Gjers L

Captain (AC) 2791 Lawrence Gjers, Inns of Court Training Officers Corp Seaforth Highlanders


Killed in action 4th October, 1917

Lawrence Gjers was born on 23rd March 1892. He was the son of Lawrence Farrar Gjers the famous ironmaster and Ann Fidler who were both born Middlesbrough. The couple had married in 1888 and already had one son, John (born 1889). The family was to be completed when a daughter, Olga, was born in 1895.

Lawrence came from quite an illustrious Middlesbrough family and had a privileged upbringing. They lived first in Woodlands Road, Middlesbrough, then moved to Busby Hall, near Stokesley where they effortlessly slipped into the role of local ‘squire’. When John came of age, the Gjers family mounted a huge party for him at the Hall, which included events that spread over three days. These included presentations, a dance on a specially erected temporary floor, lavish hospitality provided by the Grand Central Hotel (London), and culminated in the roasting of a whole ox to which Carlton villagers were welcomed – all food and drink free to those who flocked to the event.

Lawrence Gjer’s grandfather, John, had been born in Sweden and was a mechanical engineer. He had made the north-east his home at a time when it was undergoing phenomenal industrial expansion and became an ironmaster employing 300 men in Middlesbrough.

Lawrence’s father, Lawrence Farrar Gjers, had studied science at King’s College London and was also a trained mechanical engineer. He was well known for his inventions in “metallurgical matters” throughout the iron and steel manufacturing world and respected both for his innovative and practical approach to the iron and steel making process and for his commercial skills.

Some idea of the social standing of the Gjers family may be had from listing his roles and titles: he was JP for Middlesbrough and the North Riding of Yorkshire, Colonel and Commandant of the North Riding National Reserve, a member of the Iron and Steel Institute, and Vice President of the Cleveland Institute of Engineers. When he died in 1918, he left the then staggering sum of over £300,000. (Obituary in “The Engineer” 5th April 1918).

Lawrence’s mother Anne Gatenby Fidler was the daughter of Isaac Fidler who was born Loftus. Bulmer’s Directory (1890) lists him as a monumental mason, builder and valuer, but in addition to this he was an Alderman in Middlesbrough, and its sometime Mayor. He actually laid the foundation stone of Middlesbrough’s new town hall on 24th October 1883. (The town hall was officially opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales on 23rd January 1889).

Ann Fidler herself was a well known figure. She was Vice President of the North Riding branch of the British Red Cross Society and Commandant of the Red Cross Hospital, set up at the Manor House in Stokesley 1914 –1919. She also received an O.B.E.
Click on VAD Photo to see Mrs Ann Gjers with her Hospital staff.

Lawrence junior was educated at Charterhouse School, Surrey, where he was a noted sportsman. Records show that he played in the cricket and football teams. As a bowler, Lawrence is on record taking wickets for Charterhouse against Westminster School and Wellington College in 1909 and 1911. From Charterhouse he went on to Trinity College Cambridge in 1912. His love of sport continued and he played in the University Association Football Club.

He joined the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps in January 1912. Whether he regarded this as a standard part of the education of a young man of his class, or whether he had some inkling of what was to follow is open to conjecture, but after the onset of war he was marked out for leadership and responsibility. On 1st June, 1915, he was commissioned Lieutenant in the Seaforth Highlanders. The Aberdeen Journal of 24th August 1917 reported (rather belatedly) that Lawrence Gjers had been gazetted Captain on July 10th 1917:

“Lt L Gjers Special Reserve Battalion to be acting Captain whilst commanding a company”.

Captain Gjers was attached to the 2nd battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders, and despatched to the Front during the Battle of 3rd Ypres (the Passchendaele offensive) and was reported missing in action on October 4th 1917 at the Battle of Broodseinde, during in fighting close to the Laudetbeek Marsh.

His bereft mother placed a notice in the Liverpool Echo 26th October 1917:

“Seaforth Highlanders. Would any officer or soldier back from the front and1 any information they have regarding Captain Lawrence Gjers 2nd Seaforth reported missing October 4 to Mrs Gjers, Busby Hall, Northallerton, Yorks, who will be most grateful”

It was later confirmed that her son had been killed. He left over £1000 in effects (London 1920).

Captain Lawrence Gjers was 25 years old when he fell, and he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. As with so many men of far humbler origins, he has no known grave but his name is commemorated on Panels 132 to 135 and 162A of the Tyne Cot Memorial.

Captain Gjers is unique in the Book of Remembrance in having two pages of tributes paid to his character, courage and popularity amongst his men. As well as appearing on the Memorial Plaque in Stokesley Parish Church, Lawrence Gjers' name is also commemorated on the Middlesbrough War Memorial at the main entrance to Albert Park. He is the subject of a memorial in St Botolph’s Church, Carlton.

Lawrence's father died only 5 months later. Ann Gjers survived him for many years, a much respected figure in local life.

Go to next soldier: Glasper J.F.

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