John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” [1921] published by William E Rudge & illustrated by Ernest Clegg – Part 2


Today is the 61st anniversary of the death of Ernest Clegg [1876-1954], a hitherto little known, barely studied and, in my opinion, undeservedly overlooked artist and mapmaker.

He died in almost complete obscurity in a Devon nursing home on December 9th 1954, just two weeks short of his 78th birthday.

This Christmastide marks the 94th anniversary of the first appearance of Clegg’s beautifully crafted & poignant illustrations for William Edwin Rudge’s special New York printing of John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields, distributed as Christmas gifts to Rudge’s closest friends & associates in 1921.

It is also 115 years since both Clegg and McCrae arrived in Cape Town in early 1900 (within 2 weeks of each other) to fight in the Boer War.

And the Centenary of both men’s traumatic personal experiences in the trenches of Flanders during the First World War, as explored in my last post (John McCrae) and in my next post (Ernest Clegg).

So it seemed a timely series of anniversaries to bring together all three subjects and, hopefully, at last, to bring Ernest Clegg’s remarkable life and career out of the shadows.

Photograph of William E Rudge [1876-1931]

William Edwin Rudge [1876-1931]

The New York fine art publisher, William Edwin Rudge [1876-1931] was a prominent figure in early 20th Century American fine book printing & publishing, building on the foundations of a printing business established by his father and namesake [b.1853], an English emigré who had first arrived in the United States with his family in 1865.

The circumstances surrounding Rudge’s rise from these relatively humble beginnings and his vision and determination to elevate printing to a new  level of art and craftsmanship are described in excellent detail in The Alexander S Lawson Archive’s excellent website posting

The family had been long-term residents of Brooklyn and Mount Vernon, Westchester. It is known that the printing firm of William E Rudge Inc was based for many years at a small shop at 218 William Street in downtown New York, where it had remained throughout the First World War period. In the 1920’s the firm also established offices at 4 West 40th and 475 5th Avenue.

Early in 1911 Rudge was one of the fourteen founding members of the Graphics Group, printers, grapic artists and kindred spirits, who regularly met at the National Arts Club in New York, with the common pupose of trying to advance the cause of printing as an art, drawing particular inspiration from Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th-century English designer/philosopher William Morris and his Kelmscott Press.

Inspired by his meetings at the Graphics Group, Rudge increasingly encouraged commissions from leading American typographers & book designers such as Bruce Rogers [1870-1957]; Frederick W Goudy [ 1865-1947](he of my favourite Goudy old style font); Elmer Adler [ 1884-1962] and Frederic Warde [1894-1939], many of whom were fellow members of the Graphics Group. Amongst the specialist edition bookbinders employed by Rudge during this period, perhaps the most notable figure was Edith Diehl [1876-1953].

During the 1920’s the firm of William E Rudge Inc printed some of the most elegant & deluxe fine press books in America, with Bruce Rogers taking the design credit for around eighty of these. Rudge’s sad and premature death in his early 50’s in 1931 was a catastrophic blow to American fine art printing and to the designers and typographers whose work he had so actively commissioned and encouraged.

In 1920, Rudge had entered over 100 works in the Priting Exhibition of the American Institute of Graphic Arts at the National Arts Club in New York, and of the thirty nine medals awarded, six were won by his firm, principally in the display, print, poster and calendar categories.

Indeed one of the exhibited items (#982) in the Prints Category was entitled In Flanders Field, 22 x 30 inches, printed in two colours and on handmade San Marco paper.

Perhaps on the strength of that success, in late 1920 he considered moving the Rudge printing works to a new location in Greenwich, Connecticut. However he was swayed at the last minute by reading of the proposed sale of the Triplex Safety Glass Corporation plant located on Bradford Road, Mount Vernon, close to his family residence, a site which he subsequently purchased and redeveloped. A new half-timbered Headquarters building and Printing House was subsequently constructed in attractive Tudor style, after the designs of architect George M. Bartlett though not seemingly fully completed until 1925-6:

Printing House of William E Rudge, Mount Vernon, New York 1926

This photograph, from the September 20th 1921 issue of the American Printer, shows Rudge (7th from left) with assorted directors, illustrators, designers, typographers, booksellers and guests lined up outside the newly built Mount Vernon premises:

Illustration from the American Printer - Sept 20 1921 - p459

And around this same time, Rudge must have approached Ernest Clegg with the idea of commissioning a series of designs & illustrations for a special limited edition printing of John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields.

In Flanders Field [1921] - embossed & gilded front cover

Gilt & embossed cover of Rudge’s 1921 edition of “In Flanders Fields”

Clegg had recently returned from war service in France and England, travelling back to New York with his wife on the SS Adriatic in October 1919.

