The spirit of Lt. G.E.M. Thornycroft, 4th King’s African Rifles, seen standing outside Scaleby Parish Church in Cumbria, England, the day after he is killed in Kenya

What follows in an account by Lady Lilith Savile concerning the death of her fiancé, Lt (acting Captain) G.E.M. Thornycroft of 4th King’s African Rifles. It is extracted from her memoir, a typescript located in the archives of the King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum in Lancaster, England.

On September 13th [1914], most of us went to the little church at Scaleby & now I am coming to what I really want to put down, & and it is as clear to me now after almost 54 years as it was then.

(acting Captain) G.E.M. Thornycroft

I think it must have been during the singing of a hymn as we were standing, & the window beside us was clear glass; I was thinking of Gerald, & wondering how soon I should hear he was coming, & and looking out of the window, I saw him standing on the grass a few yards away.

I thought “Why! there is Gerry.”  I wasn’t at all anxious, just thrilled by what I thought was an extraordinary piece of imagination. I remember thinking, almost in merriment, shall I rush out of church, or shall I sit down & exclaim that I have seen a vision– not really of course meaning to do anything, but feeling overcome by what, as I say, I took to be ‘vivid imagination’.  If I had really known that it was a vision, I should have been terrified for fear it meant that something had happened to him.

Scaleby Parish Church

He was in uniform & and looking straight at me, but did not smile & and looked sad – & then suddenly, he was not there.  Lovely golden September days followed, but on the 18th two telegrams came, one for my mother from my father, and one addressed to me from Gerald’s mother telling be that “our Gerald is on the Roll of Honour, killed in action at Kisium”.  Even now I find it hard to write of it & and I must pass over this bitter sorrow.

I was beside myself with misery, but that clear sight of him from the window in the church stayed with me.  He had been killed leading a charge against the Germans who had crossed the border from German East Africa on the 12th– but no date was given in the telegram & and the news did not even reach his mother until late on the 17th.

I do not know why it was on the 13th that I saw him, & and not the 12th, but there it is, & though I need no proof of the truth of my vision, I realised a long time afterwards that if any proof were needed, it was in the fact that, although I had many snapshots of him from Africa in Khaki, I had never before seen him in uniform & and in my thoughts did not think of him except in mufti as I had known him.

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My thanks to James White and Phil Tomaselli for bringing this account to my attention, and to Peter Donnelly, Curator of the King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum for permission to reprint Lady Savile’s account here.

Additional information about Lt. G.E.M. Thornycroft may be found on the museum’s website, here.

BJ Omanson