The Mystery of the French Count

There is (or was) so much history in the East End of London. From lost or preserved buildings, to immigrants and events. We'll give this new section a try for a while.

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The Mystery of the French Count

Postby ladyDeWint » Tue Jul 17, 2007 6:22 pm

It's an open secret that I love history, especially that of the eastend, also I can't resist trying to solve a mystery so when I found the above photo with the following blurb:

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At the junction of Abbey Road and Mitre Road. The first name listed amongst the dead of World War 1 is that of Comte Robert de Lesseps, Legion d'honneur and Croix de Guerre. Robert was the son of Ferdinand, Vicomte de Lesseps, the man responsible for digging the Suez Canal and Robert was also the great-nephew of Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III. The memorial is not a municipal one but that of the Crocketts' Leather-cloth factory, which used to be sited here. Robert died in 1916 and had been an early pioneer aviator and a friend and student of Bleriot. But why should Crocketts directors wish to remember him in this way?

Why indeed, that's the question I set out to answer but failed, the factory has long gone it was demolished in the 1960's and replaced by a council estate called Leather Gardens. So what of the man himself ?

As it notes in the piece above he was the son of Ferdinand, Vicomte de Lesseps who was responsible for the building of the Suez canal which linked the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. The origins of de Lesseps' family are traceable back as far as the end of the 14th century. His ancestors, it is believed, came from Scotland, and settled at Bayonne during the region's occupation by the English.

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Robert was born in Paris on the 23rd May 1882, he was the second eldest of five brothers who has they grew to adulthood were swept up in the frenzy of manned flight all four were to become pioneer aviators.

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On the 27th February 1902 he married Marthe Sophie Alland in Belgium and they had two children, Nicole and Robert jnr. Now Robert seems to disappear until World War One and the battle of the Somme.

The Battle of the Somme began on the 1st July 1916 and ended on the 18th November 1916, it was a joint British and French operation dreamt up by the French Commander in Chief Joffre and agreed to by the British Commander in Chief Douglas Haige. It was mean't to be a swift campaign to break the German defences but it turned out far different to that and is remembered as the bloodiest battle of all time.

On the first day there was a loss of 58.000 British troops a third of them killed, others badly wounded. The death toll continued rising through the summer months until the beginning of winter when finally it was deemed as ended, the ground gained was a mere 25 miles long and 6 miles wide but the cost in human life and suffering was immeasurable 420.000 casualties for the British, 195.000 for the French and 650.000 for the Germans. Among the French casualties was Comte Robert de Lessep who died of his wounds in September 1916.

So how was this French aristocrat who fought, and died, with such bravery for his country in the hell that was the Somme and winning France's highest award the Legion d'honneur become linked with a leather cloth factory in the east end ? I'm sorry but that will have to remain a mystery I'm afraid, although there is something that may have linked them and that could have been leather, for early aviators wore leather jackets and caps as a protection against the wind.

On one site Robert is noted as a 'promotor' for his more famous flying brothers, so does that mean he wasn't as able as them or did he perhaps have a flying accident, so as their promotor he would be responsible for all needs and would buy the best possible flying suits possible. Now we come to the World Fair of 1910 which was held in Brussels, one of the contributors was 'Crockett and Jones' manufacturers of fine leather footwear from Northampton, is it just a coincidence that another Crockett in the eastend was involved in leather cloth manufacture that was used to make clothing, or that at the time Robert de Lesseps was married to a Belgium woman and would certainly have attended the World Fair.

Of course all this is only supposition but one thing is possible is a the outbreak of World War One Robert is no longer flying instead according to his death certificate he was in a cavalry regiment when he died. Robert's brothers Ferdinand and Bertrand also died in World War One.

Jacques who served in the French military as pilot of night bombardment and observation aircraft, he was also the second person to fly across the English Cannel, and was one of the pioneers of aerial photography; he died in 1927 while carrying out a survey in Canada, his body was later found at Newfoundland.

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The last remaining de Lesseps brother Paul, who was the first man to fly around the Eiffel Tower died in 1947 following a spell of imprisoment The 14 Jan 1947 Time Magazine said about him that:

"Paul de Lesseps, 63-year-old son of the famed Suez Canal builder, was down with heart trouble and a sense of persecution in Fresnes Prison. The French Government said that Prisoner de Lesseps, who owned land in Turkey, had offered to sell it to the Germans, for bases from which to bomb Suez. De Lesseps' reply: the Government owed him five billion francs for land confiscated in World War I, now condemned him 'to avoid paying.' "
Perhaps I haven't answered the question as to why Compte Robert de Lesseps is remembered at Stratford but perhaps there is a little more substance to a brave man than just a forgotten name carved in a monument far from his native land.

Robert de Lesseps death certificate [spoil]Image[/spoil]

Bertrand de Lesseps death certificate [spoil]Image[/spoil]

Ferdinand de Lesseps death certificate [spoil]Image[/spoil]
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Postby marilyn » Wed Jul 18, 2007 3:01 pm

That's very interesting m'lady :-)
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Postby Smiffy » Fri Jul 20, 2007 5:17 am

Milady..... you've dunnit again.. you have such a wonderful sense of history
Re the Crocket leatherette material. I remember when I was a young upholstery improver stripping a suite which the senior guys described as being covered in Crocket.
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Postby ladyDeWint » Fri Jul 20, 2007 12:50 pm

Thanks for that Smiffy, then it could be that Crocketts supplied the leather to kit out the planes themselves. much the same as F1 today where a good proportion of the cars are built here although they are owned by and race for other countries.