On the same boat home was Lt Col Lemuel Lloyd, a much-decorated fellow war veteran, winner of the DSO with 2 bars – an almost unique distinction – and formerly Commanding Officer of 12th Suffolk Regiment. Even more so than Clegg, Lloyd seems a somewhat shadowy & mercurial figure. On his voyage home, the Adriatic‘s passenger manifest lists him as an “antiquarian”, born in Adelaide, Australia in 1879. In later records & listings he variously describes himself as an “art dealer in landscapes”, “interior designer” & “interior decorator”.  Subsequent US Census records have his birthplace not in Australia but  in Wales in the early 1880’s, and there do appear to be family connections with the town of Rhyl in North Wales. Like Clegg, Lloyd had been working in New York prior to the War and had also answered the patriotic call, arriving in England in November 1914, and, like him, taking up a junior commission in the British army with one of the new Kitchener Battalions. Lloyd’s rise through the officer ranks with the 12th Suffolks was even more meteoric than Clegg’s, advancing from Temp Lt to Temp Major in one jump in January 1916. The two men also had close links through their respective Regiments. The 12th Suffolks were in fact a “bantam” Battalion, first established in the summer of 1915 to recruit men previously considered to be below the regulation height of 5ft 2 inches and minimum chest measurement of 33 inches. They drew their recruits from the same geographical regions as the 7th Bedfordshires – Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire & Huntingdonshire – and indeed their ranks included a special “Luton” Platoon. Clegg and Lloyd were clearly kindred spirits and their chance meeting seems to been the basis for a long friendship and mutually rewarding assocation &  business connection in the ensuing years.

[I am still eagerly seeking a photo of Lloyd…and more precise biographical details about his life…]

Lloyd very soon became a prominent figure in the British Great War Veterans of America (BGWVA) organisation, recently established in New York in 1919, to provide assistance & support for British war veterans returning to the United State after the end of the war. He had, it seems, already been a successful businessman & entrepreneur in pre-war New York, establishing the Beegee Co Inc,  a business selling ink erasers with registered offices in Broadway. He seems to have travelled extensively with Beegee, even to Europe, in the pre-war years.

Whether under the auspices of the BGWVA or through their mutual liking, by 1920 Lloyd and Clegg appear to have gone into business together, setting up the Southport Chemical Company Inc with a not insignificant initial capital investment of US$10000. In a 1921 NYC Business Directory, Lloyd is listed as President of the Company, a David Scott as VP and Clegg as Secretary, all three also being Directors. The Company had its registered offices directly adjacent to those of the Beegee Co Inc in Broadway. In the 1920 Federal Census, Clegg & his wife are recorded in residence at 100 Lexington Avenue, New York, another listed address for the Company, which appears to have been sole agents for the sale of  “Kelsey Rectal Remedies” ! In all appears a rather curious & strange arrangement, given both men’s evident artistic inclinations & recent military backgrounds, but perhaps a temporary stop-gap (so to speak) until they could re-establish themselves in the re-emergent art & design scene of post-war New York.

Fortunately for both Clegg & Lloyd their involvement with “rectal remedies” does seem to have been a brief one. As we will see, following the publication of Rudge’s In Flanders Fields,  by early 1922 Clegg was exhibiting his work as a calligrapher and illuminator of manuscripts and receiving several new commissions on the strength of it.

Lloyd appears to have flourished as well. Within two or three years of his return from the war, he had become one of New York’s leading contractors (“of the highest grade”) for interior design and decoration, teaming up with a native New Yorker & fellow war veteran, Bernard Callingham. By 1924-25, the pair had plush office and gallery premises on the 4th Floor of the Hecksler Building, on 5th Avenue & 57th St. They feature in several contemporary art magazines with a clear flair for design & decoration in different “period” styles & with broad-ranging and eclectic tastes. For example, a 1924 exhibition by Callingham & Lloyd showcased a recently imported collection of church vestments, court robes and samplers gathered over a period of years from Spain, Italy, France & England…

Clegg & Lloyd’s status & position within the British War veteran community in New York, their evident friendship and their early post-war business links and subsequent parallel career paths within the New York art world must have offered great mutual support and benefit, not least in the nexus of social & commercial connections amongst great and good of New York society in the early 1920’s. It is certainly possible that having purchased his new site in Mount Vernon in late 1920, through architect George M Barrett, William E Rudge solicited Lemuel Lloyd’s help in the design & decoration of the distinctive period interior for the new Printing House premises.

