Maurice Gordon Willmott was aged 23 when, while serving in France in 1917 as a Lieutenant (Acting Captain) with the 17th Battalion the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, he was awarded the Military Cross. He was also mentioned in dispatches. Notice of Willmott’s Military Cross was published in the London Gazette for 6 April 1918 in the following terms: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When his company was held up during an attack by an enemy strong point, though wounded, he at once led an attack and captured it, with fifteen prisoners and a machine gun. It was due to his prompt and courageous action that the whole advance was not seriously impeded.”
Among the Chancery Masters’ records there is to be found only limited information on Willmott’s early life. In his entry in what appears to be his handwriting in our ‘The Chancery Masters Personalia’ (he had a bold and flowing hand rather than a neat clerical one) he writes that he was educated “Privately” and was “Admitted as a solicitor in June 1919 becoming a partner in Corbin Grunor & Cook of 52 Bedford Row.”
War had delayed his progress in the profession (he had qualified in 1915) and his consequent admission to the Roll in 1919. Interestingly, Willmott served for an extraordinary long time as a Chancery Master; appointed in 1931 and retiring in 1959. Benefiting from considerable judicial experience, he became Chief Master in October 1950. Minutes of the Masters Termly Meetings (then recorded in handwriting) suggest a meticulous attention to detail by Willmott and one suspects that he was expeditious in the dispatch of business. In those days the Chief Chancery Master was rewarded for service by a Knighthood, usually fairly shortly before retirement, and accordingly Willmott’s name appeared again in the London Gazette recording his Knighthood in the Birthday Honours for June 1956.
In his private life Willmott was a keen gardener and indeed listed this as his hobby in Who’s Who. He had married in 1934 and had two daughters. The Masters have a photograph of Willmott in the evidently rather fine garden of his house; the image is noted as taken by Master Ball and a note reads “Willmott in retirement at Old Beams, Blackford, near Wincanton, Somerset when visited by Ball in September 1966.”
This soldier, lawyer and judge had lived through two great conflicts. One may ponder what were his thoughts and memories in later life of the terrible War in which he had won distinction; he belonged to the branch of the profession in which no fewer than 1,100 solicitors and articled clerks perished on active service; no doubt few, if any, members of the Bar or solicitors thought in 1913 of the destinies which awaited then. It is certain that Willmott will have held in affectionate recollection and pride many of his fallen comrades. The Military Cross is and was exclusively a combatant’s distinction. Willmott’s Regiment lost 12,840 men in the course of that War.
Have a look at Willmott’s photograph when you are next in the Rolls Building appearing before the Chancery Masters.