CUSTODIANS OF THE KINGS MESSENGER COLLECTION
"A fortunate opportunity shortly occured to revive my spirtis and to give me hopes of some sort of employment again overseas. I received word from a member of the Belgian Royal Household to do something in England for Their Majesties and then travel to where the King and Queen were, namely at the small seaside resort of La Panne."
"I had a warm welcome from everyone at La Panne. Their Majesties were in occupation of a small villa on the seafront while the larger house next door was reserved for a guard of gendarmes and any guests. ..."
"I was asked if I could undertake the duties of Belgian King's Messenger. I joyfully consented at once, feeling intesely proud to act as such. His Majesty appointed me Attaché à la Maison de Sa Majesté le Roi des Belges, and our War Office were pleased to officialy consent to my accepting this service and I appeared in our Army List as such."
With these words, Major Gordon describes in his book, how he became Belgian King's Messenger. An honourable possition he held from 1914 till 1922. As a confidant of the Belgian Royal Family he was involved in many adventures travels to the front and England, met the most important people, such as members of the British Royal Family, several Lord's and high ranking military personel from all allied nations. Beyond the call of duty he participated in personal and private missions as well as escaping from bombardements and injuries. Kolonel Seely, said in the Foreword in Culled From a Diary by A. A. Gordon, that he had seldom known a man so cool en efficient under really intense shell fire. Adding that long experience has thaught him that in this type serene courage resides.
The friendship between Gordon and King Albert is immortalized in the picture, depicted on the right. This signed photograph by King Albert was given to Major Gordon along with his decoration "Commander in the order of Leopold II". The fact that King Albert signed the picture with Albert and not with King or Roi, means there friendship was beyond titles or workrelations.
On the 12th of October 1914, after the retreat of Antwerp, Major Gordon was asked to take official papers to the Admiralty in London. He left Ostend in a S.E.&C. Railway steamer (S.S. Ittica). When the ship reached the open sea, a German airplane attacked the steamer, but without doing any damage. A few hours later Major Gordon disembarked in Dover, where a train was waiting for him. There he received a telegram that Winston Churchill, aka the First Lord of the Admiralty, wanted to speak with him as soon he arrived at London. Major Gordon was escorted to the Minister's room where he had to report for about half an hour on the events that had taken place during the siege of Antwerp. He was then given until the next morning to write up his report. Together with a shorthand-typist friend they completed the task overnight. Two days later Major Gordon was able to travel home for a brief holiday.
HOW IT BEGAN
After his brief holiday, Major Gordon was asked to fulfill a task in London for His Majesties of Belgium and afterwards travelled to La Panne, where the King and Queen had taken up residence. When he arrived at La Panne, he had a kind welcome from everyone and was guided to the three Royal villa's. The first served as the personal household of the Royal family, the second a Gendarmes HQ and accommodation for some guests and finally the third was packed with luxuries and commodities for the sick and wounded in a temporary hospital nearby. Queen Elisabeth insisted on setting up a very large hospital in La Panne, housing some eight hundred patients, next to these pavilions were seventy baths installed with hot and cold water and some other pavilions used for laundries. It became the most up-to-date clinic on the Allied front and was staffed by good medical men and nurses coming from the whole of Europe. The clinic was named 'Ambulance L'ocean'.
