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Ronald H. Greatorex, B.A., M.B.E., - from a shaky start, he made good. 1 week 3 days ago #75779

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Ronald Henry Greatorex, M.B.E.

Civilian Clerk, Army Pay Department – Anglo Boer War
Censor, Army Headquarters, Pretoria – WWI


- M.B.E. (The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), first type, civil division
- Queens South Africa Medal with Natal clasp to R.H. GREATOREX, A.P.D.


Ronald Henry Greatorex was born in Bristol, Gloucestershire on 18 May 1862, the second son of Edward and Elizabeth Greatorex, respectively Master and Matron of Stapleton Workhouse in Gloucester. The first glimpse we have of him comes courtesy of the 1871 England census where, at the age of 9, he was resident at Hill House in Long Ashton, Bedminster, Somerset, along with his mother, recorded as being the Matron of the Bristol Workhouse, and siblings Edward John (13) and Emma Blanche (12). As if to prove that the family had means, 22 year old servant girl, Susan Hicks, was in attendance to cater to their needs. Of the pater familias there was no sign.


Greatorex when a Master at Maritzburg College early 1890's

Ten years later, at the time of the 1881 England census, Greatorex was an 18 year old student, living at the Bristol City Workhouse where he was listed as the “Son of the Matron”. It was at about this time that he was sent to Marburg University in Germany to be educated, before going up, as a scholar, to St John’s College, Oxford. Having matriculated on 15 October 1881, he graduated with second-class honours in mathematics (BA) in 1884, which was promoted to MA by seniority. After leaving St John’s in 1886, he went into teaching as a lecturer in science and mathematics at the South Kensington Science and Art Department, Dewsbury Centre, Yorkshire, from 1887 till 1888.

Tiring of life in the old country and eager to explore the world he headed for the sunny climes of South Africa, where, later in 1888, he joined the employ of the Natal Department of Education as a Lecturer in Mathematics and Science. Posted to the prestigious Maritzburg College (for boys) in Pietermaritzburg he was soon making a name for himself, not always for the right reasons.




Greatorex was a man who didn’t suffer fools gladly and who took his work very seriously. In a case which was debated at length in the Natal Parliament of the day, and which made headlines in the local press, he was taken to task for the harsh treatment he meted out to one of his non-attentive pupils. At 10 o’clock on 2 March 1891, Greatorex, ‘at the best of times, a man with a fiery temper,’ was teaching a class of third formers when he was berating a boy named Eicke for some delinquency and said there were a few boys whose behaviour was not as it should be, including another third-former named Philip Stuart.

According to Stuart, he said that he could see in his eyes that he was a mischievous boy, to which Stuart replied he could not see into his own eyes. The master punished Stuart for his impudent reply by ordering him to do lines, to which the boy replied ‘all right’ with a smile; this only enraged Greatorex further to the extent that he began to hit Stuart across the head with his hands (‘most witnesses agreed that there were several [hits]’).

Upon the last of these – a mighty clout with the open left hand – Stuart fell to the ground and lay there in an apparently lifeless condition. Hysteric third formers launched their selves on the headmaster’s office demanding brandy; they were followed by an agitated Greatorex with the startling announcement ‘I fear I have killed Stuart.’ Stuart was, after some time, revived with copious amounts of brandy, and at one o’clock went to Greatorex to apologise for provoking the assault with his impudence!

Any hope of supressing this domestic upheaval was dispersed by the appearance two days later of an article in The Natal Witness headed ‘A grave charge. Alleged ill-treatment of a schoolboy,’ which was followed by an investigation by the Council of Education into this incident, during which Dr Sutherland considered ‘his conduct simply brutal… [he] ought to feel very thankful indeed Mr Greatorex had got off without being tried in the Supreme Court for murder.’ For his part, Greatorex was severely censured and warned that any further infliction of corporal punishment on his part would be met with summary dismissal. As was to be expected, he was to enjoy a certain amount of unfavourable publicity, but he remained at the college until he moved to the Transvaal. What of the boy Stuart? As a consequence of the blows he received he gradually grew more and more deaf which severely retarded his ability to secure employment with the Civil Service.

Having closed the chapter on his stay in Natal, Greatorex moved north. On arrival in the Transvaal, he first sought employment in the field of education, applying to the Government there for a post as a Class II Mathematics Lecturer (in the English language) at the State Gymnasium in Pretoria. A year later, he wrote again, claiming that he had yet to receive a reply to his request. In the meanwhile, he had secured a position as Accountant with the Tyne Valley Colliery Ltd. It was in this capacity that he had a brief return to Pietermaritzburg. This occasion was to be a happy one, the tying of the marital knot with Annie Elizabeth White at St. Saviour’s Cathedral on 6 July 1896.

