12th October 1914

Lieutenant Alexander Nigel Trotter, 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, The Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment) died of wounds in France on 12th October 1914, less than a month after his twentieth birthday.

Nigel, as he was known, was born in London on 17th September 1894 to parents Alexander Pelham Trotter and his wife Alys Fane Trotter (née Keatinge). Nigel had an older sister, Gundred Eleanor Trotter (1889-1975), known as “Gunda”, who was also born in London. Nigel’s local connection with the Solihull area is that he was educated at Packwood Haugh Preparatory School. Referred to now as “The First Packwood”, the school occupied a site in Glasshouse Lane, Hockley Heath from 1892 until 1940, when the school moved to “The Second Packwood” in Ruyton-XI-Towns near Shrewsbury, where it remains today. The original building in Glasshouse Lane has now been turned into 12 apartments, known as Fetherston Grange.

Postcard of changing rooms at Packwood Haugh
Changing Rooms at Packwood Haugh School c. 1920

After his time at Packwood Haugh, Nigel Trotter became a boarder at Clifton College, Bristol, where he appears, aged 16, on the 1911 census. He has a detailed entry in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour (available free of charge on the Ancestry and Find My Past websites at all Solihull libraries), which notes that whilst at Clifton College, he was a member of the Officer Training Corps, shot in the Bisley VIII, and was one of the best boxers in the school. The entry goes on to say that he was gazetted 2nd Lieut. 3rd Royal Scots, on 21st December 1912, and promoted Lieut. on 9th July 1914.

He was appointedTransport Officer for the 3rd Battalion on the outbreak of war, leaving for France, aged 19, with a draft of 100 men, on 30th August 1914, sailing from Southampton on the SS Lake Michigan. His letters home indicate that when in the trenches they were usually shelled for 20 minutes, followed by a pause of an hour. A letter to his parents indicates that Nigel was in command of A Company on the day of his death, and he was first wounded in the chest before being shot again in the head as he was falling. His servant, Private W. Grant, wrote that he died at 11pm.

The Royal Scots left the trenches at the Aisne about 26 Sept. and arrived in position near Bethune 11 Oct, and Lieut. Trotter was killed in action at La Fosse, near Vielle Chapelle, 12 Oct. 1914, while engaged in attacking a wood strongly held by the enemy. The ground over which the British had to advance was intersected by small irrigation canals crossed by plank bridges, on which the officers and men offered a good target. Lieut. Trotter is believed to have been first hit while crossing one of these bridges, and after advancing three-quarters of a mile, fell with two more wounds. He was buried on the farm of Zelobes, near La Fosse, north of Bethune. His Coy. Commander, Capt. (now Major) F. C. Tanner, D.S.O., wrote: “Everyone is unanimous that Nigel died like a hero, and knowing him, I could not suppose it otherwise. I saw him under fire at the beginning of the action”; and a man in his company: “I can assure you all the men were sorry to lose him for he seemed to have no fear and was a good leader of men.” On the cross put up on his grave by the mobile column of the Red Cross, some of his comrades wrote: “A very gallant gentleman” (De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour).

His mother wrote a book of poems after his death – Nigel and other verses, by Alys Fane Trotter (1862-1961), which was published in 1918. The frontispiece includes a photograph of her son.
Image of Alexander Nigel Trotter
From the frontispiece of his mother’s book of poems
This extract from Alys Trotter’s poem, Nigel,  includes a moving tribute to her son’s kindness and youthful career aspirations:
You came and leaned your head against my shoulder
As we sat talking in the flickering light,
Of what we’d do when you were really older,
And about school, and what was wrong and right.
You shyly said (your smile was a half a dimple),
“I wonder, mother (if it could be done)
If my profession could be something simple,
Where I’d be always kind to everyone.”
I think you never altered; you grew taller,
And all your dreams were tinted with romance
You might have laughed at what you said when smaller –
That summer when we saw you off to France.
Her poem, Weymouth (1914), describes the departure in August 1914 of a draft of 100 men of the Royal Scots (led by her son) for the Western Front:
Skirl of pipers and tramp of feet,
Scottish soldiers come down the street.
A draft of a hundred reservist men
With a lad at their head, he was nineteen then,
Three years ago.
The same poem also includes tributes paid after his death:
“A leader of men, and he had no fear,”
One of his company wrote that year.
Ah! we knew that, who had watched him grow
For those nineteen years, we who loved him so,
And let him go.
“Died like a hero,” and “mourned as a friend.”
Nothing better could be at the end.
Thank God that you died as you lived, my dear,
Though the sunshine flared and went out that year,
Three years ago.
His mother’s love and loss is evident in the opening lines of A Farewell:
O do not think that I am full of sadness
Since you are always present in my mind
Nigel’s sister, Gundred, known as “Gunda”, had two daughters, Isobel Flora Beck (1914-1998) and Eleanor Beck (born 1916). It seems that Flora inherited a locket containing a lock of Nigel’s hair, which is presumed to have originally belonged to Nigel’s mother. Flora had no children and she appears to have given the locket to a friend. A descendant of the friend contacted us as a result of this blog, which had enabled him to identify the previously unknown “Nigel” mentioned on the locket’s inscription.
Locket containing a lock of Nigel Trotter’s hair
Nigel Trotter is also commemorated on a memorial in St Agatha’s Church, Coates, Sussex. It seems from the announcement of his death in the Sussex Agricultural Express, 30th October 1914, that his parents had a country house nearby – Coates Farm, Fittleworth. His mother’s poem “A Sussex Church” appears to refer to the memorial in the church. Photographs below are courtesy of a member of the church (click on the image to enlarge).
Memorial to Alexander Nigel Trotter at St Agatha's Church, Coates, Sussex
Memorial to Alexander Nigel Trotter at St Agatha’s Church, Coates, Sussex
Researcher John Hardy has told us of a bundle of 27 letters from Nigel Trotter to his family, which is held at the National Library of Scotland (ref.: Acc. 6614). Nigel’s last letter was dated 10th October 1914 and received on 20th October 1914. In it he writes of travelling 100 miles in about eight days, with the marches starting at 6am, arriving at the destination between 1am and 4am, and sleeping until 11am.

If you have any more information about Nigel Trotter, or Packwood Haugh School during the First World War, please let us know.

Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977
email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

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