Above Passchendaele

Smith, G C 13

Lt. Geoffrey Cholerton Smith Geoffrey was a keen cricketer at Emanuel and from the Summer Term Portcullis of 1913 we learn that he was, ‘A hard‑working Vice‑Captain and secretary. As a player his strong defence has been invaluable to the side…’

Lt. Geoffrey Cholerton Smith obtained his commission in the Army Service Corps, before being attached to the Royal Flying Corps in which he was an observer. Living at 11 Magdalene Road, Wandsworth Common, both he and his brother attended Emanuel. Geoffrey was a member of the Emanuel OTC, entering Sandhurst in 1915. In September 1915 he made the journey to the Front where, being attached to the trench mortars of the Second Division, he saw action in the Battle of the Somme and won a Military Cross for gallant conduct at Delville Wood. His citation in the London Gazette reads:

For conspicuous gallantry during operations. He assisted another officer with the guns in a very exposed position, until all the ammunition was expended. Together they then tended the wounded, and arranged carrying parties under very heavy shell fire.

 

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Geoffrey Smith’s Headstone in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery with the History of Emanuel School at War open on the page dedicated to his memory

 

Geoffrey transferred to 6 Squadron RFC in April 1917, the squadron’s motto being, ‘The eyes of the Army’. The motto was appropriate for Geoffrey was an observer in which capacity he would have had various duties dependent on his squadron’s briefing. Generally observers located the position of German batteries and reported back to either headquarters or the artillery in order for them to fire upon these locations.

An observer would also have had to have taken command of a machine gun, typically a Lewis gun in RE8s, (Reconnaissance Experimental No. 8), a two seater aircraft which 6 Squadron were flying in the summer of 1917.

On 31 July 1917, the opening of The Third Battle of Ypres, otherwise known as the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele, the weather was against observation due to low lying cloud and rain but flying in an RE8, Serial No A111, twenty‑year‑old Geoffrey and his pilot H. J. Snowden, also aged twenty, were first up. Having to fly low due to the weather conditions, both were wounded when hit by ground machine gun fire over German lines at Messines. The Portcullis later reported that, ‘He managed to reach headquarters, and give his information, but the severity of his injuries overcame him and he died.’ He died of gun shot wounds to the chest in No. 3 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station and is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, grave reference XIV – A – 10. Geoffrey’s pilot was taken back to England for treatment but died eleven days later and is buried in Hampstead Cemetery grave reference WB. 567.

Old Emanuel George Lyward, later a famous educationalist, wrote a poem in Geoffrey’s memory titled G.C.S.

72 GCS By Lyward

75th Anniversary of Raid on St Nazaire

Tuesday 28 March 2017 marks the 75th Anniversary of the Raid on St Nazaire. Old Emanuel Seymour ‘Peter’ Pike played a crucial role that day.

Seymour Charles ‘Peter’ Pike DSM (Emanuel 1933–1937)

Seymour Charles Pike 1942

At Emanuel Seymour Charles, known as Peter, coxed junior rowing crews. He is seen in a photograph of one Emanuel crew on the hard just outside Tom Green’s Boat House which was adjacent to Barnes Bridge in the mid-1930s.  Peter was also a member of the Tooting Sea Cadet Corps. Both roles would have allowed Peter to gain a familiarity with the sea and rivers from an early age.

