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Family at War  - A summary of the lives of the family in WW1 and WW2

Lawrence Rowntree
4th March 1895 - 25th November 1917

of Low Hall, Scalby

Lawrence Edmund Rowntree of Scalby,
Son of John Wilhelm Rowntree Cocoa Manufacturer, York
and  Constance Margaret Rowntree nee Naish

Grandson of Joseph Rowntree II of York

Working for FAU Nov 1914-Jan 1916 
2nd Lieutenant Royal Artillery 
Fell in Action 25th November 1917 

Related Links



Lawrence E Rowntree domestic webpage

In 2017 some further information about Lawrie and the Creme de Menthe tank has be offered by Stephen Pope who has done considerable work on the actions of the First Tank Crews
See Extra information 2017

This is supported by a first hand report of 14 September, 
Battle of Flers-Courcelette
by Lionel McAdam



The author first came across the name of Lawrence Rowntree in two letters from members of the Rowntree Family to Colin Rowntree during his time in the FAU and Royal Engineers..

Colin had travelled with the first contingent of FAU on 29th October 1914

Lawrence travelled with the second contingent on 4th November 1914

He worked with FAU for some time and then like many Quakers was so concerned about the state of the war and perhaps wanted some more action that he felt the need to join up.

We have the following in a letter from Ellen Rowntree the wife of Arthur Rowntree, Head of Bootham School 

Tell Laurie his Grandfather ordered 50lbs of cocoa for you directly I mentioned it to him and I hope it got off safely last night.

It was to be a particularly nourishing kind, not the kind that we are allowed.
{Ref to Laurence Rowntree and his Grandfather Joseph Rowntree II }

Laurie began cutting bread and butter before he was off the boat didn’t he ? 

and then from Annie Rowntree (nee Gray ) wife of Fred Rowntree to Colin working in France. 

Date estimate sometime 1916 after Mar 25th

"Laurie Rowntree has struck lucky - he was in the Crème de Menthe Tank and stepped out to see why the Captain was so long coming - he was struck by shrapnel and the tank went off without him and none of the men came back either killed or take prisoner. He was put on Ralph's train and later to Edinburgh where he is still in hospital.

The reference to the Creme de Menthe is significant in so far as this was probably the name of a specific tank.

Also the reference to Ralph's Train is important as Ralph Thorp was responsible for one of the FAU hospital trains running in France at the time. Ralph Thorp was Colin Rowtree's Brother in Law. 

Lawrie's Diary makes interesting comment about the photographs of the hospital trains.

In 2016 quite by chance, through a member of the Rowntree Family, the work of Mrs Lesley Newton became known to the author. Lesley has recently researched and reported on the lives of 27 men listed on the Scalby World War 1 Memorial.


It is thanks to her work and the chance contact that Lawrie's diary became available and some interesting comments in letters from his sister Jean Rowntree in 1985.

A Summary of Lawrience Rowntree's time in WW1

Lawrence Rowntree's Diary "The Nightmare" gives us a clear insight into the nature and activity of a young man who entered the war at the age of 19. At the time he was a medical student at King's College, Cambridge and no doubt like so many young men at the time was happy to be involved in some action which they assume would be of only a few months duration. Being a Quaker he probably shied away from killing and the Friends Ambulance Unit seemed an ideal solution especially as he was already in medical training. It seems that on the 4th November Lawrie let England for France and was immediately put to work in the Dunkirk train sheds that his 3rd cousin Colin Rowntree had worked in a few days earlier. No photographs of the state  of these sheds have come to light but his description is exactly in line with that from Colin and on the 12th November the artist, Richard Nevinson, arrived and we are fortunate to have a painting by him of the scene.

a Patrie by C.W.R. Nevinson who was an artist before the war and joined the FAU with Colin. Later during the war, he was recognized as a war Artist and there is on example of one painting of two dead soldiers by the wire, that was too detailed to be published at the time.

31-Oct-14  Diary entry from Colin Rowntree 
Started back for Dunkirk in about 1 hour. Around Dunkirk 5.30 but were kept a very long time before getting into dock. Firing from British Warships could be seen in the North. About 9.00 we went to the station to help dress wounded who were lying in two goods sheds – 300 or 400 in each. There was one Doctor in charge in one shed but no one at the other so we took it in hand and worked until 1.30 or later – most of the wounds were septic and some had been dressed for 2 or 3 days – the smell awful.

From "Nightmare" by Lawrie Rowntree
I had my first glimpse at the sheds after lunch and it made me very sick. A hot day, intolerably hot in the sheds, the stench which the soldiers would very would naturally bring after months of fighting, and added to that the unbearable septic smell and the sight of grisly wounds combined to make me wish I had not come.
Let me give just an idea of what the work was then. The wounded French soldiers were brought in, in train loads of 400 to 600 from the trenches in Belgium, and during our first time there, there were more in than there ever have been since. They were on their way to the big base hospitals at LeHavre, Cherbourg and further down the coast, to which they were taken by hospital ships and sometimes by train. Dunkerque was really just a rest station where the bad wounds could be redressed and the men fed; but no serious operations were performed there. The sheds at that time were in a horrible condition. No beds for the men, just straw, which was apparently left there until it wore away, and which was thick, with dirt, blood and septic dressings from others who had been there before. The only cleaning I ever saw it get was when a few German prisoners were made to sweep it out. I shall have something to say about the treatment of prisoners later- on.