Reception room of the William E Rudge Printing House Mount Vernon New York c1921-22

Reception room of Rudge’s new Mount Vernon Printing House, c.1921-22

And with Lloyd’s personal & business connections with Clegg…

Alongside the McCrae designs for Rudge, it is known that Clegg had recently received another commission, which appeared in the form of a signed black and white sketch of the new Mount Vernon Printing House published in the weekend supplement of a Mount Vernon local newspaper in early December 1921. The sketch actually forms a full page illustrated titlepiece to a signed contractual agreement that was published in full in the paper and to which several dozen leading American graphic artists of the day – such well-known luminaries as T M Cleland, Tony Sarg, Normal Rockwell, Ilona Karasz & James Montgomery Flagg – attached their signatures and agreed to design a series of royalty-free greetings cards that were then in the process of being printed on  Rudge’s Mount Vernon presses. The cards were to be published by Edward C Bridgeman and distibuted for sale through E H Hufnagel Inc & the Warren Art Shop:


Detail from Clegg’s drawing of the new Rudge Printing House at Mount Vernon, Dec 1921

The Daily Argus article concluded with a wonderful bird’s eye map of Mount Vernon designed by Edna L Freeman (which also appears in Volume 37 (1921) of Printing Art):


…showing how to get to the new Rudge premises (upper left), where the artists’ greeting cards were then being printed and with a note that readers would be welcome there any time.

It also offered a plug for two of Rudge’s most recent printings:


From Clegg & Freeman’s drawings, it appears as if Rudge’s Mount Vernon Printing House in December 1921 was still essentially only one storey high with an unusual pair of massive gabled skylight-style panel windows protruding above the first floor roofline. It is certainly unrecognisable when compared to the Tudor-style manor house into which it subsequently appears to have morphed and as it appeared in the photograph of 1925-6.

For Clegg & Lloyd, like so many veterans, the war and the loss of so many friends and comrades left lasting physical and emotional scars and loomed perenially large over their post-war consciousness and outlook. The formalized rituals of remembrance and memorial, especially through the military parades & commemorations of US Memorial Day (last Monday of May) and Armistice Day (Nov 11th) would become an increasingly significant part of their lives as expatriate British war veterans living and working in post-war New York, rituals and commemorations which they felt duty-bound to honour and sustain.

Clegg had quickly demonstrated those credentials as one of the British military representatives amongst the some 500 guests who attended a special Lafayette-Marne Day Commemorations  – celebrating the Victory of the Battle of the Marne and the birthday of Lafayette – held at the West Point Military Academy in early September 1920, in the presence of Brig General Douglas MacArthur and Herbert Hoover.

It was one of his final acts as a serving British officer, an announcement in the London Gazette of 25th October 1920 recording that:

Temp. Maj. E. Clegg relinquishes his commission on completion of service, 26 Oct. 1920, and retains the rank of Maj.

It is also very likely that Clegg joined the special Memorial Day Parade in New York on May 31st 1921 which, according to the New York Tribune of some two weeks earlier, would include a special detachment of British war veterans, led by Lt Colonels Morrill Sage and Lemuel Lloyd DSO. The British contingent were to be headed by a piped band and to carry the royal colours, recently presented to them by the Prince of Wales himself.

Veterans March on Memorial Day 1923 (Courtesy of American Legion)American war veterans march through the streets of New York, Memorial Day, May 1923

Courtesy of the American Legion

It is known that just a few days later Clegg and Lloyd visited Philadelphia together, as guests of Col John S Muckle and his wife, in the company of another prominent figure within the BGWVA origanization, Captain (Dr) W L Post.

During this period, there were also frequent official visits to the United States & New York from Allied wartime leaders & dignitaries such as Maréchals Foch (1921) & Joffre (1922), to whom Lloyd was presented as President of the BGWVA. It seems probable Clegg might also have been involved, given the two men’s evident closeness.

Visit of Marshal Foch to New York - 28-10-1921

In May 1922, Field Marshal Sir John French, 1st Earl of Ypres, also visited New York on a private visit and was met by a special honour guard of British veterans commanded by Lloyd. Amongst them was one Sgt Major Dawson who had served as an NCO in the same Company as the then Lt French in the 19th Hussars in 1876. As French had also been Clegg’s Divisional Commander during the Boer War (see later), it seems more than likely that he would also have been present.

Again in October 1923, New York offered an even warmer & larger welcome to the “Welsh Wizard”, British wartime Premier, David Lloyd George [1863-1945]. A detachment of twenty uniformed war veterans under Lemuel Lloyd  provided a special British guard of honour, which also included Capt (Dr) W L Post, now President of the BGWVA. The group exchanged words with the former Premier and his family after they disembarked from Pier A and before they climbed into a waiting open-topped car to head of a 100-vehicle motorcade through the crowd-filled streets. The British veterans may well be amongst the pursuing traffic or perhaps honorary members of the mounted cavalry escort who can be seen flanking the British motorcade in the Pathé News report of the day

Clegg and his wife would later become regular guests amongst the great & good of New York society at the annual American Legion Victory Balls that were held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel every November Armistice Day throughout the 1920’s. Ticketing, donations and special souvenir programmes (to which, in 1922, Clegg himself contributed several illustrations) raised significant funds to help & support US servicemen who had been disabled during the War.

