John Stacpole served in the army for his entire adult life, rising from the ranks to become a colonel. He served in the major conflicts of the late Victorian era, and during the Boer War was chief embarkation officer at Southampton.
John Stacpole was born on 27 December 1847 at Kilcommon, Hollymount, County Mayo in the west of Ireland, the son of Thomas Stacpole (1822–1875), described as a “gentleman farmer”. Unfortunately, no details of John’s mother appear to have survived.
There are no records of John’s education or early life until his marriage to Eliza (“Leila”) Smith at St Stephen’s Church in Kensington on 9 January 1872. On the marriage records, both are recorded as resident at Queen’s Gate, South Kensington.
Leila was born at Chithurst in Sussex in early 1848, the youngest child of George and Charlotte Smith. In the 1851 census, the family was living at Iping in Sussex, with George described as an agricultural labourer. Ten years later, the family had moved to Portsmouth, where George continued to call himself a labourer. By 1871, however, George was now working as a steward in the officers’ mess at Fort Gomer in Alverstoke, with 25-year old Eliza described as a domestic servant.
Following their marriage, John and Leila lived at 103 Albert Road, Hackney, until early 1876, when they moved to Portsmouth. For some reason, the couple had a second marriage ceremony at St James’s Church in Milton, Portsmouth on 12 September 1876. At the time of the 1901 census, John and Leila were living at 3 Shirley Road, Southsea with a cook and a maidservant.
Leila died at Shirley Road, Southsea on 3 February 1906, aged 58 from cirrhosis of the kidneys; the couple had no children.
On 9 March 1907, John was re-married to 50-year old Isabella Grazebrook in a society wedding at the church of St Peter and St Paul at Cromer, in Norfolk. Originally from Worcestershire, Isabella was the daughter of Michael Grazebrook, an ironmaster who had retired to Portsmouth with his family. Isabella’s younger sister, Beatrice, was the widow of Benjamin Bond Cabbell (1857–1892), the grandson of the late M.P. for Boston of the same name, whose family home was Cromer Hall. Best man at the wedding was Col. Edward A. Bramhall of the Army Service Corps.
After their marriage, the couple set up home at “Sharvells” at Milford on Sea.
On 15 February 1912, aged 64, John was initiated into Powney Lodge No 3099, at the Masonic Hall at Ashley Road, Lymington, alongside 36-year old clerk, Theodore Charles.
Following his initiation, Bro. Stacpole presented to the lodge a gavel made from stone quarried from King Solomon’s Mines in Palestine together with a stone from the same quarries engraved with a square and compasses. These are still in the possession of the Lodge.
John was passed to the second degree on 16 May, and raised to the degree of a Master Mason on 18 July 1912.
John enlisted in Ireland on 23 November 1865, a few weeks before his 18th birthday, joining the 88th Regiment of Foot (Connaught Rangers) as a private. After seven months training in Ireland, he was sent with the regiment to India on 18 July 1866. He made rapid promotion, becoming a corporal on 27 December 1867 (his 20th birthday), a sergeant a year later and colour sergeant on 28 September 1869, reported as “the youngest of his rank in the whole army”.
In November 1870, the regiment boarded the troopship HMS Jumna in Bombay, and commenced the passage home, arriving back in England on 21 December.
After eight years in the ranks, on 21 January 1874 John was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in the 75th (Stirlingshire) Regiment of Foot, and on 11 May 1875, he was promoted to a full lieutenant, backdated to the date of his original commission. Between 16 February 1874 and 30 March 1875, John served with the 75th Foot in South Africa.
On 26 July 1876, John transferred to the 17th (Leicestershire) Regiment, based in Ireland, before traveling with the regiment back to India on 4 October that year. Between 7 June and 27 July 1877, he was station staff officer at Indore, 500 miles south of Delhi. He then became the quartermaster at the hill station at Deolali, 100 miles north-east of Bombay (Mumbai) from 21 September 1877 to 29 May 1880.
John returned to England with the Leicester Regiment on 8 December 1880 and on 10 April 1882, he was seconded as a Deputy-Assistant Commissary-General, being promoted to captain on 26 March 1884.
He served at the port of Suakin at the time of the Soudan expedition in March to May 1885, for which he received the Egypt Medal with the Suakin clasp and the Khedive’s Star.
