years.
Andrew left Crowthorne at the beginning of November 1960, and was duly instituted to the Vicarage of Broadwell and the Rectory of Kencot, Oxfordshire. But in September, 1962, his wife Elizabeth began to be unwell, unable to relax, staying in a distressful state. Periods when her spirits revived became increasingly shorter, with longer spells of depression between. Then came the severe winter of January 1963. The snow lay deep on the ground and on the roofs, it was piled up against the walls and in corners, and had been driven by the wind into deep drifts. The doctor advise that she ought to go into the specialised clinic at Littlemore, where she was given electric shock treatment, with devastating results. When Andrew was taken to see, she hardly knew him. He wondered whether recovery was going to be possible. But hope recovered when Easter came, the clinic shut down for Easter, and Elizabeth was allowed home. What a change they found, a smiling cheerful face and a voice full of pleasure. Could this really be a turning of the corner? She got to her Easter Communion. At the end of the Easter week there was to be a wedding, and on Easter Monday Elizabeth filled in the registers and certificate. But as Monday slipped by so her spirit of gaiety left her. On Tuesday morning, she did what she had done all the forty-three years of their married life, she irrigated out Andrew’s head and eye. But while doing it, a strange collapse came over her and she fell backwards. It passed quickly, but it was a danger signal. She came down and waited for George to come. They chatted and she said, “I think I have some stamps, as I must write and thank Dorothy for her letter”. Then silence. It was a moment or so before they realised she had collapsed. They got her up the narrow winding stairs to her bed. It was heartbreaking. The only relief was that she was quite unconscious and not suffering.
The doctor arranged for her to go to hospital. The ambulance men were tenderness and skill to the last degree; she quietened down as they lifted her to carry her out to the ambulance, and she hardly stirred again. During the evening a brain specialist examined her, and said that she was suffering from a massive brain haemorrhage. He could do nothing. At about midday on 17 April, Elizabeth passed so peacefully away that even the nurses could not be sure when the end actually came. All the strain and tension left her face, and she lay there on her side just as it were in peaceful sleep.
Amongst the many gave their love and sympathy there stood out one, Zeala Wimperis. Andrew found to his great joy and exceeding comfort that she was prepared to take him on, and they married in Kencot Church on 16 September. It was time for Andrew to retire. He would be seventy-two in October 1967, and his sight was deteriorating.
Andrew Nugee’s memoir ends with his second marriage. He and Zeala were to have some seventeen years together, before Reverend Andrew Charles Nugee died in 1977 at Cirencester, aged 82.