Given the close links & ties that evidently developed through the respective British & American veterans organisations in New York in the immediate post-war period, it is hardly surprising then that one of Clegg’s first map projects should be one depicting the final battle fronts in France & Belgium on 25th September 1918 (& notable for its inclusion of the insignia of the 42 American Divisions deployed in France) and which was first advertised for sale in late 1925 and finally copyrighted in July 1926:

The Great War Map of the Battle Line in France and Belgium 1918 - Ernest Clegg - David Rumsey Associates - smallThe Great War Map of Battle Line in France & Belgium on the 25th of September 1918 [1926]  
 Courtesy of David Rumsey Associates

For Clegg, Rudge’s commission would certainly seem to have been the catalyst & springboard for his renaissance in the New York art scene, with two further fine press books hand-designed & illuminated by Clegg being produced in 1922. The first, a special private wedding gift for Mary, Princess Royal upon the occasion of her marriage to Viscount Lascelles in late February 1922, was commissioned from Clegg by two elderly English-born sisters now resident in New York, who had previously lived and worked on the royal Sandringham estate. The local Mount Vernon press noted in early February with considerable local pride that the bijou volume was being printed on special parchment on William E Rudge’s Mount Vernon presses. The gift received widespread publicity in both the US & UK press. The volume is now preserved in the collections of Harewood House, Yorkshire:

Clegg displays the wedding gift for Mary, The Princess Royal – Chicago magazine 1922

Ernest Clegg displaying wedding gift - American (Chicago) - probably Jan 1922 - detail 01

The second was a special volume commemorating the recent restoration of Fort Ticonderoga (by Alfred Bossom) and its defence by Scottish troops of the 42nd Highland Regiment (Black Watch) during the Seven Year War in the 18th Century. This latter was specially bound by Rudge’s Edith Diehl. It was a pleasure to recently re-discover it, languishing in unrecognized obscurity, in the archives of the Black Watch Regimental Museum in Perth.

Clegg would also hold a special exhibition of his illuminated manuscript artworks at the New York Arts Center in January-February 1922. The Exhibition, according to one contemporary Brooklyn newspaper,  included “examples of hand lettering, executed entirely with reed and quill, raised gold work in the style of old illuminated missals, individual illuminated marriage services, heraldic drawings, framed poems & illuminated books”. Amongst the latter were the plates from the recent Rudge edition of McCrae’s In Flanders Field, both his original watercolours and the subsequent printed versions. By June, as a newly enrolled member of the New York Society of Craftsmen, he was offering summer school classes in illumination at the New York Arts Center, alongside other specialists in batik, dramatic design, dyeing, weaving & leatherwork.

Clegg was almost exactly the same age as Rudge, both being born in late 1876. A native of Birmingham in England and already an established calligrapher and artist, Clegg had been educated at the King Edward VI Grammar School, Aston and had subsequently studied (with his sister Mary) at the Birmingham School of Art. He  emigrated to New York in July 1909, apparently to work for the New York jewellery designer, Tiffany. Romance with a lively Australian musician & actress, Rita Holden Macdonnell, one of three actress siblings, concluded in their marriage in Bermuda in February 1911. Little is known of his pre-war design work for Tiffany.

If  Clegg and Rudge did not meet through Lemuel Lloyd, then it seems possible their paths might already have crossed in pre-war years through the New York Graphics Group or the National Arts Club. As a student of  the Birmingham School of Arts, Clegg had been deeply influenced by the principles of William Morris and his subseque work as a illuminated manuscript calligrapher was deeply imbued with the style & aesthetics of the Arts & Crafts movement, something which would clearly have resonated with Rudge and other members of the New York Graphics Group.

Following the outbreak of War in August 1914, Clegg was quick to answer the patriotic call of the Home Country and returned to England with his wife on the St Louis, docking in Liverpool in late September 1914, and subsequently taking a commission with the 7th (Service) Battalion, the Bedfordshire Regiment, the so-called Shiny 7th.

The Medals of Major Ernest Costain Clegg [1876-1954]

       (author’s collection)

Ernest Clegg's Medals - Boer War - WW1 - MBE

The above row of medals are the originals belonging to Ernest Clegg and reveal a long and eventful career of patriotic military & civilian service for his country, which closely mirrors that of John McCrae himself.

The medals include (from left to right): a three clasp/bar Queen’s South Africa Medal [1900], a two clasp/bar King’s South Africa Medal [1901-02], the British World War One Victory Medal, the 1914/15 Star and the associated British Great War Medal. The final medal is a civil MBE awarded to Clegg in 1946 for services to cartography in support of the Women’s Land Army (more on this in a fortcoming post…)

Like McCrae, Clegg had trained as a young man with the local territorial militia, in his case as a cadet with the Shopshire Yeomanry Cavalry in the mid to late 1890’s. A skilled & confident horseman, a keen shot (who later claimed to be one of the winning team who carried off the Junior Army Shooting Cup in 1899) with the outbreak of the Boer War, the 23 year old grey-eyed, brown-haired Ernest Costain Clegg (curiously claiming to be only 20 years of age in his enlistment records), just over 5 foot 9 inches tall and weighing in at 142 lbs, eagerly enlisted as a Private (Trooper 4644) with the 7th Dragoon Guards at Shrewsbury in June 1899.

