Leonora Philipps and her sons, Roland (left) and Colwyn (right), photographed in The Woman’s Signal (newspaper), 1897.
Colwyn Philipps was a son of Leonora Philipps, a prominent suffrage campaigner, and John Philipps, a Liberal Politician. This portrait was painted c. 1896 when Colwyn was seven or eight.
Colwyn attended Eton and chose an army career, becoming a captain in the Royal Horse Guards. He was a dedicated soldier, as well as a passionate and daring horseman, and a poet and writer. A book of his poems, anecdotes and letters was published after his death.
In one anecdote he tells how while on service in the trenches, he entered a French woman’s house to ask if he could borrow a lamp. The woman refused, saying that the last British soldier to borrow a lamp never returned it. He replied that she was being petty, as British soldiers were lending their lives for France, but immediately regretted his abruptness. However, after disappearing for a moment, she reappeared with two lamps and told him to keep them.
Colwyn’s mother died unexpectedly in March 1915, aged only 52. Colwyn himself lost his life just two months later, his last moments described in a short memoir by another soldier who was trying to reach him, describing how Colwyn was leading an attack on an opposing line, charging into what was described as a “hailstorm” of bullets. Only his kit bag was recovered, his body being lost on the battlefield. In the bag a notebook was found, with the following lines written (Colwyn’s spelling and grammatical errors included):
There is a healing magic in the night, The breeze blows cleaner than it did by day, Forgot the fever of the fuller light, And sorrow sinks insensibly away As if some saint a cool white hand did lay Upon the brow, and calm the restless brain. The moon looks down with pale unpassioned ray Sufficient for the hour is its pain. Be still and feel the night that hides away earth's stain. Be still and loose the sense of God in you, Be still and send your soul into the all, The vasty distance where the stars shine blue, No longer antlike on the earth to crawl. Released from time and sense of great or small Float on the pinions of the Night-Queen's wings; Soar till the swift inevitable fall Will drag you back into all the world's small things; Yet for an hour be one with all escaped things.
The only other child in the family, Roland, was killed on active service the following year.
John Philipps remarried in 1917 and had two more sons. He remained active in politics throughout most of his life. As a member of the House of Lords, his last speech, made on July 6, 1927, was a call for fair treatment of women when they became eligible for peerage, pointing out that the Prime Minister was allowed to make a judgement on their fitness and character, whereas men were automatically admitted without such questioning.
Note: Philipps is the correct spelling, not Phillips.
- Poems, letter and memoirs or Colwyn Philipps, published 1915 (www.archive.org).
- Menim Gate Memorial (www.findagrave.com).
- John Philipps, speeches (Hansard).
- Medium: oil on canvas.
- Dimensions: 820 x 845 mm (0.69 m²).
- History: exhibited New Gallery, 1897, “Mrs. Swynnerton’s robust style, her vigorous colour, her admirable modelling are all seen in her Colwyn Philipps, an excellent child’s portrait … unsatisfactory background” (Daily News, London, 10 Jun 1897); Royal Academy, 1931; auctioned Sotheby’s, Melbourne, 19 Aug 1991; auctioned Deutscher & Menzies, Melbourne, 26 Nov 2003, “Signed indistinctly lower right,” £2,750.
- Location: unknown.