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Captain Reginald Eyre Bryant (1878-1917)

Bryant was a member of the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne killed in action during the First World War.

Cambrin Graveyard Extension, Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Reginald E Bryant, a keen sportsman and naturalist, joined the Society in 1911, and served as a member of Council from 1912-1914. His interest also extended to membership of the Vale of Derwent Naturalists’ Field Club based in County Durham.

He was born in Shotley Bridge in County Durham but grew up in the large family home at 19, Wentworth Place, Elswick in Newcastle upon Tyne. His parents Edward Ross and Eliza Bryant had twelve children, nine boys and three girls.

Bryant was educated at Coatham Grammar Boarding School, then Sedburgh School in Cumbria, followed by the University of San Sebastian in Northern Spain.  After graduating, he went on to work as a merchant’s clerk and subsequently became a partner in the prosperous family business of E R Bryant & Co.,  based at the Exchange Buildings on King Street, Newcastle. His father established the business c.1866, initially specialising in Spanish and Italian merchant goods but later expanding into the more profitable enterprise of coal exportation.

By 1911, Bryant was living in a large house, The Hayes, on the outskirts of Corbridge with his widowed father and his sister Gabrielle. However, with the outbreak of war in 1914, their lives where never to be the same again when Reginald enlisted in the 6th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers in the November of that year. Regimental archives show that by April 1915 he was serving in Flanders with the Expeditionary Force. He was later deployed to the Somme in 1916 when he was commissioned as the 2nd Lieutenant of the 14th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry, promoted to Captain in January 1916.  During the fighting of the Battle of the Somme, he was wounded but recovered and returned to the front later that year. Sadly, while inspecting a barbed wire fence at night, Captain Bryant was killed on the 20 January 1917 just south of La Bassée Canal to the east of Bethune.

Checking, repairing or laying a barbed wire fence in front of a trench was a hazardous business, the only time it was safe to do so was at night. Work parties of soldiers deployed to undertake this dangerous job had to be quiet. The enemy hearing any noise would assume that an attack was imminent and begin shooting immediately. Bryant lost his life ensuring the safety of his fellow soldiers.

Captain Bryant was posthumously awarded the Victory Medal, which was issued to all of those who served in the Great War. He is buried at Cambrin Churchyard Extension in France, which is located close to where he was killed.

A fellow officer said of him, ‘his life was a model for everyone, always straight and kind, unselfish and thinking of his men – a gentleman to the core.’ De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour 1914-1919

Captain Bryant’s grave, Cambrin Churchyard Extension

Another member of the Bryant family was also connected to the Hancock Museum and the Natural History Society, notably Reginald’s half-brother Dr Charles Hilary Bryant. Dr Bryant, trained as a surgeon at Newcastle Medical School, and like his brother he was interested in natural history. He had a large egg collection and donated a specimen of a Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis in 1891.

Written and researched by Ashleigh Jackson, a History and English Literature undergraduate student from the University of Edinburgh on a summer placement with the Natural History Society of Northumbria in 2016