He was also interested in languages and Emanuel in the 1930s had excellent German language teachers which proved essential to Peter in the Second World War. His father, Roy Seymour Pike, also attended Emanuel and served as a mechanical engineer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during the First World War.
On leaving School Peter worked as a shipping clerk for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. As the impending European crisis unfolded he volunteered for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on 10 May 1939. After training in signals at the Royal Navy shore establishments, HMS President and HMS Pembroke between August 1939 and July 1940 Peter saw active service with the Dido-class light cruiser HMS Naiad which spent much of 1940 and 1941 on convoy protection in both home waters and on voyages to Freetown, Sierra Leone. Between April 1941 and March 1943 Peter served at various times in HMS Eglinton. However, it was his selection for a pivotal role in Operation Chariot – one of the most daring raids of the Second World War – that secured Peter’s name in the annals of that conflict’s history.
During the days of the British Expeditionary Force’s retreat from Dunkirk, Lieutenant-Colonel Dudley Clarke, a General Staff Officer who was military assistant to the then Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir John Dill, contemplated how Britain might make its return to the continent. His thoughts drifted to historic examples such as the Boer Commandos in the Second Boer War who had harried the much larger British forces with their use of raiding parties. Out of these musings was conceived the idea for Combined Operations and the beginning of the Commandos.
In the summer of 1940 Britain’s war was defensive, with efforts concentrated in repelling a German invasion. However, Churchill and other like-minded individuals
wanted to take the offensive at the earliest opportunity. If raids on the continent were to be carried out the infantry would need naval support to land them at designated targets, hence the term Combined Operations – a force which utilised all three main services. In early 1942 such a raid was planned by Combined Operations Headquarters (COHQ), to attack the Atlantic seaboard dry-dock in the port of St Nazaire.
The ‘Louis Joubert’ (Forme Ecluse Louis Joubert) lock/dry-dock, as it was officially known, was constructed to accommodate the building of the 83,000-ton super passenger liner SS Normandie, after which the dock’s name became popularly known. It was a huge feat of engineering enclosed at either end by two gates or caissons. The ‘Normandie Dock’ could be used as either a lock or dry-dock, the latter requiring water to be pumped out by powerful machinery in the pump houses on the west side of the dock, where the hydraulic plants for operating the caissons were also situated. The caissons were structurally extremely strong, both to withstand the pressure of water from the outside and accidental ramming by ships, a fact that was critical in the planning of the raid on the dock.
St Nazaire, at the mouth of the river Loire could be reached by navigating the five-mile long Les Charpentier channel. Navigation of the channel required careful planning due to the features of shoals and mud-banks which could prove disastrous if the tides were misjudged. After the fall of France in June 1940, St Nazaire became one of five strategic positions for the German occupying forces along the country’s Atlantic coast.
The destruction of the dry-dock would reduce the threat posed by the German battleship Tirpitz which, in the event of engaging Allied shipping in the Atlantic, would require the dock at St Nazaire for maintenance between patrols. But according to Captain John Hughes-Hallett, who was Lord Mountbatten’s [Commodore Combined Operations] head naval planner at the Directorate of Combined Operations, the target’s location was chosen for two main reasons: firstly, because it was the furthest target which a raiding force could reach within a window of only one period of daylight and secondly, during the spring tides, vessels could pass over the shoal water to the south of the Les Charpentier channel, getting within reach of the deepwater channel close to St Nazaire. Central to the plan was the use of a ship packed with explosives, timed to go off after the Combined Forces attacked the dock area, escorted by a series of motor launches and machine gun boats. It was an audacious plan that relied on precision; timing was the key to the whole operation. The Attacking Force An ageing American destroyer, HMS Campbeltown, was chosen as the ship to carry the explosives with delaying fuses. Disguised as a German Möwe Class destroyer she was ultimately to be rammed into the Normandie dock gate. The base of operations was centred on Motor Gun Boat (MGB) 314 which, along with Motor Launches (ML) 270 and 160 would form the spearhead of the operation and it was in MGB 314 that Commander Robert Ryder directed the raiding force. In addition to MGB 314 there were sixteen motor launches, including 270 and 160, one Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) and two escorts, HMS Atherstone and HMS Tynedale that accompanied them for part of the journey.

A dress rehearsal for the raid took place at Devonport dockyard on the evening of 21 March 1942. Before and after the dress rehearsal the force assembled at Falmouth. At 1400 on 26 March 1942 the force sailed from Falmouth – destination St Nazaire.7 The raid ran into difficulty on the morning of 27 March when the force encountered a German submarine U-593 but fortunately the U-Boat, not realising that the force was heading for St Nazaire, signalled to German Group Command West that Ryder’s fleet was on course for Gibraltar, this was due to Ryder’s change of direction that the U-Boat mistook as their final destination.

 

St Nazaire Map

Map of St Nazaire

 

Peter’s role in the attack

The details of the raid have been well documented in a number of books but here it is important to reflect on Peter’s role. On the night of 27 March 1942 MGB 314 became operational when Cdr Ryder transferred to it from HMS Atherstone, accompanying him were Colonel Newman, who led the Commandos on the raid and Peter in addition to several others. Being guided to the river Loire by the submarine HMS Sturgeon, the attacking force made its way up the river whilst the escorts Atherstone and Tynedale waited out at sea to cover the returning fleet after the raid. There was a diversionary attack planned by RAF Bomber Command over St. Nazaire for 2330hrs but it was unsuccessful due to low cloud. However whilst Peter was on the sea another Emanuel boy, Richard Ryder (Emanuel 1930–1935) was flying as an Observer on a Whitworth Whitley Mark V heavy bomber (Z9481) of 51 Squadron RAF, which, after returning from the diversionary operation over St. Nazaire, crashed at Great Whernside injuring the crew with Richard being thrown from the aircraft.
The force proceeded up the Loire estuary over the shoals in the hour after midnight on 28 March. It had got within two miles of the harbour before they were illuminated by No. 3 Heavy Coastal Battery. If they were going to reach their target they needed a deception tactic to hold the German defences off long enough – enter Peter Pike. Cdr Robert Ryder continues the story:

We were challenged from the shore, first by one of the coastal batteries and later from somewhere in the dockyard. It was for this moment that Leading Signalman Pike, who could send and receive morse, had been attached to my staff. The challenge was accompanied by sporadic flak, aimed indiscriminately at the force. It was 1.23am, we were a mile and a half from our objective; ten minutes at that speed. How long could we bluff? … every minute still counted. We did not know the correct reply to the challenge, but we instructed them to ‘wait’ and then gave the call sign of one of the German torpedo-boats known to us. Without waiting for them to consider this Pike embarked on a long plain-language signal. With an ‘urgent’ prefix, the gist of this was, ‘Two craft, damaged by enemy action, request permission to proceed up harbour without delay.’ Firing ceased. Without finishing the first message we made the operating signal to ‘wait’ again. We had to reply to the second station. We were about to give them a similar message when we came under renewed fire from the north bank, heavier than the first … Using our Aldis lamp, we made the international signal for ships or vessels being fired on by friendly forces. … Our bluffing had practically achieved its object. 

