Captain Richard John Philip Hewetson was wounded and taken prisoner on May 27, 1918. The following day he was taken to the 50th Divisional Field Ambulance at Beaurieux, which was also captured by the Germans, previously under the command of Colonel Alexander Milne-Thompson.
It was at the Field Ambulance at Beaurieux where Pvt. Cooper mistook Capt. Hewetson for 2nd Lt. A.E. Downing.
Times obituary, 21st Feb 1919:
“Captain Richard John Philip Hewetson, 3rd The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, was the only son of The Rev and Mrs W Hewetson of Salhouse-w Wroxham Vicarage, Norwich. He was educated at The Knoll, Woburn Sands, and Dulwich Preparatory Schools, afterwards at Repton and Oriel College, Oxford. While at school he won several cups for running and gained his football colours in 1911. He was head of his house for two years and a school prefect. He belonged to the Repton OTC and gained Certificate A in 1911. He played in the freshers match at Oxford in 1912.
He volunteered for service in August 1914, the day after his 21st birthday, and was offered his commission and gazetted from that month. He went to France first in June 1915, and served with the 1st Battalion. He became bombing officer for the battalion and went over the top on September 25 at the Battle of Loos. He was hit early on in the day and lay out for nine hours. The result was that he lost the use of his fingers for some months. During this time at home he acted as assistant adjutant of the 3rd Battalion at Felixstowe for six months, and went again to France in March 1917. This time he joined the 9th Battalion and was adjutant until the Battle of Messines, when he acted as liaison officer between a Canadian brigade and his own. After this he became adjutant and quartermaster for the 2nd Corps Advanced Reinforcement Camp, and later took part in the engagements around Ypres, Westhock &c.
He came home in October and was advised to accept home service, as his heart was overstrained. He requested, however, to be passed for general service again, and although unfit, he was sent once more to France in April, 1918.
He joined the 9th Battalion, but was given command of a brigade instructional platoon because of his “splendid work the year before in heartening up men” His division, the 25th, was sent with other tired divisions to rest on the Aisne. They were overwhelmed on May 27 by 5 times as many Germans. He was ordered to fill a gap which had occurred on the left flank three miles long. This was over 5 miles away. They had not gone more than half an hour when they met with the enemy in large forces. They put up a splendid fight which lasted nearly one hour, by which time they were practically surrounded.
Captain Hewetson was taken prisoner with his leg smashed, but was not picked up until the next day, by which time gas gangrene had set in. His leg was amputated by an English doctor also a prisoner. But, owing to lack of food, Captain Hewetson died five weeks later in a cellar converted into a field ambulance and was buried in Beaurieux Cemetery. He was 24 years of age.
His Colonel wrote:- It will be a help to you in bearing the blow to be assured of the very real esteem and affection with which your sons memory will be cherished by all in the regiment who served with him He leaves a record of steady accomplishing of good work, and his calm and reliable nature made him a most valuable officer. All my memories of him are pleasant ones.”
Also present at the Field Ambulance was Louisa Constance Colt-Williams, an English Nurse with the French Red Cross. She was also captured by the Germans and when she was released she wrote the letter below to the parents of Captain Hewetson.
14th October 1918
Dear Mr. Hewetson,
I have only just come back from Germany where I have been a prisoner for 4 and 1/2 months, and am writing immediately to give you what news I can of your Son Capt. Hewetson who was brought to our Ambulance as a prisoner, seriously wounded in the leg, we had to amputate immediately and he was doing well, then we were all sent to another ambulance about 3 weeks afterwards and had to leave all our wounded in charge of the German Doctors and fortunately English Orderlies.
About 3 weeks after that I saw one of the orderlies who told me that your son had never done so well after the English Surgeon and I, who was the only English Nurse there, had left and forgive me for having to tell you such painful news, but it appears he died of Septic Pneumonia about the end of June or the beginning of July. The orderly told me that the German Doctors did everything possible for him but he had gas-gangrene and it was evidently too much for him. He is buried at Beaurieux where he died. It is a little village where my ambulance was, between the Aisne and the Graonnelle Plateau. I was working there with the French when the attack came and we were all taken as an Ambulance and your son was brought in on May 28th. The village has now been retaken by the French, as I know the spot so well I can tell you exactly where it is, and after the War is over you will be able to come and see it I hope.
It may comfort you to know that he was operated on by an English Surgeon, Major Handfield-Jones, who was taken at Beaurieux the same day as I was and with whom I worked for 6 weeks, he was therefore in our care for three weeks but it appears that he lost all heart after we left. Had I only been there when he died I could have saved some of his things for you, as it is I can only offer you my heartfelt sympathy in your great sorrow. You must have suffered so from anxiety when you knew he was missing. I who have been a prisoner myself know what my own people suffered. As far as I could see the Germans treated the enemy wounded like their own, every man who died was buried by the Chaplaine (German) just as if he had died in our own lines and crosses were put over all their graves. They were perfectly correct in their conduct to us.
There were only three Nurses, two French girls and myself, and we never had any bother or insult. They certainly respect the Red Cross if nothing else. We were kept at the Front for two months and in Germany for 2 ½ months, we could never understand that, as they ought to have sent us back at once, but we were well treated all through.
I must close now, if there is anything else you wish to know and which I can tell you, will you write to me at this address, you will forgive me for having written you such painful news, but I knew I could give you details that no one else could.
Captain R.J.P. Hewetson is buried at Vendresse British Cemetery, in Vendresse-Beaulne, in PLOT IV. F. 3.