King George led tributes to "soldiers' soldier" most deserving of Torbay blue plaque

Field Marshal Herbert Plumer

Field Marshal Herbert Plumer - Credit: Torbay Civic Society

The stories behind Torbay's blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: Field Marshal Herbert Plumer

This being one of the more recent plaques we have erected, followed an application from the new owners of Wylam House in Haldon Road, Torquay - George and Caroline Berg - in 2019.

Having only recently moved to Torquay from London, they discovered their home had some significant owners historically.

We knew past Mayoress Miss Gwen Illingworth had been there for many years and being a councillor, was well remembered as a single lady with a very white sports car, often seen driving in and around Torquay.

But the amazing history of past owners only really came to light after George Berg researched local records and then took ownership of a large 'deeds box' following contact from a previous owner who, I believe, was in Hampshire.

Having physically collected said deeds they proved then invaluable as significant owners of Malpass Lodge  - today Wylam House - came light.

They included Frederick Struben, an adventurist and geologist who dug for gold, and Sir James Knott, shipping magnate and a direct descendent of Sir Robert Walpole no less.

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Then followed Lord Henry Chalmondely before finally, in the 1880s, the Plumer family purchased the property.

But the star for us and certainly deserving of a blue plaque was Herbert Charles Onslow Plumer, eventually Viscount Plumer, the son of Hall and Louisa Plumer.

Born in London on March 13, 1857, he came here with his family during the 1880s yet late in his teens went to Eton Staff College, following which he attended the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst to commence what was always the expectation - a lifetime career with the army.

At first he served in India and the Sudan and then Rhodesia - today Zimbabwe - before he was made Commander of the Relief Force in the Matabele Rebellion of 1896.

Later during the Boer War (1899-1902), he became Quarter Master General of the Forces before in 1904 finally being honoured by the King in 1906 with a knighthood.

Within a decade he was serving the Second Army of 1915 and his greatest victory came with the capture of the Messines Ridge Ypres, by taking it from the German Army who had been there for two years.

General Plumer now went to Messines and even salvaged the campaign at Passchendale before helping restore the Italian Front by overseeing a desperate ‘push’ of the German Spring Offensive of 1918.

Now called 'the soldiers' soldier' today although rarely remembered, he deserves to have a Torbay blue plaque.

Field Marshal Viscount Plumer, Lord Plumer, died at his London home in Kensington at age 75 on July 16, 1932, and was then given a full military funeral before being interred at Westminster Abbey - which perhaps is why in Torquay few recall his name.

King George in his message of sympathy wrote: "My people throughout the Empire will, with me, mourn the loss of one whom history will ever remember gratefully not only as a distinguished commander in war, but as a great administrator."

With plaque sponsorship assured in 2019, John Couch estate agent now helped fund our pamphlet, the text of which was provided by Mike Holgate, local historian.

As usual, I contacted Torbay Council to fix a suitable time and date for the mayor to attend the event and this later occurred during the afternoon of September 1, 2019, when chairman of the council, the Worshipful Mayor of Torbay Margaret Douglas-Dunbar, together with her escort Councillor Christine Carter, and myself presided over the unveiling.

On a super sunny day in a magnificent setting, around 50 members of the society and the public attended the blue plaque event, and were allowed to view the house and gardens before finally being offered a delicious English afternoon tea courtesy of Caroline and George Berg.

Bearing in mind Viscount Plumer was a virtual unknown, the research undertaken by George as a new resident to Torbay proved invaluable discovering facts even local historians had failed to unearth.

The pamphlet entitled 'Field Marshal Herbert Plumer (Lord Plumer)' can be obtained by sending two second class stamps plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA