The Viscount who fought as a Tommy

Category: 20th century News

Vernon St John, the last Lord to live at Lydiard Park, features in a new book.  The Keep in 60 People provides a fascinating glimpse into the stories of sixty men who served in the regiments of Devonshire and Dorset.  The regiments’ history is preserved in The Keep Military Museum in Dorchester and their Director, Elliot Metcalfe, writes in his Foreword that the book is devoted to men of all ranks: Some are well known stories, whilst others are told for the first time. Our subjects came from all walks of life – from labourers to lords, professional soldiers to conscripts, the very young to the very old, historical and fairly recent.

The Friends of Lydiard Park were delighted to assist The Keep Museum with their research into Vernon St John and to see his First World War I enlistment form, albeit torn and incomplete.  This fragment, signed Viscount Vernon Henry St John Bolingbroke, sparked the curiosity of Rex Lovell, one of the research team because – exceptionally – this young nobleman was enlisting as a private soldier and not as an officer.

Editor Christopher Jary says:

Joining the 6th Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment in the trenches, young Vernon encountered some of the worst conditions of the War.  In his social position, he could have avoided the dangers and lived comfortably.  Instead, he chose to fight as an infantry Tommy and fought at Passchendaele in late 1917 before facing the onslaught of the massive German offensive of the Spring of 1918.  A brave man.    

Reviewing the book, miliary historian James Holland wrote:

It  is a fine collection, beautifully compiled and a gem in which to delve.  And what a set of characters they are that fill the pages, beside companions who continue to fascinate, enthral and – for the most part – inspire.

Published in August 2023 by Semper Fidelis Publications. The Keep in 60 People can be purchased from the Keep Military Museum, Barrack Road, Dorchester DT1 1RN (cover price £15.00).


Further information

On its back cover, the book describes the Keep Museum’s whole project, which has come to fruition in its 130 pages.

Some of our Volunteers and Friends have chosen sixty people to illustrate the extraordinary variety of the stories which make up the history of the seven Regiments represented at the Keep Military Museum.  

Our sixty subjects include the founder of Bournemouth, the inventor of Snooker, Wellington’s spy, a Viceroy of India, a Falklands VC, an Oscar winner, a Viscount who fought as an infantry Tommy, a poet, an artist, a Radical politician, an explorer, an Olympic gold medallist, the Governor of Sinai, the oldest soldier in the Army and the Senior British Officer in Colditz Castle.  They are drawn from officers and men of all ranks, from all our regiments and from three centuries of soldiering.  Among them are men who took part in heroic actions, including the saving of the Sarah Sands, the capture of Wagon Hill, the cavalry charge at Agagia, the defence of Bois des Buttes, the victory at Regalbuto, the routing of the Japanese at Kohima, the bloodbath around Hill 112 and the landings at San Carlos Bay.