Today marks the centenary of the death of Arthur Tylston Greg and through the many surviving letters, photographs and scrapbooks in the archive we have been able to piece together and share with you his moving story of bravery, sacrifice and love.
Arthur was born in 1894 and was the eldest son of Ernest and Marian Greg. He spent his early life in Dunscar, Bolton, where his father was Managing Director of Chadwick Brothers Ltd. When Arthur was a young teenager his father moved the family to Norcliffe Hall in Styal, which was built by Arthur’s great-grandfather Robert Hyde Greg.
Arthur, Bobby and Alec in front of Norcliffe Hall
Arthur with all his siblings: Madge, Helen, Bobby and Alec
When War was declared in August 1914 Arthur was studying Law at Oxford University and he wasted no time enlisting immediately. He received his commission as Second Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion Cheshire Regiment Special Reserve later that same month.
He trained at Bidston Camp, Birkenhead serving as bombing officer and wrote that he ‘had to instruct endlessly’ and found the whole experience ‘rather dull’! On 2nd October he was sent to the front attached to the 2nd Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters.
Arthur training at Bidston Camp, Birkenhead
Arthur wrote to his family frequently and his letters are filled with his trademark dry humour to mask the horrors of the trenches;
“Eighteen days in a fire trench with heavy engagements only a few hundred yards to our right, and more critical fighting a mile or so on our left, was not calculated to act as nerve tonic.”
‘It’s a cheerful lookout but one never dwells much on what might happen in the future…Life’s too short for that. We all live in the present if we are comfortable and perhaps look forward to the brighter side of what the future may hold…Without the ugly, how could we really appreciate the beautiful?’
In May 1915 Arthur was stationed near Ypres and was involved in leading several reconnaissance missions. On one of these occasions he found himself duelling with a German soldier and was severely wounded after a shell dropped nearby;
“I went down like a log and was next aware of a loose, horrid and disconnected feeling about the lower part of my face…At one time I thought I should not live as I was bleeding so furiously.”
Arthur had been shot through the jaw and was sent back to England to receive more advanced medical treatment. He stayed there for the next few months and during this time he became increasingly restless.
Arthur after his injury
He applied to join the Royal Flying Corps and was successful. He trained for three months in England and France and after 26 hours and 44 minutes of flying he graduated as a pilot at the rank of Captain in February 1917. In a letter to his parents he wrote;
‘I’m thoroughly enjoying this flying game.’
Arthur with his plane
Arthur’s Graduation certificate
While studying at university he met Marian Allen, the sister of a very close university friend. They corresponded frequently and their relationship flourished quickly. Arthur often wrote to his mother about Marian and he would send poems and stories she wrote.
They were soon engaged and her poetry provides many tender insights into their relationship;
‘A hope unspoken filled us with a joy, when you should be my husband, I your wife’.
On 23rd April 1917 Arthur was tasked to shell two German ammunition factories. The attack was successful but their victory was short-lived and on their return they were attacked by the enemy. During the air fight Arthur was fatally shot. His observer, Air Mechanic First Class Robert William Robson managed to land the plane inside Allied lines, but he later died from his wounds.
Arthur was buried in Jussy cemetery and his grave bears the inscription ‘Love is stronger than death’.
Jussy cemetery, April 1917
Following Arthur’s death Marian poured her grief into a collection of heart-breaking poems that capture her grief as well as her deep pride for Arthur. This shines through in all her poems which are too many to include in this article, but shown in the excerpts below;
‘I like to think of you as brown & tall,
As strong & living, as you used to be
Because they tell me, dear, that you are dead,
Because I can no longer see your face,
You have not died, it is not true, instead
You seek adventure in some other place.
A true unflinching warrior of the air
A lover of adventure
His first & last bold dash across the skies,
One last long dropping from the April blue,
A painless death, shot straight between his eyes,
And dying was a Great adventure too’
‘I am left, knowing your story, proud of your glory’
Marian continued to write poetry in remembrance of her lost fiancé for many years after his death;
‘And we in England taste the hard-won fruit
Of all your strife and labour, we but live
To keep alive the life you died to give’.
Marian never married and remained a close life-long friend of the Greg family.