Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Soldier's Grave in Mortlake, the Greatest British Sportsman, and an Unsung Heroine

two stone crosses, one red, one white; white one has legible writing for Lt Col John O'Brien Minogue
Grave marker in the churchyard of St Mary Magdalene, Mortlake, Surrey (London, England)  
In Loving Memory of Lieut. Colonel John O'Brien Minogue, CMG, West Yorkshire Regt.
Died Oct. 26, 1916, aged 55 years.

I took a picture of this grave marker only because it was clear, old, military, and had a feeling of loneliness. In Loving Memory, but where is his family? Not here, as far as I can see. A little searching revealed two unexpected connections.

First, why Mortlake?

Lt-Col John O'Brien Minogue was born in Ireland, though his lengthy military service appears to have begun in England. He was a commander at Gallipoli, one of the most infamous disasters of the First World War. He died in England, and is considered a casualty of the war, so perhaps he died of war wounds.

This might be a good guess for another reason. On January 25, 1916, Minogue married Annie Philipson. He was about 55 and she about 47, and neither had been married before. Annie was the "Foundress and Commander of Mornington Lodge War Hospital for Officers". This comes from the notice of her second marriage, to Second Lt. Thomas Harrison Caffyn Bannister, in 1918. I wonder if Minogue was one of the convalescents in Mornington Lodge. My basic searches for information about the lodge haven't turned up much, other than it was in West Kensington.

Back to "why Mortlake?" The church of St. Mary Magdalene is a Roman Catholic church, and perhaps it's a simple as that. We can speculate that Minogue was a Catholic and that St Mary Magdalene was one of the churchyards with available space. Another reason may be the Irish connection. This is more speculative, but back in the 1840s, as a result of the potato famine, many Irish people settled in the Mortlake area – enough to require a larger church. Perhaps Minogue had family there, long-ago cousins who descended from the famine migrants perhaps.

My guess is that official or unofficial regimental histories of the West Yorkshire Regiment will include some mentions of Minogue, particularly in connection with Gallipoli.

Annie Philipson, later Annie Minogue and then Annie Bannister, is an interesting figure. After all, she founded a hospital. I don't know if it was before or after her first husband died. I speculate that she used an inheritance from her father. He was Hilton Philipson, a lawyer from Tynemouth. The family fortune came from coal. When Hilton died in 1904, his effects were valued for probate at over 457,000 pounds. He had a wife and five children surviving him, two daughters and three sons.

Annie's family is interesting for reasons other than their wealth. Her eldest brother, Ralph Hilton Philipson, was a coal magnate whose second wife, Maya (nee Maya Stuart-King) was the widow of a Russian baron, Baron De Knoop. He had been fantastically wealthy and was a collector of musical instruments, but the account I read (only one) says Maya had her own Strad when she married the miserable Baron. At any rate, her second marriage to Ralph was happier, and there was no shortage of money.

The second brother, Roland, was also a successful businessman and a barrister. He was killed in a terrible railway accident at Grantham in 1906.

The third brother, Hylton Philipson, was a well-known cricket player, by the nickname of "Punch". In fact, all three brothers were notable cricketers. However, it is their sister Mary's boy, Max Woosnam (1892 - 1865), who is the most famous sportsman. Wikipedia currently says this about him:

"Maxwell "Max" Woosnam (6 September 1892 – 14 July 1965) was an English sportsman is sometimes referred to as the 'Greatest British sportsman' in recognition of his achievements .
Amongst his achievements was winning an Olympic gold and silver at the 1920 Summer Olympics, winning the doubles at Wimbledon, compiling a 147 break in Snooker, making a century at Lord's Cricket Ground, captaining the British Davis Cup team, captaining Manchester City F.C. finishing ultimately runners-up for the Football League Championship in 1920-21 and captaining the England national football team."

Max also fought at Gallipoli, and on the Western Front in the First World War.

There you have it. An old soldier commanded the troops at Gallipoli when his fellow officers had fallen. Late in life he married a compassionate, wealthy lady whose nephew fought in that same awful battle. The old soldier died before his first wedding anniversary, but his widow went on, founding a convalescent hospital for officers, re-marrying, and seeing that same nephew go on to unimaginable sporting triumphs. And all of this from a tiny stone tucked away by a wall in Mortlake.