Open Warfare

The Diary of Capt. Arthur Impey, 79th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery

Arthur Elia Impey - Biography

1885 - 1914

Arthur Elia Impey was born on April 29 1885, the son of Frederic and Eleanor Impey. In 1871 Essex-born Frederic, then aged 23, had married 24 year old Eleanor Clark, daughter of James Clark, the shoe manufacturer, of Street, Somerset. In 1874 Frederic and Eleanor and their first child, Frederic Paul, moved to Longbridge, Worcestershire from Edgbaston after Frederic suffered a severe dose of rheumatic fever. Here he renovated an old moated farm-house in Longbridge Lane, originally called Longbridge House, which now became known as Longbridge Place, less than a mile from and east of both the railway and the road to Bristol.

Unlike the area today the house was surrounded by countryside. Alice E.Impey, Arthur’s sister, later described the fields, cottages and bridle paths around Longbridge Place and reported that the “isolation of living seven miles from Birmingham in those days is well indicated by remembering that there was no doctor between Selly Oak and Alvechurch until about 1896 or 7”. A new west wing was added in 1880 and there were further improvements in 1891. There were to be fourteen bedrooms. Eleanor, known as ‘Nellie’, was, like her husband, a deeply religious Quaker with her own political interests, including women’s suffrage and temperance reform.

The Impey Family in 1915.  Arthur is the only person in army uniform

Arthur was the youngest of seven children. By the time of the 1891 census the family was still at Longbridge Place. Frederic was described as a printer and yeoman. Arthur’s siblings included Frederic Paul, 17, Thomas Smith, 10 and Alice, 9. The others, William White, Francis Levitt and Elizabeth Impey were not at home at the time of the census. The household had three indoor servants, a governess and a farm servant. Their comfortable middle class lifestyle was emphasised by the tennis court and croquet lawn in the grounds.

Frederic Impey was a partner and managing director of White and Pike, a Birmingham printing firm which had a works in Moor Street. Born at Feering, Essex in 1847, Frederic had attended Sidcot School and then completed a five year printing apprenticeship with White and Pike, which was followed by a career in the printing business. William White (1820-1900) was a Quaker businessman, political activist (Liberal Mayor of Birmingham, 1882) and philanthropist e.g. founder of the local Adult School Movement. Frederic worked for the firm for 40 years and became a partner in 1871 following the death of Cornelius Pike two years earlier, and later Managing Partner . The 1881 census described Frederic as a ‘Printing Master and Farmer employing two men’. Longbridge House was the centre of a small estate of 40 acres, including four acres of garden with a further 60 acres rented from the Coombes estate.

In 1894 the firm built a new ‘out of town’ factory where Longbridge Lane joined the Bristol Road in order to capitalize on a new process for colour printing onto tin plate boxes. Within a year, however, it had burned down in a devastating fire. The consequences were serious and in 1903 the Longbridge branch was forced to close although the Bootham School Register entry for Francis Levitt Impey suggests the tin-box making had been wound up by 1899. As Ethel Impey later pointed out the tin-printing side was insufficiently insured and the management was over-optimistic. The site was purchased by Herbert Austin in 1906 for his motor vehicle business.

Frederic and his family now found themselves in financial difficulties which must have been a factor in the move to a smaller house in 1910. Frederic was also a Worcestershire county councillor in the Liberal cause and J.P. with a keen interest in improving the lot of agricultural labourers through allotments and small holdings. He has some claim on popularising the idea of ‘three acres and a cow’. In 1908 he became a special Commissioner for Lancashire under the 1907 Board of Agriculture Act. For two years he lived at Lytham St Anne’s whilst the family remained at Longbridge Place although it was now owned by William Clark, his brother-in-law.

Both of Arthur’s parents were Quakers so it was not surprising that Arthur was sent, between 1898 and 1901, to attend Bootham School, York, a Quaker school established in 1823. Four older brothers had also studied at Bootham. The first was Frederic Paul from 1887-9. Francis Levitt (1878-? ) was there from 1893-5. Thomas Smith (1880 – 1949) had preceded Arthur there from 1893-6 and Arthur’s time at the school overlapped with another brother, William White (1883-1935), who was there from 1895-9. Arthur was attending the school when it suffered a serious fire in 1899 and had to be rebuilt. The Bootham Register comments as follows on this event, “William White Impey was the owner of the boiling breast-bones which, left to simmer and forgotten, were, according to tradition, the origin of the great fire at Bootham, 1899”. He was also there when Arthur Rowntree was headmaster.

