The Death of LAC Ernest Guy Rosevaere RAF Armoured Car Company HQ
In April 1922, the 'powers that be’ in the Army and British Government (Trenchard and Winston Churchill) decided to take the pressure off the British Army in Iraq - who were having great difficulty in finding and expelling invading Arab/Kurdish rebels - by establishing a number of Armoured Car Companies which would work closely with the RAF bomber/reconnaissance squadrons in driving the rebels back across the border. Wing Commander William Harold Primrose was tasked with the job of setting up the Armoured Car Companies in Iraq, requiring some 1,000 RAF personnel (called ‘The Armoured Car Details’) to be trained in England at Manston under Primrose’s command before being transported by ship to Iraq. They sailed on the Braemar Castle, trained in Baghdad with the RAF squadrons already operating out of RAF Hinaidi before serving with the Armoured Car Companies for a period of 4 years, the first two being stationed in Iraq. The troopship left England on the 14th September 1922 and arrived at Basra a month later. Leading Aircraftsman Ernest Guy Roseveare, who had been with the RAF since he signed up as a ‘boy’ entrant in 1917 and for a number of years had been Wg Cdr Primrose’s personal driver and who lived with the Primrose family in England, was persuaded by his commanding officer and mentor to accompany him to Iraq.
Upon arrival at the port of Basra in southern Iraq in the first week of November 1922, the men and equipment disembarked, the officers (including Wg Cdr Primrose) travelling the 330 miles from Basra to Baghdad by night sleeper, a train providing all the creature comforts and food. The NCOs and 'other ranks' entrained at Shaibah Junction, 10 miles south-west of Basra, on very primitive rolling stock, with each car labelled, “4 horses or 16 men”! Not only was it uncomfortable, the men had to arrange for their own provisions for the long and slow journey. It would appear that Guy Rosevaere either ate meat that was not properly cooked or drank water that had not been boiled at some point during the journey from Shaibah to Baghdad and Baghdad to Hinaidi. Within a couple of days he was ill enough to be admitted to the RAF Hospital, located on the western edge of the cantonment at RAF Hinaidi. The doctors were not sure what he was suffering from but felt it was Typhoid (a salmonella bacteria) contracted from untreated water. After several days, during which his condition fluctuated and then degraded rapidly, Guy Rosevaere died suddenly at 5:45 am Monday 22nd November 1922 and was buried at the RAF Cemetery, also located within the RAF Hinaidi cantonment and on land owned (to this day) by the British Ministry of Defence. His was the first casualty sustained by the Armoured Car Companies, but it would not be the last, as more men from the RAF Armoured Car Wing would be buried at Hinaidi (Ma’Asker) than any other military unit (RAF, British Army or Royal Navy), representing almost 9% of the 300 burials. Several of the subsequent Armoured Car Company deaths were also due to Typhoid, including that of the commanding officer of No 6 Armoured Car Company, Squadron Leader Jasper W Cruikshank OBE, a man who was well known to Wg Cdr Primrose. There is a twist to the story in that the medical records that have survived give the final diagnosis that Guy did have a bacterial infection with similar symptoms to Typhoid and had come from drinking/eating contaminated water or meat, but that it was a different type of bacteria. The finding was that he died from Spirochaetosis and (EHC) Enterohemorrhagic E.
The following photos and texts were sent to me by Dawn Rundle, the great niece of Guy Rosevaere, who kindly gave me permission to include them on my website. Sadly, Guy's headstone is not one of the 66 identifiable headstones that have survived the ravages of time, but Dawn and I sincerely hope that this unfortunate situation will soon be rectified.
LAC Ernest Guy Rosevaere Grave at Hinaidi (Ma'Asker) RAF Cemetery, Baghdad
The photograph on the left shows Wg Cdr Primrose laying a bouquet of flowers at the grave of his driver, Guy Rosevaere. In the background you can see the open-seater Rolls Royce of which Guy was so proud.
The presence of graves in the background of this photograph suggests that this was not the final resting place of Guy Rosevaere as the photograph immediately below (as well as the records held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the location of the 300 graves at Hinaidi/Ma'Asker) clearly show that his was the end grave of Row D, viz Plot 1 Row D Grave 14 (click here for cemetery grave layout)
The photograph below is also interesting in that earlier burial in Plot 1 had a variety of headstone shapes and types. By the time the British forces vacated RAF Hinaidi in December 1937, almost all of the 300 graves were marked with the standard dimension Commonwealth War Graves Commission stone headstone.