 

MGB 314

MGB 314

 

In fact Peter had to deal with two German signals, one from the guard ship Speerbrecher and one on MGB 314’s port beam. He gained the force vital minutes and Cdr Ryder noted in 1947, ‘Information now available confirms the valuable part played by Pike in thus delaying the enemy’s fire.’ A little later, during the heated exchange of fire and lacking a sufficient report as to the Campbeltown’s placing and sinking Cdr Ryder disembarked from MGB 314 at the north side of the Old Entrance of the Bassin St Nazaire, at which point he later recalled, ‘…Pike, who, discarding his signalling apparatus for a broken bayonet which he had discovered, decided that a bodyguard was required.’ In a desperate situation and under heavy fire Cdr Ryder made the decision to evacuate, leaving the raid now in the hands of the Commandos who continued to fight onshore. As they made their escape with 40 extra men on board the MGB the scenes were distressing as Ryder recalled, ‘The decks everywhere were slippery with blood, making it difficult to walk between the wounded lying crowded together.’ On the morning of 28 March the delaying fuses on the Campbeltown sparked and she blew up whilst being inspected by a large party of German officers. The explosion rendered the dry dock inoperable for the rest of the war and Operation Chariot was a success, although 169 men out of 611 lost their lives. For his integral part in the success of the raid Peter was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

 

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Peter’s mother and uncle collecting his DSM from Buckingham Palace 5 Dec 1944

 
Peter later served again in HMS Eglinton and was serving in HMS Laforey during Operation Husky – the invasion of Italy when the Laforey sunk the Italian submarine Ascianghi, and also during Operation Avalanche – the Salerno landings in September 1943. Peter was at sea off the coast of Salerno whilst those he would have known through rowing at Emanuel, like Alan Skillern, were landing on the beaches.
Peter had much to look forward to writing to his mother on 23 September 1943 with the happy news that he was to get married after the war as his girlfriend Marian had accepted his proposal. However fate was not kind and Peter lost his life when the Laforey, on anti-submarine patrols, was sunk by a U-Boat, the U-223, on the evening of 30 March 1944. The U-Boat was then sunk by other British destroyers who had been in company with Laforey. Peter’s mother received several letters of condolence from friends of the family and also a survivor from the Laforey, one individual remarking, ‘I always shall remember Peter as one of the finest characters I came across in this country.

In 2014 Peter’s cousin Patricia and her husband Tony travelled from Australia to London to bring items relating to Peter’s life for the Emanuel School at War Exhibition. You can read an earlier post about that visit here Emanuel Generations at Dacre Day

(Daniel Kirmatzis)

 

‘Eddie Fisher – Boy Soldier’

eddie-fisher-long-jump

Edmund, more commonly known as Eddie, Fisher captained the Emanuel First XV in the autumn of 1915. His character profile in the Emanuel School Magazine – The Portcullis reads, ‘In zeal and energy he set a good example, which was well followed, and as a result the team, as a whole, played with considerable spirit.’ Not only was Eddie Captain of the XV at the age of sixteen, he was also one of the most talented all round athletes of his generation.

In 1915 Eddie won the School’s Athletics Challenge Cup after winning the 220 yards; Hurdle Race; High Jump; Long Jump and the 440 yards. His excellent form gained Emanuel the Challenge Cup at the Public Schools’ Athletic Sports.

The Portcullis recorded that Fisher won: The 120 yards Open Hurdles, the Long Jump Open, the High Jump Open and the High Jump Under 16… E. Fisher won the Hurdles in fine style by about two hurdles in 17 4/5 seconds. His time might have been better if he had been hard pressed. His High Jump and Long Jump were not the best he had done, for at the School Sports his High Jump was 5ft.3. in., and his Long Jump 19ft. 5. in. At the Public Schools’ Sports his High Jump was 5ft. 2ins. (tied) and Long Jump 19ft. 3. ins. This was undoubtedly owing to an accident which happened… about a week before the sports, which prevented him from training. The accident mentioned in the notes involved Eddie putting his head through the window of a railway carriage but no further details of how he managed it have come to light.

