This time, I revisit the story of Ernest Richard Sheepshanks, Reuters ‘Golden Boy’ during the increasingly turbulent 1930s. Again, this story comes with a ‘shock warning’ so if you are likely to be easily shocked you have been warned!
For Dick Sheepshanks, 27 year old Reuters correspondent covering the General Franco’s Nationalist side during the Spanish Civil War, the end came suddenly and without warning. It was December 1937, the very last day of the old year.
Retired Reuters journalist, Peter Mosley, gave the facts in our Thomson Reuters ‘In Memoriam’ book.
‘…..Sheepshanks joined a convoy of press cars to visit the front line near the ancient city of Teruel, in the foothills of the Sierra de Sudar range in eastern Spain. The cars pulled into the main square of Cudete, a village about five kilometres (three miles) from Teruel. It was bitterly cold. The journalists went to look for a vantage point from where they could observe the battle for Teruel but could not find one. Four of them climbed into one of the cars. chatted, ate chocolate and smoked cigarettes to help keep themselves warm. Suddenly, the Republicans began shelling the village. The first shell landed a few hundred yards from the parked convoy. The second one exploded just beside Sheepshanks’s car, riddling it with shrapnel. In the driver’s seat and closest to the blast, American reporter Bradish Johnson, of the Spur, died instantly. Sheepshanks, sitting next to him, was hit in the head. He never regained consciousness and died that evening. In the rear of the car, another American, Edward Neil of the Associated Press, received leg wounds from which he later died. The fourth war correspondent in the car escaped with minor scalp wounds. He was Harold (‘Kim’) Philby of the Times of London …..’
To Sir Roderick Jones, the Head of Reuters News Agency, correspondent Dick Sheepshanks had represented everything he would have liked to have been – but wasn’t. Tall, debonair and handsome, born in 1910 to a ‘good’ Yorkshire ‘county’ family, Dick boasted an impressive academic and sports record. He also enjoyed useful personal connections.
At Eton, where he was Captain of Cricket, he shared the same school house as Sir Christopher Chancellor, Reuters Manager in the Far East. From Eton he followed Chancellor’s footsteps to Trinity College, Cambridge to read History. He played cricket for Yorkshire, football for the Corinthians (amateur) club and captained his College cricket team. He was popular with his Reuters colleagues, some of whom assumed him to be the unofficial fiancée of socialite Jeanne Stourton, daughter of Viscount Southwell. His cousin was Anthony Blunt, another Trinity man, who, forty odd years later, would be revealed as a member of the Cambridge Five, a group of spies working for the Soviet Union from the 30s to the early 1950s.
Jones, small in stature, with shoes specially built-up to increase his height, was a hat-salesman’s son from Dukinfield near Manchester. His parents had married five weeks before his birth, and his education went no further than the local Board School. He had begun a long way from Eton and Oxford, and this could have made him jealous of Sheepshanks. Instead, in some ways, he began almost to regard Dick as a son. He already had three sons, but perhaps Dick Sheepshanks was the one he would most ’liked’ to have had. (more…)