Esmond. The Lost Idol 1895-1917

Original, unpublished diaries, letters and photographs, spanning a decade, reconstruct the life of Esmond Elliot, an officer in the prestigious Scots Guards.
Date Published :
October 2017
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Editor :
Johnnie Astor, Alexandra Campbell
Illustration :
100 ills, maps
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781912174027
Pages : 248
Dimensions : 9.75 X 7 inches
Stock Status : In stock


Esmond Elliot, younger son of the Earl of Minto, Viceroy of India, was killed while serving with the Scots Guards, aged 22, at the beginning of the Passchendaele Offensive.

Compiled from his grieving mother’s memorial of his life, together with his letters, diaries and photographs from the front, the story begins with a sweeping panorama of a golden prewar era, featuring Canada, the splendor of the Raj, Eton and the Royal Family, and ends with sacrifice on the Western Front.

After leaving Eton in 1914, Esmond gave up his place at Cambridge and joined the Lothians and Border Horse Yeomanry. He arrived in France in February 1916 as ADC to Geoffrey Feilding who was in charge of the Guards Division. As a staff officer, he was exposed to the complexities and responsibilities of High Command and to senior military figures, but he yearned for action and, six months later, joined the Scots Guards, a regiment which would take him to the frontline.

During the bitter winter of 1916/17, he saw fierce fighting on the Somme, when his Battalion suffered terrible losses.

In preparation for the Passchendaele Offensive, which began on 31 July 1917, Esmond led a daring raid across the Yser Canal, returning with vital intelligence which helped the Guards Division in their successful seizure of the bank on the enemy side four days before the main assault. A week later, while in command of his Company, he was killed by a single bullet.

Esmond’s jottings, direct and spontaneous, reveal the rapid transformation and maturing of a young officer exposed to war. His mother’s collection of letters shows the extent to which one life, albeit brief, touched so many people and how the memory of it, and the influence of his goodness, left a lasting impression.

John Buchan wrote of Esmond: “His gallantry was remarkable even among gallant men and in the darkest days his debonair and gentle spirit made a light around him.”

And in a letter to Esmond’s mother, his Platoon Sergeant paid the following tribute: “We have lost our idol for we had set him on a pedestal in our hearts. He came to us and claimed our affections so that, now he has gone, we will miss him more than words can tell.”

Professor Sir Hew Strachan: “The account of a young vibrant and privileged life cut short at Ypres in 1917 is at one level a familiar one, not least in its apparent tragic inevitability. But ‘The Lost Idol’ is much more. It is the story of a mother as well as a son, of a family as much as a regiment. And alongside the words are the pictures. Esmond Elliot, like many soldiers of the First World War, recorded his experiences with a Kodak Vest Pocket Camera: new technology enabled images to give wings to his words.”

About The Author

After leaving Eton, Lord Astor was an officer in The Life Guards and served in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Northern Ireland, in addition to fulfilling ceremonial duties in London. His grandfather was Field Marshal Earl Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army on the Western Front (1915-1918) and founder of the Royal British Legion. He was appointed Privy Councillor in 2015 and is the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Oman. As Parliamentary Secretary of State for Defence between 2010 and 2015, he was responsible for the Ministry of Defence’s First World War commemorations. At a special service in Glasgow marking the centenary of the start of the war, which was attended by the Prime Minister and Commonwealth leaders, Lord Astor read a section of St John’s Gospel, which includes the words: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends'. The service took place at George Square, in front of the Cenotaph, which his grandfather unveiled in 1924. Lord Astor is Vice-President of St George’s Church, Ypres, where the 340 Old Etonians killed in the Ypres Salient - including Esmond Elliot - are commemorated on a plaque. He is also President of the Anglo-Belgian Society; patron of the Douglas Haig Fellowship and of the Earl Haig’s Pipes and Drums, Belgium; and President of the Durand Group, which restores First World War tunnels. He is also a former President of The Royal British Legion, Kent. His love of cars is only second to his love of history, and he is also President of the Motorsport Industry Association. Lord Astor is a Deputy Lieutenant of Kent and is married with a son and five daughters.

Alexandra Campbell was among a handful of girls who, in the early 1980s, exchanged a convent education for Eton College, from where she gained an Exhibition to Oxford to read Modern Languages (German and Italian) at St Hilda’s College. Upon graduation, Alex pursued a City career on the European Equities desks of two global banks - Kleinwort Benson and the Swiss Bank Corporation - but later moved into financial public relations. Subsequently, she became a parliamentary researcher and editor, and has recently been involved in a number of writing projects: she has contributed to a book on William Waldorf Astor for Flammarion in Paris and is currently researching for further biographies set during the First World War and the early 20th century. In 2015, she delivered the Founder’s Day speech at Dryburgh Abbey for the Royal British Legion of Scotland. Coincidentally, her father won an MC in Italy in 1945 while serving with the Lothians and Border Horse Yeomanry - Esmond Elliot’s first regiment after Eton. She is married with three children and lives in London.


“ … A fascinating biopic of Esmond Elliott, younger son of the Viceroy of India, killed at Passchendaele in 1917.”

- Books Monthly

“Provides insight into the thoughts and emotions of the soldier and his family and close friends, as he goes to war; survives several actions and the conditions of trench warfare; leads a raid across the Ypres canal just before the Third Battle of Ypres begins; and ultimately loses his life in a German counter-attack. A good, absorbing read.”

- The Long, Long Trail

“[Esmond's] story, eloquently and lovingly told by Astor and Campbell, leaves the reader with an acute and tragic sense of loss. This moving tribute to Esmond is a fitting tribute to all the dead of this terrible war.”

- Guards Magazine

“The greatest triumph of this book is that it humanises Esmond, his diaries and letters providing the reader an intimate window into his life. Esmond’s eventual death does not feel like the death of a distant historical figure in a dusty book, but rather that of a character to whom the reader feels closely connected.”

- Eton Chronicle

“ … His diaries and letters reveal the transformation of a boy to a man as he matured, exposed to the horrors of war. His letters are engaging and put the reader in the position of seeing the war through the eyes of this remarkable young man. An excellent account and one our readers will enjoy.”

- The Great War

"The fact that no one knows the eventual outcomes makes this book all the more moving.'

- Stand To!

“This is a profoundly moving account….superbly assembled and illustrated……Recommended indeed”.

- SOFNAM Autumn 2018

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