Esmond Elliot, younger son of the Earl of Minto, Viceroy of India, was killed while serving with the Scots Guards, aged 22, at the beginning of the Passchendaele Offensive.
Compiled from his grieving mother’s memorial of his life, together with his letters, diaries and photographs from the front, the story begins with a sweeping panorama of a golden pre-war era, featuring Canada, the splendour of the Raj, Eton and the Royal Family, and ends with sacrifice on the Western Front.
After leaving Eton in 1914, Esmond gave up his place at Cambridge and joined the Lothians and Border Horse Yeomanry. He arrived in France in February 1916 as ADC to Geoffrey Feilding who was in charge of the Guards Division. As a staff officer, he was exposed to the complexities and responsibilities of High Command and to senior military figures, but he yearned for action and, six months later, joined the Scots Guards, a regiment which would take him to the frontline.
During the bitter winter of 1916/17, he saw fierce fighting on the Somme, when his Battalion suffered terrible losses.
In preparation for the Passchendaele Offensive, which began on 31 July 1917, Esmond led a daring raid across the Yser Canal, returning with vital intelligence which helped the Guards Division in their successful seizure of the bank on the enemy side four days before the main assault. A week later, while in command of his Company, he was killed by a single bullet.
Esmond’s jottings, direct and spontaneous, reveal the rapid transformation and maturing of a young officer exposed to war. His mother’s collection of letters shows the extent to which one life, albeit brief, touched so many people and how the memory of it, and the influence of his goodness, left a lasting impression.
John Buchan wrote of Esmond: “His gallantry was remarkable even among gallant men and in the darkest days his debonair and gentle spirit made a light around him.”
And in a letter to Esmond’s mother, his Platoon Sergeant paid the following tribute: “We have lost our idol for we had set him on a pedestal in our hearts. He came to us and claimed our affections so that, now he has gone, we will miss him more than words can tell.”
Professor Sir Hew Strachan: “The account of a young vibrant and privileged life cut short at Ypres in 1917 is at one level a familiar one, not least in its apparent tragic inevitability. But ‘The Lost Idol’ is much more. It is the story of a mother as well as a son, of a family as much as a regiment. And alongside the words are the pictures. Esmond Elliot, like many soldiers of the First World War, recorded his experiences with a Kodak Vest Pocket Camera: new technology enabled images to give wings to his words.”
“ … A fascinating biopic of Esmond Elliott, younger son of the Viceroy of India, killed at Passchendaele in 1917.” Books Monthly
“I could not put it down. It is so beautifully written and reconstructed, and so powerful. Very well-conceived in every sense.” Sir Anthony Seldon
“The account of a young, vibrant and privileged life cut short at Ypres in 1917 is at one level a familiar one, not least in its apparent tragic inevitability, but The Lost Idol is much more: it is a story of a mother as well as a son, of a family as much as a regiment – and alongside the words are the pictures. Esmond Elliot, like many soldiers of the First World War, recorded his experiences with a Kodak vest pocket camera; new technology enabled images to give wings to his words.” Sir Hew Strachan
“An impossibly moving portrait of how loving families were torn apart by this cruellest of wars… the authors have the storyteller’s ability to bring the characters and their historical background vividly to life.” Jilly Cooper
“ … The Lost Idol will take its rightful place amongst the great literature of the war as it stands comparison with classics such as Charles Carrington’s A Subaltern’s War or Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That.”Trevor Royle, The Herald
“The book, which draws on Elliot’s numerous letters and diaries is a joint collaboration between politician Johnnie Astor and researcher and writer Alexandra Campbell. Profusely illustrated and handsomely produced, the correspondence shines new light on many aspects of the Western Front, not least Elliot’s views and opinions of his fellow officers and commanders, many of whom will be familiar to readers and students of the Great War. The authors have done an excellent job in crafting the material into a readable and fast-flowing narrative.” Jonathan Walker, Military History Author
“ … His diaries and letters reveal the transformation of a boy to a man as he matured, exposed to the horrors of war. His letters are engaging and put the reader in the position of seeing the war through the eyes of this remarkable young man. An excellent account and one our readers will enjoy.” The Great War
“ … “[Esmond's] story, eloquently and lovingly told by Astor and Campbell, leaves the reader with an acute and tragic sense of loss. This moving tribute to Esmond is a fitting tribute to all the dead of this terrible war.” Guards Magazine