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A Change of Fortune

Posted by on September 14, 2015


OLive wedding photo 1913After the photograph of the Slaughter family taken on the steps of the loggia at White Ness ca. 1906, as far as I know they were never together again – at least, there is no extant group photo of them from a later date. Mihill [Mac] and Connie were married in 1906,and in the autumn of that year Mac’s  battallion went out to Egypt en route for India, where Connie joined him in Amballa. By the autumn of 1909 both Connie and their infant son were dead. Mac served briefly as ADC to the Governor of Ceylon in 1911, and then may have returned to India or Egypt before war broke out. Arthur was at Cambridge from 1904 -8, where he read Law, and  then worked as a trainee solicitor, though always half-heartedly as his real love at Cambridge was for rowing. He must also have joined the territorials as he was called up very early in the war and embarked for Egypt with his regiment in September 1914.

Olive married John Brodie Sanders, a 27 year old Army captain , in February 1913, and they were both out in Egypt the following year. Above is a photograph of her in her elaborate Edwardian wedding gown, but sadly there are no pictures of her with her husband on that occasion. Perhaps she destroyed these when the marriage ended in divorce. They had no children.

In London in 1915 the city’s legal and banking businesses were much reduced because of hostilities. Several of the staff of Slaughter and May had joined up. Nationally, all resources were geared up to contribute to the war effort. Dealings with assets abroad were severely restricted. Conscription was brought in in 1916 for all men under 50 not involved in essential war work. Slaughter was appointed to the Royal Commission on sugar supplies, no doubt largely due to his extensive business experience and long association with the Home and Colonial Stores. In 1914 Britain had the largest sugar consumption in the world, per head of population, and all of it was imported – much of it from Germany and Austro-Hungary. With these two sources cut off by the war, other supplies had to be found with the utmost urgency. Sugar was vital to brewing, as well as for commercial and domestic baking and sweet-making. It was also crucially important to keep the troops supplied with high energy foods in their rations. The Commission was given the authority to control sugar imports and was able to maintain the supply at pre-war costs until the end of 1915.

Nevertheless, the cost of supplying sugar rose because the new sources were much farther away, such as  the Far East or the West Indies and transportation was more hazardous and expensive. By 1916 supplies were much reduced and rationing was brought in.

Slaughter’s efforts with the Sugar Commission were rewarded when  he received a knighthood in the King’s Birthday Honours list of 1915 for ‘valuable assistance to the government.’ But sadly he was not to live much longer. In 1916 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer which soon spread to his liver. By Christmas he was gravely ill although he continued to concern himself with his business affairs until February 1917. By the end of that month it was clear that he was dying.

William died after a stroke on March 10th 1917, shortly before his 60th birthday, and he was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery on 13th March. Among the mourners were his widow, Hester Mary, his eldest son, Captain Mihill Slaughter, his daughter, Olive Sanders, his youngest son, Edward , and his two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary.

There was also a memorial service for William held at St James Piccadilly on the afternoon of the same day. Many well-known associates from the city and the law attended, including Lord Beaverbrook and Sir Thomas Lipton. In a letter to The Times on the subject of Slaughter’s death, Sir George Touche wrote, ‘There was no man in the city whose advice was valued more on any complicated question of law and finance. Ten minutes consultation with him was worth more than an hour with most men.’ Touche also wrote about how much he valued their friendship.

Arthur was unable to attend the funeral because he was still with the army in Egypt at the time of his father’s death, and no letters survive to tell us how he reacted the the news. In fact, I do not think he returned to England until after the war ended and he was demobbed in the autumn of 1919. The world in general, and his world in particular, had changed utterly. He travelled home to be reunited with his pregnant fiancee[who returned from Egypt separately] – to an uncertain reception by his family, his father dead, no job and an insecure future. It was a far cry from that sunny day on the steps at White Ness.

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