On 10th October 1916, a memorial service was held at St. Margaret’s in Westminster for a young lieutenant who had been killed the previous month at the Somme. The nineteen year old soldier was the Honourable Edward Wyndham “Bim” Tennant, 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards.
As the mourners arrived they were given the order of service and a memorial booklet. Inside was a drawing of Bim by John Singer Sargent, and the contents of his last letter home to his mother. This was written two days before his death.
“To-night we go up to the trenches we were in, and to-morrow or the next day we go over the top… I am full of hope and trust, and I pray that I may be worthy of my fighting ancestors… I have never been prouder of anything, except your love for me, than I am of being a Grenadier.”
A few days after his death Lady Glenconner, began to receive numerous condolences from soldiers who had served under him as well as his superiors. All were very poignant but none captured the dazzling persona of Bim Tennant better than the one from a Private S.A. 24682, who wrote….
“When things were at their worst,
He would pass up and down the trench cheering the men,
And it was a treat to see his face always smiling,
When danger was greatest, his smile was loveliest.”
Bim Tennant was born on 1 July 1897 at Stockton House in Wiltshire to Edward Priaulx Tennant and Pamela Wyndham Tennant. His father was a Scottish Liberal politician and the 1st Baron Glenconner, while his mother was a writer and one of the beauties featured in Sargent’s portrait the “Three Graces” with her sisters Lady Elcho and Mrs. Adeane. The Tennants were also members of “The Souls”, a small distinctive group that included politicians and intellectuals that was formed in response to the damper on social life caused by the political tension of the Irish Home Rule debate.
Bim was educated at West Downs from 1907-11 where he was a good left-hand bowler and an excellent shot having participated in the VIII competitions and matches. His name is on the Chichester Shooting Shield and the bowling cup for 1911. As a child Bim showed great talent for writing poetry and as joint editor of the Hesperid, the school magazine, some of his verses were published. In September 1911, Bim entered Winchester College where he lived in F house. He continued to write poetry and just missed winning the Gold Medal for English verse: he came in second. In July 1914, at age seventeen Bim left Winchester with the original plan being that he would live in Germany with a family to learn the language in preparation for the Diplomatic Service. However, the war broke out and he joined the Grenadier Guards. He has the distinction of being the youngest Wykehamist to take up arms in defence of his country. After a year of training in London he was sent to Bovingdon Green Camp, Marlow in August 1915.
On account of his efficiency as an officer he was selected to go to France, although Brigade Orders had been issued that no one should leave England before nineteen years of age. In September 1915, he wrote…
“I have the feeling of Immortality very strongly within me, and I look on Death as a friend whom there is no need to fear.”
Throughout his one year of service he corresponded with his mother on a consistent basis, constantly reassuring her that he was in great spirits and out of harm’s way. He also wrote some of his most brilliant poetry from the trenches or war torn villages like this one written in March 1916.
Home Thoughts In Laventie
Green gardens in Laventie!
Soldiers only know the street
Where the mud is churned and splashed about
By battle-wending feet;
And yet beside one stricken house there is a glimpse of grass.
Look for it when you pass
Beyond the Church whose pitted spire
Seems balanced on a strand
Of swaying stone and tottering brick.
Two roofless ruins stand
And here behind the wreckage where the back wall should have been
We found a garden green.
The grass was never trodden on,
The little path of gravel
Was overgrown with celandine;
No other folk did travel
Along its weedy surface, but the nimble-footed mouse
Running from house to house.
So all among the vivid blades
Of soft and tender grass
We lay, nor heard the limber wheels
That pass and ever pass,
In noisy continuity, until their stony rattle
Seems in itself a battle.
At length we rose up from this ease
Of tranquil happy mind
And searched the garden’s little length
A fresh pleasuance to find;
And there, some yellow daffodils and jasmine hanging high
Did rest the tired eye.
The fairest and most fragrant
of the many sweets we found
Was a little of Daphne flower
Upon a grassy mound;
And so thick were the blossoms set and so divine the scent
That we were all content.
Hungry for Spring I bent my head;
the perfume fanned my face
And all my soul was dancing
In that lovely little place.
Dancing with a measured step from wrecked and shattered towns,
Away….upon the Downs.
I saw green banks of daffodil,
Slim poplars in the breeze,
Great tan-brown hares in gusty March,
A courting on the leas;
And meadows with their glittering streams and silver scurrying dace
Home—what a perfect place.
Two important events in Bim’s young life occurred on 1 July 1916, he turned nineteen and the Battle of the Somme began. During this period he was with his battalion in Ypres and still writing poetry such as these bittersweet words.
I too remember distant golden days
When even my soul was young; I see the sand
Whirl in a blinding pillar towards the band
Of orange sky-line ’neath a turquoise blaze.
Some burnt-out sky spread o’er a glistening land
And slim brown jargoning men in blue and gold
I know it all so well, I understand
The ecstasy of worship ages-old.
Hear the first truth; The great far-seeing soul
Is ever in the humblest husk; I see
How each succeeding section takes its toll
In fading cycles of old memory,
And each new life the life shall control
Until perfection reach Eternity.
With the war raging around him and the number of casualties extremely high, Bim found solace in his deeply rooted faith and accepted the inevitability that he might soon perish on the battlefield. This is evident near the end of his final letter home in which he wrote…
“Your love for me and my love for you, have made my whole life one of the happiest there has ever been: Brutus’ farewell to Cassius sounds in my heart: ‘If not farewell; and if we meet again, we shall smile.’ Now all my blessings go with you, and with all we love. God bless you and give you peace.
On 22 September 1916, Bim was sniping near the village of LesBouefs when he was killed by a German sniper. His comrades quickly retrieved his body and buried him in the Guillemont Road Cemetery near his friend Raymond Asquith, who had been killed the week before.
“They died, so others came and had to stay
Till they died too, and every field and fen
Was heavy with the dead from day to day.”
from A Bas la Gloire
by Lt. The Hon. Edward Wyndham Tennant
Written by Jonathan Whitney, who lives in the NYC area where he works in the corporate world while pursuing his interests in WWI poets, photography, history, and his latest endeavour is to write a play based on Bim's life and poetry.