Kate faces the tragic fate of her ancestors during WW1

Blown up on patrol, shot dead by a sniper and killed by a German shell at the Battle of the Somme aged only 24: Kate confront the tragic fate of her ancestors during WW1 for the first time, ROBERT HARDMAN writes

  • Few families endured a loss as grave as that which befell Francis Lupton of Newton Park, near Leeds
  • All three sons Francis Lupton, Maurice Lupton and Lionel Lupton, went off to fight for King and country
  • Now Francis Lupton’s great grandaughter, the Duchess of Cambridge has read through some of the letters from the brothers, posted from the front line

Even amid the carnage of the ‘war to end all wars’, few families endured a loss as grave as that which befell Francis Lupton of Newton Park, near Leeds.

All three of his sons went off to serve King and country. All three were killed in action. And yesterday, the scale of his grief was laid out in front of his great great granddaughter – the Duchess of Cambridge.

Just days ahead of the centenary of the Armistice, the duchess was at the Imperial War Museum yesterday – at her own request. Only a month ago, the museum received a bundle of letters which had passed through various branches of her family until a relative decided to entrust them to the IWM.

The Duchess of Cambridge was greeted by school children and museum goers as she visited the Imperial War Museum in London 

She was attending the museum to to read letters relating to the three brothers of her great-grandmother (left), one of the letters she was shown was signed ‘Lionel’ at the end (right)

Kate can be seen riffling through different letters at the museum based in the Lambeth area of London 

Before reading through the letters inside the museum (left) also chatted with Deputy lord lieutenant Rosi (right)

Having been raised on the heartbreaking history of her forebears, the duchess was very keen to see these new documents for herself.

Here was a story reminiscent of the Hollywood blockbuster Saving Private Ryan – about a man who has lost four brothers in the Second World War. Although based on a true story, Steven Spielberg’s multi-Oscar-winning film was fiction. This was a tale of true, unvarnished tragedy – one which now goes to the heart of the modern Royal Family.

The duchess had never seen photographs of her three great great uncles – Francis, Maurice and Lionel Lupton – until yesterday afternoon. She was particularly struck by the family resemblance in young Maurice. The boys’ mother Harriet had died in 1892.

Some of the mementos which were shown to Kate included a photo of a man called Maurice 

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The letters from the men were placed next to their photographs, which have been stored at the museum 

Just days ahead of the century of the Armistice the duchess attended the Imperial War Museum on Wednesday

Nor had she seen family heirlooms like the standard issue postcard from Lionel on July 16, 1916, telling his family: ‘I am quite well.’ Just hours later, he was killed by enemy shell fire.

‘It’s all so sad,’ said the duchess, her words tailing off.

Here, too, was the telegram from a certain Richard Noel Middleton, married to the brothers’ elder sister, Olive. He was serving on the same part of the Western Front as the eldest Lupton, Francis, when his brother-in-law went missing in 1917. Richard went out searching for him and, in all the mayhem, actually found his body.

The duchess was shown various letters such as this one (left) which started ‘Dear Father’, she seemed to enjoy rifling through the postcards and letters 

One of the letters shown to the duchess had a postal stamp marked Chapel Town, Leeds (right hand corner)

This telegram was also shown to the duchess. The telegram said there was ‘bad news’ and that ‘Francis body’ had been found ‘near Taylors’

He then had the grim task of confirming the news in a telegram to the family in February 1917: ‘Bad news. Francis body found. Killed instantaneously bomb.’

The stark brevity of it stunned the duchess. ‘Hardly any words. It’s so bland,’ she sighed. ‘How sad.’

Richard and Olive, who were married in 1914, later produced a son, Peter Middleton, who went on to serve as a fighter pilot in the Second World War. His son, Michael Middleton, is the duchess’s father.

The the duchess explored the museum and seemed intrigued at the letters and photos which were presented before her

The news of Francis’s death, confirmed in that telegram from Richard Middleton, was followed by a special letter on black-bordered paper with a very familiar letterhead.

‘You might recognise the address, Ma’am,’ observed the IWM’s director, Diane Lees, lightening the mood.

The duchess nodded. Here was a letter from Buckingham Palace, signed by the Keeper of the Privy Purse, to Francis Lupton Senior in April 1917. ‘The King realises that this is the third beloved son you have given in your Country’s cause,’ reads the typewritten letter. ‘His Majesty trusts that you may be granted strength and comfort in the further sorrow which you have been called upon to bear.’

Whilst at the museum Diane Lees (right) the director explained the poppy sculpture ‘Weeping Window’ as she arrived at the museum 

‘I’m sure so many families had these letters and sad stories,’ the duchess reflected. In fact, as the IWM’s head of documents, Anthony Richards, pointed out later, the poor Luptons were actually extremely unfortunate. ‘To lose all three sons was fairly unusual,’ he explained.

It may be more than 100 years since the brothers were killed yet there remains a timeless poignancy to this message of commiseration from George V to a bereft father in Yorkshire who would turn out to be the great great great grandparent of the future George VII.

The family had been granted the flimsy consolation of knowing that the bodies of all three of their sons were found, identified and buried in marked graves – unlike the hundreds of thousands merely engraved on memorials to the missing. All three graves are lovingly tended to this day by the gardeners of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Kate looked fresh faced as she marvelled at the poppy sculpture situated on the outside of the museum 

Despite the sombre nature of the visit, the duchess and her hosts were keen to touch on some of the lighter moments contained in the letters. In one of them, Maurice wrote about a soldier adopting a magpie as a pet. In another, he wrote home requesting a consignment of vegetable seeds.

‘A very Middleton thing,’ the duchess noted brightly. ‘My grandmother loved gardening. I’ve got a lot to live up to.’ Results have been mixed in the Kensington Palace vegetable patch, by all accounts. ‘You shouldn’t see my cauliflowers,’ the duchess added.

