Sadly the anniversaries of MPs’ deaths in the First World War are coming at very regular intervals currently – today marks the 100th anniversary of the sixth MP who died in the fighting. Continuing our series of short biographies of these men, Dr Kathryn Rix, of the Victorian Commons, discusses the life of Lord Ninian Edward Crichton-Stuart…
On 2nd October 1915, the Conservative MP for Cardiff, Lord Ninian Edward Crichton-Stuart was killed in action during the battle of Loos, near Auchy-les-Mines, France. He had been commanding the 6th Battalion of the Welsh Regiment, which had been taking part in a night attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt. One of the battalion’s privates recalled that, ‘our late colonel, Lord Ninian, stood brave and bold until every man returned to safety. He was shot through the forehead and died a death worth dying. He was one of the best and we shall miss him’. Crichton-Stuart had served with the battalion (which was part of the territorial force) since before the war and was mobilised for service as a lieutenant-colonel in August 1914.
The loss of Crichton-Stuart was keenly felt in south Wales, where he had represented the Cardiff Boroughs seat since December 1910. The Lord Mayor of Cardiff sent a telegram to Crichton-Stuart’s wife, applauding ‘Lord Ninian’s active interest in the welfare of this city as its representative in Parliament, his manly qualities and his intense patriotism’, which ‘endeared him to every Cardiff citizen’. Among the local institutions he supported was Cardiff City Football Club, whose Ninian Park stadium was named in his honour.
After studying at Christ Church, Oxford – where he is commemorated on the First World War memorial alongside his fellow MP, Thomas Agar-Robartes, who also died in France – Crichton-Stuart joined the Scots Guards in 1905, but left two years later to devote himself to agriculture and politics. The second son of the third marquess of Bute, he had strong family connections to Cardiff, where the Butes owned the Castle and had promoted major developments at the docks. A Scotsman by birth, he was also ‘extremely popular’ in Fife, where he had inherited estates from father. He was a member of Fife County Council, president of the Fife Agricultural Society and hereditary custodian of Falkland Palace.
Crichton-Stuart’s first election contest at Cardiff was in January 1910, when his political platform included tariff reform, reform of the poor law and extending the recently introduced system of old age pensions. He also wished to see ‘Unity of the Empire’, ‘A strong Navy to defend our shores’ and ‘An efficient Army’, with the aim of ‘Promoting Commerce and preserving peace’. His political defeat was followed by a personal tragedy, when his first child, Ninian Patrick, died in February. According to the Dundee Courier, the child had ‘caught a chill whilst driving on the day of the election round Cardiff … On the back of the motor car was a bannerette inscribed, “Please vote for Daddy.”’
Victorious at the December 1910 general election, Crichton-Stuart became ‘popular among men of all parties’ at Westminster. Although he rarely spoke in debate, he regularly asked questions of ministers. At a memorial service for him in Cardiff, the vicar praised his diligent approach to his parliamentary duties, carefully studying the ‘Blue Books’ of parliamentary papers, even though ‘it must have been against the grain’ for him. He also remembered Crichton-Stuart’s charismatic personality, noting that he ‘got up at four or five o’clock in the morning to make friends with the working men’. His constituents remembered him with a memorial statue in Gorsedd Gardens, Cardiff.*
You can read the rest in our MPs in World War I series here.