Raymond Wadhams Fisher

RAYMOND FISHER was a man of extraordinary talents and experience. He was the type of quintessential adventurer that was represented so successfully in the books of Anthony Hope and Rider Haggard. So immensely popular in the decades before the First World War, they would, in the phrase of the time, ‘knock about’ the world. Raymond fitted the description of a character in John Buchan’s Greenmantle, ‘a short, broad man with a weather-beaten face and a keen eye.’

Unfortunately no record remains of his School career, other than that he joined on the same day as his older brother Percy and that his contemporaries included Alan Moray-Brown, James Yelf, George Ball and Herbert Cavis Brown. Still only eighteen, he was with the Imperial Yeomanry in the Boer War, and with a mixture of bravery and dash, won the King’s South Africa Medal and one diplomatic badge. After his return from South Africa, he travelled widely, learning languages in the process. In 1904 -1905 he was a language teacher at the Berlitz Language School in Essen. It would seem that his restlessness could only be satisfied within a military framework, and in the early years of the twentieth century he discovered many opportunities in France, Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, Holland and Canada.

The Fisher family in their garden in Tyler Strett before 1914. Percy is standing first left, Raymond is standing second right

The Fisher family in their garden in Tyler Strett before 1914. Percy is standing first left, Raymond is standing second right

In the first decade of the twentieth century, the Ottoman Empire, once so powerful, was declining and showed increasing signs of breaking down. In October 1912, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro, in search of more power or independence, declared war on Turkey. In spite of heavy defeats inflicted on the Turkish army, the allied countries fell out amongst themselves, and in the following year Bulgaria found itself in the Second Balkans War fighting against all five nations. As a result of the Peace of Bucharest in August 1913, Bulgaria lost the territories of Macedonia and Dobruja.

In October 1912, about eighteen thousand volunteers flocked from many nations in Europe to join the Macedonian Volunteer Legion in support of Bulgaria. Amongst them, and one of the first, and the only Englishman, was Raymond Fisher. He was like the popular literary adventurer, Alan Quartermain. Described as a journalist, he was a friend of the Balkans correspondent of The Times, and this gave him frequent opportunities to travel and to visit the different units engaged in the war. In this guise he was able to sent many reports that were assumed to be meant for the English press.

His career in the Balkans was quite sensational. With his battalion he crossed the Turkish frontier on October 31 1912, and already on November 6 he had been an inspiration to his comrades at the head of a company at the Battle of Dede Agach, where he was wounded in the mouth.

In December he was appointed Honorary Adjutant of the battalion, and on April 7 1913, he was promoted senior NCO. He was at the head of a column of a large Bulgarian Force that in a fierce bayonet charge on July 6, attacked and routed Serbian positions above the village of Tzera. As a result of his actions, he was awarded a Bulgarian Cross ‘For Bravery’ Fourth Degree and on September 26 was appointed Second Lieutenant. On his return from the front to Sofia, ‘crowds literally heaped flowers upon him.’ The Macedonian Volunteer Legion was received by King Ferdinand, Prince Boris and Prince Cyril. The Bulgarian newspaper, Ontro, under the headline THE BRAVE ENGLISHMAN, described his exploits: ‘In all the battles in which the Macedonian League took part was seen the figure of Mr. Fisher. This worthy representative of the noble British race, carried away by the prevailing enthusiasm, proceeded from England to enlist as a volunteer in the ranks of the ‘Opoltchenic.’ Wounded at the capture of Dedengatch, he continued to fight after dressing his wound himself, and at Sharkein his conduct was a source of inspiration to his comrades.

During the battles around Sultan-Tepe, he endured without a murmur all the horrors and discomforts of the war. At the attack at Povier, when the Serbians and Montenegrans in dense masses were trying to capture the Govendar Hill, he was the first to spring to his feet and lead the battalion against the enemy. Revolver in hand, ‘the gallant Stratford volunteer’ rushed forward amid a frightful hail of shrapnel and bullets, and with a small detachment, first gained the summit of the Povier Hill. There he was shot in the leg, but still remained at his post until pain overpowered him, and he sought the bandaging station. Undoubtedly the moral influence he exercised over those near him during the battle was enormous.’

Remembered at the time as having a round red face, light almost reddish hair, with his upper lip slightly deformed by a Turkish bullet, ‘he usually wore a soldier’s jacket and pants of dark blue cheviot, gaiters and a leather jacket. He had two or three hats, but preferred the Bulgarian fur-cap with the coat of arms of the Volunteer Legion. His arms consisted of a rifle and a revolver, but in battle he wore a sword to which his rank of adjutant entitled him. His cheerful disposition, open heart and accessible mind attracted everyone to him. Sometimes one could see on his breast a big silver star with Queen Victoria’s likeness on dark blue and red ribbon, awarded for his bravery during the war in the Transvaal.’

When peace came on August 21 1913, he was demobilised and a year later Britain and Bulgaria were at war on opposite sides. But ‘(he) had come from his far- off country to shed, and in truth did shed, his blood for the liberty of the Bulgarians under foreign rule.’ He had taken part in twenty-one marches and nine battles against the Turks and eight against Serbia. It was not until March 1936 that the full story about Raymond Fisher appeared in the British press. During a British Legion visit to Sofia, some of his personal possessions were returned to the Fisher family, his mother, sister and two brothers still living in Kineton.