She also read a letter from Maurice to his father, making light of life in the trenches – even though his trench occupied such a boggy bit of ground that ‘there is generally only about 18” actually dug and the rest is built up with sandbags or sods, to make a little place you can crawl into for protection from a shell or bullet’.

During her time at the museum the duchess was also introduced to a team of archivists from the British Red Cross

The same letter alluded to ‘a good wind blowing Germanwards which we always welcome as it prevents them using their gas business’.

‘What struck me was their positivity,’ the duchess remarked. ‘They’re so positive writing home.’

Maurice had been the first of the three brothers – all educated at Rugby and Cambridge – to be killed. A captain with the 7th battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, he was killed by a sniper in 1915, aged 28.

Younger brother, Lionel, was a lieutenant in the 28th Brigade Royal Field Artillery when he was killed at the Somme in 1916, aged, 24. Francis was the elder of the three, married and with a baby. He had risen to the rank of major in the 8th battalion West Yorkshire Regiment when he was the last to be killed, in 1917. Earlier, the duchess inspected the IWM’s new installation of the ‘Weeping Wave’ of ceramic poppies, part of the stunning installation Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red which was originally displayed in the moat of the Tower of London in 2014. She then toured the museum’s First World War Galleries, a subject close to her husband’s heart. He is the patron of the Imperial War Museum Foundation, the charity set up to raise funds for the galleries.

A letter from the front line 

 Dear father, 

We call pretty well everything a dugout but owing I suppose to the water being so near the surface there is generally only about 18 inches actually dug and the rest is built up with sandbags or sods, to make a little place you can crawl into for protection from shell or bullet – there come a good many wandering bullets this way at particular times we know about, especially during dawn, and at these time we sit close.

We have had very hot summer weather lately, and a good wind blowing Germanwards which we always welcome as it prevents them using their gas business, which we have so far seen nothing of.

The afternoon’s basking (this is laid down as the thing to do) is generally interrupted by a casual shell coming over or past us, which generally means we get up to see where it burst and if it is uncomfortably near we whistle company underground only to be signalled ‘carry on’ if no more shelling occurs for a few minutes.

In calling them casual shells I mean that they seem to fire them at any odd time, either through sheer boredom or to satisfy themselves that their guns are still working properly.

Whereas the rifle fire is pretty well limited to the dark hours, as both sides avoid putting their heads over the parapet during the day.

I’ve found two unexploded shells hereabouts – one we have buried and the other Lionel said he could find an owner for and that it was worth keeping.

Lionel was here for the day before yesterday for a bit, and I have seen him two or three times in the last few days. Strictly, we are due back for 4 days rest tomorrow night but, I don’t know if we shall not be here a little longer.

Very useful would be: a dozen night lights; a ‘Baby Primus’ stove to fold up quite small (obtainable at Lilleys or Turners); a quarter dozen B Kohinoor pencils, for use on this; a quarter dozen soft copying pencils.

Love to all, from Maurice 

Given the fate of the Lupton brothers, the IWM guides placed particular emphasis on the sections devoted to sniper fire and artillery.

The duchess was also introduced to a team of archivists from the British Red Cross at a section focusing on the legion of nursing volunteers who played such a crucial role in looking after the wounded.

They had included Olive Middleton, the duchess’s great-grandmother. The Red Cross was even able to produce Olive’s record, showing that she had devoted 2,240 hours of service with the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) in Yorkshire.

‘That’s very special,’ the duchess told them. ‘It’s so lovely to hear.’

The story of the Luptons will now join more than 25,000 collections of family memorabilia held in the museum’s archives.

Alongside the newly donated letters and photographs yesterday, the museum had also produced the relevant pages from the regimental diaries of the brothers’ units on the days they died.

The appalling reality of life in the trenches was well and truly laid bare. The diary entry immediately prior to the loss of the last of the Lupton brothers concerns a Private Hill. On the same day, he ‘attempted to commit suicide by cutting his throat’.

The three brothers of Kate’s great grandmother 

Francis Lupton (left) was killed in 1917, Lieut Lionel Lupton in 1916 and Captain Maurice Lupton in 1915

Major Francis Lupton  (left)

The eldest brother, he served with the 8th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment and was killed by a bomb on February 19, 1917, aged 31.

He had been married for less than three years and had a young daughter, Ruth. By the time he went to France in January 1917 with the Leeds Rifles to serve with the all-territorial 62nd (2nd West Riding) Infantry Division, his two brothers had already been killed.

He was posted as missing after only six weeks. It was thought he might have been taken prisoner, but two months later his body was found. It was thought he was blown up on patrol.

Captain Maurice Lupton  (right)

The family’s first casualty of the war, Maurice was killed by a sniper on June 19, 1915, aged 28 – only two months after going to the front line.

He joined the Leeds Rifles, became a captain in the 7th battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, the Prince of Wales’ regiment, and was shipped to the support trenches in Belgium as part of the all-territorial 49th (1st West Riding) Infantry Division.

He arrived on April 19, 1915. He was one of 2,050 members of the Leeds Rifles to be killed on active service in France and Flanders during the war.

Lieut Lionel Lupton  (centre)

The youngest of the brothers to lose their lives, he was killed by a German shell at the Battle of the Somme aged only 24 on July 16, 1916.

He served with 28th Brigade Royal Field Artillery and had spent a significant amount of time in the front line trenches in France, surviving the Battle of Loos in 1915.

He was then wounded on December 1, sent to a hospital in London to recuperate and travelled home for Christmas, where his family was mourning the death of his brother Maurice, before returning to the Western Front. He was mentioned twice in despatches.










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