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The Mystery of Guy Pinfield – March 2011

Dublin, April 25th 1916. Francis Sheehy-Skeffington could see that the British officer was still alive. Blood was seeping into the young man’s khaki uniform but his chest was still gently rising and falling. Bullets continued to ricochet off the walls and pavements around the entrance to Dublin Castle where the officer lay. Sheehy-Skeffington was an ardent supporter of Home Rule for Ireland. But he was also one of the country’s best-known pacifists, utterly opposed to violent rebellion. And he was not prepared to watch another man die.

Sheehy-Skeffington raced across Dame Street into a chemist shop and shouted in his high pitched voice, ‘Come, we can’t leave a man to bleed to death!’[i] The chemist rallied to the challenge and together they ran through a hail of gunfire towards the castle, armed with bandages. However, as they came in sight of the gate, they saw the officer’s body being hauled back into the courtyard by two of his fellow soldiers.

Later that night, Sheehy-Skeffington’s wife Hanna berated her husband for running such a risk. “I could not let anyone bleed to death while I could help”, he replied. The following day, Sheehy-Skeffington and two journalists were arrested and indiscriminately executed by an insane British officer called Bowen Colthurst.

It is unlikely that Sheehy-Skeffington ever learned what became of the British officer. As it happened, the 21-year-old Englishman died, becoming perhaps the first officer to die in the Easter Rebellion.

The officer’s name was 2nd Lieutenant Guy Vickery Pinfield of the King’s Royal Irish Hussars. There has been considerable interest in Pinfield’s case since a mystery Irish buyer paid £850 (€1,000) for a gold locket containing his portrait auctioned in south-east England on February 22nd 2011.[ii]

Much of this renewed curiosity stems from the fact that Pinfield’s remains lay unclaimed in a disused garden at Dublin Castle for nearly half a century after his death. It was not until 1963 that he was honoured with a proper gravestone.

And yet Guy Pinfield came from a very prosperous background. He was born in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, in 1895. His father Frank Pinfield was the son of a Liverpool dock solicitor who became a tea planter in the Indian province of Assam. Guy’s mother Gertrude was also closely connected to Assam where her brother Charles Simkins ran the Amguri Tea Estate.[iii] Rather more notably, Anthony Simkins – Gertrude’s nephew and Guy’s first cousin – was Deputy Director of M.I.5. from 1965 until his retirement in 1971.

Frank and Gertrude were married in 1887.[iv] However, tragedy struck in the winter of 1897 when 40-year-old Frank died suddenly, leaving his widow with two small children, Nora, aged four, and Guy, aged two.[v] Fortunately, Gertrude was by no means without wealth and, in due course, Guy was sent to Marlborough College, an exclusive public school in Wiltshire, where he excelled at rugby.

Meanwhile, Gertrude found a second husband Patrick Russel and moved to Dane House, a mansion in Bishop’s Stortford. The house was built in 1905 by the department store tycoon Sir John Barker.[vi] Sir John was closely connected to Sir Walter Gilbey, the wealthy British wine merchant and sometime President of the Royal Agricultural Society.

The Pinfields were closely related to both the Barker and Gilbey families. In 1912, Nora was a bridesmaid at a wedding between one of Sir Walter’s grandsons and a cousin of US President William McKinley.[vii] Two years later, she married Vincent Routledge, another of Sir Walter’s grandsons. [viii]

Guy Pinfield was a student at Clare College, Cambridge, at the time of his sister’s wedding. He also played rugby for Rosslyn Park Rugby Football Club in southwest London.

Just seven weeks after Nora’s wedding, the First World War erupted. Nineteen-year-old Guy Pinfield quickly secured a commission as a second lieutenant with the King’s Royal Irish Hussars, a British army cavalry regiment.[ix]

In 1915, Guy was posted to join the 10th Reserve Cavalry Regiment at the Curragh Camp in Co. Kildare for training. It is not yet known how or why Pinfield came to be in Dublin Castle on the day the Easter Rebellion broke out.