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Eddie in his Emanuel School Rugby kit

 

Eddie’s long jump was reported in the press and the caption that went with a photograph of him flying through the air was ominous: ‘A Jump That Would Be Useful When Rushing the Trenches.’ The by-line kept up the theme of war: … ‘the young men of England keep themselves fit by strenuous exercise, for they know that a sound body is the essential foundation for the good soldier.’

Eddie rose to the position of Cadet Lieutenant in the OTC and on a night march in 1915 he rescued a party of exhausted boys: ‘After a while Fisher, who had gone on with the others, returned triumphantly, driving a wagon and two horses, which he had commandeered to pull us out of the “miry fastnesses.

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Eddie standing centre back row behind Emanuel Headmaster Shirley Goodwin

 

Eddie’s sister Grace remembered that Eddie was handed a white feather by an unknown woman as he was crossing Wandsworth Common one evening. The white feather was handed to young men to encourage them to join up and also marked individuals out as being cowards if they didn’t join the ranks – little could that woman know what reaction this would stir in young Eddie. Grace remembered that Eddie was mortified and on 3 December 1915 young Eddie Fisher, at the age of sixteen, lying about his age, joined the King’s Forces. The date of birth given on Eddie’s service papers is 1897 but it was in fact 1899. His service papers were signed by the Reverend at Emanuel and also the Headmaster and interestingly his father’s signature also appears but one wonders if Eddie in fact forged his father’s signature but this will remain speculative.

The material legacy relating to Eddie’s war experiences has yet come to light and so we can only glean cursory information about him in 1916. What we do know is that he was as good a sportsman in the East Lancashire Regiment as he had been at School, for the regimental history notes:

[2nd] Lieutenant Fisher was a real ‘tearer’ at the quartermile and sprints. At the brigade sports at Dieval, Fisher won the 100 yards, 220 yards and a gruelling mile; almost on the top of that he had to take part in a relay race, which he won for us by making up a deficit of at least a third of a lap – a wonderful performance.

We can only assume that Eddie might have gone on to become an Olympic athlete but for the Somme. On 15 November 1916 2nd Lt. Fisher, aged seventeen and attached to the 8th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, was killed as his battalion were attempting to take German trenches in what became known as the Battle of the Ancre.

The Battalion history recorded:

history-of-the-east-lancashire-regiment

There had been thick fog that day and so Eddie took a leap of faith into the unknown. He had only been in France since August 1916. His Commanding Officer noted that Eddie was a promising young officer who was popular with all ranks.

Eddie’s father received a telegram on 23 November notifying him that Eddie had been killed. The Portcullis printed ‘An Appreciation’ in its Christmas 1916 edition. The author wrote:

Do you remember how, when we were in Shell I, he was nicknamed ‘Sir Edmund Tintacks’? ‘Sir Edmund’ – in truth he was a very perfect knight and like the knights of old, he made the supreme sacrifice in the cause of honour for King and Country.

We of Emanuel are proud to belong to a School which can turn out such chaps as he. May we all, in whatever walk of life we may be called in the future, be aided, by the memory of E. Fisher and those other fellows who have left such splendid examples behind them, to be an honour to the old School.

His death made headlines in the local papers: ‘Another Emanuel School Hero’ and in the New York Herald Eddie’s death was reported under the sub-heading: ‘Athletes Famous for their Skill and Endurance Give Lives in War.’

Today Eddie’s grave is situated off the beaten track in the middle of a field in Waggon Road Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel. Old Emanuel Joseph Deeks remembered years later, ‘We felt the tragedy of war every week, for at daily service in the School Chapel we heard of the death of some Emanuelite serving in the front line… Perhaps the most tragic was the fate of Eddie Fisher.’

In February 2013 I visited Eddie’s grave with two of my Old Emanuel friends to pay our respects to this young man and at the Emanuel School at War Exhibition in November 2014 Eddie’s 1915 First XV rugby cap was on display after I managed to find the collector who had bought it on ebay 3 months previously.

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Eddie’s Emanuel First XV Cap

On the anniversary of Eddie’s death 100 years’ ago others inspired by this young man’s story and relatives will be visiting Eddie’s grave to remember a talented boy who wasn’t given the chance to become a young man.

Gordon Murray 1921-2016

It was with much sadness that I received the news of Gordon Murray’s passing recently. In 2014 I interviewed Gordon about his war experiences. Gordon and his two brothers all attended Emanuel in the 1930s. Below you can read the piece I wrote about Gordon in Emanuel School at War. The photos belong to the estate of Gordon Murray and may not be reproduced.

G M Murray

Gordon Murray in the Second World War

Gordon Murray (Emanuel 1929–1937)

Here is the clock, the Trumpton Clock.
Telling the time steadily, sensibly, never
too quickly, never too slowly, telling the time
for Trumpton.

