Rank: Brigadier General
Regiment: Irish Guards, Commander 20th Brigade
Died: died 24 October 1915
Huish War Memorial
Other Memorial: Guards' Cemetery at Windy Corner, Cuinchy [Google]
PDF Download: TREFUSIS The Hon John
The youngest British Brigadier General of his day, The Hon John Frederick Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis, known more affectionately as ‘Jack Tre’, was the son of Charles, the 20th Baron Clinton, and the Dowager Lady Clinton, Margaret.
He began his military career as a volunteer trooper in the Imperial Yeomanry in the Second Boer War of 1899-1902, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Irish Guards on 1 July 1901
In 1904, by now a full lieutenant, he was appointed as aide-de-camp to General Lord Methuen who was commander of the IV Army Corps, and subsequently Commander-in-Chief of British Empire land forces in South Africa. In October 1909 Jack Tre was promoted to captain and returned to the UK.
When war broke out in 1914, he was Adjutant of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, but quickly went to France to join up with his Irish Guards regiment which was part of the British Expeditionary Force, and was promoted to major.
The Irish Guards took heavy casualties among both officers and men in the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, and Trefusis was appointed acting commander of the 1st Battalion and made a temporary Lieutenant Colonel. He was awarded a DSO in February 1915 and was Mentioned in Dispatches.
He led his battalion through the battles of Neuve Chapelle and Festubert and his effective leadership must not have gone unnoticed as in August 1915 he was ordered to take command of the whole 20th Brigade, which then consisted of the 8th and 9th Battalions of the Devonshire Regiment, who were freshly raised from England, as well as the 2nd Border Regiment and the 2nd and 6th Gordon Highlanders.
He kept a personal diary from 18 September, 1914, when he was Captain John Trefusis, which continued until 11 August 1915, which he signed as Acting Lieutenant Colonel John Trefusis.
After the war the author Rudyard Kipling wrote a history of the Irish Guards, in which his son had died. He wrote: “The CO, Colonel Trefusis, was telephoned word that he was to command the 20th Brigade and was pathetically grieved at his promotion. He hated leaving the battalion which, after eleven months of better or worse, he had come to look upon as his own.”
As he now had charge of a brigade, of course, Jack Tre was promoted to Brigadier General.
A little over two months later he was killed in action as he was hit by a sniper in the trenches. He died almost instantly, and was buried at the Guards Cemetery at Windy Corner in Cuinchy. He was 37 years old. He is also remembered with honour at Huish, near the Clinton family home.
It is worth noting that the Bishop of Crediton, the Rt Rev Robert Edward Trefusis, lost two sons in the war, Captain Haworth Walter Trefusis of the Northamptonshire Regiment, and Captain Arthur Owen Trefusis of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.
The Bishop was a grandson of the 17th Baron Clinton. He dedicated the Exeter war memorial in the city’s Northernhay Gardens.
Click here to see a copy of Jack Tre's fascinating diary.
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