Monday, 8 May 2017

Burkhardt and Vevers: Family Links in the Early 20th Century

Late last year James Ritchie contacted me after reading my articles on Colonel Valentine Burkhardt (12 April 2016) and Dr Gwynne Vevers (4 October 2016) in order to point out that members of the two families were close friends in the years before the First World War.

I was fascinated to read your article on Val Burkhardt—he was my grandmother's cousin. My grandmother's mother, Marie-Beatrice Siordet (nee Caldwell) was the younger sister of Annie Claudia, Val Burkhardt’s mother. Thank you for your research which has greatly expanded my knowledge of this interesting man. I also note that you have written about Gwynne Vevers and I wondered if you knew of the link between the Vevers family and the Burkhardts?  It is through my great uncle Gerald Caldwell Siordet. Briefly, Siordet was at Clifton College with his cousin Val and then went up to Balliol where he met and became great friends with the Herefordshire artist Brian Hatton. After Oxford, Hatton and Siordet shared a studio in South Kensington. Gwynne's father Geoffrey Vevers [1890-1970] was a medical student and a cousin of Hatton (their mothers were sisters) and the three of them socialised in London just prior to the first war. Hatton and Siordet were subsequently killed in the war. Val B visited the site of Hatton’s death in Egypt and wrote to Siordet about it.

More details can be found in the book by the late Celia Davies, Brian Hatton. A Biography of the Artist (1887-1916) published by Terence Dalton in 1978. However, the book is worth reading for more than those details. It is a fascinating account of Hatton’s early years and his development as an artist. It is as enjoyable and informative of life in Britain the thirty years up to the First World War as Gwen Raverat’s Period Piece.

Brian Hatton was killed on 23 April 1916 in the Battle of Katia, 25 miles east of the Suez Canal. Fifty Royal Engineers, plus a detachment of Worcestershire Yeomanry 180 strong sent to guard them, were sinking a well when they were attacked by 2-3000 Turkish infantry who came across them. He left a wife and baby daughter.

Gerald Siordet was in France when he heard the news. He then wrote to his cousin Val to ask for any more information since Burkhardt was then serving in Egypt. The then Captain Burkhardt replied on 27 September 1916. In the reply (the full text is in the book) Burkhardt stated that he was having a better memorial than the few sticks  and the bottom of a biscuit tin bearing an illegible inscription he found including a separate one for ‘2 Lieut Brian Hatton Worcester Yeo, A fine artist and a gallant soldier’. In a footnote to the letter, Celia Davies noted that after the war the Yeomen were reburied at Kantara on the Suez Canal.

Gerald Caldwell Siordet, artist, poet, critic and one-time tutor to Aldous Huxley was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry on the Somme in 1916. He was killed on 9 February 1917 leading an attack on a Turkish position in Mesopotamia (now Iraq); his body has never been found. Val Burkhardt’s letter to him had ended: ‘I hope you are not for Mes[o]pot[amia]’.

Brian Hatton in his London studio (from here)
Gerald 'Jack' Caldwell Sioret (from here)
Geoffrey Marr Vevers (1890-1970) when Superintendent,
London Zoo
(Animal & Zoo Magazine December 1938)