Beyond the fence in the background was the gardener's residence and storage area and the northern perimeter of the cemetery (on the right in the photograph) is lined with trees.
Journal Notes Written by Wg Cdr Primrose to his Wife re Guy Rosevaere's Condition
Thursday 23rd November 1922
I went to the hospital to see poor old Roseveare. He’s not doing well at all and I am worried about him – they cannot make out what’s wrong with him, but it looks rather like Typhoid. I saw him and tried to cheer him up. He is such a wee pluck and such a nice boy, a great favourite with the Matron and Sisters. The doctors who are some of the best in the RAF are doing all they can – I told them that anything that cannot be supplied by the hospital, get it for him and charge same - but they said he could have anything to champagne and oysters if necessary. The Hospital is perfect and has specialists for everything and the OC is Wing Commander Plain who was a great friend of mine on the Braemar Castle and will do anything for me - Roseveare is better tonight, have just had a phone message - he suffers no pain.
Friday 24th November 1922
Roseveare is worse today a weak heart and they have put him on the seriously ill list and wired his people. I saw him for a few minutes, he is weak but spoke cheerfully and said he had no pain and was feeling better and was getting all he wanted except to get back to his Rolls Royce. Went out to Hinaidi to see the new Armoured Car buildings with Wilbert and Cruikshank - we found the Works and Buildings Officer was an old friend of mine from the Air Ministry, a one-armed man called Captain Masters who once came over and had tea with us at Marston - if you remember - is going to do everything I want - I'm to dine with him tomorrow. Am feeling too worried about Roseveare to write more. I know I am worrying too much and he'll probably be all right but I feel sort of responsible for him. And Brassington.
Saturday 25th November 1922
Roseveare is much better today. They've had a specialist in to see him and there is something about his symptoms that's puzzling them. It’s not typhoid – they think it’s some bug he's got from drinking water that Billy bought at Basra without having it boiled - they were all warned not to touch the stuff before we left the ship - however he was quite perky when I saw him today. The Doctor who is looking after him said he could take him off the serious list but wouldn’t wire his people to that effect yet in case he had a relapse and had to be put on again and that would worry them more. I’m going to discuss it tonight. We have settled down to winter training - the weather is very cold now and the rain has started, not very bad yet but getting worse - I am going tomorrow up the river in the hospital launch with Wing Commander Plain. Good night, God bless you darling, I love and think of you always.
Sunday 26th November 1922
Went off shooting this morning and had a very good day of it 25 miles up the river. Got 30 birds, Sand Grouse and Black Partridge, but returned to bad news - Roseveare had developed a bad turn for the worse and had been put on the DO list, that is dangerously ill list. It has definitely developed as a very sore liver and spleen complaint, hardly ever come across in this country - poor wee lad they thought he was going to die early this afternoon. He however rallied but its nearly always fatal this damned complaint, they've told me - only about 3 weeks in this country and then this to happen to him of all people. Such a healthy kid he is too as a rule – it isn’t as if there was much sickness. In fact there's no more here just now than there is normally at home. They said I'd better not see him tonight as it would only distress him as he is critical but has no idea that he's dangerously ill and has no pain, that’s one consolation. It will be awful if anything happens as I am so fond of the boy and I feel so responsible for him. However, if it’s God’s will, it’s got to be. Good night, my wife.
Monday 27th November 1922
Yes, darling, the worst has happened. Poor little Roseveare slipped his moorings at 5.45 am this morning and drifted gently from this troubled world to the next – God rest him - he was a dear lad and it’s hard to see the reason for these things but God knows and we must not question. I just feel stunned and poor Brassington is pathetic. I am not cabling as at first I intended. What's the good of sending a hard and unsympathetic cable which would only upset you. This bad news will come soon enough by Air Mail - I wish I were with it to comfort you and get comfort. We bury him today and I have a lot to do. Oh why poor wee Rosie?
Tuesday 28th November 1922
Roseveare's people's address is: Mr & Mrs Roseveare, 6 Hill Park, Launceston, Cornwall. I am writing them today and if you feel like it you might perhaps drop them a wee line of sympathy to the mother. The Matron, my Scotch Miss Cameron, is writing and also Padre Sqn Ldr Walkley. Willock and I took all the funeral arrangements in hand. All the men wanted to come and there was a big gathering. The men sent a beautiful wreath of chrysanthemums and I got out of this garden here a really beautiful little bunch of roses and chrysanthemums and dropped them on the poor lad's coffin from his mother - it just fairly broke me up. But there is life and in life is death and those that have gone on before. Everything was done for him and he’s left the world for a better place.