A Sussex War Grave and its Literary Connection.

The name Horatio Hornblower will be known as a gallant but fictional Royal Navy Officer during the Napoleonic Wars. He has been played on film by Gregory Peck and more recently Ioan Gruffudd.  But where did this unusual name come from?

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Ioan Gruffudd as Captain Hornblower

Edward Sibun Hornblower was born in Southwark, London on 13th November 1873.  His father Josiah was a shipwright. His mother was Sarah Anne but she was Josiah’s second wife.  The family lived together at a smart detached house, 44, Hayter Road, just off Brixton Hill (now the A23). Edwin lived there with his sisters Florence and Annie and his brother Henry.  Also in the house were his step-sisters Alice and Kate and a maid.

Edward was educated at Alleyn’s School about two miles away in Dulwich.  The school was founded in 1619 and the headteacher when Edward attended was The Reverend J.H. Smith. He remained a student until 1890 and the following year he was living in rented accommodation in central London near Buckingham Palace. His occupation is shown as ‘clerk‘   He later became an insurance broker.

On 30th August 1902 he married Gertrude Evaline Harwar and they moved into a large house in Cheam Road, Sutton, Surrey called ‘The Mount’. (the house is no longer there) Edward travelled extensively abroad and the 1911 census shows that he was out of the country and Gertrude was staying with her parents in Peckham Rye.

During the Great War Edward was in Canada staying in the town of Huxley, midway between Calgary and Edmonton.  At 42 he was too old to join the Army but on 14th June 1916 he walked into the Recruiting Office at Red Deer, Alberta. To join up he lied about his age and said he was 35 and joined the 187th (Central Alberta) Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force as Private 883441.

He sailed to England in December 1916 by early 1917 was serving in France with the Machine Gun Section.  He fell ill and returned to England and travelled to Seaford, Sussex where he was admitted to Ravenscroft Hospital (a converted school) suffering from pneumonia. He died 100 years ago on 22nd March 1917.  Hornblower’s wife Gertrude paid for a gravestone carved with the regimental badge to be erected.  The gravestone also commemorates his brother-in-law John Harwar who was killed in action later in the year.  Edward also has a Commonwealth War Grave.

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Although Edward Hornblower has been dead for a century his name is still remembered.  Another pupil at Alleyn’s School was Cecil Louis Troughton Smith.  Smith was present when the War Memorial, endorsed with the name Edward Hornblower, was unveiled.  Smith was an author better known today as C.S.Forester.   He is best remembered for his famous historic novels featuring Captain Horatio Hornblower –  a name inspired by Edward Hornblower who is buried at Seaford Cemetery.

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