Glowing tributes were reproduced in a commemorative magazine, Bbatapckn Aobpoboaeub: ‘He got accustomed quite soon to his Bulgarian surroundings and his comrades. Quite soon, too, he began to understand their language. Being the only Englishman in the Bulgarian army, himself a kind and brave soldier, he became both for the soldiers and the officers one of the most sympathetic men of the Legion. Something more. His presence amongst us, the fact that an Englishman had come to fight for the liberty of the Bulgarians of Macedonia redoubled the sense of duty to their country for all members of the Legion. All tried to be good to this foreigner, who was in no way obliged to shed his blood for our people and our fatherland, and his courageous behaviour during our battles enforced a general respect for his person.’

Raymond Fisher returned to England ‘with a heavy heart,’ and moved into the Westminster Palace Hotel. Already the nations of Europe were moving inexorably towards war and, not surprisingly, he was amongst the first to enlist, on August 14 1914.

After applying for a commission, on August 29 he was interviewed at Kingston-upon-Thames at the East Surrey Regiment’s Depot by Major H.R. Trickey, who wrote in his notes, ‘This candidate has seen a deal of foreign Service (War) in the Boer War and the Balkan wars. He speaks French, German and Dutch.’ (Elsewhere it is recorded that Raymond was fluent in six languages). On the cover of the file he added ‘A very special case.’

He was commissioned on October 3 in the 10th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers with the rank of Lieutenant and granted two years seniority for his service in South Africa and the Balkans. 10 (Service) Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers was formed in Newcastle in September 1914, a unit of Kitchener’s Third Army, K3, and moved to Bullswater near Frensham in Surrey in 68 Brigade of 23 Division. In December it moved on to North Camp, Aldershot, where on January 22 1915 it was inspected by Lord Kitchener. Raymond was promoted to Captain in February when the 10th Northumberland Fusiliers moved to Shorncliffe, near Ashford in Kent. Final training was completed at Bramshott in Hampshire, before crossing from Folkstone to Boulogne on August 25.

In September the battalion was billeted near Bailleul in Flanders where it entered the line for the first time. Set to improve its trenches in the rain and mud it was subject to considerable artillery bombardment.

The battalion was to remain in France and Flanders for a two further years, but on November 13, Raymond was appointed Brigade Machine Gun Officer and sailed from Marsailles for ‘special duties’ in Salonika aboard SS Arcadia, arriving eleven days later, and joined 10 Division on December 31.

In October 1915, Bulgaria, encouraged by Germany and Austria-Hungary, had invaded and quickly established itself in Serbia before Britain and France had time to attempt to prevent it. At the pressing of the Greek government, a Franco- British force landed and set up a defensive line from the Aegean Sea east of Salonika, westwards to Lake Ohrid and the Albanian frontier.

Raymond Fisher, 1916

Raymond Fisher, 1916

Captain Fisher was detached for special duties as an Intelligence Officer with Army Headquarters 7 Division General Staff Intelligence, but not attached to any individual unit, and by July 24 1916 he was with the General Staff Intelligence of the Salonika Army in time for the Bulgarian invasion of Greek territory.

During the night of September 13/14 he had been with a Staff Officer to a Division Headquarters (probably 22), and then on to Brigade Headquarters just south of Macukova, south-east of Gjevgjeli in the Dorian Section. This was to plan the interrogation of those prisoners who might be taken during ‘the big push’ that was under way. In the small hours of the morning, Raymond decided to press on to another Battalion Headquarters which was situated in a ravine that was being bombarded by a hostile battery. ‘Since our present push started we used to meet in all sorts of unexpected places’ a close friend later reported, ‘he latterly was covering a lot of ground on a motor cycle and had one or two nasty spills.’ He had set aside his customary soft cap, borrowed a steel helmet and set off on his motor cycle. He was not seen again until he was found unconscious from a shrapnel head wound only five hundred yards from Headquarters. Taken to a field post he died without regaining consciousness.

Initially buried in Smol Military Cemetery in Salonika, on April 22 1919 his remains were transferred to Karasouli, 56 kilometres from Thessalonika, and re- buried with full military honours. A friend and fellow Senior General Staff Officer in Intelligence reported that ‘He has done some extraordinary work out here,’ and on November 13, Raymond was mentioned in dispatches.

‘It is an irony of fate,’ wrote Captain Douglas Pelly, the Senior Chaplain of 22 Division to Raymond’s parents, ‘that your son should die at the hands of the people whom I think he loved next after his own countrymen.’ He died one day after his brother Percy was killed fighting near Delville Wood. ‘Parents,’ wrote the Chaplain,’ are being called upon to bear almost too much these dark days.’ He is commemorated on the Kineton War Memorial, on a plaque in both St. Peter’s Church and the Methodist Church in Kineton, and in the Memorial Library at King Edward VI School.

Karasouli Military Cemetery, Greece

Karasouli Military Cemetery, Greece

A lonely grave! Lonely and forgotten,
The resting place of a young hero left alone
amid the heat of battle.
A dark spot, way in the fields of that dear country
mourned by the tears of the small cloud, beautified
by the flowers mother-nature has planted
around it, and cheered by the song of an early
little bird.

A lonely grave! Forever lone, forgotten,
while somewhere far away an old father choked
with grief still awaits his firstborn to return,
And his sweet mother, now pale as the hellchrysm
crushing her hands whispers on and on: ‘where
are you, my handsome child; where has my bright
sun set down?…

A Lonely Grave. Dedicated to R.W. Fisher. M. Kopanoff