Some idea of the importance of these first few days can be gained from the speech by the Officer in Charge, presumably Philip J Baker made on 2nd May 1915.

"The first part of the work was concerned with the end of the big battles which finished the autumn campaign on the northern line, and began on the very first night on which the Unit, without any proper authorisation, without any proper attachment, without any permis de sejour, without anything else official, came to Dunkerque and went into the shambles at the railway station. Beginning with that work, going on with the establishment of St. Pierre, from that to the growth of the ambulance work, which went on roughly till the end of December, the Unit accomplished in the first two months a very considerable work. "

See speech by OC probably Philip Baker

A complete set of Colin Rowntree's Diaries gives details of his work in both the Friends Ambulance Unit and in the Army working on war graves. 
Diaries 1914-1916

By the end of November there were about 60 members of the FAU in France and amongst these were a number of the Rowntree family and related families and friends including the Grays, Thorps and Cadburys. Many of the group were related or would have known one another through Quaker work or time at Bootham School. In this respect the team must have had a similar bond as the Pals Regiments. 

What is astounding is that Lawrie talked his Grandfather Joseph Rowntree into letting him take his new Daimler car which was special to his Grandmother.

Diamler Car of that time –

possibly the model used by Lawrie


From his sister, Jean Rowntree, we have: 
The diary - "Nightmare" was probably written for J.R. ( Joseph Rowntree) who had given Laurie his Daimler for use in the F.A.U. 
I remember being told that he had done so willingly, but had asked Laurie to get my Grandmothers approval as well. Laurie had a bad quarter of an hour with her, as it was a new car which she much valued, but he succeeded in the end. My sister remembers his coming back from the interview looking spent.

The rest of his time with FAU is well documented in the diary "The Nightmare"  and many interesting hours could be spent tying the details in with other records of the time from Friends Ambulance Archives and the Diaries of Colin Rowntree. 

According to FAU records Lawrie left the Unit in January 1916.

Exactly when he joined the Royal Artillery is unclear but from stories from other wider family members, it seems that he may have had some months training to become a 2nd Lieutenant, as was his rank when he died, however we have from the research of Lesley Newton the following:

After he left the FAU and Haxby Road Hospital he enlisted into the newly-formed Motor Cycle Machine Gun Corps at the office of the Motor Cycle Magazine in Coventry, which was used to recruit experienced motorcyclists. 1914-1918.net/mmg.htm

so perhaps his to the tanks and a commission came later.

By September 1916 he was working in the tank regiment and incident referred to in the letter ( date unknown) from Colin Rowntree's mother which must have been dated after 15th Sept 1916 has been confirmed by Lesley Newton but the full details of the story are incorrect

From Annie Rowntree's letter:

"Laurie Rowntree has struck lucky - he was in the Creme de Menthe Tank and stepped out to see why the Captain was so longcoming - he was struck by shrapnel and the tank went off without him and none of the men came back either killed or taken prisoner.  He was put on Ralph's train and later to Edinburgh where he is still in hospital."

 From Lesley Newton's research:

I can help you date Annie's letter, since Laurie was indeed one of the crew of the very famous tank called Creme de Menthe, which took a lead role the first time that tanks ever went into battle, on 15 September 1916 on The Somme in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.  You can read about it here


At Bovington I obtained the report of the Major-General in command of that action, which contains the report of Captain Arthur Inglis who commanded Creme de Menthe and all six tanks involved in that operation.  I attach a copy for your interest.  There is no mention of Laurie other than him being listed as one of the crew. 

As Annie's letter says, he was struck by shrapnel that day.  His record states he was admitted, wounded, to a Casualty Clearing Station on 15.9.1916 and then to a Field Hospital.  On 16th he was in Rouen at the 1st Australian General Hospital and on 18th he was transported to England on the Hospital Ship Grantually Castle.  It is likely that he met Ralph Thorp on "his train", en route to the ship.  Laurie was admitted to hospital in Edinburgh on 20th with "small wounds on buttocks .. apparently piece of shrapnel passed thro' and thro', wound on ?? very small ... patient still limping, appears to have some difficulty in putting right foot to ground.  No bone injury." 

I had always known it was unlikely that Laurie would have been wounded by shrapnel inside Creme de Menthe.  The experience of being inside the early tanks was extremely unpleasant and crew could be wounded by molten metal splash when the tank was hit by bullets, but Captain Inglis' report clearly shows that Creme de Menthe was not hit by a shell.  I had therefore surmised that Laurie was injured after leaving his tank, following the attack on the Sugar Factory at Courcelette on 15.9.1916.  

I was surprised that Annie's letter suggests the tank actually went off without him!  However, the assertion that none of the men came back is incorrect.  In fact, as you will see from the official report, it was actually 50 Germans who surrendered and were taken prisoner when they saw tanks coming towards them for the first time in history.  I therefore think it is likely that Laurie did take part in the action on 15.9.1916, since he is included in the list of crew, but he was later injured outside the tank which then went off without him. 

