A First World War hero

A First World War hero

A black and white photograph depicting a middle-aged white man with short, dark hair and round glasses wearing the uniform of the Military Knights of Windsor. He is wearing eith medals on his left breast and his hat is tucked under his right arm. He is standing in a furnished living room in front of large, mullioned windows.
Colonel Keith Furze, Military Knight of Windsor, 1955-1971

Army veterans have formed a key part of the community of St George’s Chapel since its foundation in 1348. Over the centuries, those appointed as Poor, and later Military, Knights of Windsor have seen action in many of the most significant theatres of war in our country’s history. Colonel Edward Keith Byrne Furze, pictured in the photograph above, was one of twelve Military Knights to have served in the British Army during the First and Second World Wars.

Born in Sidcup, Kent, in 1890, he received a commission in the Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment in 1912. In October 1914 he was sent as a junior officer with the British Expeditionary Force to France and Belgium, where he served for three and a half years, despite receiving wounds to the knee, hand and head.

However, in May 1918 – only a few months before the Armistice brought the First World War to an end on 11 November – Furze was seriously wounded in the left thigh and taken prisoner. All this is recorded in Furze’s entry in the “Register of Military Knights of Windsor Appointed by the Sovereign” [SGC M.870/349]. This Register is held in the Archives of St George’s Chapel and every time a new Military Knight is appointed, they add their personal and service details to the hand-written record.

Alongside the facts and figures required, Furze added a personal note to his register entry, describing a little about how the First World War had shaped his life:
“On repatriation from Germany as prisoner of war in December 1918 my leg wound was still giving much trouble and I was on crutches having been 7 months on my back and had 4 operations. I was given the opportunity of transferring to the newly formed Army Educational Corps with consequent substantive promotion to the rank of Major and this seemed the only probable alternative to compulsory retirement as unfit for combatant duties. As the authorities needed a limited number of combatant officers with some seniority and active service I decided to transfer in 1920. On the whole I have had no regrets.”

He went on to see active service in India, 1939-41, and Egypt, 1941-43. He was appointed a Military Knight of Windsor in 1955 and he and his wife Peggy lived above the Henry VIII Gate in Windsor Castle until his death in 1971.

Colonel Furze’s medals are clear to see in this photograph, which depicts him in full uniform in the living room of one of the Military Knights’ houses in the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle (the south front of St George’s Chapel is visible through the window). He was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order, Order of the British Empire, Military Cross, 1914 Star and Clasp, British War and Victory Medals, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Defence and War Medals and he was six times Mentioned in Despatches, marked by a spray of oak leaves pinned to the ribbon of the relevant medal.

Throughout his early life, Furze kept a detailed journal. The surviving volumes are still in the care of his family and recently inspired his great-grandson to write a novel about Colonel Furze’s life and service during the First World War. Furze: Sweethearts and Swan Songs by B.D. Wilberforce explores the trials and challenges experienced by a young man on the Western Front in 1915. It was published by Jasami Publishing on Remembrance Day 2021.

Kate McQuillian, Archivist & Chapter Librarian

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.