Lieutenant Robert Laurence Needham, known as Laurie, was killed in action in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) on 21st January 1916 during the Siege of Kut el Amara (the First Battle of Kut), 100 miles south of Baghdad.
Born in Brighton on 10th April 1889, Laurie and his younger brother, Frederic Gilbert (known as Gilbert), both attended Solihull School after boarding at a private school in Brighton.
The boys’ parents, Frederick Burgess Needham and Lillian Dina (also recorded in some records as Lilian Pauline) Clynds married in 1888 in Brighton. By 1891, the couple had two sons under the age of two. It seems that Frederick died in February 1901 and, by April 1901, the two boys, aged 10 and 11, were boarders at Oxford House school, 29-31 Eaton Place, Brighton. This was a private school run by headmaster William Isaac Aldom who had graduated from Cambridge University in 1895. The school seems to have been relatively short-lived as, by 1904 Mr Aldom was an Assistant Master at Sandwich Grammar School. It’s not known when the boys transferred to Solihull School but the school archives include reference to old boys L. and F.G. Needham from Southampton visiting the school in 1908.
The 1911 census shows Laurie and Gilbert as living in Southampton, where 22-year-old Laurie was a general engineer and 20-year-old Gilbert was an apprentice ship builder. Laurie joined the Territorial Force and was gazetted Second Lieutenant with 5th Battalion Hampshire Regiment on 25th May 1909, rising to Lieutenant on 19th December 1912. On the outbreak of war, the 5th Battalion was posted to India and remained there for the duration of the war. However, Laurie was attached to B Company, 1st/4th Battalion, which was based in Winchester and known as the Wessex Division. After sailing from Southampton to India in October 1914, the Wessex Division landed at Basra in March 1915 and remained in Mesopotamia and Persia for the remainder of the war.
After Laurie’s death, his mother had a tablet erected in his memory at St Peter’s Church, Brighton, with the words:
THIS TABLET IS HERE PLACED
BY HIS MOTHER IN WHOSE HEART
HIS BEAUTIFUL MEMORY WILL LIVE
He is commemorated on the Solilhull School War Memorial (although incorrectly listed as R. N. Needham) as well as on memorials in Brighton, Southampton and Iraq.
If you have any further information on the Needham brothers from Solihull School, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977
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