On February 8th 1900, Clegg was amongst the 24 officers, 500 men & 475 horses of the 7th Dragoon Guards which sailed from Southampton for South Africa on board the SS Armenian :

A Group of 7th DG on board the SS Armenian - 8 Feb 1900

Just two weeks earlier, 22 year old Lieutenant John McCrae had himself sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia with “D” Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, on board the SS Laurentian. McCrae’s Battery had entrained from Ottawa in the deep snows of a Canadian winter early the previous month:

D Battery - Royal Canadian Artillery - entraining at Ottawa for South African War - Suppl ILN 10-02-1900              “D” Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, entraining at Ottawa, Dec 1899                                                                                             

McCrae & the Laurentian would arrive in Cape Town on February 17th, Clegg & the Armenian just two weeks later on 1st March.

Writing in a letter to his mother just days after his arrival, McCrae could not contain his excitement at having met the great “High Priest” of it all, Rudyard Kipling, who had visited the Canadian camp. Described as looking just like his photographs & very affable, Kipling suggested McCrae himself looked like a Winnipeger!

It is just possible that McCrae’s and Clegg’s paths may have crossed in the course of their both relatively short tours of duty in South Africa, the most likely point being when McCrae’s “D” Battery were moved first to Blomfontein then entrained to Pretoria in July 1900 to provide artillery support for Hickman’s mounted column, which, with the infantry brigade of General Cunningham, was to operate under Ian Hamilton.

The battery saw much hard marching and fighting in the Transvaal in the second half of 1900. For example, in the march to Lydenburg in early September, McCrae’s “D” Battery had six days’ fighting, and in October and November they were in action on twenty two days, chiefly under General Smith-Dorrien. One of the other sections also gained special distinction  at the Battle of Leliefontein in November 1900.

For his service in South Africa, McCrae would gain the Queen’s Medal with three clasps/bars; Clegg, as seen above, the very same medal with identical clasps/bars.

The unit eventually returned to Canada in January 1901, with the town of Guelph laying on a special series of events to mark the safe homecoming of McCrae and his local “D” Battery comrades, who were photographed shortly afterwards at a training camp in London, Ontario:

 D” Battery, London, Ontario c.1901 (McCrae back left)  

Photograph of D Battery group (McCrae back left) - London Ont c1901 -Guelph Museums

Courtesy of Guelph Museums

Clegg’s unit, the 7th Dragoon Guards:

Trooper of 7th Dragoon Guards & his horse c1900 - Trooper of the 7th Dragoon Guards, South Africa, c1900

was part of the 4th Cavalry Brigade commanded by Major-General J B B Dickson:

Major General J B B Dickson - Commander 4th Cavalry Brigade - SA - 1901

though throughout this period the Brigade operated under the the divisional command of General Sir John French [1852-1925]. It would of course be French who would become CIGS in 1912 and lead the BEF on the Western Front in late 1914. Coincidentally he would also take the title Earl of Ypres in 1916 (referencing his command during the First Battle of Ypres, Oct-Nov 1914) and later become honorary president of the Ypres League, a veterans association for all those who had fought in the Ypres Salient.

“Cavalry Division” – General French – Vanity Fair

General Sir John French - Cavalry Division - Vanity Fair cartoon - July 1900

Godfrey Douglas Giles [G.D.G] – 12 July 1900

As part of the 4th Brigade of French’s Cavalry Division, the 7th Dragoon Guards were involved in operations to the south east of Bloemfontein, advancing to relieve the siege of Wepener in April and seeing action alongside Ian Hamilton’s troops at Thaba ‘Nchu in the Orange River Colony later that month. In May they were based at Kroonstadt before continuing the advance on Johannesburg, which surrendered to Lord Roberts on May 31st. In June the British advance proceeded northwards towards the Pretoria, which was taken on June 5th. A Boer force of 4000 men under Louis Botha were checked fifteen miles to the south of the capital of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) at Diamond Hill (Donkerhoek) on June 11th-12th. Here the 7th Dragoon Guards & other units of 4th Brigade were deployed on the left flank of French’s force. Seeking to outflank the Boers they were pinned down on an exposed ridge for nearly two days in the face of determined Boer resistance and under almost constant pom-pom, artillery & sniper fire.