At some point after leaving Bootham School Arthur qualified as an accountant with Impey, Cudworth and Co of Birmingham. This firm was founded by his uncle, Robert Levitt Impey (1848-). In 1892, when Arthur was seven years old, his uncle had moved to Woodlands, on Cooper’s Hill, Alvechurch. Like Frederic, Robert had a long record of public service.

In 1905 Francis Levitt Impey, Arthur’s brother, joined the firm of Morland and Co which in 1908 became the company of Morland and Impey with a small amount of capital subscribed by the directors and their friends. The new firm had the purpose of developing the Kalamazoo American patents in Britain. He now set up up a works at Barwick Street, Birmingham in partnership with his cousin Oliver Morland. In 1904 Oliver Morland had visited the U.S.A. and saw a revolutionary new form of loose leaf binder or ledger in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In 1912 Morland and Impey bought land at Northfield. Arthur’s brother now became managing director. The firm produced the famous loose leaf ledger which was sold directly to firms all over Britain as well as driving a thriving export trade. In 1914-15 the turnover was 56,800. By 1918-19 this had risen to 115,446.

In 1910 Frederic Impey left Longbridge Place and the family moved, now reduced ‘in fortune’, to a smaller house, ‘The Island’, in nearby West Heath. This became the family home until Frederic died on November 9 1920 after a long illness. Eleanor was no longer alive; she had died on March 6 1915. Frederic was only worth 916.7.9 upon his death which is only 23,846 at 2004 values. Clearly he had never recovered from the business failures.

Longbridge Place did not survive much longer for it was demolished in 1937 and a housing estate built on the site. After the family moved out the old house it had been used as a boys school (1911-22) and a residential school for ‘high grade mental defectives’ (1922-37). In 1878 Frederic Impey had given a piece of land in Longbridge Lane to the Quakers on which they had built a Meeting House. It was now rented to another denomination.


At a date a few days before September 23 1914 Arthur Elia Impey made an application for an army commission, seven weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. He gave his current address as the Public Schools Special Corps, Paddock Camp, Downs Hotel, Epsom, Surrey and his permanent address as ‘Island Cottage’, Northfield, Birmingham. There is a mystery attached to the twenty-nine year old Arthur in the final year of peace. His army discharge document of March 17 1919 states that his occupation in civil life had been as a ‘tobacco manufacturer’. This cannot be substantiated from any other source. On September 23 Arthur passed his medical at Kingston-upon-Thames. Five days later he was appointed to a Regular Army Special Reserve Commission as a Temporary 2nd Lieutenant, Royal Field Artillery. On September 21 1914 H.Shaw, Retired Colonel, Royal Engineers, of Walton House, Walton, Suffolk, had testified to Arthur’s ‘good moral character’. On October 1 K.A.Deakin confirmed that Arthur was a ‘strong and active athlete, a good horseman and in every way qualified to make a good officer’.

On July 12 1915, as part of Kitchener’s New Army 17th (Northern) Division, he embarked from Southampton for the Western Front and disembarked at Le Havre. On August 27 he was posted to 78th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. His training over the winter of 1914-1915 is likely to have been at Swanage, Dorset and Salisbury Plain.

Thomas Smith Impey

Arthur’s brother, Thomas Smith Impey, and sister Elizabeth, were also at the ‘sharp end’ of the conflict. Thomas Smith Impey served in the Royal Flying Corps. In October 1915 the ‘Kalamagazette’ (works magazine of Morland and Impey) noted that he was a Second Lieutenant and was on active service in France as a pilot. It also implied that before joining up Thomas had worked at the London office of the firm. The same source in March 1916 quotes the London Gazette of February 5 1916 which stated that Thomas was in the RFC Military Wing as a temporary Captain but was then in a London Hospital with a shoulder injury, having been thrown by a horse.

In August 1916 it was reported that Captain T.S.Impey was now acting as an instructor at Montrose for the RFC. Two months later, now a Major, Thomas was still at Montrose. At the end of the war Thomas was granted a permanent commission in the RAF and retired in 1922.