It was during this visit that the King asked him that he could undertake the duties of the Belgian King's Messenger. Major Gordon accepted with great joy and proudness. His new appointed title read: Attaché à la Maison de Sa Majesté le Roi des Belges. A few days later Major Gordon returned to London for several tasks he was given. Queen Elisabeth asked him that on his journey to Boulogne if he could go via Ypres. This was because she had been given a letter from Princess Beatrice, the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria, asking if she could let her know the condition of the grave of her son Prince Maurice, who was killed in action during the first battle of Ypres on the 27th of October 1914. Major Gordon left La Panne together with the famous traveller and friend to the Belgian Royal Family, Mr. A. Henry Savage. They arrived in the ruined landscape of Ypres, and found Prince Maurice's grave in the communal cemetery. Mr. Savage than photographed the grave. They also visited some other graves among which were those of Captain Lord Charles Mercer-Nairne and Captain William Cadogan. At the outside of the communal cemetry a field had been used to bury the latest victims and the condition these graves had a gruesome effect on Major Gordon. They both travelled further on to St Omer where they stayed the night before heading for Boulogne the next morning. During their voyage towards the port Henry Savage was taken into custody, because of his camera and was held under suspicion of being a spy. Major Gordon had to travel on alone to Boulogne. Afterwards Major Gordon was informed that Mr Savage was detained for three days and his camera was confiscated
THE GRAVE OF PRINCE MAURICE
AT THE YPRES TOWN CEMETRY
PRINCE MAURICE OF RATTENBERG
18 - 1914
MR. A. HENRY SAVAGE
PART OF THE HOUSEHOLD OF BELGIAN ROYAL FAMILY
By the end of May 1915 the weather on the Belgian coast cleared and Queen Elisabeth had let installed a large tent near the beach, in front of the Royal Villa in which she transacts much of her business and correspondence. Major Gordon was called many times to this tent in the afternoons and at 4 P.M. they usually had tea together with some bread and butter. At some point a colony of rats appeared in front of the tent, and the queen tossed many scraps to them as if they were squirrels. The queen gained great amusement for this. Both the King and Queen were great lovers of animals.
In June 1915, Major Gordon was tasked to accompany Commandant Davreux, the official photographer at the Belgian HQ, to the Ypres district to take certain photographs. After their task, they went on to photograph the grave of Major Gordon’s good friend Colonel James Clark. Later as they drove back towards La Panne they heard the music of bagpipes and soon they saw the first battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. Major Gordon was surprised to see that only one officer remained of the original lot that had left in England in August 1914 when his older brother was second in command. Later in the war Commandant Davreux was killed by a sniper whilst has was photographing a huge shell hole. Major Gordon attended his funeral at Adingkerke.
By the end of June 1915, Major Gordon was back in England for a few days when he got the order to escort Princess Marie-José from her convent school in Essex to La Panne. At Victoria Railway station, he was given a telegram from Queen Elisabeth asking him to bring a thousand packs of playing cards. The train was to depart at 10 a.m and it was now more than half past nine. Major Gordon succeeded in the task with just a few minutes to spare. During the crossing of the Channel he had lunch with the Princess on deck and at port were received by the Queen and Prince Leopold. The Queen later said to Major Gordon that King Albert I, was in the trenches the day before and he had asked the men if there was anything they wished he could send to them. The soldiers asked for playing cards and unknown to the King The queen sent the telegram in the middle of the night. The Queen had expected that Major Gordon would not be able to deliver the cards in such short notice, but Major Gordon kindly replied that the cards were on its way and would be there in an hour. Both the Queen and the King were delighted and an officer of the Royal household officer took the cards to the trenches the next morning.
Major Gordon had the privilege of taking many walks with King Albert on the shores of La Panne and on one occasion they talked about fidelity. Gordon remarked how the King was loved by his soldiers on which King Albert replied:
"Major, there are various degrees of fidelity. The finest example was the faithfulness of your countrymen to their Prince when he was being hunted in the Western Isles of Scotland after the (battle of) Culloden (1746). With a huge reward for his capture not a single Scotsman dreamt of being a traitor to one they even did not know except by name, but to whom they felt their loyalty was due". - King Albert I
Major Gordon soon returned from London to La Panne for a brief time because he had a lot of work to do for Queen Elisabeth's hospital. When he next needed to go to London Queen Elisabeth asked him if he could visit a hospital at Dunkirk that was overcrowded and understaffed and had almost no supplies. The visit had to be done discretely because neither the French or Belgian Government must think that she would interfere with a French establishment, but the Queen wanted to know the condition of the twenty to thirty Belgian soldiers who were hospitalized there. Major Gordon arrived at Dunkirk and found the hospital but was concerned that the guards at the gate would not let him enter. Fortunately, he had luck on his side because the vehicle he rode in had the letters S.M. painted on the door, and the guards seem to have interpreted this as 'Sa Majesté', but in fact it stood for 'Service Militair'. When he entered the hospital he saw some 900 wounded soldiers that were lying on filthy floors and were only being helped by a French lady, an old English lady and a young person to assist. No sisters, nurses, or doctors were at the scene. No medical supplies and the only water was from a pomp in the middle of the square, but the water was frozen at this time. Major Gordon had a long talk with the elderly English woman who told him that some patients had committed suicide during the night by jumping out the window.
