Sir William Maynard Gomm
by Janet Meydam
Some people are destined to rise from tragedy, living long, productive lives. Sir William Maynard Gomm was one of these people. Born in Barbados in 1784, he was eldest son of Lieutenant Colonial William Gomm of the 55th regiment of the British Army and Mary Alleyne, daughter of Joseph Alleyne of Barbados. Gomm’s father was killed during the storming of Pointe à Petre on the island of Guadeloupe, West Indies in 1794. His mother died two years later, leaving Gomm, his two brothers and his one sister orphaned. The children were raised by their aunt, Miss Jane Gomm. One of Gomm’s brothers also died before reaching adulthood.
Despite these tragedies, Gomm began his military career early in life. In recognition of his father’s service, Gomm was appointed ensign in the 9th regiment on 24 May and promoted to lieutenant on 16 November, all in the year 1794 before he turned age 10. He continued in school until 1799 when he began active service at age 15. Gomm proceeded to have a long, active period of military service in various campaigns and battles in several countries which, coupled with studies at High Wycombe, acquired him the rank of Assistant Quartermaster-General. His continued service in campaigns and battles led to a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. In 1815, Gomm served in Brussels in the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo, aiding in the defeat of Napoleon.
More tragedy followed. Gomm’s brother Henry, also a soldier and one of his fighting companions, died from old battle wounds in 1816. His sister, with whom he corresponded by letter regularly, died in 1817 and his aunt also died in 1822. Gomm inherited his aunt’s property after her death and became the lord of the manor of Rotherhithe. Gomm spent the next 20 years serving in England. He married Sarah Penn, granddaughter of William Penn of Pennsylvania, but she died in 1827. In 1830 he married Elizabeth Kerr, daughter of Lord Robert Kerr. Gomm had no children by either marriage.
Gomm began serving overseas again in 1839. Between this year and 1855, he commanded posts in Jamaica and Mauritius and held several posts in India, including commander-in-chief of India. Gomm was a popular leader during this time, thanks largely to his wife’s social activities. He was promoted to full General in 1854 and retired to England in 1855. In 1868, he received the rank of Field Marshal. Gomm was also appointed Constable of the Tower of London in 1872. Gomm received numerous awards and medals during his lifetime. He died on 15 March 1875 at the age of 91.
Gomm was a regular letter writer and wrote especially stirring letters to his sister and aunt while he served with the military in Spain and Portugal. These letters were compiled into a book by Francis C. Carr-Gomm and were published in 1881.
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