On December 30 1915, Arthur’s sister, Elizabeth (better known within the family as ‘Elsie’), was killed by a German torpedo attack on the SS Persia off the Mediterranean island of Crete. She was on her way to India to take up appointment as the Medical Officer at the Dufferin Hospital for Women at Lahore, India. The ship had travelled from London and Marseilles and was 71 miles south-east by south of Cape Martello. It was torpedoed without warning by U38 commanded by Lieutenant Commander Max Valentiner at 1.10 p.m. The torpedo struck the port bow and the ship sank in very short time. 334 of the 501 persons on board were drowned. ‘Elsie’ had qualified as a doctor at Birmingham University and her name appears on its Great War Roll of Honour.

It is likely that Arthur’s first major test of action was at Hooge in the Ypres salient from July 30-August 9 1915. The following nine months were spent in the area of Armentieres. In June 1916 17th Division joined 15th Corps as part of Horne’s 4th Army on the Somme.

On January 31 1916 Arthur Impey was re-appointed as a Temporary Lieutenant. We know from his diary that on July 1-3 1916 he saw action at Fricourt as the Somme battle opened. When his battery crossed the ‘old Somme’ battlefield in 1918 he passed familiar places. For example in August 1916 he had registered the guns on Flers church. On September 1 he was promoted to Acting Captain within 78th Brigade RFA. Again the diary informs us that in October/November 1916 Arthur’s battery was in the Thiepval, River Ancre, Grandcourt area during the final stages of the Battle of the Somme. His six week stay in his battery position was still ‘the worst six weeks of my life’. His battery stayed on the Somme over the hard fought winter of 1916-17 until it moved to Arras in March 1917 where it was based until September.

On April 28 1917 Impey was admitted to Hospital with PUO (pyrexia of unknown origin – a fever) but rejoined his unit on May 25. On July 1 1917 he was posted to ‘A’ Battery’ of 79th Brigade, RFA from 78th Brigade . On August 3 he took leave back to the U.K. On September 22 he retained the rank of Acting Captain whilst second in command of his battery. However, six days later he had an accident in a dugout at his battery position in the Arras sector whilst on duty but probably at a quiet time as 17th Division was about to entrain for Flanders.. His C.O. wrote on the injury report form which passed through Brigade, to Fifth Army HQ and then GHQ - “In the darkness, this officer slipped on the steps of his dugout and fell down to the bottom. Steps were slippery after rain”. There was no witness to the accident.

On October 3 Arthur Impey was admitted to No 1 General Hospital, Etretat, a seaside town 26 kilometres north of Le Havre, with a fractured fibula and on the 14th sailed to England on the ‘Carisbrooke Castle’, a former Union Castle Line steamer which had been requisitioned to act as a hospital ship. On the 16th he was admitted to No 7 VAD Hospital at Exeter. On November 24 his first Medical Board ruled him unfit for duty for 3 months. On December 17 he transferred to the Command Depot, Victoria Drive, Eastbourne. On the same day his old unit left post-Passchendaele Flanders for Cambrai.

At Eastbourne he faced his second Medical Board on January 23 1918. He still needed more time to recover and he was also granted three weeks leave; he cited ‘The Island’, Northfield as his leave address. There is a slight mystery over this Medical Board because the reason for injury was now recorded as “while in action he fell into a shell hole fracturing the left fibula above the ankle”. However, a gunner’s dug out was often improvised from a shell hole. He noted at the time that ‘I have been applied for to proceed to the Artillery and Flying Corps Co-operation School at Winchester in order to attend a course. He had been ‘applied for’ by Colonel Chambers.

On February 1 1918 Arthur was staying, as part of his leave, at Lindertis, the estate of Sir Hugh Munroe, mountaineer, at Kirriemuir near Forfar, Scotland, which was being used by the military authorities. His leave ended officially on February 13. At some time in March Arthur became an Assistant Instructor at the Artillery and Flying Corps Co-operation School, Worthy Down, Winchester.

On April 23 Impey wrote to the War Office from Hursley Park Camp, five miles from Winchester. On June 8 Impey underwent his third Medical Board at Magdalen Camp Hospital, Winchester, where he was instructed to return to duty.

On August 15 1918 Arthur began his war diary which was to cover the last phase of the war which took his battery across the old Somme battlefield, south of Cambrai towards the Forest of Mormal which involved crossing the Canal du Nord, the St Quentin Canal and the rivers Selle and Sambre.