On 11 December 1888, he was attached to the Army Service Corps, being appointed a Deputy-Assistant Adjutant-General in the North-East District, based at York, on 1 July 1889. In 1891, he wrote “A Guide to Meat Inspection for Regimental Officers”, with illustrations by Lieut. W.S. Melville, published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. While stationed at York, he served on a committee to enquire into the terms and conditions of service for soldiers.
On 11 May 1891, John was promoted to a major with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, thus serving with regiments from all four of the home nations.
On 2 April 1892, he joined the Army Service Corps Permanent List, becoming Deputy-Assistant Adjutant-General in the Home District until 30 June 1894. On 15 September 1895, he was appointed Deputy-Assistant Adjutant-General in the Southern District, based at Portsmouth, and was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel with the Army Service Corps on 13 November 1895.
In the latter role, he was the embarkation officer at Southampton Docks, overseeing the embarkation and disembarkation of troops leaving or returning to England. During the Boer War, which lasted from October 1899 to May 1902, John and his staff oversaw the embarkation of 300,000 men and 32,000 horses without any casualties.
His role as embarkation officer earned him copious praise:
Colonel Stacpole supervised the disembarkation arrangements which were carried out with the usual efficiency and dispatch by the transport staff. (Hampshire Advertiser, 22 April 1899)
In any ‘dispatches’ sent from this ‘theatre of war’, Colonel Stacpole certainly deserves mention for the distinguished services he is quietly rendering to the country, and when the laurel leaves are being distributed, it is to be hoped that the gallant Colonel will not be overlooked. (Hampshire Advertiser, 17 February 1900)
So thoroughly have Col. Stacpole and his staff learnt their business, that there was not the slightest confusion. (Hampshire Advertiser, 10 March 1900)
The strain on Col. Stacpole and his staff has been very great, but they have coped with the work in a most commendable and admirable manner. His powers of organisation are extraordinary and he never gets flurried or out of temper. Stern in demeanour, but kind at heart, Colonel Stacpole is ready to help anyone, and many parents of youngsters in the service have thanked him for his advice and the help he has rendered to their sons. Without doubt, he has been for many months one of the hardest worked men in the service. (Hampshire Advertiser, 17 March 1900)
John was promoted to brevet colonel on 28 March 1900, and as a colonel on the staff on 9 August that year.
The ‘laurel leaves’ were duly distributed at the end of the war, and on 19 March 1901, John was appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. The presentation was made in a private ceremony on board the Royal Yacht, Victoria & Albert, at Portsmouth, during which King Edward VII thanked him for the ‘zeal and fidelity he had displayed in the exercise of his arduous and responsible duties as Embarkation Officer’. This was followed on 26 June 1902, by his appointment to be a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George.
He retired, shortly before his 57th birthday, on 23 November 1904 and was placed on the retired list. His retirement was reported in many national and local newspapers. Once again, The Hampshire Advertiser gave him copious praise:
A volume of eulogy could not pay higher tribute to those rare qualities which the brave and kindly Colonel possesses … There is nothing haughty or imperious about his manner; he is always a perfect gentleman, and is approachable by the meanest and poorest.
Unlike the usual type of military officer, he was a fluent, entertaining speaker, who could propound expert views on intricate matters or tell humorous stories with equal facility. (Hampshire Advertiser, 19 November 1904)
He was also praised in The Army & Navy Gazette:
The whole service knows how great his powers of organisation are, and how thoroughly he understands how to get duty done without irritation or unpleasantness. (Army & Navy Gazette, 29 April 1905)
Following his retirement from the Army, John was appointed a Justice of the Peace.
In April 1905, John came out of retirement, and was appointed District Barrack Master, Eastern Command under Lord (Paul) Methuen. In this post, he exercised general control of the barracks and was paid an annual salary of £200, as well as receiving his army pension. He retired from this position on 30 November 1907, on reaching the age of 60 years.
The Army & Navy Gazette took this opportunity to again sing his praises:
This worthy man ought not to be allowed to go permanently into retirement without it being placed on record how much the whole British Army owed to him during the war… The whole civilized world knows how admirably the responsible duties owed to Col. Stacpole were discharged, and the perfect system created by him… It was great and laborious work, but Col. Stacpole was up to it, and tact, forbearance, and good temper, added to his great administrative gifts, enabled him to pass nearly the whole of the fighting army through his hands without one hitch occurring to mar his record of unprecedented success in this particular phase of staff duty.
