Captain Cecil Scott James Griffin
On 16th September, 1917, Captain Cecil Griffin took off from No.7 Air Acceptance Park, Kenley, in Sopwith Camel B6302. His engine mis-fired badly when he was about 400 yards from the airfield boundary and a gust of wind caught the tail of the aircraft as he was attempting to turn at an altitude of about 150 feet. The aircraft plunged earthwards and Griffin didn’t have the height to correct the situation before he hit the ground. He was taken to Croydon War Hospital, where he confessed that he felt that he had failed to do the right thing on finding himself in difficulties. He succumbed to his injuries on 11th October.
Cecil Scott James Griffin was born in Sangor, Uttar Pradesh, India, on 26th October, 1894. His father, Cecil Pender Griffith Griffin had married Annie James in her hometown of Plymouth, the previous year. Cecil Senior had a distinguished military career in the Indian Army, serving with the 1st Bengal Lancers during the Tirah Campaign, and then the Boxer Rebellion in China. He was mentioned in despatches and received the Distinguished Service Order.
In 1899, Annie gave birth to a baby girl, Evelyn Emma, in Southampton. The 1901 census shows her living with her father, Edward James, in Portswood, with her two young children.
Just before his 15th birthday, in 1909, Cecil entered Tonbridge School, where he joined the Officers’ Training Corps. He left in 1911, by which time his family had settled at Berridon Hall, Bradworthy, Devon.
Cecil received a commission in the Special Reserve of The Gordon Highlanders and reported his arrival with the 1st Battalion at Fer-en-Tardenois (Aisne department) on 15th September, 1914, in the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. On the 20th, he set off with 20 men to escort a party of German prisoners (2 officers and 57 other ranks), and returned from an advanced base to Fer-en-Tardenois on 22nd.
On 24th October, Griffin was listed as wounded along with three other officers. In addition, one officer was killed and a further five were reported missing. He was invalided back to England and admitted to Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital, Millbank, London, on 27th October, 1914, suffering from severe diarrhoea and a pistol bullet wound to the back of the head just below the occipital on the right side, which he had received in action in France. He was discharged three days later to Lady Mountgarret’s Hospital for Officers, a much smaller convalescent home, at 18 Cadogan Gardens, near Sloane Square.
Griffin re-joined the 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, on 27th January, 1915, at Vierstraat, roughly five miles south of Ypres in Belgium. Under his command was a new draft of 166 men who had very little training but were of “excellent physique.” Hardly surprising as many of them were miners from Lancashire, though there were also a few Americans, Canadians, Argentinians and Chinese from Shanghai.
The weather was cold and wet, with the Battalion on rotation between holding and maintaining the trenches near Vierstraat and billets at La Clytte, during the periods when they were relieved by the 2nd Battalion Suffolk Regiment.
On 22nd April, a nearby gas attack caused the men to suffer with sore eyes – the recommended remedy being a wet cloth over the face.
On 12th May, they marched to a Chateau south, south-west of Ypres before relieving the South Lancashire Regiment, who could give them no information on which of the labyrinth of trenches they had occupied. The 13th found them in trenches near the notorious Hill 60. The weather was very wet and they were trying to clean up a mess of equipment, rifles, ammunition and corpses abandoned by the West Riding Rifles, who had been gassed.
On the 21st May, the 1st Bn. returned to the billets at La Clytte. In June they moved to Hooge, where, on 9th, there was a “gas class” for one officer and a selected Private, who learnt how to use a smoke hood and respirator. All too soon, the training was put into practice – on 15th, the 1st Bn. were gassed, and, although some of the men were “rather bad” no-one was overcome and the equipment proved effective. However, on 17th, the Battalion Headquarters and two of the reserve Companies (C & D) were shelled all day (including gas shells) – they suffered 80 casualties.
On 21st June, Griffin, together with four other 2nd Lieutenants, four NCOs and eight men were granted six days leave. They returned on 28th, but Griffin doesn’t appear on the list of the Battalion’s Officers for the end of July, 1915. He had left the unit on 6th July, having been taken ill with paratyphoid B, caused by exposure to infection in the trenches. He was declared fit for general service on 17th November, 1915, at 1st Scottish General Hospital, Aberdeen.
In January 1916, Griffin was attached to the Royal Flying Corps, received his training and was posted to No.12’s Reserve Squadron, moving on to Nos.45 and 33 before completing his probationary period and becoming a Flying Officer (gazetted 30/8/1916). He served with No.45 Squadron in France from October 1916 but was back in hospital on 5th March, 1917 for a “Submucous Resection of the Nasal Septum and Left Middle Turbinectomy,” performed by Mr. Franklin, who also noted that Griffin was suffering from headaches above the eye. He was seen by an eye specialist but nothing abnormal was found. It is tempting to speculate that Griffin may have smashed his nose during a rough landing or similar accident, while he was flying at the Front.
On 27th March, 1917, where he was declared unfit for general service, but fit for Home Service with flying. In June he was posted to Coventry Air Acceptance Park as a ferry pilot before being posted to No.7 Air Acceptance Park at Kenley in September.
Griffin’s accident on 16th September, 1917, and his subsequent demise must have come as a huge shock to his loved ones. His Father had a slight stroke on the day of his son’s death, but returned to the Front and served for six more months before being invalided home in April, 1918.
He also left behind his 18-year-old widow, Sybil Katherine Emily Oxenham, who had become Cecil’s wife on 20th February, 1917, at St. Michael’s Church, Chester Square, Pimlico. Sybil was the only daughter of Samuel Oxenham (deceased) and Beatrice Emily Glynn (nee Ford). Her step-father was Lieutenant Colonel Thomas George Powell Glynn.
Sybil became deeply depressed after the death of her husband and had to be accompanied to his funeral by two nurses. She seemed brighter in the subsequent days, but returned home suddenly from a shopping trip and was later found on the floor of the smoking room at her home in Chester Terrace, with a self-inflicted wound from a sporting gun in her side. Sybil died of her injuries in a nursing home in Dorset Square on 3rd November, 1917. She left the following note: “I cannot live without Cecil. The world is empty. Cheer up. – Your loving daughter, Sybil.”
Rest in peace Captain Griffin and thank you for your service.