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Saturday 13 November 2010


Since writing this article I have discovered the perfectly sensible reason for Tudor being a family name - a great aunt's maiden name was Tudor; and I'm rather embarassed about the facetious and ignorant first paragraph of the following piece. But there you go, we live and learn.

Let’s face it, the first thing you notice about my great uncle Tudor Castle is his name. I grew up genuinely believing he had brothers called Norman and Windsor, after my father made a joke about it once. Tudor shared his name with a cousin of his father’s, and you’d think the joke would have worn pretty thin by the time he was born. But his father was a keen genealogist with a sense of history, so Tudy (as he was known at home) got to carry the name forward.

Tudor Castle in 1913
On the back he jokes “Man goeth forth to his labour”

Tudor was always going to be a writer. I have a bundle of correspondence between him and his big sister May, when both were still children.  His letters are chatty, loving, delighting in shared jokes and experiences. In 1908 at the age of 25 he published “The Gentle Shepherd – A Pastoral Play.” It is a four-hander in the aesthetic tradition, and rather hard to read in modern times: the opening exchange between the shepherd and his boy run thus:

GLION [the boy]: What do you give your friends?
ORCAS [the shepherd]:                                  I give them flowers,
The pale frail harebell and anemones …
GLION: That die so soon!
… the other characters were A SATYR and A LADY FROM THE CITY ...

He leavened his earnest sensitivity with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humour, the legacy of those childhood letters, as he confesses in the epilogue of his one published collection:

Dear Ethel, all faults I admit,
So it’s needless again to rehearse
How I spoil by crude flashes of wit
My otherwise excellent verse.

This alone I would urge on my part:
When I speak – and it’s seldom I speak –
My mouth is so full with my heart
That I must keep my tongue in my cheek.

He found it hard to settle to a career, and instead dabbled in various activities at home and abroad before, at the outbreak of the Great War volunteering for the Universities and Public Schools Battalion. As a 2nd Lieutenant with the Royal West Surrey Regiment he went to France in July 1916. Sadly my reason for writing about him here on this Remembrance weekend is that he died aged 33 barely a month later, killed by a gas shell on the 31st August at Delville Wood, one of the early engagements in the Battle of the Somme and one of the bloodiest.

Fighting at Delville Wood lasted from July to September 1916

It was of course a dreadful waste of a life full of potential: one reviewer thought he might “develop into a Rabelaisian Wordsworth.” Just before the war he had found work he loved as a land agent. Before that he had worked at Toynbee Hall, an institution which still thrives today dedicated to narrowing the gap in understanding between rich and poor. I think he had a lot to give.

This was published in the Toynbee Record in September 1910:

I envy every City clerk
Who knows his mind and does his work.
I envy every sooty sweep
Who does his work and gets his sleep.

I envy every flower that wields
Force to draw us to the field.
I envy every bird that makes
A nest so tight no winter breaks –

Envy the stars, that one by one
Ride stealthy circuit round the sun;
For each of these within his sphere
Can; does; and has a reason here.

Everything I ever saw
Works in tune with Nature’s law
Save I, who start each sideway track
And think it road till I look back.

And every night, as sure’s can be,
These two will battle over me;
Hope, with thoughts that still aspire;
Self-knowledge, that proclaims her liar.

Tudor Castle's memorial, Church of St Lawrence, Seale, Surrey


  1. What my father didn't know, and I've only just found out, is that Tudor was his maternal great grandmother's maiden name. So it's not so ridiculous for it to be a family name. Apologies to any Tudors reading this!

  2. Message by Anonymous reposted with removal of his/her personal infromation: "I researched 2nd Lt. Ralph Tudor Castle in depth, exploring his life before Army service and walking the area where he was killed in action.
    For a while I was in posession of his medals and Commonwealth Death plaque before their selling. I still also have two photos of him in uniform.
    He had an interesting connection to the 'Bloomsbury Group prior to the war." (I have replied to you directly, R.B.!)


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