What is worth noting, as it speaks to the circles in which Greatorex moved whilst resident there, was the names of the two witnesses to the nuptials – Robert Douglas Clark, M.A. Oxford, was a Barrister-at-Law, President of the Natal Society, a friend of Lord Milner’s and a Captain in the Natal Royal Rifles. James Hyslop, D.S.O., was a Medical Doctor, President of the Natal Medical Council and Superintendent of the Natal Government Mental Asylum. He was also Officer Commanding the Natal Medical Corps. Both of these men moved in exalted circles and were the very cream of Natal Colonial society.

Having moved on from Tyne Valley Colliery, Greatorex applied for and this time round successfully, the post of Assistant Registrar of Mining Titles - as Assistant Registrar of Mining Titles, he was effectively in the employ of The Transvaal Government under President Paul Kruger and, as an English-speaking civil servant of the Transvaal Republic, he would have been exposed to a fair amount of suspicion by his Boer masters, ever increasingly so as the end of the 19th century beckoned. On the domestic front, Annie gave birth to their first child, daughter Florence Blanche, on 29 September 1897.

At this juncture in the history of the region, Kruger and his government were becoming increasingly frustrated by the demands made by the “Uitlanders” for a bigger say in the political affairs of the Transvaal. The revenue generated by the taxes they paid, along with the taxes on the mining operations of the Witwatersrand were keeping the Boer Republic afloat and, after the debacle of the Jameson Raid in 1896, had also partially funded the massive rearmament programmed Kruger undertook. This led to the outbreak of hostilities on 11 October 1899 and anyone, including Greatorex, who was not a Burger of the Transvaal, fled to the safety of Lourenco Marques or Durban by whatever means were available.

Greatorex, family in tow, headed for Durban and lent valuable service during the Boer War as a civilian clerk at the Natal Army Pay Office in Pietermaritzburg, a city with which he was very familiar, where he served from 19 March 1900 until 6 May 1901. His obituary noting that ‘he was mentioned in despatches several times’. In addition to this work, he volunteered as a bridge guard for the Natal Government Railways and, as such, appears on both medal rolls – the railways roll confirming he was only issued with one medal, which was sent to the Chief Paymaster at Pretoria.

With Johannesburg having fallen to the British forces in mid-1900, Greatorex was to bide his time before deeming it safe (and prudent) to return to his home in Johannesburg. What he found on his arrival was a distressing sight, but it was a sight that confronted most “Uitlanders” on their return, a house which had been either ransacked, looted or had fallen into disrepair. Who were the guilty parties? Sadly, both the Burghers who had remained in Johannesburg, along with the relieving British troops, in the hunt for the spoils of war.

Like thousands of others, he turned to the Compensation Committee, a committee set up, especially, to look into claims, from both Boer and Brit, for compensation for damages to and loss of property and possessions. Completing the Claim forms on 29 September 1902, he confirmed that his current address was Stand 725, Browning Street, Jeppe and his postal address Box 1190, Johannesburg. Stating that he was now a government servant, he intimated that his previous employer, before leaving the Transvaal on 11 October 1899 (the day war was declared) had been the Tyne Valley Colliery Ltd. His address before the war (and the one in respect of which damages were claimed) was 101 Davies Street, Doornfontein (in which house he had been a tenant).

Confirming that he had been in the employ of the Army Pay Department (and as a Bridge Guard) until his return on 6 May 1901, he added that he had been to the personal and property department warehouse but had not seen sight of any of the goods that had disappeared from his home in his absence. As references in the Johannesburg area, he provided the names of T.R. Haddon of the Rand Safe Benefit Company; J. Home Shaw and Arthur Pratt. His claim, in an amount of £34, was in respect of goods and furniture which had been stolen. The Committee decided, after deliberation, to deduct 20% from the claim (devaluation) and settled the matter with a cheque for 2/3rds (£18). At around this time, he also applied to the authorities for a house “on government ground near Fort Johannesburg”.

Greatorex now continued on in his previous role, the difference being that his masters were now British as opposed to Boers. His wife blessed him with the birth of a second child, Dorothy Annie, on 15 October 1903. At the time of her baptism, the family lived at 32 Browning Street, Jeppe. By 1907, he had been promoted to be principal clerk of the mining department and, from 1909, Rand Townships Registrar (in addition to his other duties). His star was certainly on the ascendency, culminating in his appointment as Justice of the Peace in 1910.



