By Spencer Brown
I was helping curate a museum exhibition in York on the life of Lawrence Rowntree, grandson of the famous businessman, philanthropist and social reformer Joseph Rowntree. Lawrence died at Passchendaele in the First World War, aged just 22. He kept a journal of his time with the Friends Ambulance Unit, in which his intelligence and compassion shone through. He was repulsed and exhausted by war, but the man-of-action wrote: “The excitement of it, even the fear is enticing; the glorious feeling when you overcome difficulties you thought were insuperable, and the jolly companionship of everyone which you get in the face of a common danger, and never so truly anywhere else.” His spirit was indomitable. It is a tragedy that his life – along with so many others – was cut short in the mud at Passchendaele, and his journal was the most interesting, and poignant, text or material I have encountered in an archive.
Spencer Brown has a BA in History from Durham University and an MA in Public History from the University of York. He is a recipient of the Thouron Award and is currently studying at the University of Pennsylvania.
Image: Stretcher bearers at Passchendaele, August 1917. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stretcher_bearers_Passchendaele_August_1917.jpg.