Sketch by Major Dietz of Battle of Diamond Hill - June 11-12 1900

11-12 June 1900 sketch of the Battle of Diamond Hill by Major B R Dietz

The 7th DG (lying on the ridge in foreground) take cover from Boer artillery & sniper fire

Resting at Kameel Drift, near Pretoria for several weeks, the 7th Dragoon Guards were then deployed to defend the isolated Ondeerstepoort, a strategic pass 12 miles to the north of Pretoria situated in a range of kopjes, through which the railway passed northward from Pretoria to Waterval.  Boer guerilla raids, initiated by de Wet, were becoming increasingly common and it was here, on July 11th, that 7th Dragoon Guards suffered the worst casualties of the whole campaign, losing three officers and one man killed. Several other officers and men were wounded and numerous others taken prisoner in a series of disjointed skirmishes around the local farms and kopjes. As Lord Roberts would later note, somewhat dismissively, in his despatch of October 10th 1900 (para 20):

“…the 7th Dragoon Guards were well handled and our loss would have been trifling had not one troop mistaken the Boers for their own comrades”

Sketch by Major Dietz of the Country North of Pretoria looking West from Deerdepoort - July 1900   July 1900 sketch by Major B R Dietz of the country north of Pretoria – Onderstepoort in centre

It may perhaps be no coincidence that it is at this exact same point, in mid July 1900, that Clegg himself appears to have suffered a severe injury – apparently not a battle wound but a major stomach hernia (perhaps brought on by  the physical demands of the previous four months in the saddle or over-exertion during these recent fast-moving & chaotic actions in and around Onderstepoort?). In any event the injury caused him to be invalided home very shortly afterwards. And in May 1901, back at Shorncliffe Camp in Kent, he was dismissed from the Dragoon Guards on the grounds of physical incapacity, being considered medically unfit for further military service.

However, after radical curative surgery in a Birmingham hospital in the summer of 1901 and rapid physical recuperation, Clegg surprisingly opted to return to South Africa almost immediately. On October 7th 1901, he re-enlisted at No.11 Russell Square in London, as a Private (Trooper 3660) in Robert Baden-Powell’s newly created South African Constabulary force (SAC).

Major General R S S Baden-Powell, 1900

Major General R S S Baden-Powell, 1900

The SAC, led by the charismatic figure of Major General Robert Baden-Powell [1857-1941], famous defender of Mafeking (1899-1900) & later founder of the Scouting movement, first came into being at the end of 1900 when the end of the South African War looked to be in sight. Modelled on British & Imperial Police forces, its ostensible aim was to provide civilian policing for the former Boer territories, now renamed the Transvaal Colony & Orange River Colony (ORC). It was hope that a civilian force would prove both cheaper to run than the Army and, more importantly, offer a “softer” face to the new British admininistration within these regions. It was also hoped that their presence on the ground – this supposedly “soft” face of local law & order – might also facilitate the harmonious re-integration of the local boer populations (who had supported the war) back into the British Imperial fold in a way that military control would almost certainly not.  The British were fortunate that many of the personnel for the embryonic force were already in South Africa, or, like Clegg, had recently served there in Colonial & British Army regiments during the first campaign.

The SAC would attract a significant Canadian contingent. Baden-Powell had been especially impressed with the members of John McCrae’s sister unit, “C” Battery, of the Royal Canadian Field Artillery, who had served him well during the defence of Mafeking (Oct 1899-May 1900). He openly expressed a desire to “get as many of the Canadians in his force as possible”. The bulk of the Canadians that served in the SAC – 30 officers & 1208 other ranks – mostly enlisted in Canada in early 1901. Perhaps one of the most dashing poster boys of the new force was Col Sam Steele [1849-1919], formerly commander of Strathcona’s Horse during the first South African campaign, who would become Commader of the SAC’s “B” Division, 1901-1906.

After considerable discussion over the total numbers for the new force – 10000 men – came to be agreed between Baden-Powell & the War Office, the latter eventually taking responsibility for a significant part of its budget. This position provided the financial leverage which, with the Boer guerilla raids of the new campaign rapidly escalating, led to the Army increasingly “borrow” supposedly civilian SAC men and units to supplement the local military needs of the British Army on the ground. According to Scott C Spencer, by the end of the Second Boer War, fewer than 2% of the SAC were actually serving as constables. The SAC administration had bases at Krugersdorp & Heidelberg in the Transvaal (F Division) and Bloemfontein in the Orange River Colony (E Division).

On his return to England, Clegg probably saw the many recruitment advertisements that appeared almost daily in the British Press throughout 1901. One such appeared in the Lincoln Chronicle of 8th October 1901, just a day after Clegg enlisted:


Six hundred Recruits for this force will be sent out to South Africa in October; the same number in November. Pay 5s daily. Single men between 20 and 35 years of age with good character as to sobriety, riding and shooting, should apply in their own hand writing for further particulars to RECRUTING OFFICER, South African Constabulary, King’s Court, Broadway, Westminster. Applicant must not apply at the Office unless directed to do so.

One can imagine Clegg greatly enjoyed the smart SAC uniform, designed by Baden-Powell himself: a serviceable khaki with additional green Lancer front to breast buttons (for dress uniform);  a North West Canadian slouch hat with broad stiff rim, rifle green band and small plume of cock’s feathers; rolled collar to tunic; white linen cravat and green tie; green shoulder straps with SAC emblazoned in gold upon them; well-cut breeches and brown puttee leggings. The service kit was a chocolate jumper with half sleeves.