The army owes this excellent staff officer its thanks and acknowledgements. (Army & Navy Gazette, 7 December 1907)
First World War
On 1 January 1915, John was appointed as Commandant of the rest camp at Highfield, on the north-eastern edge of Southampton Common (on a site now occupied by Southampton University).
On 17 April 1915, The Hampshire Advertiser reported a dispute between John and the town council, especially Councillor Kimber, who objected to John roping off the area around his office ‘to prevent eavesdropping by friends and foes alike in regard to telephone orders’. The area roped off extended beyond John’s office to include three or four adjoining houses, with ornamental shrubs being planted. The council demanded that the obstruction should be removed, although there is no report as to whether this demand was actually complied with. (Councillor Sidney Guy Kimber served as mayor of Southampton from November 1918 to November 1920. He pioneered the building of the Civic Centre and the Southampton Sports Centre, including the municipal golf course. He was knighted for his services in 1935.)
During John’s time at Highfield, he and Isabella were resident in one of the houses comprising the rest camp.
Death and commemoration
Towards the end of 1916, John was taken ill with appendicitis and died, aged 69, on 30 December at the Red Cross Hospital at Highfield Hall after an unsuccessful operation. (Highfield Hall, situated between Khartoum and Omdurman Roads, had been acquired by the University of Southampton in 1914 as a hall of residence, but had been converted to hospital use for the duration of the war, It was demolished in about 1932.)
His funeral was conducted with “imposing military ceremonial” at Christ church, Highfield, on 2 January. The coffin was transported from his home at Highfield to the church on a gun-carriage preceded by a firing party and accompanied by a military band. The pall-bearers were six colonels, including Col. E.A. Bramhall.
After the funeral service, the coffin remained in the church overnight under military guard provided by the Royal Defence Corps and the following day was taken on the gun-carriage to Southampton West station where it was carried onto a train by six sergeants of the Army Service Corps. The coffin was then transported to Brookwood Cemetery near Woking for cremation.
Later family history
Isabella only survived her husband by ten months, dying at the couple’s home in Highfield on 30 October 1917, aged 61.
1901 England Census
1911 England Census
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966
London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921
London, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1965
U.K., City and County Directories, 1600s-1900s
UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1901-1929
UK, British Army Lists, 1882-1962
UK, City and County Directories, 1766 – 1946
UK, Hart’s Army List, 1908
United Grand Lodge of England Freemason Membership Records, 1751–1921
Army and Navy Gazette:
29 April 1905: Army Personal
22 July 1905: Army Personal
7 December 1907: Army Personal
British Journal of Nursing
Eastern Evening News:
2 March 1907: Fashionable Cromer Wedding
Evening News (Portsmouth):
17 July 1895: Naval & Military news
23 November 1904: Colonel Stacpole Retires
22 April 1899: The Gallant Fighting-Fifth at Southampton
4 October 1899: Affairs in the Transvaal
4 October 1899: The Trooping Season at Southampton
17 February 1900: Notes by the Way
10 March 1900: Sailing Orders for 14,000 men
17 March 1900: The Transvaal War
31 March 1900: The Transvaal War
2 May 1900: Invalids Arrive at Southampton
22 August 1900: The Transvaal War
31 October 1900: The Return of the C.I.V.’s
9 November 1901: Colonel Stacpole and the Ladies
19 November 1904: Colonel Stacpole’s Retirement
2 March 1907: Marriage of Col. Stacpole
8 January 1915: Command of the Rest Camp
17 April 1915: War!
6 January 1917: The Death of Colonel Stacpole
6 January 1917: Imposing Military Funeral
20 November 1907: War News
30 August 1902: A Present to Colonel Stacpole
27 February 1900: People and Things
Norfolk Chronicle & Norwich Gazette
9 March 1907: Wedding at Cromer
Pall Mall Gazette
7 March 1907: Colonel Stacpole M.V.O., C.M.G.
Raugh, Harold E,: The Victorians at War, 1815–1914 (Army Service Corps)
20 March 1901: The Royal Tour
The National Archives:
Western Daily Press:
2 January 1917: Death of a Distinguished Officer
19 March 1902: Colonel Stacpole and the British Soldier
28 November 1907: Military Intelligence
Yorkshire Telegraph & Star:
7 May 1900: War News
Portrait: Illustrated London News 20 January 1917 “For King and Country: Officers on the Roll of Honour”