On August 17 he disembarked at Le Havre; on the 23rd he was posted to 79th Brigade, 17th Divisional Artillery and a week later he was posted to ‘A’ Battery. On September 5 he was re-appointed Acting Captain; on the 22nd to be Acting Captain whilst 2nd in command of the 6 gun ‘A’ Battery within 79th Brigade. On October 11 Arthur became an Acting Major. On October 27 he was to be Acting Major whilst in command of the six gun ‘C’ Battery. On November 2 he relinquished the rank of Acting Major On November 8 he was posted to ‘A’ Battery as Acting Captain having relinquished the rank of Acting Major on ceasing to command ‘C’ Battery. On November 11 1918 he informed the men from his battery on parade that the war was over.

The period from November 1918 to March 11 1919 must have been a frustrating time until he arrived at the Dispersal Centre for release from the army at Shorncliffe Camp, Folkestone, having embarked from France at Boulogne.


On March 18 1919 Arthur was disembodied from the RFA and his army pay came to an end. He now gave his permanent address as the Cavendish Club, 119, Piccadilly, London. On April 1 1920 he was granted the peacetime rank of Captain in the light of the responsibilities he held as the war came to a close. He also took with him the 1914/15 Star and the British War and Victory medals. Both his parents and one sister had died since he put on the King’s uniform.

Arthur Impey now needed some kind of gainful employment upon his return to civilian life and he no longer seemed to be a tobacco manufacturer. He probably joined Morland and Impey in 1919. By the early 1920s he had become managing director of Societe Anonyme des Etablissements Kalamazoo in Paris, a subsidiary company. Impey appears to have lived in France for all of the inter-war period until the German invasion of May 1940 made flight inevitable.

On September 26 1926, aged 41, Arthur married Lillian Cotton (1901-1962), a portrait painter from Boston, USA. She was the youngest daughter of Nathaniel and Emma Cotton. The marriage took place at St Jean de Luz in south-west France. No children came from the marriage which was dissolved in 1946. During the inter-war period he was a member of the Travellers’ Club, Paris as well as the Windham Club, London

Arthur makes a fleeting appearance in two separate entries in the ‘Bootham Oversea’ section of the Bootham School magazine from 1930-2. On page 159 it was stated that “A.E. Impey (1898-1901) has nothing very striking to report from Paris. He was in the United States recently, but saw no Old Boys there”. Arthur had also written a letter to his old school and the following extract made its way into print…

“Our heads in Paris are bloody, but unbowed, and my strong conviction, after twelve years in France, is that the country, practically to a man, hates the thought of either war or conquest. They have but one desire, and that is to live in peace within their own frontiers. All the trouble is caused by their deep-seated mistrust of their German neighbour and, so far as history is a guide, we must admit that they have good grounds for this feeling”.

In January 1932 ‘Boiling Pot’ , the Kalamazoo works magazine, reported that the firms’s works in France had moved to a modern factory at the end of 1930 in the south Paris suburbs. In December 1934 Ethel Jane Adair Impey, Arthur’s sister-in-law who had married Francis Levitt Impey, donated his War Diary to Birmingham Reference Library. She was born in Hackney, London in 1877 , the daughter of F.G. Adair Roberts, a chemical manufacturer. In 1901 she was an assistant and teacher of Swedish Gymnastics at the Physical Training School, at Lapal, Halesowen run by Rhoda Anstey, the principal. Ethel was an active promoter of gymnastics both locally and nationally. In 1908 she set up the Journal of Scientific Physical Training and became its editor. In 1918 she founded the Birmingham and District Gymnastics Club. She later wrote extensively about local history.

In May 1940 with the fall of France imminent Arthur left Paris, the factory and his flat, and, in his sports car, joined the stream of refugees fleeing Paris. With the Channel ports threatened by Hitler’s armies he arrived at Bordeaux and found a coal boat leaving for England. He had no alternative but to leave his expensive Italian car on the quayside.