The scene had such a great effect on Major Gordon that when he arrived at London he purchased every sort of necessity and had them shipped to Dunkirk so they would reach the hospital the next day. Afterwards he went to the French Embassy where he knew the ambassador and explained what he had seen. The ambassador said that he would try improve the situation but asked Major Gordon not to make matters public. The same evening, he sent a report of the hospital to La Panne.
GRAVE OF CAPTAIN-COMMANDER DAVREUX
AWARDED WITH THE BELGIAN CROIX DE GUERRE
Major Archibald Alexander Gordon was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre in person by King Albert I. It happened on an evening when King Albert took Major Gordon's hand and spoke the following words:
"Ah, Major, I wish to award you our Croix de Guerre, for you have done devoted service to us and to our soldiers, and it is also in acknowledgment of your bravery at Antwerp. It affords me great pleasure to give this" - King Albert I -
After the speech, King Albert opened a small case, taking out the decoration he pinned it on Major Gordon's tunic. All the Household Officers congratulated him and insisted he wore the award throughout dinner that evening.
Once on one of his returns from London towards the end of 1917 Major Gordon was told by a member of the Royal Household a story about King Albert. During a visit by one of the Belgian ministers to King Albert, the minister told the King that on his way, a soldier had hailed his car to stop to ask for a lift. The minister declined the request because he did not wish to be seen driving with a private. King Albert replied:
"I am often stopped in the same way and am always happy to grant the request"
Major Gordon was himself witness to one of these occaisions when one afternoon the King’s car was hailed by a very young British officer who begged for a lift. King Albert replied: "Jump in behind". The front seat being occupied and a member of the Military Household was in the back. The young officer remarked how fast and well the driver handled the car. The member of the suite told him quietly that it was the King who was at the wheel. The poor young officer, almost collapsed and begged to be let out at once but his request was denied. King Albert I enjoyed the situation immensely.
Once the company of King Albert together, with Lord Athlone and Sir Charles Cust, went to visit Edinburgh. They boarded the train at King's Cross Railway Station and Major Gordon was given a message that King Albert insisted that he should escort him all over the city. When they arrived at Edinburgh the General Officer Commanding in Chief Scottish Command and his staff, together with a Guard of Honour, were waiting on the platform to welcome the King. Major Gordon took King Albert to Edinburgh Castle where a service battalion was drilling. Their Commanding officer had served in Belgium and recognized King Albert and called the battalion to attention. King Albert was pleased, but said to Major Gordon later "Major, you are to blame for this. Your brassard (armband) has given me away!". Later on, the King went to view the Grand Fleet. Queen Elisabeth asked if she could send a picture of herself on her namesake ship, the H.M.S. Queen Elisabeth to the ships company and the picture was taken and prominently fixed on deck with the following notice:
H.M. Queen Elisabeth
H.M.S. "Queen Elizabeth"
THE LAST ASSIGNMENT
Major Gordon was tasked after the war with regaining the so called 'Belgian Treasure'. These items were stored in London during the war and had to be brought back to Belgium. Because of the enormous amount of goods and the secrecy that had to be kept, Major Gordon had to make many difficult trips through the now destroyed landscape of Belgium. One night he came at the palace where he was welcomed by King Albert and General Petain, who both where amazed how many boxes Major Gordon had fitted into one car. King Albert sent Major Gordon to the red dining room upstairs and told him that he must order a good dinner. The footman appeared and Major Gordon told him of the orders of the King. The footman then said that war time regulations were still in place and that many of the staff in the kitchen had already left. He said he would send someone to an hotel to find a dinner. After forty minutes, the footman came back and informed Major Gordon that nothing had been found. The man then offered half of his own dinner which he was going to take home with him. Both men divided the bread and a lump of margarine equally. The following night Major Gordon was invited to dine alone with King Albert and Princess Marie-José. It was a delightful evening, and Major Gordon was presented the Commander's Cross of the Order of the Crown.
