11 November 2020 marks one year to the day since the 6.6-meter-tall oak cross commemorating Captain Lancelot Joseph Moore Studholme was re-erected after conservation work. 2020 also likely marks the centenary of when the cross was first put up. The following is the story of the cross, the man it commemorates and how it was conserved.
For the past decade or more the town of Birr has been of major interest to me, the multiply layers of history and people have fascinated me, including all aspects of military history. In my early days of research, I began collecting as many primary sources as I could, this included as many church records.
With permission from the select vestry of the Church of Ireland in Birr, I was granted permission to copy the historic parish records of St Brendan's Church. The late Archdeacon Wayne Carney was generous with this time and facilitated me doing this. After several hours of photographing records and nearing completion Archdeacon Wayne said ‘we have war memorials’, to which I excitedly exclaimed ‘can I see them?’. Going into the church I spotted the memorials on the wall, they commemorated various individuals of the Leinster Regiment who died on service and a memorial commemorated parishioners who died during the Great War, on the list was Lancelot Studholme, there was an additional memorial which commemorated him (having come from another church), indicating he had been a Captain in the Leinster Regiment and was killed in action on the Somme on 9 September 1916 whilst trying to save a comrade.
Research revealed much about Lancelot and the circumstances surrounding his death. He was born on 21 September 1884 at Ballyegan House, just outside Birr, Lancelot was the only son of Joseph Studholme and Mary Hastings Studholme (née Davis). He was educated at Banstead Hall, Surrey, at Uppingham and then at Christ Church, Oxford. Since a child he had a lifelong interest in gardening and won many prizes. After the death of his father in 1904, Lancelot took over his estate and became a justice of the peace for King’s County. He later filled the office of high sheriff in 1909. On the outbreak of the Great War, Lancelot joined the Leinster Regiment as a private and was later commissioned as a second lieutenant. Further promotions soon followed.
Brother officer Captain Max Stainforth described Lancelot in his letters as ‘Then we come to the platoon commanders. No. 9 is run by Studholme, 2nd Lt. I think probably you’d like him almost best. He’s an old house man, aged 29, dark, and very quiet – almost timid. Very shy, but very-thoroughbred and very fine-natured. I believe he owns half the town of Birr, and his hobbies are daffodils and kittens.
Yes, certainly you’d like him.’
In January 1915 Studholme was able to return home for a brief period where he visited the school at Ballyegan giving the children sweets and gifts. He had been noted for his kindness and generosity.
The 7th (Service) Battalion, Leinster Regiment formed in Fermoy, County Cork in October 1914. It was part of the new armies raised by Lord Kitchener which added new service battalions onto the already existing regiments of the British army and was instead of creating new regiments. The Leinster Regiment had two service battalions (6th and 7th Battalions) for the duration for the Great War. The 7th Leinsters were part of the 47th Brigade which was part of the 16th Irish Division. In December 1915 the 16th Irish moved to France where it would spend the duration of the war fighting on the Western Front
The 16th Division entered into the Battle of the Somme in September 1916, taking part in the assault on the German held towns of Gulliemont (3-6th) and Ginchy (9th). During the assault on Ginchy Captain Studholme was leading his men over open ground when his batman, a man named Harte, who had previously worked for him on his estate at Ballyegan was wounded by a bullet, Lancelot stopped to assist him, but in doing so was killed himself by machine gun fire.
The King’s County Chronicle mentions this brave act ‘The manner of his death too, was one that should never be forgotten, revealing as it did a self-sacrificing devotion to a fellow human being’. Also a private in the battalion remarked ‘He was a grand officer, and a brave man; we cried when we buried him.’ As his grave is not known he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.
During the course of my research on Lancelot I had been speaking to a local of Crinkill, the late Sean Cooke, who had told me that a cross had been erected behind Lancelot’s estate at Ballyegan. Curious about this I tried to find out about it but came to a dead end. No one seemed to know if it still existed and I wasn’t sure where it was meant to be.
During a chance meeting in 2015 I was speaking to someone in Birr about military history and the topic of the cross came up to which they told that they had seen it only a decade ago, from a hot air balloon of all things. They kindly agreed to bring me to where they had remembered seeing the cross all those years ago. When we arrived to the site there was no sign of the cross. Not disheartened I got the idea to search Google maps. Scanning the map around the area where the cross was meant to be I could see nothing. In my last ditch hope I tried Bing maps and began searching again, in the centre of one particular field, there was a small dot casting a large shadow of a cross. I found it.
With some luck I was able to work out who the owner of the land the cross was on. With this knowledge off I went. Driving to the location I came across the house and to my luck the owner was outside, shouting at them to get their attention I cautiously asked about the cross and if I could view it. Explaining my interest in Captain Studholme I was granted permission and off I went the one kilometer up the side of the exposed wind swept hill where the cross was. As I got closer and closer to the location, a giant oak cross appeared out of the rain and mist, it was giant. On the cross was a bronze plaque held on with some rusty iron nails bearing the following inscription.
IN EVER LOVING MEMORY
LANCELOT J.M. STUDHOLME
CAPTAIN 7TH LEINSTER REGIMENT
KILLED AT GUILLEMONT
SEPTEMBER 9TH 1916
THE GREAT WAR
Impressed with this discovery and the significance of the cross, I organised with the support of the Heritage Officer, Amanda Pedlow a small remembrance ceremony for the centenary of Lancelot’s death on 9 September 2016.
Over the following years the condition of the cross has always been in the back of my mind, and when originally speaking to the landowner they were worried about the cross and the possibility that it might fall. With the encouragement of Tom Burke of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers association I set about trying to have the cross conserved. Speaking with the Heritage Officer, she was able to organise a conservation engineer to visit and access the condition of the cross. The conservation engineer was very impressed with the cross and said that we caught it in time and that it would likely have only remained standing for another few years.
After the engineer’s visit a conservation plan was put together for the cross. As it was suffering badly from rot it was to be consolidated using a special resin. This would also act as a fungicide and pesticide and prevent water from getting into it. In part to help pay for the works a go fund me campaign was launched which raised around 1000 euro towards the overall costs. Work started on the cross by pure coincidence on 9 September 2019, a fact I only became aware of while traveling down to meet the contractors.
The cross was removed from where it had stood for about a century and was placed in a nearby barn where the work was carried out. The wood was consolidated and the top of the cross caped with a sheet of copper to help prevent water penetration.
Then the day arrived, the cross was to be re-erected and anchored to it’s new concrete base. Again by pure coincidence the date was majorly significant, 11 November, Armistice day. What could be a more powerful symbol of remembrance then erecting the conserved cross to a brave officer who gave his life for a follow human being.
On the day, I watched as the cross was brought back up the hill and anchored to the ground where it will remain for at least the next century. Thanks to all those who made this possible.