The First World War memorial on the gatehouse of the magnificent church of St Bartholomew the Great at Smithfields records the names of 37 men killed while serving with the British, Canadian or South African armies. Most are young men, and at least one was only 19 when killed. However the first name on the memorial is Colonel F. C. Romer CB, CMG who was killed in September 1915 at the age of 64.
When Lord Kitchener launched his appeal for volunteers in September 1914, most of them were organised into additional battalions of existing regiments of the British Army, known as service battalions. One of these was the 8th battalion of the Royal East Kent regiment, also known as the Buffs after the buff leather coats they wore in the 17th Century.
These battalions, with an approximate strength of a thousand men, were led by a Lieutenant Colonel, often a local dignitary. The 8th Buffs found themselves commanded by Frederick Charles Romer (the memorial at St Barts erroneously has him as serving with the Royal West Kents).
On 31st August 1915 the battalion landed in France, with rest of the 24th Division. They were destined to be among the first of Kitchener’s volunteers to see action.
The Battle of Loos opened with a British attack on 25th September 1915. The following day the 24th division tried to enter the German second line, but failed and were ordered to withdraw. It was during this withdrawal that many of the battalion’s 178 fatalities occurred. Colonel Romer suffered an early wound in the shoulder but continued to lead his men, until he was killed by a bullet through the heart.
That evening, an observation officer with the German artillery crawled into no-mans land and was confronted with the sight of about 500 British dead piled up in front of the German wire. He found several dead officers including a white-haired colonel on the barbed wire.
Colonel Romer has no known grave and is commemorated on the Loos memorial to the missing.
The ‘Zeppelin: Terror over London’ walk passes by the St. Barts war memorial, and commemorates an event that took place in the same month as Colonel Romer’s death. Those soldiers on the Western Front with no known grave feature in the walk ‘For King & Country’.by