PHOTO FROM THE ROYAL STATE VISIT FROM ENGLAND TO BELGIUM
VISIT TO ENGLAND
Queen Elisabeth visited England early in 1917. On this occasion she asked Major Gordon if she could meet his wife. Together with Comtesse Ghislaine de Caraman Chimay she spent a couple of hours at his home. Comtesse Ghislaine de Caraman Chimay was a close to friend of Queen Elisabeth. Major Gordon knew her already in the past, because he receipt a gift from her in 1915 (now in the 'King’s Messenger Collection').
In July 1918, Major Gordon received another telegram that the King, the Queen, a lady in waiting, two members of the Military Household and four servants would like to come to Folkestone and he expected that Major Gordon would arrange hotel accommodation. The visit was booked because of the Silver Jubilee of King George's V and the Queen of England’s wedding which was celebrated with a Thanksgiving Service in St Paul's Cathedral on the 6th of July 1918. Major Gordon rushed to inform Buckingham Palace of the arrival of the King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth and was received by Lord Athlone at the Palace and was later joined by Princess Alice and Lord Stamfordham. Later on Lord Stamfordham asked Major Gordon to drive with him to Lord Curzon to tell him the news. Lord Stamfordham then informed Major Gordon that the whole the company of King Albert must be brought directly to Buckingham Palace on the 6th of July, and they had to arrive precisely at two minutes past two. Not before or after the exact time. Major Gordon was then given two special motor cars by the Under Secretary of State of War together with a green pass so he could drive anywhere without being stopped. Major Gordon secured rooms in at the Grand Hotel in Folkestone and then met Admiral Keyes in the harbour while they waited for the arrival of their Majesty's. Major Gordon was told that the King and Queen where coming by separate airplanes, and it was not for long that they had landed. The company of the Military household and servants arrived that evening by the troop boat, just for dinner. All the Belgian baggage had gone astray somewhere and emergency necessities had to be purchased in Folkestone that evening. The King and Queen went to bed early. In the early morning King Albert knocked on Major Gordon's room in night attire, looking rather uneasy. He explained to Major Gordon that the gift for the Silver Jubilee had been left behind, and he asked Major Gordon if he could purchase something at once. Major Gordon had a great difficulty from smiling when he told King Albert that no shops would be open for more than an hour and that nothing worthy for the occasion could be found locally. The only solution that Major Gordon could come up with was to contact Lord Curzon, who was still at bed of course. Major Gordon rang him up in trepidation and Lord Curzon answered the phone at once. After Major Gordon had explained the quandary the King and Queen were in, Curzon replied that he would rise at once and go to Bond Street. After the amount that had to be spent was given, Lord Curzon asked how the present would be delivered to King Albert and Elisabeth. Major Gordon replied that it should be given to the Chief Police Inspector at Buckingham Palace, which was a good plan by Major Gordon. The Chief Police Inspector was informed that the purchase was only to be handed to Major Gordon himself as the Royal visitors entered Buckingham Palace around two a clock. Major Gordon was very anxious in the morning and he left with the suite from Folkestone to London around ten a clock and arrived about 1.50 p.m. Just in time to enter the gates of Buckingham Palace at 2 p.m., where his friend, the Chief Police Inspector, stood ready with the gift which he handed to him quickly. The King and Queen entered the inner quadrangle exactly a 2.02 am, just as requested by Lord Stamfordham, who was greeted Maj Gordon with the words: "Well done, Gordon!" and clapped him on the back. Lord Stamfordham explained that the normal Grenadier Guards had to be replaced by the Royal Scots Guards who were selected for their height and to honour King Albert. It was the Royal Scots Guards could only be in position at two a clock, the arrival of the King had to be at 2.02 am.
