Arthur Quiller-Couch

(1863-1944) – Recruiting sergeant

As a temporary Captain, Cambridge Professor of English Literature and great Cornishman, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch helped raise a battalion of the DCLI in 1915. Cutting his soldiers' toenails and inviting all 210 of his Company for cream tea at Fowey were part of his eccentric training regime.

Credit: Q-Fund and portrait reproduced by permission of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, Truro

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Although his father had held the appointment of Surgeon to the Royal Cornwall Militia, Q had no military experience, being the respected King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at Cambridge and a well known writer, anthologist, critic, sailor and Liberal.

In March 1915 the 10th Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry was raised, not by the War Office, but by the Mayor and citizens of Truro. It is not known why Q became involved but he, together with an elderly retired Colonel of the Royal Engineers, took on responsibility for organising and training an enthusiastic, but somewhat motley, crew. At the same time Q was under great pressure from Dr Stewart of Cambridge to set exam papers for the Medieval and Modern Languages Tripos. In June 1915 he wrote : ‘My own little lot are today 210 strong, and I took 'em a route-march this afternoon after a hard morning's drill…My battalion, like the spirit of John Brown, is still marching along...all clothed and up to now, after great struggles with War Office forms, punctually fed and paid. My boy continues to write cheerfully from France; and in the intervals of fighting collects large stores of cherries and gooseberries from deserted gardens in which the roses are smothering the holes made by shells…’ His boy, Bevil, survived the war, only to succumb to pneumonia in February 1919. 

In August 1915, the War Office announced that it would take over the 10th Battalion, and from that date a steady stream of officers and senior Non-Commissioned Officers were posted in. Q must have felt a great weight slip from his shoulders. A few days later he was allowed to retire gracefully and return to his work at Cambridge. His name never appeared in the Army Lists, so one wonders whether he received any recompense for his achievement.

The 10th Battalion crossed to France on 20th June 1916 as the Infantry Pioneers of the 2nd Infantry Division. Its record in the bloody battles of the next two and a half years was outstanding. In November 1918 it was picked to represent the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry in the victorious ceremonial march into the Rhineland. On that historic occasion one wonders how many survivors there were from the early days in Cornwall who looked back with affection at the fatherly ministrations of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.

Key words: recruitment

Credit: Q-Fund and 1938 portrait by Henry Lamb reproduced by permission of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, Truro