A generation of children in the 1960s and 70s grew up watching the Trumptonshire Trilogy. It was a gentle, nostalgic, children’s animation, was ground breaking for its day, and was shot both in colour and using stop-motion animation techniques. Its creator was Gordon Murray who attended Emanuel School between 1929 and 1937 and was interviewed
by Daniel Kirmatzis in 2014. Whilst at School Gordon was involved in the Dramatic Society playing a number of roles. On his love of drama Gordon said, ‘It was built in as it were.’ He made his debut playing a servant but later he says, ‘I got quite good parts.’ Gordon was also a member of the Officer Training Corps.

Gordon’s brothers, who were older than him, attended Emanuel in the 1920s. The family lived in St. James’s Drive, Wandsworth Common. On leaving School Gordon was
learning the business of journalism, working as an office boy on Home Gardening and the Smallholder in the Strand. Whilst working for Home Gardening he joined the local Territorials, who were part-time soldiers. Gordon went once a week to the Territorial
Head Quarters in Victoria taking part in their drills. He was in the Territorials when war broke out and on 2 September 1939 he received his call up papers from the London Scottish Regiment. Gordon’s brother Norman was also called up in the London Scottish and both became full-time soldiers. At this time the eldest Murray brother, Richard, was working for the Bank of India. He became the Adjutant in the local Territorials in Malaya rising to the rank of 2nd Lt. As the Japanese swept through the Pacific in 1942 Richard was made a POW and wasn’t released until September 1945.

On 3 September 1939, Private G. Murray (Service Number 314644) was in Olympia and was told by the Territorial Officer that war had been declared. As the war progressed
Gordon was trained as a Radio Mechanic in the London Scottish, receiving private instruction on electricity and radio. He trained with the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers and after three months found himself on a searchlight patrol, where he had responsibility for the radio controlled searchlight. Searchlights were used to light up German bombers over Britain’s skies and assisted Fighter Command pilots and anti-aircraft guns at night as they made attacks on these bombers.

Gordon then applied for a commission into the Royal Corps of Signals. His war service had been carried out in England until 1944 when the Allies launched D-Day. As a platoon
commander Gordon moved to Portsmouth as preparations were made for the crossing on 6 June 1944. Gordon described the atmosphere amongst the men as being ‘quite ebullient.’
He recalls, after landing at Gold Beach, sleeping in a ditch on the first day after D-Day.

The Royal Corps of Signals were given the task of keeping the lines of communication opened for the Allied advance. The RCS set to work repairing switchboards and cables and laying new cables in what was essentially the most important aspect of the Allied advance, for without their vital contribution, the advance would have been considerably hindered.

During a halt in the Allied push forward in the winter of 1944 Gordon organised a play in Belgium called By Candlelight, which was performed to the various Allied Units. Gordon
both produced and took the leading part in the production. After the war ended Gordon also performed in a play called Women Aren’t Angels, produced by Bill Fraser, who ran a
repertory company in England.

Gordon’s brother Norman was commissioned into the Royal Scots and also took part in operations to liberate North West Europe in 1944 and 1945. Aside from the business of
war Gordon took the opportunity one day in 1945 to drive in a jeep to see Norman whose birthday it was. Norman was stationed on the banks of the Rhine at this time and no
doubt was pleased to share the bottle of brandy Gordon had brought him.

Norman Murray OE brother of Gordon

Norman Murray – Gordon’s brother

With the conclusion of hostilities and after serving in the Regular Army for six years Gordon was soon demobbed. It wasn’t long before his passion for drama was renewed. In the 1950s he was in a specially built tent on the sea front doing puppet shows. His love of puppets he describes as having been ‘built in’ and was ignited by his father who took him
to theatres in London which had puppet shows playing, including ventriloquist acts.

Gordon had established a puppet company touring theatres around the UK when one day in the mid 1950s his talent was  recognised by BBC producer Freda Lingstrom whom he had invited to a performance. From this Gordon’s career took off. He operated Spotty
Dog in the BBC Children’s show The Woodentops and oversaw the BBC’s puppet theatre in the 1950s producing an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s Nightingale and thirtythree episodes of the Rubovia Legends. In the early 1960s Gordon
was offered Head of Children’s Television but he turned it down and decided to form his own production company.

Gordon then created Camberwick Green which became the first series of the classic children’s television trilogy, Trumptonshire, which included Trumpton and Chigley. In 2014 the character Windy Miller from Gordon’s Camberwick Green, was made into a Royal Mail stamp for their Classic Children’s Television collection.

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Gordon as Puppet Master

Millions of children in the 1960s and 1970s adored Gordon’s programmes. They had a gentle and nostalgic feeling and a host of memorable characters. Perhaps most fondly
remembered are the Trumpton Firemen, Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb. Their names were given in a roll call given by their commander, Captain Flack and as with all of the Trumptonshire series there were memorable musical numbers or rhythms as in the opening titles of Trumpton: ‘Here is the clock, the Trumpton Clock…’

 
After the Trumptonshire series Gordon made new animations Skip and Fuffy and The Gublins which appeared during Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, another classic children’s television show aired between 1976 and 1982.
In 2012 the original Trumptonshire series was restored by BBC Studios and Post Production and can now be enjoyed by a new generation.