A TRIUMPHIC RETURN
King Albert I had promised Major Gordon that if the war as won and he would march through Brussels and that he wanted that Major Gordon to be in his suite. On the 11th of November 1918, Major Gordon was in London and had to bring a message to Buckingham Palace early in the morning. There he saw the many guests and celebrations on the Courtyard. He was informed that the date for King Albert’s triumphant return to Brussels was set for the 22th of November 1918, so Major Gordon left two days before. Major Gordon arrived together with General Henry Wilson, who had accompanied him on his trip at Laeken, at eight a clock that evening.
At 11.30 am on the 22th of November 1918 the procession began at Meulebeeck. After a long procession through Brussels King Albert and Prince Leopold entered the Royal Palace and guests were seated in the square. Major Gordon was seated between Mayor Adolph Max and Cardinal Mercier. Later he was invited for the lunch in the palace. The next day Major Gordon was again invited to a magnificent banquet at the Spanish Embassy, that was given by the Ambassador Maquis de Villalobar, who Major Gordon knew well, when he was Ambassador in London.
In the following days Major Gordon visited major Belgian cities such as Leuven, Waterloo and Mechelen, where he spent an hour with Cardinal Mercier. Major Gordon had also visited the grave of Nurse Cavell in Brussels.
THE ENDING OF A LEGEND
After the war Major Gordon was given a secret task in the Netherlands near Breda, of which he does not give details in his book 'Culled from a diary'. The only thing he mentioned is that as he was returning a Dutch guard aimed his rifle at him and forced him to stop. It was one of a few incidents were Major Gordon had fear for his life. After the event Major Gordon went to visit some graves in the Ypres district. He was looking for the grave of the second son of the Duke of Wellington, for whom he was a private secretary for fourteen years. Captain Lord Richard Wellesley, was killed in action in the first battle of Ypres and was buried in the German cemetry at Kruiseik. When searching in the district, he met up with General Pitmann, who was looking for a young relative who had been in the Royal Air Force.
Because of the Armistice, Major Gordon had to make fewer journeys to Belgium, but these were by no means ended. He escorted Admiral Roger Keyes and his wife to the Palace in Laeken and one evening Major Gordon was in the study of King Albert when the King expressed his hope that his duties were not yet ended and how grateful he was.
In 1920 Major Gordon received a message, that King Georges V had specially attached him to the British suite for the State Visit to London of the Belgian Monarchs. The visit took place from Monday 4th of July until Friday 8th of July. It was on this occasion that King Albert decorated Major Gordon with the Commanders Cross of the Order of Leopold II together with a signed picture of his latest portrait (In the King’s Messenger’s Collection).
Two years after King Albert and Queen Elisabeth made their visit to England, the British Monarch announced a State Visit to Brussels and Major Gordon was asked by the Grand Marschal of the Belgian Court, on the behalf of King Albert, if he could be in Brussels for the occasion to be held on the 7th of May. Major Gordon was driven to the Palace of Laeken, where he alone dined with the Royal Family. The next day they drove together to the Royal Palace in the city. King George and Queen Mary arrived in the afternoon and the whole day was filled with celebrations. The following days were occupied with visits to various towns and museums such as the Colonial Museum of Tervuren.