Randle William Gascoyne-Cecil

It’s always fascinating to discover where a bit of research can take you. I did a Google search today on Nobel Peace Prize winners and saw a surname that I recognized. Robert Gascoyne-Cecil was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937 for his work with the League of Nations. Several years ago, my husband Ken English researched all of the 100+ men from Revelstoke who died during World War I. The name Randle William Gascoyne-Cecil came up during his research. Although Randle William Gascoyne-Cecil’s name does not appear on the local cenotaph, he was mentioned in the Revelstoke newspapers as one of the first men who applied for military service after war was declared on August 3, 1914. His occupation at the time was listed as car repair assistant with the Canadian Pacific Railway. His name was given as Randle Cecil in the local newspapers.

He was one of 25 men from Revelstoke accepted for service with the Second Contingent of Canadian Volunteers and he signed his attestation papers in Victoria on November 11, 1914. At the time of enlistment, he stated that he was married, and was 25 years of age. He had served with the local branch of the Rocky Mountain Rangers militia for two and a half months. He had also served with the Oxford University Officers Training Corp, with the Cavalry Squadron. He stated that he was born in London, England on November 28, 1889. He died on December 1, 1917 while serving as a Lieutenant with the Royal Horse Artillery, Territorial Force. The Canadian Virtual War Memorial maintained by Veterans’ Affairs indicates that he was the son of Right Rev. Lord William Gascoyne-Cecil and the husband of Elizabeth Claire Gascoyne-Cecil. Until today, that was all that we knew about him. The coincidence of finding the name Gascoyne-Cecil among the list of Nobel Peace Prize recipients spurred us on to do some further digging. We discovered that Randle William’s father William and uncle Robert (the Peace Prize winner) were both the sons of Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, and three-time Prime Minister of England. William, Randle’s father, was the Bishop of Exeter.

So why was Randle William, obviously very wealthy and well-connected, living in Revelstoke and working as a railway car repair assistant? We then found an article in the New York Times from July of 1915, telling of the divorce of Randle and his first wife, Dorothy Janaway. The article indicated that Randle had been sent down from Oxford in 1908 for “a breach of discipline” after throwing rocks through the windows of Balliol College. The article went on to say that Randle had appeared as an actor in Gaiety plays and had travelled with actor George Grossmith to America. With a bit more research, we discovered that Randle married Dorothy Janaway in June of 1914 and divorced her in July of 1915. Did his wife come with him to Revelstoke? There is no indication whether she did or not. By the time of his divorce, he was back in England, and preparing for active service. In June of 1916, he married Elizabeth Claire Turner. Their daughter Anne Mary Gascoyne-Cecil was born on July 29, 1918, seven months after her father’s death. Anne gained the rank of 2nd Officer in the service of the Women's Royal Naval Service during the Second World War. She married Lieutenant Commander David Bryce Wilson in 1945 and came with him to his home in Ontario, where they had five children. Randle William Gascoyne Cecil and two of his brothers died in active service in World War I. One other brother was wounded but survived.

The story so far, still just bits and pieces, seems to indicate an aristocratic English youth sowing his wild oats, and then heeding the call to serve his country when war was declared. It is a story that was surely repeated throughout the British Empire during World War I. The mystery remains though – what brought a grandson of a British Prime Minister to Revelstoke? Why was he working as a common laborer? What was the story of his first marriage? Revelstoke had its share of people with secrets. We can now add Randle William Gascoyne-Cecil to that list.

Posted on June 3, 2012 .