1 July 1916 – Somme

On 1 July 2016 millions will remember the Battle of the Somme. Although the bombardment began a week earlier the 1 July is seen as the day the battle commenced. My own personal connection to the battle is not through a family connection but in the journey I made to trace what happened to the lives of the boys from the school I attended in two world wars.

Ronald Grundy001

Ronald Grundy

One young man’s short life resonated with me during that discovery. Ronald Grundy attended the same school as I did but he also lived a few minutes walk from my home. He had taken a similar journey to me but we were separated by a century. Ronald grew up playing on Wandsworth Common as I did. He sat in the same school chapel pondering upon the greater meaning of life. Yet at 19 he faced a far greater test.

On a July day in 2010 I set out to find out what had happened to him. I visited the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery of Ovillers where a gravestone bears his name. Standing among a line of gravestones separated from the vast majority they face is a stone inscribed with the following words, ‘TO THE MEMORY OF THESE 35 SOLDIERS OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE KILLED IN ACTION IN 1916 AND BURIED AT THE TIME IN MASH VALLEY CEMETERY OVILLERS-LA-BOISSELLE WHOSE GRAVES WERE DESTROYED IN LATER BATTLES: THEIR GLORY SHALL NOT BE BLOTTED OUT’. In the flowerbed beside this stone were bees busily seeking out pollen on a fine summer’s day, far removed from the intensity of battle that the names on those graves once knew. As I stood there that afternoon I wondered in what ways Ronald’s life had ‘not been blotted out’ by time and how he had been remembered?

Memorial Stone

Memorial Stone, Ovillers British Cemetery

The story is one I have written about in a book I am hoping to publish as an ebook later this year but on the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme I wanted people to remember the sacrifices Ronald and the men of his battalion made that morning.

I have written about Ronald and his brother Cecil before and you can also listen to their story here from a BBC World War One episode on the boys from Emanuel School, Battersea.

1 July 1916
On the morning of 1 July 1916 the Battle of the Somme began in full. For Ronald it would last all but eight minutes. By the end of the first day of the Battle Ronald was one of 19,240 British servicemen who were killed in action or died of wounds. It was the worst day in
British military history. The tragedy felt the more from the fact that over half of the 120,000 infantrymen who fought on the opening day were volunteers – members of Kitchener’s New Army. This does not mean, however, that they lacked foreknowledge of their potential fates. Those who had been members of their school’s cadet or officer training corps and who overwhelmingly were promoted to infantry officers, had been versed in the classical and medieval language of sacrifice from their headmasters’ assembly and prize day sermons and so were made aware what was at stake in this titanic struggle. But the shooting range at home was unfortunately ill preparation for facing the reality of the nightmares they fell into.

It was the grief over young men like Ronald that eventually claimed the life of another casualty of the first day – Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Thomas Falkner Sandys, commander of 2nd Battalion Middlesex Regiment. On the first day his battalion, out of any involved in the attack, were given the task of covering the greatest width – some 750 yards – of No Man’s Land. Their objective – the German trenches at the head of Mash Valley. Sandys was concerned before the attack that the artillery bombardment had not achieved its desired effect and that the wire in front of the German trenches was largely in tact. He believed his men would be cut to pieces. It is believed that he made his objections known but no such concern would have stopped the attack at this late stage.

etf_sandys_pic
At the end of the first day thirty-one men of the 2nd Battalion are recorded on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database as having died but Sandys died in September 1916. Sandys had been wounded on the first day and was evacuated to England.
He recovered from his wounds but not his mental torment. The thought that he could have done more for his men plagued him that summer. He wrote two letters which show how his mental state had deteriorated after the attack. In the first, dated 6 September, to Captain Lloyd Jones of the Middlesex Regiment Sandys wrote that he wished he had died with his men on 1 July. He also noted that, ‘I have come to London today to take my life. I have never had a moment’s peace since July 1.’
In the second letter also dated 6 September 1916 addressed to Captain and Adjutant Reginald James Young of 2nd Battalion Middlesex Regiment who had been with Sandys in the 1st July
attack, he wrote, ‘By the time you receive this I shall be dead.’ On the same day as writing the letters Edwin Sandys shot himself in his hotel room at the Cavendish Hotel. Taken to St George’s Hospital he died on 13 September 1916. He is buried in Brompton Cemetery.
The official verdict recorded at an inquest into his death was suicide whilst temporarily insane. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
The Officer Commanding “D” Company on 1 July was Captain William James Clachan. Born in Sydney to Scottish parents, William grew up in New Zealand and enlisted at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914. Twice wounded in 1915 he was shot by machine gun fire in his right ankle on the morning of 1 July. He was evacuated to England and on 13 July 1916 whilst recovering in Lady Carnarvon’s Hospital for Officers, 48 Bryanston Square, west London, he wrote to his mother describing that fateful 1 July morning: (Please note the following is an extract from a letter which is copyrighted material)

