The day before: One soldier’s last letter home before the opening day of the Battle of the Somme

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Ronald Grundy painting
2nd Lt. Ronald Edwin Grundy was 19 years old when he was leading a platoon of the 2nd Battalion Middlesex Regiment on the 1st July 1916. Just before 7.30 am he was shot through the throat by a German sniper. He fell instantly but less than a day before that fateful moment he had written home to his mother. On the eve of the 97th anniversary of the opening day of the Battle of the Somme I reproduce the last page of his letter. The family received the letter on 4th July 1916.
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Before he was killed Ronald bequeathed money to be left to Emanuel School for a trophy to foster the inter-house spirit. In addition to the trophy a chalice was made for the School Chapel in Ronald’s memory.
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Ronald’s body was originally buried close to where he fell but due to continued fighting his body was lost. A grave stone in Ovillers Military Cemetery bears his name but his remains are believed to be buried nearby. Today we remember Ronald’s bravery and the sacrifice this young man made all those years ago.
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Ronald’s older brother Cecil died of wounds in November 1915 after being hit by a sniper on the evening of 28 October 1915 and is buried in Bethune Town Cemetery. Ronald’s younger brothers were too young to fight in the First World War but one, Jack Grundy served in the Second World War and having attended Emanuel School as a boy later became Headmaster at Emanuel between 1953-1963.

With thanks to the Archive Modern Conflict for the letter.

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Emanuel Generations at Dacre Day

70 years ago this November Bill Taylor was captured on Leros and made a POW. He spent 17 months as a POW being transported to various camps including Brunswick Oflag 79. Today he was at Emanuel School where I was able to show him the boards detailing his war service, prepared by the Emanuel Archivist Tony Jones using my research, which will be displayed at the Emanuel School War Exhibition in 2014. I also introduced Bill to the cousin of Seymour Pike and her husband. Seymour Pike was the lead signalman on Motor Gun Boat 314 and was awarded the DSM for his part in the St. Nazaire Raid in 1942.

Bill also met the second cousin of an Old Emanuel who used to be in his class in the 1930s. All round it was a special day and particularly on Armed Forces Day. One is often reminded of how much we all owe Bill’s generation for the sacrifices they made for the Free World.

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Bill Pat Tony and Daniel

Bill and Tony

A week in archives and interviewing OE WW2 veterans

The past week has been full of special moments. Over two days I interviewed a former general manager of Barclays Bank who won the Military Cross in the North African campaign in December 1942, for demolition work. I interviewed him about his pre-war experiences including a school exchange trip to Bremen in 1936 Nazi Germany; his training in the Royal Engineers; landing at Algiers and carrying out work with 564 Field Regiment Royal Engineers in the North African Campaign to his journey through Italy from landing at Taranto to building bridges and bomb disposal work as part of the British Eighth Army’s campaign against German forces along the Adriatic coast of Italy between 1943 and 1945.

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This week also saw a visit to the Royal Fusilier archive in the Tower of London and a most poignant discovery among a collection relating to the 9th battalion Royal Fusiliers in which a number of Old Emanuels (OEs) fought in the Second World War. Having looked through a collection of photos, finding images of OEs, I saw a small image attached to a larger photo. When I took a closer look the name W. L. Page was inscribed on a cross on the grave of a serviceman recently buried. William “Bill” Page was one of four brothers who attended Emanuel in the 1930s. At the outbreak of war Bill was a Conscientious Objector but later joined and reached the rank of Lieutenant in 9th Btn Royal Fusiliers and was killed on Boxing Day 1944. Why had this one photo been taken among the numbers who were buried in Forli War Cemetery? One cannot possibly now know, but certainly, having already gathered a large collection of materials about the Page brothers, it was a unique moment discovering this photo.

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On Saturday 1 June I interviewed an OE who served in the Indian Army and who fought against the Japanese forces in Burma. He discussed his experiences of keeping a number of tanks operational in the Far Eastern theatre; coming in close proximity with a Japanese sniper and conditions under which the Indian Army were fighting in the capture of Japanese garrisons in Burma.

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In addition to these I was at the British Library on Friday 31 May in what proved to be an amazing and unique experience, reading the letters from the father of one Emanuel boy to his son whilst the son was serving on the front lines in France, Italy, Palestine and Egypt. The collection is very significant but more will be revealed in 2014.

If this wasn’t enough excitement for one week then a visit to the Battersea Reference Library and two phone calls from relatives of OEs has produced a wealth of materials. Firstly I discovered the 15th name of an Emanuel boy not included on the original First World War memorial. In addition we now have two significant collections relating to OEs who were made POWs in Europe in the Second World War and also a collection of materials relating to the brother of one of the men I interviewed who served in the Fleet Air Arm in the Pacific, including log books, letters, photos and diaries.

Each week I discover new and exciting materials, illuminating the life of Old Emanuels, who served in every theatre and service in two world wars.