Captain Joseph Oscar Muntz, aged 42, died of wounds on 4th September 1918 whilst serving with B Company, 16th Battalion, Devonshire Regiment. Born in Tanworth-in-Arden in 1876, Oscar, as he was known, was the youngest child of George Frederick Muntz (1822-1898) of Umberslade Hall and his second wife Sara Matilda (née Kell) who had married at Edgbaston in February 1866. The couple had six children following the death of his first wife Marianne Lydia (née Richardson) in 1864. There were also eight children from the first marriage.
The Muntz family’s connection with Umberslade when Oscar’s grandfather, George Frederick Muntz (1794-1857), took over the lease of the estate. After his death, Oscar’s father, also George Frederick, a Birmingham MP, bought the hall and the estate. Described as being of “a shy and retiring disposition”, G. F. Muntz didn’t take a prominent part in public life but took a practical interest in farming. A Baptist convert, in 1877 he built a church – Christ Church – on his estate. Now known as Umberslade Baptist Church, the Decorated Gothic building is in the care of the Historic Chapels Trust. Although no longer in use as a place of worship, the Friends of Umberslade Baptist Chapel regularly open up the building and welcome visitors.
J. Oscar Muntz, was educated at Clifton College (leaving in 1890) and the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, before joining the Imperial Yeomanry (Royal North Devon Hussars) in 1902 as a Second Lieutenant. His father had died in 1898, and under the terms of his father’s will, he inherited £50,000 and Monkspath Farm, Solihull.
He left the Yeomanry in 1906 and, by 1910, had moved to Devon, where he farmed at Heathcot, Yelverton and became a successful breeder of livestock, officiating as a judge at all the leading shows. He was President of the Dartmoor Sheep-Breeding Association and of the Large Black Pig Society, and was also on the Council of the National Pony Society. He was a successful exhibitor of stock, and a founder member of Plymouth Polo Club, as well as being a regular follower with the Dartmoor Foxhounds.
On the outbreak of war, he volunteered his services and was appointed as remount purchasing officer, responsible for sourcing the horses needed for the Army. He applied for a commission in the combatant branch of the Service and was appointed Captain with the Devonshire Regiment in November 1914, going with the Regiment to France in 1915. He was severely wounded in 1915 at the Battle of Loos and was invalided back to England.
In 1915, he married Imogen Mary Collier (1873-1952), an artist and horse breeder, whose home was at Foxhams, Horrabridge, Devon. Known within the family as Dena, she continued to run Foxhams Stud after her husband’s death, retiring in 1938 after the death of her stallion, Love Song, whom she had bred in 1918 and who became the centre of the stud.
Appointed to the Reserve Training Battalion on home service, Oscar Muntz underwent an operation at Netley Hospital early in 1918 and was passed fit for general service in July 1918. Returning immediately to France, he was appointed to his old regiment, the Devonshires.
Captain J. Oscar Muntz was wounded on 2nd September 1918 during an attack on the village of Moislains. The Battalion War Diary notes: “Strong resistance met with by A & B Companies – casualties heavy” and names Captain Muntz as one of the officers wounded. He died two days later.
His commanding officer wrote:
“The news of Capt. Muntz’s death was a great grief to us all. We all mourn a very gallant officer, who did not know the meaning of fear, and who placed duty above all. The company he commanded speak in the highest terms of his powers of leadership and the exceptional gallantry he showed under very trying circumstances. We all deplore his loss…”
He is buried at Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt L’Abbé, France and is commemorated locally on war memorials at Hockley Heath and Umberslade Baptist Church, the church his father founded.
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