9th January 1917

Two local men lost their lives on 9th January 1917 whilst serving in the Armed Forces.

Commander The Hon. Richard Orlando Beaconsfield Bridgeman RN, DSO, the son of the 4th Earl of Bradford of Castle Bromwich Hall, drowned whilst on active service in East Africa (modern Tanzania) with the Royal Navy. Second Lieutenant Arthur Gordon Robinson died in France whilst serving with the 2nd Special Company, Royal Engineers.

Richard Bridgeman was born in London on 28th February 1879 and baptised at Castle Bromwich on 19th April 1879, taking the name “Beaconsfield” in honour of his godfather, Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield. He was the sixth child and second son of parents, George Cecil Orlando Bridgeman (1845-1915), then Viscount Newport, and Ida Frances Anabella (née Lumley), daughter of the 9th Earl of Scarborough. The couple married in 1869 and had seven children (three sons, four daughters).

All three of the sons were career officers and served in the First World War. The eldest son, Orlando (1873-1957) served in the Boer War as a Captain, became Lieutenant Colonel in the First World War and an Honorary Colonel in the Second World War. The youngest son, Henry George Orlando Bridgeman (1882-1972) was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery in 1901, and served in India before returning to England in 1914. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1916 and the Distinguished Service Order in 1917, and was mentioned in dispatches five times.

According to his service record on Find My Past, Richard Bridgeman entered the Royal Navy on 15th July 1892, was promoted Lieutenant in 1900 and Commander in 1912. Remarks on his character include: “zealous”; “able”; “tactful”; “good nerve and strong character”; “good judgement”; “loyal and painstaking”; “above average”; “exceptional artist”; “greatest merit is thorough reliability”.  He was appointed Flag Commander to the Commander-in-Chief on the Cape Station in June 1914. He was mentioned in dispatches in 1915 for his actions against the German ship Kőnigsberg in the Battle of Rufiji Delta.

According to a plaque erected by his family in the Anglican Cathedral in Zanzibar, Richard Bridgeman lost his life whilst carrying out a seaplane reconnaissance over the Rufiji River in German East Africa. A full account of the event appeared in the Birmingham Mail on 20th October 1917, thanks to information obtained from a captured German Captain who had previously had custody of Commander Bridgeman’s flying companion, Flight Commander Edwin Rowland Moon DSO, who was taken prisoner in 1917 and held by the enemy for the remainder of the war.

The seaplane carrying Commander Bridgeman and Flight Commander Moon was forced to land owing to magnetic failure. After having ascertained that the damage was not repairable, the two officers proceeded to burn the machine. In order to get away from the enemy, a party of which might have seen them land, they made their way up the bank of the river, and Moon swam across the stream, which was swarming with crocodiles, with a view to finding a boat. But his quest failing, he, the following day, again crossed the river, but was carried down some distance by the ebb tide before he could land, and had to make his way back through the mangroves. Apart from cocoanuts [sic] the officers had had nothing to eat or drink since leaving their station at nightfall.
After much weary wandering they discovered an empty house, and by removing the window frame and roughly fastening planks across, they constructed a raft. They were frequently up to the neck in water, and the only relief they could obtain from the millions of mosquitos was continually dipping their heads under the surface. The cocoanut milk they carried in bottles turned sour, and by the evening of the third day both officers were completely exhausted, and Commander Bridgeman was almost insensible.
In his anxiety to escape the watchers Flight Commander Moon failed to stem the tide and the raft was carried out to sea. A strong north-easterly wind increased his difficulties. The raft became partially waterlogged and Flight Commander Moon had the terrible task of keeping himself afloat on the raft and also supporting Commander Bridgeman in his arms to keep his head out of water. On the fourth day Flight Commander Moon spent thirteen hours on the raft, the last nine of which were in open sea. Again and again Commander Bridgeman was washed off the raft and was rescued by Flight Commander Moon, but finally he died of exhaustion or exposure, or he was washed off the raft and Flight Commander Moon could not recover him.

Flight  Commander Moon eventually managed to regain land and was taken prisoner of war. Commander Bridgeman’s body was washed ashore a few days afterwards close to Newbridge, and buried by the Germans.

He is buried at Dar es Salaam War Cemetery, and is also commemorated locally on Castle Bromwich War Memorial, and on the memorial plaque in St Mary & St Margaret’s Church, where he had been baptised in 1879. The Great War Forum includes photographs of Commander Bridgeman’s grave and there is also information on the Birmingham History website, based on research by Terrie Knibb and the Castle Bromwich Youth & Community Partnership.

Also killed on 9th January 1917 was Second Lieutenant Arthur Gordon Robinson, apparently known as Gordon. Born in Handsworth in 1887, he was the eldest of the three children of parents Arthur Eugene Robinson (a tailor and clothier) and Annie Emma (née Pitt) who had married in Annie’s home town of Dudley in 1885.

Gordon attended King Edward’s School and went on to take a BSc degree at Birmingham University before becoming a teacher. He married Edith Emily Jackson on Christmas Eve 1910 at Holy Trinity Church, Birchfield, and the couple set up home in Handsworth where Gordon was employed by Handsworth Urban District Council as an elementary school science teacher. He was also a prominent member of the Aston Old Edwardians Rugby Club.

On the outbreak of war, Gordon joined the ranks one of the Birmingham City Battalions, subsequently being transferred to the Royal Engineers which had established Special Companies to respond to the introduction of chemical warfare. It appears that he went to the Front in 1915 and was promoted Sergeant before being commissioned from the ranks.

He was 29 years old when he died, and a report in the Birmingham Daily Post 15th January 1917 indicates that his widow was then living at at “The Homestead”, Chadwick End, Knowle. As far as we are aware, he is not commemorated on any war memorials locally. He also doesn’t seem to be included on the Handsworth War Memorial.

He is buried at Philosophe British Cemetery, Mazingarbe.

If you have any further information on either of these men, please let us know.

Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977

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