In the grounds of Beaumont Estate, Windsor, now a hotel & conference centre where EBVM 2014 will be held on 23-24 October, is an imposing war memorial designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott . The memorial, unveiled in November 1921, commemorates pupils of Beaumont College – the Jesuit School which operated on the site until the 1960s – who were killed in the two world wars, and interestingly has a veterinary connection.
Amongst those former pupils listed is E.A. Dixie who was killed in France, 74 years ago today, on 27th May 1940. Dixie was the first member of the veterinary profession to die whilst undertaking military service in World War Two.
Edward Archibald Woolston Beaumont Dixie (1916-1940), having completed his schooling at Beaumont College, entered the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in 1936. He completed the first three years of study, passing his third year exams in July 1939.
Whilst at the RVC he was an officer in the Territorial Army serving as an Anti-tank Officer of the 145 Infantry Brigade (Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry) in the rank of Staff Captain.
In August 1939 he was called up, leaving for France in January 1940. Before departing he returned to the RVC where staff later remarked that he faced the future with “all the zest he had displayed in his academic career.”(1)
145 Brigade was assigned to the north of France and by early May 1940 Dixie’s company was based just south of Lille, when orders were received to move north into Belgium, in response to the German advance into Holland and Belgium. However on arrival at Alsemberg, south west of Brussels, the brigade were ordered to withdraw as part of the general retirement of the Allied Forces.
Over the next week Dixie and his men withdrew through southern Belgium, arriving in Rongy early on 23rd May. On 24th May they were ordered to proceed to Cassel and prepare for its defence. The order was followed by the ‘reassuring’ observation that ‘we do not know where the enemy are but we hope you get there first.’ Cassel was of vital strategic importance; it sits at the top of a 500 foot hill and whoever controlled the town was able to survey and control the surrounding Flanders fields.
Arriving in Cassel in the early hours of 25th May they spent the next two days turning the town into a tank proof fortress, setting up road blocks and demolishing buildings. On 27th May the German tanks reached the town, advancing from both the South and East, and British troops soon came under heavy bombardment.
Dixie’s anti-tank guns soon found they were facing over 40 tanks, although their guns proved to be effective and within a period of 15 minutes they had destroyed 4 tanks and a further 8 were abandoned by their crew in light of the spirited action by the men of 145 Brigade. Showing his typical enthusiasm and leadership, Captain Dixie threw himself into the defence– he took over firing one of the guns and was reported to ‘stand up and cheer’ every time he hit a tank. At 10.30am when moving away from the gun for a rest, Dixie was shot in the back of the head. He lived for about 30 minutes and as he lay dying asked his batman to pass a message to his mother ‘Give my love to my mother and tell her I died, as I wanted to, in action.’ His batman later wrote to Professor Jimmy McCunn at the RVC saying ‘I was with him to the last. He died a great gentleman.’
Dixie is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Cassel Communal Cemetery, and commemorated both on the Beaumont War Memorial and the Royal Veterinary College Roll of Honour.
RCVS Knowledge will be hosting the 1st International Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine Network Conference at Beaumont Estate in October this year. To find out more about the conference please visit www.ebvm-2014.org.
I would like to thank Dr Paul Watkins MRCVS for his help in compiling this post.
(1) Obituary: Staff Captain E.A.W.B. Dixie The Veterinary Journal 1940 Vol 96 pp347-348.