Here is the full list of names on the memorial:

Comte Robert de Lessops, Legion De Honnere and Croix de Gueere.
Private HT Baker
Private F Bishop
Private F Bristow
Rifleman F Cooper
Lance Corporal Charles Edwards
Private JG Finch
Private WF Grey
Private H Holding
Sergeant WG Holmes
Private H Honeybell
Rifleman R Johnes
Private Edward Rice
Rifleman H Turner
Private George Wright

These young men are probably workers at the factory lost during the war, but I can only find two and possible three recorded on the CWGC.
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Re: The Mystery of the French Count

Postby ladyDeWint » Tue Mar 11, 2008 7:08 pm

Hello Archer welcome to the forum. hope you enjoy your visits here. :wav: :-)

I'm glad you enjoyed the article and will look up the site you recomend, as it happens I had a PM from one of the counts descendants after she read the article which was interesting.
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Re: The Mystery of the French Count

Postby Smiffy » Thu Mar 13, 2008 8:28 am

Milady... an interesting re- read... please keep em coming I very much admire your sense of history :wav: :wav: :wav: :wav: :wav:
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Re: The Mystery of the French Count

Postby ladyDeWint » Thu Mar 13, 2008 12:30 pm

Thank you smiffy :-)
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Re: The Mystery of the French Count

Postby valk » Fri Mar 14, 2008 5:16 am

I also like history, this is great thank you. :-)
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Re: The Mystery of the French Count

Postby ladyDeWint » Tue Mar 18, 2008 12:50 pm

Hello Gryff, thanks for your interesting post. I have tried to decipher the note on his death certificate without success, your suggestion that although his unit was the Dragoons he may have been transferred to a flying unit, perhaps for reconnisance could be right.

I should think the memorial was erected no later than the early twenties but that is only a guess.
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Re: The Mystery of the French Count

Postby ladyDeWint » Wed Mar 26, 2008 11:42 am

Thanks for that G, I wish now I had asked his grandaughter more when she contacted me, but as she is not a member I have no way of contacting her, hopefully she will look in again at sometime.
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Re: The Mystery of the French Count

Postby ladyDeWint » Thu Mar 27, 2008 2:19 pm

Gryff one of our members, Tabby, got the words transferred as such.

don't know whether Google has translated it in the meantime, but I had the feeling that the actual translation was no great problem, but being able to read what had been written. As my French collegue in the office said - it looks like it had been written by a doctor, altmost illegible. I gave it to my neighbour from the French part of Switzerland and my French colleague and they both had difficulties.

In the brackets it says - detaché du 7. groupe directe? - l'entrailleuses? (Auto-lamont?) as far as they could decipher it.

meaning "direct transfer to 7th Group" and my colleagues could not help me any further. I also looked in Google, not to miss anything out, but could not find anything. It is a matter of being actually able to read what had been written on the document. I think the rest is clear.

It also mentions that he was born on 23.05.1882 in Paris, 8th departement Seine.

Sorry I could not help any further, but perhaps someone will be able to decipher the words.
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Re: The Mystery of the French Count

Postby ladyDeWint » Sun Mar 30, 2008 10:29 pm

The following is from Huguenot

Hello (I don't like Hi)

I have been researching the De Lesseps Family and was interested to come across Robert de Lesseps name on the Crockett War Memorial.

Robert was not the second son , not even the second son of the second marriage. The boys were:-

Mattieu 12.10.1870
Ishmael 27.11.71
Bertrand 3.2.75
Paul 13.8.80
ROBERT 23.5.82
Jacques 7.7.83

So you see he was quite a long way down the list.

I think your contributor was right about Robert endorsing Crockett leather. I notice that Wolf Motor Cycles side cars (The up market ones) were lined in Crockett Leather. It is conceivable that the cockpits of Robert's aircraft were lined with the same material.

Crockett and Jones of course are well named shoe makers, and another possibility is his flying boots were made by them. His association with the firm would have been well before WW1.

Has anyone researched the local newspapers to see if there is an article about the War Memorial? It would be surprising if there was no comment about a Frenchman being there.
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Re: The Mystery of the French Count

Postby ladyDeWint » Sun Mar 30, 2008 10:40 pm

Thank you Huguenot for the further information, I had never heard of the Robert de Lesseps before I posted the original article so could only go with what was available on the web, you don't happen to know if all the children survived childhood do you ?

Since I posted his potted history I have discovered that this thread has been linked to a website of early aviators.

Click Here
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Re: The Mystery of the French Count

Postby Barryoneoff » Sun Apr 27, 2008 5:00 pm

Thanks Frenchheritage, I'm sure Lady de Wint will be very pleased with your input. Although I hope you will both bear in mind the unreliability of many Wiki entries, and check it out further.
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Re: The Mystery of the French Count

Postby ladyDeWint » Sun Apr 27, 2008 11:05 pm

Thanks for all that info Frenchheritage, I took your advice and looked up Bravotv.com and found the blog for Luann de Lesseps where it's claimed the statue of liberty was donated by the family but according to this site the cost was raised by the public.

Statue of Liberty

I'll consider trying to contact her but somehow I doubt if she will be able to tell me the connection between a French aristocrat and a leather works factory in Londons eastend.........but you never know I could be wrong.

Thanks again for your information.
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