Copyright 2004-7 Glenn Luttrell
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Sir Walter Fownes Luttrell
b. October 2 1919 d. April 3 2007
m. Hermione Gunston 1942
Colonel Sir Walter Luttrell, who has died aged 87, was awarded an MC in 1945 for his part in the advance into Germany; he was also the last private owner of Dunster Castle, Somerset, which had been in his family's hands for 600 years. Dramatically situated on top of a wooded hill, there has been a castle there since Norman times. The 13th-century gatehouse survives, but the present building was remodelled between 1868 and 1872 by Antony Salvin; the fine oak staircase and plasterwork of the 17th-century house that he adapted can still be seen.The foundations of the Luttrell fortune were laid by the marriage of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell to Frethesent Paganell in 1215. The Paganell family owned the Court House at East Quantoxhead and large estates throughout England.Lady Elizabeth Luttrell, a grand-daughter of Edward I, purchased Dunster Castle from the de Mohun family in 1374 and, in 1405, the first of the Luttrell knights, Sir Hugh Luttrell, occupied the castle.
The Luttrells supported the House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses and forfeited the castle and their lands in 1461 when the Lancastrians were defeated; but they regained their patrimonies in 1485 after the Battle of Bosworth had returned the Lancastrians to power.The estate comprised some 15,000 acres in 1867 and had an income rental of £22,000 per annum. In the Second World War the castle was used as a convalescent home for American naval officers. On his mother's death in 1974, Walter Luttrell gave the castle to the National Trust, thus ending a family association of 600 years.
Geoffrey Walter Fownes Luttrell was born on October 2 1919 in Melbourne, where his father was private secretary to the Governor-General, and was brought up at Dunster Castle. He and a group of local children were given the run of the house, including the dungeons in which to play hide-and-seek or murder. After his fifth birthday, the young Walter was introduced to the tenants at the annual Michaelmas lunch. He was fascinated by the beard sported by the oldest of them and gave it a good tug, to the delight of all but the unfortunate owner. Walter was educated at Eton before going up to Exeter College, Oxford, where he read Politics, Philosophy and Economics. A generous host, on one occasion he was giving a drinks party in his rooms when a rowdy group of undergraduates appeared outside shouting, "We've come to worship the great white goat." After that, he was always known as "goat" by his friends.While still at his prep school, he had founded the Dunster Castle rabbit hounds, and he took two hunters to Oxford; at home he had his own pack of beagles. He played polo on the Dunster Lawns and later in life fished for salmon all over the world.In 1939 Luttrell enlisted as a trooper, and was subsequently commissioned into the 15th/19th the King's Royal Hussars (15/19 KRH). His regiment landed in Normandy on D+2 and he served as second-in-command of his squadron and regimental gunnery officer throughout the campaign.In September 1944 Luttrell, then a captain, was in the bridgehead over the Meuse-Escaut Canal when a troop of his squadron came under fire in difficult, thickly wooded country. Luttrell was ordered to extricate the troop; the troop leader was one of many casualties and two of the tanks had broken tracks.
Despite being attacked from all sides, he got the tracks repaired, withdrew the troop and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy.In April 1945 his squadron seized the pass up the Teutoberger Wald, south of Osnabruck, and fought for a whole day along the top of this feature, entirely unsupported and against powerful and determined opposition. The bold and accurate use of his 95 mm guns took a severe toll of the enemy, and the citation for his MC paid tribute to his calm leadership, skill and magnificent courage in the most testing situations.
After the war Luttrell accompanied 15/19 KRH to Palestine before retiring from the Army in 1946. He farmed near Tiverton, Devon, for four years and then moved into the family home at East Quantoxhead. He took his duties as landlord very seriously and was greatly respected by all in the village. At Christmas everyone was invited to the house to sing carols; refreshments were provided and he told stories of the happenings of the year. An accomplished raconteur, he much enjoyed poking fun at himself. He loved weeding and used to say that his wife was a constructive gardener while he belonged to the destructive variety. After his father's death in 1957 Luttrell ran the estate there and at Dunster. He joined the North Somerset Yeomanry in 1952 and subsequently commanded them; he was their Honorary Colonel from 1977 to 1987 and, in the latter year, he was Colonel of the Light Infantry TAVR. Luttrell was president of the Royal Bath & West Show in 1983 and 1992, liaison officer for the Ministry of Agriculture from 1965 to 1971 and a regional director of Lloyds Bank from 1972 to 1983. He was Lord Lieutenant of Somerset from 1978 to 1994, and in 1993 was appointed KCVO. Walter Luttrell died on April 3. In 1942, after a whirlwind romance, he married Hermione Gunston, who nursed him devotedly during his last illness and who survives him. There were no children.
A brief but impressive meeting.
I met Sir Walter one afternoon in July 1997. It was an afternoon on which Sir Walter had spent the previous summer hours "weeding". He was tired and undesiring of such inquisitive guests. My son, my father and I were on "holiday" in England pursuing our Luttrell family "roots". Having visited Dunster Castle and slept in the four poster bed in the historic Luttrell Arms Hotel we were intent on completing our Somerset tour with an examination of the Manor House in East Quantockshead.
It was not our intention to impose upon anyone's private time. It was my belief, on that hot Saturday afternoon, that I was knocking on the door of the estate office, not the door of a private residence. Surely Sir Walter was unpleasantly surprised to find three American "tourists" at his door. Yet, we were pleasantly surprised and honored to meet the "head" of the Luttrells in England. I, of course, apologized for our intrusion upon him without the decorum of an appointment. Despite his afternoon's interruption, Sir Walter was a very gracious host during our brief visit. He spoke with us about our common heritage and even entertained us with a brief tour of the Manor House. I will remember him very fondly and proudly relate to anyone who cares to know that Sir Walter Luttrell, a man of great position in the world (compared to most of us), showed the quality of his "class" with impressively "down-to-earth" humility and graciousness to strangers whom he met. He was an admirable example for TheLuttrells everywhere.
Lt.-Colonel Walter Luttrell, MC (center)
graciously chats with three visiting American Luttrells -
Eric Luttrell (left)
Claude Luttrell (right)
Glenn Luttrell (behind the camera)
in 1997 at the Luttrell Manor in East Quantockshead.
"Sir Walter is the lineal descendant of Sir Andrew Luttrell and therefore of Ralph Paynell to whom the manor had been granted by William the Conqueror".
"Dunster Castle", c 1996, The National Trust, p. 41.