Shipped out to South Africa at the end of 1901, he was to join the SAC’s E Division, F Section in the Orange River Colony (ORC),  a region with which he would already have been particularly familiar from his experiences with the 7th Dragoon Guards just eighteen months earlier.

This second tour of the Cape began very inauspiciously. In January 1902,  with several fellow SAC troopers, he was struck down life-threating enteric fever (typhoid) & severe dysentry at Sydenham (Johannesburg), as recorded in a London Times announcement of Jan 16th 1902. He eventually came through, doubtless much weakened & debilitated, after four long months in hospital, at the end of April.  And too late to take any active participation in the final phases of the War, which ended  a month later, on May 31st 1902, amid much relief and celebration.

By July 1902 Clegg’s health was much improved as was his rank.

His SAC files show a sudden & unexpectedly rapid promotion to the rank of Corporal (with the additional enhanced status of 1st Class Trooper (having hitherto been a lowly 3rd Class Trooper)). The promotion came on the recommendation of the SAC Sub-Divisional Commander, Major William O’Leary, and it seems was based on Clegg’s evident skill & efficiency as clerk in the offices of Captain Samuel Follet Bristow, and during temporary secondment to O’Leary himself. Clegg is described by O’Leary as “a most excellent man” both “intelligent and trustworthy” but “hitherto merely a registering clerk” who was probably not yet up to the task of taking over the role of head clerk in O’Leary’s own office. Both Bristow & O’Leary were former Royal Irish Rifles officers, O’Leary a veteran of many African campaigns dating back as far as the early 1880’s,  who had, like Clegg, also served in the initial South African campaign and then moved over to the SAC. They were now respectively OC No.1 Troop F  Section SAC  & Sub-divisional Commander based in the Harrismith District in the Orange River Colony. The District was in the north-easterly corner of the Colony, bordering Natal.

W & AK Johnston - Map of ORC & Natal c1903W & AK Johnston – Map of ORC & Natal c.1905

First established in 1848, it stood at the foot of the Platberg mountain, between the Platberg & Wilje Rivers, close to the strategic passes through the Drakensberg mountains into Natal, and at the juncture of several wagon and rail transport routes, most notably through to Ladysmith (Natal). From the time of its foundation its character and town population was predominantly British, though most of the surrounding inhabitants were Dutch-speaking boer farmers. It was a situation which, at the outbreak of war in 1899, had caused a major crisis of loyalties when locally enforced Boer conscription was introduced (for the formation of a Harrismith commando) which led to several British-speaking residents being arrested, prosecuted or fined in absentia.

From August 1900 until the end of the War in 1902, the town was occupied by the British Army’s 8th Infantry Division and became an important strategic base, providing mounted protection for supplies to distant British garrisons. Through regular sweeps by mounted troops and a system of static blockhouses guarding railway lines, Army commanders tried to contain the constant threat of Boer guerilla attacks across the Eastern Free State.

Postcard of Harrismith c1900-1905View of Harrismith, circa 1903

From late 1900, a large tented concentration camp was established on the town’s outskirts, subsequently re-sited in early 1901 to the slopes of the Platberg mountain. At its height it would contain over 900 Boer women & children and some 275 “handsuppers” – men who had voluntarily surrendered to the British. The camp attracted much criticism from British campaigners such as Emily Hobhouse. By the end of the war, in May 1902, about the time when Clegg probably first arrived here, it was finally being dismantled.

A large military presence remained in Harrismith after the end of the War, and Clegg would probably have come across many old comrades, as the town was until 1904 the base of the 3rd Dragoon Guards, whose insignia were emblazoned on a local hillside adjacent to their camp.

In 1903 most of the remaining Army troops in the town were re-located to a new barracks site at King’s Hill, just outside the town, served by its own water and electrical supplies. It included a range of facilities and recreational amenities, including the South African Garrison Institute where a general dealer, a mineral water factory, reading and billiard rooms, and a gymnasium,  where boxing matches took place, as well as dances, concerts & theatrical performances. It would probably have been a place that Clegg would frequently have visited.

The Officer Quarters - Kings Hill - Harrismith

Officers’ Quarters & Garrison Institute – King’s Hill – Harrismith, c1903

The 1904 Census reveals Harrismith had a white population of just over 4000 people, of which nearly 50% were soldiers.

As an article on the SAC published in London at the time of the Coronation of Edward VII in August 1902 (where a troop of the force were represented) had noted that…now the war is over a large part of the magisterial work and the ordering of the resettling of the burghers fall upon Constabulary officers.   

