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Wellford, Francis

Surg. Capt. Francis Wellford, M.A., M.B., B.C. Cantab. Among the many brave men who fell at the recent battle of Vlakfontein, was one whose death will be read of with feelings of sadness by many an Old Guy’ s man. Surgeon Captain Francis Wellford was gazetted early last year to the 7th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry, and left home for South Africa in the month of February. He had only just returned from the Straits Settlements, where he owned coffee estates, which for some three years he had spent his best energies in developing. He had, by force of circumstances, relinquished his professional work with the exception of such practice as were required of him by the native population living round him.

His early life was spent at San Remo in Italy, and at the age of sixteen he came to England to live with a tutor, who was to prepare him for Cambridge. Meanwhile the rest of his family emigrated to Australia. He entered at Trinity College in 1882, and graduated in mathematics in 1885, and in medicine and surgery in 1890/1. He came to Guy’ s with several others of the same college in 1888. Here he held the various appointments allotted to students, including those of assistant house-surgeon, and house-surgeon, and in the latter capacity he served that much beloved surgeon, Arthur Edward Durham.

After acting as locum tenens at Liss, in Hampshire, he went to Bowsal, in New South Wales, to visit his family, whom he had not seen for twelve years, subsequently passed on to Winton, in Queensland, where he held the appointment of medical officer, to a Government Hospital.

His practice in this place was varied and eventful. He lived in the most aesthetic simplicity, almost friendless, and with no one to help him in his labours. He acquired some skill as a surgeon, though frequently having no one to administer anaesthetics but the local clergyman. And, many a time. on a young horse he had broken in himself, would he ride miles into the bush to find his visit too late to save life.

After a few years the exile was too much for him, and in 1895 he left Winton for the Straits Settlements, to be in touch with his twin brother, who was in the Colonial Service at Penang. Shortly after this his life was saddened by his brother’ s death, and such was their attachment to one another that many of his friends said he never got over it. In these parts he acquired a grant of land, and laid out coffee plantations on the Klangore River.

In 1900, last year, he came home for a short visit, leaving a manager in charge of his estates, and whilst home he was offered and accepted the post of Surgeon-Captain in the Imperial Yeomanry, and it was in this service that he came to be present with the forces in the recent fighting in the Transvaal.

In his short life of 38 years he had lived much. It was only a few years back that he narrowly escaped being trampled to death by an elephant an account of which appears in the Guy’ s Hospital Gazette.

When in Europe mountaineering was his chief pursuit, and as a boy his only pets were snakes. He was of a lovable nature, and possessed a courage and determination, with a nature that never flinched in the hour of danger. He hated convention to a degree that amounted to eccentricity, but all who ever worked with him will remember well his staunch and unswerving attachment to his professional duties. In his work he was slow but intelligently sure. And he is honoured in his death. Requiescat in pace.

“ Memories” by a fellow campaigner

Wellford made his first appearance at a field hospital to get a tabloid or two for one of his sick yeoman and after that we had a chat. “ He’ d been on the trail for many months” , all day and shivering all night at an outpost at Kopje. His wardrobe had naturally suffered, and there came a very gentle request for a spare “ British warm” . His helmet minus his tunic picked up at Pretoria, breeches and boots were yeoman service” , told their own tale.

At first we thought Wellford slow and referred to him as “ poor old Sammy” – hid Old Guy’ s nickname – but soon we realised the true nature of the man and, one and all, we learnt to love him. He had the pleasantest manner, the gentlest of voices, and the sweetest of smiles, to catch what was said – for death, he showed great self sacrifice, in never thinking of his own comfort in his absolute devotion to duty, and he never grumbled. At one time it was about one of his trooper’ s ailments that a discussion was held, at another time the patient was the subject of scrutiny and consultation, and another request for replenishment from the scanty store of drugs was complied with.

We saw a good deal of “ Sammy” during some months of sterling work with Mahon’ s Mounted Infantry Brigade. In some such worthies we may have voiced our thoughts to him: “ What’ s this man doing? He’ s too good for it; he’ s not suited for it; God bless me, he ought to be at home! He wants loving; he wants ‘ mothering’ ; he wants a comfortable fireside.“ Yet he never shirked one jot of his work, never grumbled, and cheerfully chewed hard biscuits by day, and shivered in scanty blankets by night. His sincerity, his confidences, his absolute unselfishness, - he would give chiefly to you, unknowing his last pipeful of Dutch tobacco – all these had to be appreciated to make you realise the love and one calls up in imagination that night at Vlakfontein when, after many more months of weary trekking – as far back as last August we met him – “ Sammy” , shabby perhaps, still cheerful, still uncomplaining, was riding with the yeomen of the rearguard when death and destruction reached them out of the burning veldt. A few moments more perhaps of hard work, kindly help for others, of pain relieved and comfort brought, and then came his moment of pain and death – may it have been short – and we read that which shall to many soldiers seem , so much the few, that “ ” Surgeon Captain Francis Wellford died of wounds.” W.S. Guy’ s Hospital Gazette June 22nd 1901

Wellford— Capt. Francis Wellford, M.B., 7th Batt. I.Y., died June 1st, 1901, of wounds received in action at Vlakfontein two days previously. He was the son of the Rev. John Francis Wellford, of Oakland, Sidmouth, and was born at Clevedon in April, 1863. He was educated privately and at Trinity College, Cambridge. From Jan., 1887, to Nov., 1892, he was at Guy's Hospital. He then went to New South Wales, and practised at Sydney, and was medical officer of the Winton District Hospital, Queensland, from 1893 to 1895. From the latter date to 1899 he was in the Straits Settlements, but in Dec, 1899, he volunteered for active service, and in Feb., 1900, joined the I.Y. as a medical officer with the rank of capt. He was mentioned by F.-M. Earl Roberts in his despatch of Sept. 4th, 1901, L.G., Sept. 10th, 1901. Capt. Wellford was a fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute, and his name is inscribed on a memorial tablet in the hall of the building in Northumberland Avenue, S.W. The Last Post, Mildred Dooner

 

Biographical

Surname(s)Wellford
First name(s)Francis
Date of birthApril 1863
Place of birthClevedon 
Family detailsSon of the Reverend John Francis Wellford, of Oakland, Sidmouth
Previous educationTrinity College, Cambridge
CollegeGuy's Hospital
Dates at college1887 – 1892
Military unit7th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry
Date enlisted1900
War / conflictSecond Boer War (1899-1902)
Citation(s)Mentioned in despatches 04/09/1901 (Field Marshall Earl Roberts)
Date of death01-Jun-01
Age at death38
Rank at deathCaptain
Cause of deathWounds received in action at Vlakfontein two days previously
Commemoration(s)Guys Hospital Memorial; Royal Colonial Institute, St. Mary's Cathedral, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
NotesCaptain Wellford was a fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute.
SourcesGuy’ s Hospital Medical School Records, King’ s College London Archives; The Last Post, Mildred Dooner

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