Most of the garrison stationed in Dublin Castle had gone to the Fairyhouse races to watch the Irish Grand National. This was one of the key factors in coordinating the rebellion with Easter Monday.

Shortly after the soldiers left for Fairyhouse, a company of the Irish Citizen Army captured City Hall on Dublin’s Dame Street. The company, which consisted of sixteen men and nine women, was commanded by the Abbey actor Seán Connolly.[x] Their orders were to prevent the race-going British soldiers from returning to the castle and gaining access to their weapons and ammunition.

Shortly before midday, a Volunteer from Connolly’s company cycled up to the Castle entrance where James O’Brien, an unarmed constable, attempted to shut the gate. The Volunteer shot O’Brien dead. Although he is said to have been appalled by O’Brien’s murder, Connolly made a snap decision to rush the Castle Gate directly.

Six of Connolly’s men charged into the Castle guardhouse where they overpowered three soldiers and bound them with their own puttees. Uncertain what British military strength was within the Castle, Connolly left the six men at the guardhouse and returned to City Hall. It remains one of the rebellion’s great ‘what if’s’ that Connolly’s company could probably have captured Dublin Castle at this point.

Soon afterwards, a troop of perhaps 180 British troops poured out of the nearby Ship Street barracks and began firing at City Hall. Connolly was shot dead shortly after two o’clock by a sniper operating from the Castle clock tower.[xi]

2nd Lieutenant Pinfield was shot during this skirmish. He was with a group of Hussars who tried to enter the castle by an alternative entrance, only to be caught in a cul-de-sac, the houses in which were occupied by armed Volunteers.[xii] Another account claims he was part of the guardroom garrison.

With the rebellion still in full flow, the dead man’s body was wrapped in a winding sheet and buried in a temporary grave in the Castle gardens. Many of the 116 British soldiers killed that week were subsequently buried alongside him.

In May 1916, the families of the fallen came to the Castle to reclaim the bodies. At the end of the month, the remaining unclaimed bodies were given military funerals and reinterred in the British military cemetery at Blackhorse Avenue, Grangegorman.

However, Pinfield and four other officers remained at the Castle, buried in what was then a formal garden attached to the state apartments. Their names were cut into granite slabs.[xiii]

Perhaps Guy Pinfield’s family felt that was a fitting burial place at the time but by the time these “temporary” graves were rediscovered in May 1962, the garden was utterly overgrown.[xiv] The Imperial War Graves Commission duly made arrangements for the five bodies to be exhumed and they were reinterred in the British military cemetery at Grangegorman on May 17th, 1963.

It is unusual that Pinfield’s body was never claimed considering he was anything but forgotten by his family. His mother was clearly a wealthy woman and well aware of his sad fate. Five days after his death, The Times announced that ‘the much loved only son’ of Mrs P. Russel had been ‘killed in Ireland’.

The Illustrated London News published his photo on a Roll of Honour.[xv] His fellow officers erected a brass plate to his memory in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.[xvi] His name was etched in marble at Marlborough College where he was one of 742 Old Marlburians slain in the war. He was also recalled on monuments at his rugby club in Rosslyn Park and at both the church and war memorial in Bishop’s Stortford.[xvii]

But perhaps most poignant of all is the 15-carat gold memorial locket which his desolate mother wore. Engraved with the Hussar’s motto “Pristinae virtutis memores” (The memory of former valour), it also has her sons’ initials ‘GVP’ and his place and date of death, ‘Dublin April 24th 1916’.

The identity of the buyer may remain a mystery but Pinfield’s memory is clearly not forgotten.

[i] ‘Eyewitness to Irish History’, Peter Berresford Ellis; ‘Rebels: the Irish rising of 1916’, Peter de Rosa, p. 265. See Google Books.

[ii] The sale was carried out by Sworders auction house of Stansted.