From the S.A. Who's Who of 1908

During the First World War, which commenced on 4 August 1914, Greatorex found himself engaged on war service once again; he served as a censor at Johannesburg, work for which he was appointed an MBE in January 1921. Having retired on pension in 1922, he departed South African shores, retiring to Broadclyst where, as his obituary notes, ‘he was held in high esteem’. Greatorex died on 29 January 1932 at Burraton House and was buried on 2 February at Broadclyst Parish Churchyard. His wife, Annie Elizabeth nee White, died on 7 February 1932, having ‘always hoped that they would die about the same time as each other.’

An obituary appearing in The Western Times of 5 February 1932 informed the reader of the event: -

“FUNERAL of MR R.H. GREATOREX AT BROADCLYST
The funeral of Mr Ronald Henry Greatorex, B.A., M.B.E., who passed away suddenly at Burraton House, Broadclyst, on Friday last too place at the Broadclyst Parish Churchyard on Tuesday, Rev. J.J. Strong officiating. The coffin was unpolished panelled oak with solid brass mountings, the breastplate being inscribed: Ronald H. Greatorex, passed away. January 29th, 1932, aged 69 years.”

There were no flowers by request. Deceased was a native of Bristol and lived for a good many years in South Africa. He served during the Boer War in the Army Pay Department and bridge guarding in Natal, and was mentioned in despatches several times, and received the Natal medal (sic). During the Great War he acted as censor at Johannesburg, and retired from the post of Registrar of Mining Rights, Johannesburg in 1922, when he came to reside at Broadclyst where he was held in high esteem.”

Greatorex’s probate entry recorded that he bequeathed an amount of £1526.


References TNA: WO 100/230, 279 (medal roll). Alumni Oxoniensis Debates of the Legislative Assembly of the Colony of Natal, xxv (1897), pp. 247-5. South African Who’s Who, 1908 Western Times, 5 Jan. 1932, p. 14; 12 Feb. 1932, p. 12. Simon Haw and Richard Frame, For hearth and home: the story of Maritzburg College, 1863-1988 (1988).

Likenesses Photograph, c. 1890, reproduced in Haw & Frame, For hearth and home, p. 107. Photograph, n.d., reproduced in South African Who’s Who, 1908



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Ronald H. Greatorex, B.A., M.B.E., - from a shaky start, he made good. 1 week 3 days ago #75785

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Hi Rory, thank you for the article. Must admit that his surname smacks of a potential character in Asterix & Obelix;)

Interesting about the school incident and that he effectively received a warning, with student apologising. Some things never change, yet......
Regards

Gavin
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Ronald H. Greatorex, B.A., M.B.E., - from a shaky start, he made good. 1 week 3 days ago #75786

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Spot on Gavin - it was the name that initially attracted me to the medals. Apropos the school incident - those were the days when the apology came from the party on the receiving end of the stick.

Nowadays we have the snowflakes apologising for acts they didn't even commit. It's a topsy-turvy world in which we find ourselves.

Rory

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Ronald H. Greatorex, B.A., M.B.E., - from a shaky start, he made good. 1 week 3 days ago #75788

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Rory thanks for another fine story.

You have spoilt us as you should have been paying more attention to family matters this Easter Sunday!

Perhaps you finished your write-up earlier in the week so you may be excused.

Spending my day at home alone today I hope I can be excused. Your story of corporal punishment during the early days of Maritzburg College reminded me of another Natal Colonial Officer - Aubrey Samuel Langley. His school master teaching evidently kept him out of the Boer War but with the thought of an upcoming Lions Rugby Tour to South Africa I thought that his story, particularly that about his discipline, could follow your fine posting.

Once again I will have to work out how to resize pictures etc but here follows, under a separate heading, the story of a “famous” perhaps "infamous" Natal School Headmaster.

RobM
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Ronald H. Greatorex, B.A., M.B.E., - from a shaky start, he made good. 1 week 2 days ago #75790

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Thank You another great piece of research Rory......

GREAT tyrannOsaurus REX...... It is a good thing he was not around at the time of Jurassic Park as can you think of the nicknames he would have gotten....

Makes me wonder more about my man Huggett,,,,, [His QSA from the Army Headquarter Staff, there is the following annotation "Chief Clerk to Financial Adviser" with his three state clasp entitlement "struck out" which does seem ironic in his particular case. (Thanks Frank)..... And why his was named Esquire......]

Still love your research and waiting for that book......

Mike
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Past-President Calgary
Military Historical Society
O.M.R.S. 1591
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Ronald H. Greatorex, B.A., M.B.E., - from a shaky start, he made good. 1 week 1 day ago #75809

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A fantastically thorough biography, Rory, and great to be accompanied by pictures of him too.

His behaviour at school would certainly be treated quite differently these days.
Dr David Biggins
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