It is fortunate that Arthur’s War Office file survives with documentation relevant to an understanding of his First World War service. As a bonus the file also documents his service in the Second World War as an officer in the Local Defence Volunteers better known as the Home Guard. On July 25 1940 he enrolled into 2nd Battalion of the Buckinghamshire Home Guard. Presumably he came to live in Buckinghamshire but we do not the location. The initial appeal for volunteers had been broadcast on May 14 that year. On February 1 1941 he was promoted to Major in the Home Guard and exactly a year later he was further promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Between 1942 and December 31 1944 he continued to serve as a Lieutenant-Colonel in command of a battalion until the stand-down of the Home Guard. On December 31 1945, at the disbandment of the Home Guard, he was granted the hononary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

When peace came in 1945 he resumed contact with the French firm as a director but continued to live in Britain. After the dissolution of his first marriage in 1946 he quickly married, on November 27 of that year, Marjorie Penrose-Thackwell, daughter of Colonel E.R. Penrose-Thackwell and Katherine his wife. Marjorie was 44 and the wedding took place at St Marylebone, London.

Arthur Impey in later life

In February 1953 Arthur became chairman of Kalamazoo Ltd of Northfield when his brother, Francis Levitt Impey, finally retired. He had already given up his active role as managing director. It was to be a short chairmanship because in October 29 1954 Arthur Impey died after a short illness, aged 69. He had lived for some time at ‘The Old House’, Guilsborough, Northamptonshire, but died at St Matthews Nursing Home, Northampton. His estate was valued at 99426-3s-7d which is nearly 1.8 million at 2004 values. The main beneficiary of his will was his wife Marjorie but 3000 each was also bequeathed to his sister Alice E Impey and his nephew, Richard Impey. His hobbies were recorded elsewhere as dry fly fishing and golf. When he lived in Northamptonshire he was a member of the Pytchley Hunt, near Kettering.

His gravestone still stands alongside those of four other members of the family in Cofton Hackett churchyard.

On January 29 1960 Marjorie Impey wrote the first of two letters from the Guilsborough address to the War Office in order to obtain details of Arthur’s military career which would assist her in claiming a widow’s pension. On September 14 1961 Ethel Jane Adair Impey died in a London nursing home; this was the sister-in-law who had placed Arthur’s diary in Birmingham Reference Library. Marjory, Arthur’s second wife, died on April 24 1973 and was then living at ‘The New House’, Coton, Guilsborough, Northamptonshire. The ‘estate’ was still worth 1.9 million at 2004 values. At her death she still held shares in Societe Anonyme Kalmazoo France.


Ethel Adair Impey. Edited Irene Clephane assisted by D.A.Impey. ‘About the Impeys’. Worcester. 1963. Society of Genealogists’ Library.

Impey wills and probate

Frederic Impey. Probate 26.5.21.

Arthur Elia Impey. Probate 22.12.54.

Marjory Impey. Probate 8.6.73

War Office file of A.E.Impey (National Archives WO ref: 339/10842)

Morland and Impey ‘works’ magazine 1914-1932. Local Studies Department,

Birmingham Reference Library – ‘Kalamagazette’ and from 1920 the ‘Kalamazoo Boiling Pot’.

‘Kalamagazette’, November 1920. Article on Frederic Impey.

Arthur E.Impey. Diary of a Gunner in the Great War. 1918. Introductory notes, 1934 by Ethel Impey. Birmingham Reference Library/Archives. ZZ61A 430000.

Census returns, 1881-1901

Various Birmingham newspapers…

Birmingham Post 1.11.1954. Death of A.E.Impey

Birmingham Post 10.11.1920 Obituary of Frederic Impey

Evening Despatch 10.11.20 Death of Frederic Impey

Weekly Post 13.11.20 Same

B’ham Post 27.4.1959 Death of Oliver Morland.

B’ham Post 15.1.1945. Retirement presentation to Alderman Morland.

B’ham Mail 15.1.45 Ibid

Bootham Schoool Register and Bootham Magazine, 1930-2 with thanks to Bridget Morris, School Archivist, Bootham School, York

Ordnance Survey maps, Northfield and Longbridge.

Prospectus, Morland and Impey, 1920. Birmingham Reference Library, Local Studies Department (556657)

Robert Levitt Impey. Autobiographical notes. Local Studies Department, Birmingham Reference Library (L78.1 626015)

Oliver Morland. William White a brother of men. 1903. Local Studies Department Birmingham Post Year Books and Who’s Who 1955-6, 1958-9

Memories of Alice E.Impey (1887-1962). Northfield Society (1983). 1956. In ‘Down Memory Lane. Recollections of Victorian and Edwardian Northfield'. Collected by Leonard G Day. Occasional Paper No 14.

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Copyright Alan Tucker, February, 2009.

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