[iii] It is believed Gertrude’s father Charles Wickens Simkins had an address at Lowdham Lodge, Nottingham. Her brother C.W. Simkins was a Tea Planter and latterly the General Manager of the Amguri Tea Estate at Sibsagar in Assam, being awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind for his services as such in 1906. After serving in the ranks of the Volunteers, he was appointed a 2nd Lieutenant in the Assam Valley Light Horse on 29 June 1895. He was advanced to Lieutenant in September 1898 and Captain in November 1906. As a Captain he was awarded the Volunteer Force Long Service Medal, this notified in the I.A.O. 123 of February 1910. He was promoted to Major in March 1912 and Lieutenant-Colonel in November 1916. By the Gazette of India of 24 August 1912 he was awarded the Indian Volunteer Forces Officers’ Decoration. Simkins died on 16 October 1942 at Foxhold, Crookham, Newbury, Berkshire. One of his sons – ie: Guy’s first cousin – was Anthony Simkins (1912-2004), born in 1912 and, like Guy, educated at Marlborough. He became the Deputy Director of M.I.5. from 1965 (two years after Guy’s body was exhumed) until his retirement in 1971.

[iv] Frank and Gertrude were married on September 20th 1887 at Lowdham Church, Nottingham, by the Rev J.H. Brown, Thursday, 22 September 1887, Liverpool Mercury). Frank was the eldest son of William Henry Pinfield, of Croydon, formerly dock solicitor and chief clerk of Liverpool. (The Law times, Volume 48, p. 305, 1870).

One wonders whether he was related to Arthur Pinfield of this report on a ‘Stabbing Case In Liverpool’ published in The Times, December 18, 1890, p.8 -Last night STABBING CASE IN LIVERPOOL.-Last night a shocking occurrence took place in Liverpool, where a woman named Margaret Stewart was nearly stabbed to death in a cab, five or six wounds being inflicted in her chest. She now lies in a precarious state in the Royal Infirmary. About half-pasb 7 o’clock Arthur Pinfield, aged 32, and of respectable appearance, bailed a cab at the top of Ranelagh- street, and, entering the vehicle with the woman Stewart, told the cabman to drive to her address in a street off London-road. The drive was only a short distance, and when the cabman drew up and opened the door he was startled to hear Pinfield say, ” I have stabbed this woman, cabby; you can go for a policeman if you like.” The cabman then noticed that the man’s hands and the woman’s dress were covered with blood. He promptly brought two con- stables who happened to be close by, and Pinfield said to the policemen, ” I did it. She asked me to do it.” Pinfield was taken to the Central Police-office, where he said, ” I hope she is dead,” and muttered something about ” She asked me to do it.” On his Person was found a large clasp knife with a blade Sin, long. Meanwhile the woman was conveyed to the Royal Infirmary- The cabman says that when his vehicle was engaged the man and woman seemed to be on very friendly terms. When the police arrested Pinfield they found him somewhat under the influence of liquor.

[v] Frank Pinfield died aged 40 on 28th January 1897 at his brother-in-law’s residence, 115 Hartington Road, Sefton Park, Liverpool. (Deaths, The Times | January 28, 1897, p. 1. He is buried in Toxteth Park Cemetery,
[vi] Sir John Barker built the house for his daughter, Ann, and her husband Tresham Gilbey, founder and editor of Baily’s Hunting Directory. Tresham was the third son of Sir Walter Gilbey and thus an uncle of Nora Routledge’s husband Vincent. Apparently, Ann disliked the house so much that Sir John had Whitehall built for her instead. Dane House was sold to private ownership and in November 1962 became the Dane House Hotel. Unable to fulfil its role this was partly demolished in 1986 and other buildings, in the same style, added to accommodate private apartments.

[vii] The wedding was between Sir Walter Gilbey’s grandson Victor Gilbey Hine and Frances Osborne, daughter of the late American consul, William McKinley Osborne.

