Fitz-Gerald was a staff officer and confidante of Lord Kitchener who died on active service with him when HMS Hampshire was lost on 5 June 1916 with the loss of 737 hands and passengers. There were twelve survivors.
The son of Colonel Sir Charles Fitz-Gerald KCB and born in Aurungarabad, Madras, Fitz-Gerald was in the Hardinge from 1888 before going ‘over the hill’ to Sandhurst.
He was commissioned and joined the Indian Army in 1895. He was gazetted to the 18th King George’s Own Lancers in 1897.
In 1904 he was made ADC to Lord Kitchener, Commander in Chief in India, until 1906 when he became his Assistant Military Secretary until 1909. He was made GSO 3 in Egypt before becoming Military Attache (GSO 2) for Egypt, Sudan, and Abyssinia 1912.
“Colonel FitzGerald saved the life of Lord Kitchener in Egypt in 1912. A plot to assassinate Lord Kitchener had been formed, and Colonel FitzGerald having received information about it and having a photograph of the man who was to carry it out, was on the lookout for him, and detected him near the carriage in which Lord Kitchener was riding. Colonel FitzGerald fixed the would-be assassin with his eye and at the same time covered Lord Kitchener, so that had the man fired Colonel FitzGerald’s body would have received the bullet. Fortunately the man hesitated and was arrested.”
1914 saw him return to Lord Kitchener’s service as Personal Military Secretary until 1916, being made CMG in 1915.
He was on the Hampshire in 1916, which was lost with enormous loss of life, including Lord Kitchener. There were only 12 survivors. She hit a mine in Scapa Flow having turned back from the start of her voyage to Russia due to heavy seas. It is believed the mine was laid by a German submarine.
He was one of only two of the victims of the Hampshire whose bodies were able to be buried.
Colonel FitzGerald’s coffin was rested in St. Matthew’s Church, Westminster, where it was strewn with floral tributes from personal friends and other mourners, before being taken to Victoria Station for the journey to Eastbourne.
The coffin containing the body of Colonel FitzGeral, arrived at Eastbourne Station and was transferred onto a gun-carriage drawn by six horses, and driven by officers from the Army Service Corps. A wounded soldier in a bath-chair was seen to support himself against a wall as he stood to attention. Passing along the seafront the procession was watched by crowds who lined the route to All Saints’ Church where the service began. The Bishop of Chichester officiated and the gathering included representatives from the family, foreign delegations and military officers from many regiments and corps. Those accompanying the coffin to the grave formed up outside the church and processed to Ocklynge Cemetery, where the coffin was interred and several volleys fired over the grave.
British Pathé have footage of the funeral:
In the first sequence the ASC officers can be seen riding the three drive horses and sitting on the limber pulling the gun carriage. The coffin is draped with a union flag and soldiers in hospital uniforms are marching in front, presumably the contingent from Summerdown Convalescent Hospital that were mentioned in the Times report? Officers from the foreign delegations can be seen following the coffin.
The second sequence at Ocklynge shows, in close up, most of the military mourners. Capitaine Jean de Vigurie, of the French Army, and Colonel Count Greppi, of Italy, are both resplendent in their exotic, well pressed, uniforms, standing out against the rather shabby khaki dress of the British Army officers. Count Greppi a tall man, with a waxed moustache, appears like a giant in his high crowned conical cap. One, rather gaunt looking, Naval officer follows the coffin. This is Commander Kitchener, RN, the Great Man’s brother. There are many soldiers, with arms reversed and heads bowed, along the path to the grave.
The final sequence shows long lines of soldiers, possibly from the Eastbourne College Officer Training Corps, firing over the grave. At the end of the closing shot two horses, frightened by the rifle fire, gallop across a field behind the cemetery.
FitzGerald, in his capacity at Kitchener’s Military Secretary was accompanying him on a delicate mission to support the Imperial Russian war effort. The detail remains less clear, but given the composition of the team the mission seems also to have a more detailed purpose in trying to set up a more industrialised and efficient ammunitions and armaments manufacturing process to supply the Eastern Front. Kitchener had himself been Minister of Munitions in 1915 when he and the department were blamed for the lack of HE shells being supplied to the Western Front.
Lord Kitchener’s principal companions on his mission to Russia were Sir Hay Frederick Donaldson, an Australian who was Chief Technical Advisor to the Ministry of Munitions; Lieutenant-Colonel Wilfrid Ellershaw (a Temporary Brigadier-General), an Artillery officer who had been an instructor at the Royal Military Academy; Mr Hugh James O’Beirne, an Irish career Diplomat and Government Minister; Lieutenant-Colonel Oswald Arthur Gerald FitzGerald, an Indian Army officer and Kitchener’s Military Secretary; and, Mr L.S. Robertson, Assistant to the Director of Production at the Ministry of Munitions.
HMS Hampshire was one of six Devonshire-class armoured cruisers built for the Royal Navy in the first decade of the 20th century.
Due to the gale-force conditions, it was decided that Hampshire would sail through the Pentland Firth, then turn north along the western coast of the Orkney Islands. This course would provide a lee from the strong winds, allowing escorting destroyers to keep pace with her. She departed Scapa Flow at 16:45 and about an hour later rendezvoused with her two escorts, the Acasta-class destroyers Unity and Victor. As the ships turned to the northwest, the gale increased and shifted direction so that the ships were facing it head on. This caused the destroyers to fall behind Hampshire. As it was considered unlikely that enemy submarines would be active in such conditions, Captain Savill of the Hampshire ordered Unity and Victor to return to Scapa Flow.
Sailing alone in heavy seas, Hampshire was approximately 1.5 miles off the mainland of Orkney between Brough of Birsay and Marwick Head at 19:40 on 5 June when an explosion occurred and she heeled to starboard. She had struck one of several mines laid by the German minelaying submarine U–75 on 28–29 May, just before the Battle of Jutland. The detonation had holed the cruiser between bows and bridge, and the lifeboats were smashed against the side of the ship by the heavy seas when they were lowered. About 15 minutes after the explosion, Hampshire sank by the bow. Of the 735 crewmembers and 14 passengers aboard, only 12 crew survived after coming ashore on three Carley floats. A total of 737 were lost including Kitchener and all the members of the mission to Russia.
He was initiated into Kitchener Lodge No 2998 in northern India, in a rapid series of of meetings he was initiated in June 1906, passed later the same month and raised in August.