W J Clachan

William Clachan

As for the N.C.O.s I shouldn’t think a company commander could wish for
better and truer soldiers. The men were perfect. There one aim was to get at the bosh. Our half mile advance was down a very gentle slope, immediately in front of the enemy 1st
line was a sunken road in rather a deep little valley. The enemy trenches were on opposite side of this and then up the hill. The whole of this place was swept by the most
cruel machine gun fire. There were at least twenty guns simply pouring lead on us. I have heard machine gun fire before but never such a crackle as that. Every one simply
carried on ahead with a growing hatred for the bosh. There was nothing theatrical about the men, everywhere as they were hit they simply dropped with a silent plunge,
on to their faces. Crumpled up is the correct description. The farther we went the thinner we got. About half way over we ordered the double. By this time in the right half
of our Battalion only the machine gun officer and little me were left of the officers, followed by such a handful of men, probably about fifty, still following grimly. As our
wounded lying about saw us going on many looked up at us smiled and followed even though they were already hit once or twice. Poor fellows they only stopped two or three
more.

I looked at my watch 7.30A.M. Eight minutes exactly and our Battalion was wiped out. … In
writing to or telling anyone else I simply say we walked into hell.

As for Ronald’s fate we know of his last moments leading No. 14 Platoon of “D” Company, 2nd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment from his batman Lance Corporal Walter Noyes. Second Lieutenant Charles Fawcus of “D” Company, a friend of Ronald’s in the Middlesex Regiment and who was in reserve on 1 July, asked Corporal Noyes to write to the Grundys explaining how Ronald died on that fateful morning. Charles Fawcus also wrote to John Grundy on 13 and 23 July 1916 with further details concerning the circumstances of
Ronald’s death.
In a letter dated 13 July to John Grundy, Charles Fawcus mentions that William Clachan was recovering in Lady Carnarvon’s Hospital if he wanted further details about his son’s death but we must assume that John Grundy never contacted William as no letter survives in
either the Clachan or Grundy papers.
Dear Sir,
I wrote you a few days ago and suppose our letters must have crossed. I regret I have been unable to learn anymore than I then wrote, as to his burial place and there is still
heavy fighting going on in that district I collected what belongings of his that I could and handed over to the Quartermaster to be put with his kit and sent home. His
revolver and field glasses were brought in, but I am sorry to say his ring and wrist watch must have been left on him. He showed me a map you sent him of the district we were
in, so you know where he was at the time. I think if you wrote to the Graves’ Registration Committee they would be able to let you have particulars of his burial place. I have heard from Mr Clachan who was his O.C. CO, and is now in Lady Carnarvon’s Hospital for officers, 48 Bryanston Square I am sure he would be very pleased to give you any details he can.

Yours faithfully,
Charles Fawcus.
P.S. Written communications concerning Graves
Registration and Enquiries should be addressed to D. G.
R. AND E. General H/qrs
Letter 23 July, written by Charles Fawcus to Mr Grundy.
Dear Mr Grundy,
I am very sorry to hear you did not receive my first letter. I found what particulars I could of your son’s death, and wrote as soon as I heard, as before we parted he have your
address and asked me to let you know should anything happen to him. I have seen his servant and gained all the information I could from him, and you will no doubt be
glad to hear that he could not have suffered, as his death was absolutely instantaneous, he was over the top leading his men, then started to wave his stick and cheer his men
on, when he must have been sniped as he was hit right through the throat and died at once. His servant carried him back through a sap, but found the entrance filled up with sand bags so had to leave him there. I expect you will be able to get full particulars of where he is buried from the G. R. office, am sorry I do not know any further particulars,
and being in the trenches again now it is difficult to hear much. I have asked Noyes who was your son’s servant to write to you as he was with him all the time. With deepest sympathy to you over your great loss, which is shared by all of us who knew your son,
Yours truly,
Charles G. Fawcus.
P.S. Two parcels arrived for your son, which I distributed as you said.

Lance Corporal Noyes’s letter, 1 August 1916, written to Mr Grundy.
Dear Sir,
I have been requested by Mr Fawcus to give you what information I can concerning the death of Mr Grundy. I was his servant during his brief stay with our company and
was about three feet behind him from the time we left our trench till he was hit. He was killed by a bullet which went in about a quarter of an inch above the collarbone close
up to the neck on the left side and came out through the spine between the shoulder blades. He was dead before he fell and he made no sound, just crumpled up. I dragged him bit by bit until I came to our advanced sap and then I had to leave him so I covered him over with his jacket and brought everything he had that I thought of value and reported him to our Q.M.S. and handed everything to him. Later Mr Fawcus asked if I had seen a ring of Mr Grundy’s
but I never gave it a thought to look for anything of that description, too excited I suppose. I will give you as near as I possibly can where he fell. Draw a line from Ovillers
to Aveluy and make a mark about seven-eighths of the way across from Aveluy and then you will have almost the exact spot. There is one thing you can be assured of
and that is that he was buried properly and his grave is marked as I brought him in and left his identification disc round his neck for that purpose. If there is any further information you require, no matter how slight, I shall be only too pleased to give it you if you will write to L/c W Noyes. D Co 2nd Middlesex Regt. B.E.F. France.
I am yours obediently,
L/c W Noyes.

