Photograph of Menzies by kind permission of Mr David Blomfield
Menzies was born on the 31st December 1858 in Pwllcrochan near Pembroke in Wales. His father was called Owen Charles Seymour and his mother was Mary Janet. He was their eldest child, and had 8 younger siblings. They were Ethel Janet, Caroline Elizabeth, Owen Henry Russell, Emily Eliza May, Eva, Edith M., Hugh Mainwairing and Frank.
Owen was a Rector, or parish priest, in the Church of England. He was Rector of Pwllcrochan between 1857 and 1865. He then moved to Bradfield Combust, a village near Bury St Edmonds in Suffolk. The family lived in the Rectory House there until 1874. In this year Owen became Vicar of Frensham in Surrey.
We don't know whether Menzies moved again as he grew up. By the time he was 19 he had decided to become an officer in the Army. He arrived at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst on the 1st September 1878 to begin his training.
At Sandhurst Menzies received training in a number of different subjects, including Mathematics, Military Tactics, Military Law, Riding, Gymnastics and Drill. His conduct in class was assessed as 'Good', but his conduct 'out of study' was only 'Fair'. He was 'unpunctual and troublesome sometimes'. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 63rd Regiment of Foot on the 15th August 1879.
The 63rd Regiment was stationed in Umballa when Menzies was commissioned. This is now Amballa on the edge of the Indian Punjab. We don't know when Menzies arrived in India. The 63rd Regiment left Umballa to take part in the Second Afghan War on the 12th August 1880; Menzies was with them by then. He was promoted to Lieutenant on the 1st September.
The 63rd was part of a force sent to try and relieve British forces under siege in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Another force marching south from the Afghan capital Kabul got there first. On the 10th September Menzies was one of 3 officers in a group of 100 soldiers from the 63rd who were detached from the rest of the regiment and sent into the Arambi valley. Their job was to 'punish the local tribesmen and collect grain'. We don't know what this 'punishment' involved. The party didn't take any casualties. By October the 63rd Regiment had arrived in Kandahar. They stayed there until April 1881 when the British withdrew from Afghanistan.
On the 1st July the 63rd Regiment was stationed in Quetta, which is now in Pakistan. It was renamed the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on this day. After serving in this area for the rest of 1881 the 1st Battalion marched to Sialkot at the end of the year. We believe Menzies' Afghanistan Medal was presented to him at a parade there on the 25th April.
The 1st Battalion was scheduled to return to the UK later that year, but the outbreak of the Anglo-Egyptian War in June 1882 meant that it was diverted to Egypt. Menzies did not sail for Egypt with the rest of the battalion, and he did not receive the Egypt Medal, which suggests he did not join the battalion during the war. We don't know where he was or what he was doing.
The rest of Menzies' career is a mystery. The 1st Battalion was based in the UK, and the 2nd Battalion was in India during this time. We believe he was on parade with the 2nd Battalion on the 21st January 1886 when they received new colours in Delhi.
Menzies resigned his commission on the 27th June 1888. This was because of a 'serious financial loss'. Menzies had loaned money to one of his fellow officers. He had expected to be paid back, but 'was disappointed'. Although we don't know exactly what happened, it seems that this loss meant he was unable to pay his own expenses. This was a serious offence for an officer, and it is likely that this incident led to his resignation. It was remembered as 'backing a cheque' by his family.
We don't know anything about Menzies' life between then and October 1897. On the 12th he married Ada Marie Berrill at St Matthew's Church in Hammersmith, London. He gave his job as 'Sergeant, XV Hussars' and his address as 'Aldershot'. The 15th (The King's) Hussars was a cavalry regiment; its soldiers rode into battle on horseback. At some point Menzies had rejoined the Army as a soldier and risen through the ranks.
In April 1901 Menzies was a Sergeant Major Rough Rider for the 9th (Queen's Royal) Lancers at Canterbury Barracks in Kent. A Rough Rider was a soldier who assisted a cavalry regiment's Riding Master in ensuring all the soldiers in the unit were competent horsemen. His main job was to break, or tame, young horses so that they were used to wearing a saddle and being ridden. We don't know whether he was a Rough Rider when he married.
Menzies had returned to the 15th Hussars by October 1902 and held the rank of Squadron Sergeant Major. On the 4th he transferred to the 5th (Princess Charlotte of Wales') Dragoon Guards and was commissioned as a 'Riding Master with the Honorary rank of Lieutenant'. His name was given as Charles Lang in this announcement.
Menzies would remain with this regiment for the rest of his career. He spent some time serving in South Africa, returning to the UK in 1909. On his return 'he suffered from very severe pneumonia and lost his previous merry spirits and ceased to take delight in his garden'.
On the 4th October 1912 he was promoted to Honorary Captain and continued as Riding Master. By August 1913 the 5th Dragoon Guards were based at Beaumont Barracks in Aldershot, Hampshire, where Menzies and Ada lived in the officer's quarters there.
At around 4:30am on Tuesday the 26th August 1913 Menzies committed suicide by 'throwing himself on the railway line at Surbiton'. An inquest was held, which helped to explain why he had done this.
Menzies wrote two letters before he killed himself. One was addressed to his Commanding Officer and read:
When you get this it will all be over. I am very sorry, but it is the only way. I had some shares which I hoped might have put things right, and made an attempt to hold them. But it is too late now. You have been very good to me, so has everyone. I ask you to forgive me.
The second was to Ada:
I have been wandering about today just waiting for the night, and it has come at last. I have been thinking about you all the time - wondering. It has been just dreadful. I don't mind for myself; it is only you - about you that I have been thinking. I have just come in here writing you once more. I have been more or less mad these last two days, knowing what must happen, and yet having to keep it from you. One or more things have come to my mind this afternoon. You will have a pension and, I hope, some more leisure, and there is a bonus for you from the Prudential Insurance Company. I scarcely knew what to do this morning. It was too dreadful. You will be better without me; it was so hopeless. If I have acted foolishly, madly, wrongly, I have suffered accordingly. I hoped it might be otherwise. No one has known. Try to forgive me, darling. Think as little badly of me as you can. When you get this, darling, you will be free. Good-bye.
Menzies' Commanding Officer believed that he 'thought he was getting old, and that he rather magnified small worries'. Over the past 2 years 'he had had a particularly hard time...in training a large number of men'. Despite this, 'he carried out his duties conscientiously...Only this year he was complimented on his work by the King'.
Other witnesses at the inquest reported that he 'had not any financial difficulties so far as the regiment was concerned', but over the '5 days before his death he had been very ill and complained of his head. Mrs Lang urged him to see a doctor, but he invariably said 'Tomorrow, tomorrow'. He moped about his room which he used as an office'.
The jury at the inquest gave a verdict of 'Suicide during Temporary Insanity'. Menzies was reported as being 49 years old, but was actually 55. He was buried in Aldershot Military Cemetery.
Menzies' medal was donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in August 1949.