Interestingly, at almost exactly this time, British socialist politician Ramsay MacDonald travelled out to South Africa with his wife, to examine the consequences of the British victory. Working as a journalist correspondent of the London Echo and Leicester Pioneer, his reports were later printed in a short book entitled What I Saw in South Africa [1902]. Much of the couple’s four-month visit was spent in the Transvaal and ORC regions, interviewing leading British & Boer leaders and local administrators. MacDonald and his wife visited Harrismith in October 1902, noting that…

In all this district Harrismith seems to have suffered least, though the occupation of the town was hard on the furniture.

His excursions from Harrismith took in surrounding districts and outposts such as Bethelehem, Lindley, Senekal, Reitz & Vrede, “standing in all states of destruction”. The formerly prosperous stores of Bethelehem were reduced to piles of burned wood & stones, with perhaps a fifth of the town in ruins. Amid the splendid grazing ground to the east of Bethelehem, in the direction of Lindley, all of the local boer farms had  been destroyed, except for one that had been used as a hospital until the recent peace. It was, he lamented, “a scene of sad dreariness that will haunt me till my dying day. Every mile or so we came upon the tall gum trees or cactus hedge of a farm, and in the midst, the gaunt, blackened gables stood like the ghosts of happy homes”

MacDonald concluded that Boer nationalism still flourished, a problem that could only be resolved through an officially endorsed policy of grass-roots reconciliation, but not easily implemented given the continuing racial & cultural divide that clearly exisited in these areas between the new local administrators & law enforcers, such as the SAC (many of them, like Clegg, Boer War veterans & former soldiers) and rural boer farmers.  Speaking of the boer, MacDonald noted succinctly:

He has no thought however of giving trouble. All the thousands of South African Constabulary, costing £300 per annum each, are practically waste. But, on the other hand, he has no thought of co-operating with us. There is a grave danger of a permanent separateness of race settling down upon the land. He may go his way and allow us to go ours…

In the summer of 1903, after considerable wrangling over the terms of his 1901 re-enlistment, Clegg was transferred to the SAC Reserve, a move which enabled him to immediately take up a new 6 month position as clerk in the offices of the District Engineer for Railways in Harrismith.

Immediately after the British occupation of Harrismith in 1900, the rail connections with Ladysmith (Natal) had rapidly been re-established having been severed for 10 months and became, once more, the main route for reprovisioning the town. The important rail connection with Ladysmith and Natal was a lifeline for the economy of both Harrismith & nearby Bethlehem, where the line ended.

Clegg’s move also coincided with the extension of the Harrismith-Bethelehem line through to Kroonstadt, located on the principal rail line through the OFC from Bloemfontein to Pretoria. Begun in 1903-4, it was part of new plans to foster the development of the eastern districts of the Orange River Colony, for which Clegg’s detailed local knowledge and skills as cartographer and artist would, doubtless, have been much sought-after. Indeed in his letter of recommendation to the District Engineer, Clegg is described by Captain Bristow as “an excellent clerk and a very good drawer of maps & plans”.

By early 1905 Clegg had clearly had his fill of life on the South African veldt and unilaterally arranged his own passage back to England, to the evident surprise of his superiors, and a move which led to his summary dismissal from the SAC Reserve, a final red note on his SAC file, dated 6th April 1905, confirming that he had been dismissed for going “absent without leave”!

And so Clegg returned home to the leafy Birmingham suburbs of Bournville, taking up residence at his parents’ house in affluent Sycamore Road.

Sycamore Road Bournville c1906

And in 1905, now aged 28, his name re-appears in the student registers of the Birmingham School of Art, where he had previously been a prize-winning student some ten years earlier. This second time he attends in the company of his sister, the wonderfully named Mary Quenilda Clegg (who appears in the student registers in 1903-04 & again 1905-1908).

Though he had clearly developed new skills in South Africa as a very “good drawer of maps and plans”, he soon returned to his favoured speciality, manuscript illumination and calligraphy in the medieval style, a niche for which he had already become quite well-known in British artistic circles in the late 1890’s. It would serve him well again in his subsequent career in early 1920’s New York in the design of Rudge’s de luxe edition of John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields:

Illuminated Manuscript by Ernest Clegg - Illustration from article Beautiful Modern Manuscripts - page 55 - The Studio Winter 1896-7

Winter Issue of The Studio, 1896-7


  • William J Glick: William Edwin Rudge [Typophiles, New York, 1984]
  • Col C W Thompson et al: Seventh (Princess Royal’s) Dragoon Guards – The Story of the Regiment & With the Regiment in South Africa (1900-1902) [Daily Post, Liverpool, 1913]
  • Scott C Spencer University of Virginia: The “British-Imperial” Model of Adminstration: Assembling the South African Constabulary, 1900 – 1902 [Scientia Militaria, South African Journal of Military Studies, Vol 41, Nr 2, 2013, pp. 92-115]
  • J Ramsay MacDonald: What I Saw in South Africa, September and October 1902 [The Echo, London, 1902]