[viii] On 10th June 1914, Guy attended the wedding at St. Andrew’s, Wells Street, Marylebone, London, of his sister Nora to Vincent Routledge, son of Leonard and Mabel Routledge of The Chantry, Bishop’s Stortford. (The Times | June 11, 1914). Mabel Routledge’s father was Sir Walter Gilbey (1831-1914), the wine merchant and sometime President of the Royal Agricultural Society. The Routledges lived at Howe Green House, Gt Hallingbury, Bishop Stortford, and Vincent became a gundog guru and Vice-Chairman of the Cruft’s Dog Show by 1964.

[ix] His name was noted on The Army list (1914), Issue 5. He secured his commission on 15th August 1914.

[x] Driven from their lands in Kildare during the 1870s, the Connollys were raised in inner city Dublin. Seán’s small company included three of his brothers and one of his sisters (Mrs Barrett). At the time of the Rising, Sean was living at Philipsburg Avenue in Dublin.

[xi] Connolly apparently slid down the roof after being shot. The Citizen Army medical officer, Dr Kathleen Lynn, tried to reach him on the parapet but was unable to do so.

[xii] The National review, Volume 86, 1925, p. 746. This report claims Pinfield was fatally shot, while another officer and several soldiers were wounded.

[xiii] Granite slabs recorded the names, regiments and dates of death for Second-Lieut Pinfield and four other officers: Godfrey Hunter (26), Algernon Lucas, (37), Phillip Addison (20) and Basil Worsley-Worswick (35).

[xiv] “British Bodies To Be Exhumed FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT DUBLIN, MAY 14 The discovery of five graves of British Army officers in a disused garden in Dublin Castle gives rise to the belief that the bodies of other Army personnel who fell in the 1916 fighting may be buried there. The patch of ground where the graves were found was once a formal garden attached to the state apartments. The Office of Public Works, which is responsible for Dublin Castle, has been in touch with the Imperial War Graves Commission and arrangements are being made to have the five bodies exhumed and be burled in the British military cemetery at Blackhorse Avenue. An official of the commission is to come to Dublin about the matter. The names of the officers cut into granite slabs are: Philip Addison Purser, ASC., died April 30, 1916, aged 20; Basil Worsicy Worwick, 2nd Lieutenant, K.E.H., died April 29, 1916, R.I.P.; Guy Pinfield, Lieutenant, 8th Hussars, died April 24, 1916; Algernon Lucas, 2nd Lieutenant, .EEH., died April 24, 1916; Godfrey Hunter. Lieutenant, 5th Lancers, died April 28, 1916. The Irish authorities have no official records of the burials or of the circumstances in which the men died. Newspaper reports of the period disclose that Lieutenant Algernon Lucas and Lieutenant Basil Worwick were killed in Guinness Brewery during Easter Week. A British Army sergeant who was in charge of a detail of men guarding the brewery was charged in connexion with the death of one officer but was acquitted, Lieutenant Purser was shot in his car at the Mendicity Institution and the other two officers apparently fell in the confused fighting of the 1916 rising. The ground is now to be searched for the evidence of further burials.” (The Times, May 1962).

[xv] ‘For King and Country: Officers on the Roll of Honour’, The Illustrated London News, 27 May 1916. On 27th April 1917, one year on, Gertrude placed a memorial to her slain child in The Times. On 20th March 1919.

[xvi] On the south wall of the south aisle of St Patrick’s Cathedral hangs a brass plate on black marble to his memory, ‘erected by his brother officers 10th Reserve Cavalry Regiment’. This is possibly connected to the name of ‘Lt H Pinfield’ who is mentioned on a white marble memorial to the officers and men of the 8th KRIH in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, but why would they get his initial wrong?

[xvii] St Michael’s Church in Windhill remembers his bravery during the insurrection while his valour is also recorded on the town’s war memorial in Castle Gardens.