See Official report as WORD.doc or PDF. file

I hope you find it useful to be able to date the letter you have to after 15.9.1916 and before 3.11.16 when Laurie was granted furlough (leave of absence) to go to Low Hall for ten days. 

Extra information from Stephen Pope of "First Tank Crews"
 I have been researching those who served with the First Tank Crews, during the battle of Flers Courcelette, for a number of years and recently published a book on their life stories. As such the information about Lawrie's evacuation from France is most interesting. 
Lawrie joined the Heavy Section of the Machine Gun Corps on 16 May 1916.  This small unit drew its men from amongst those with motor car or motorcycle expertise and potential recruits undertook a selection test prior to admission.  We know from the Bootham obituary that Lawrie enjoyed motorcyling and no doubt his previous experience as a driver with the FAU also helped him.   He undertook his basic trainign at Bullhouse camp near Bisley and then completed his limited tank training at Elveden before deploying to France on 14 August.  

One of Lawrie's fellow crewmen was Lionel McAdam who was known as "Mac".  When he returned to his home in  Toronto, Mac wrote an article about his experiences which was published in three parts in the Motor Magazine, a Canadian monthly journal. See report by Lional McAdam In the pertinent element, which was published in Toronto in August 1919, Mac describes the first tank action including that one of the crew was wounded before the tank got to its starting point.  The incident probably took place at the refueling point  which was to  the south west of Pozieres where the memorial to the missing is now located and I am certain the injured man was Lawrie as his injuries are recorded as "small wounds  to the right hand buttocks probably from shrapnel. "  Other crewmen only received minor injuries known as spall which were the result of small drops of molten metal which were detached from the inside of the tank's armour when repeatedly hit by machine gun fire.   

Although Mac  says the tank, which was undoubtedly Creme de Menthe, went into action with the commander and only six crew, this is not wholly accurate. The skipper of another tank, which was stuck at the starting point, sent his crew to the rear before zero hour and joined Creme de Menthe in the attack. The name of this officer was Geordie Campbell and he received the Military Cross for his actions. 

Stephen Pope
Principal Researcher
First Tank Crews

We have ascertained where he was when he was killed in action, on 25 November 1917.  Interestingly this was east of Ypres, during a phase of the Battle known as Passchendaele, not far from the huge cemetery at Tyne Cot, yet Laurie is buried at Vlamertinghe, west of Ypres.  I have visited his grave twice.  My friend has an interesting theory as to how this came about!  When I write up the research a summary will appear on my website,


I've attached a photo of Lawrie's grave at Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery (there are 2 CWGC Cemeteries at Vlamertinghe so it's important to give it it's full name).  

Photographs thanks to Mrs Lesley Newton    

It isn't often that you find a man's home town mentioned on his headstone, so I was thrilled by the inscription Lawrie's mother chose to place at the base, which somehow strengthened the link I feel to them by living and worshipping in the same village.  She is buried in St Laurence's Churchyard, Scalby, alongside her daughter Violet who died aged just 3 in 1906, so poor Connie had a terrible time of it with John Wilhelm's death in 1905 followed by Jean's birth and Violet's death, then Lawrie's death in 1917 and her brother Malcolm's death in Chiswick in 1918.

I'd love to know if there are any family letters commenting upon this decision of his.  I bought a copy of The Letters of Arnold Stephenson Rowntree to Mary Katherine Rowntree, 1910-1918, expecting to find a mention of what must have been a disturbing event in the family, but the letters do not mention it.  

I've read some speculation somewhere that it was the death of one of Lawrie's FAU friends that prompted him to enlist in the army and his sister Jean comments on his decision in her letter to Lewis Waddilove of 24 April 1985 but I think the clue lies at the end of the diary when Lawrie says on the last page that "at times the desire to get out again is very strong.  The excitement of it, even the fear is enticing ..........."  

It is thanks to the considerable work of Lesley Newton 
that this amalgam of historical detail has been assembled 
and we look forward to her full article in the future.   


As an aside it is worth mentioning the Lawrie's third cousin, Colin Rowntree, was at that time working as Second Lieutenant in the War Graves Register and visited Vlamertinge on 22 November 1917 in the course of his duties. 

We leave to last words to those of his sister Jean Rowntree

My brother Laurie was a medical student at Kings ( Cambridge). He was in his first year 
when he went down to join the F.A.U. This was the natural form of service for someone of his background, and I don’t know that he ever thought out the pacifist issue very deeply, and probably didn’t need to, while the work he was doing was so hard and dangerous. When the Unit was reconstructed and he had gone to work in an English Hospital ( where he could, in a sense, have been said to be getting on with his training) he had to ask himself whether his beliefs were strong enough to justify him in doing something comparatively easy. It was, I know, a very difficult decision which needed a great deal of courage, but it ended in his enlisting. He became a sergeant, was wounded on the Somme, where he drove one of, the first tanks, given a commission, and killed at Paschendaele in November 1917.