John Grundy wrote to Walter Noyes with a series of six searching questions concerning Ronald’s death and on 25 August Walter sent his responses. These questions form part of a chorus of desperate fathers’ quests to piece together their beloved sons’ last moments.

Question 1: About how far had my son proceeded after
leaving the trench when he was hit?
Noyes’s Reply: Roughly about nine hundred yards.
Question 2: Do you know if he was wearing his Dayfield
Shield (underneath) and his top boots?
Noyes’s Reply: He was wearing his Dayfield Shield but
not his top boots as they would greatly interfere with the
speed of getting at a wound in the leg or foot.
Question 3: Was he well within sight of the enemy’s snipers
and was there anything about his dress or movements (I
understand he was waving his stick) to be likely to cause
him to be singled out by them.
Noyes’s Reply: It is my opinion that he was shot by an
enemy sniper as, firstly his dress and movements (he was
waving his stick) at once proclaimed him as an officer,
secondly, we were within almost point blank range (about
100 yards), thirdly all M(achine) G(un) and ordinary rifle
fire was much to low to hit him where he was hit.
Question 4: I understand he slept with 14 Platoon in
Ryecroft St on the night of June 30, and that each platoon
slept with its officer in a separate part of the trenches.
Noyes’s Reply: No 14 Platoon occupied four dugouts in
Ryecroft Street, one section to a dugout. Mr Grundy slept
in a dugout occupied by a team of machine gunners as it
was situated with two of his sections’ dugouts on his right
and two on his left.
Question 5: Did he see any of his brother officers on the
morning of the 1st before going over the top?
Noyes’s Reply: Not to my knowledge.
Question 6: I understand that you went over the top at 7.22 am, at about what time was my son shot?

Noyes’s Reply: From the time we left the trench till he was
hit we covered about 900 yds judging that it took us eight
minutes to cover that distance. I could say the time was
7.30 if we, as you say, left the trench at 7.22. I think it was
7.20 but having no watch and not troubling much about
time I am not able to say the exact minute.

Before he died Ronald asked for money to be left to the Emanuel School chapel
and also requested that a trophy be purchased to, ‘foster the Inter House spirit’. Ronald allocated the sum of twenty pounds to Emanuel. After his death it was his father who carried out the bequest. The following instructions were given to the engravers:

Dear Mr. Hayco
Thanks for yours of the 4th and 8th. Will you please tell me the cost of Chalice 8 ¾ ¨ no 21 in catalogue solid silver with paten plate inscribed round base ‘To the glory of God and the imperishable memory of Ronald Edwin Grundy sometime Prefect of the School, Second Lieutenant 2nd Bn The Middlesex Regiment, who fell near Ovillers July 1 1916 and dying bequeathed this chalice to his School.’
Round the Rim inside (the letters to be filled in with enamel) Drink ye all of this; for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.

Grundy Chalice

The Grundy Chalice

One cannot imagine the thoughts going through John Grundy’s mind as his hand moved the pencil across the piece of paper detailing the memorials to his elder sons (Cecil died at Bethune in November 1915). Within a few years he went from bringing a bicycle home for his sons to play with to considering appropriate words to memorialise them for the School they so loved. He may have sat remembering the camping excursions they so often made each summer, which in one sense were moments from yesterday and in another, a long distant memory viewed from across the fissure in people’s lives created by the First World War.
One point to note is that Ronald’s death was near instantaneous so the words on the chalice, which suggest that he bequeathed it as he lay dying, were, we could assume, an emotive addition created by John perhaps to signify Ronald’s devotion to Emanuel.
Ronald’s death was memorialised in the Christian notions of Sacrifice and Resurrection. The words on the chalice are those associated with the Eucharist. As with Christ, Ronald’s death was not in vain but for a greater cause; he died to save others, ‘for many
for the remission of sins,’ the sin from which a new generation it was hoped would be saved was war. It would appear that by associating Ronald’s death with that of Christ’s sacrifice it brings both meaning to an otherwise incomprehensible loss and also provides a means for the family to work through it, being as they were practicing Christians. It also provides a reminder to the next generation of what these young men fought and gave their lives for.
The chalice and paten were accompanied by a memorial plaque which was placed in the “All Souls” side of the School chapel. John requested the plaque from the same engraver and in the same letter he sent to Mr. Hayco.

Emanuel School History

The Grundy Plaque

The Grundy Cup, as it became known, was the last memorial given to Emanuel in Ronald’s memory. Again, John Grundy noted the details of the words to be engraved on the cup, which was to be instituted as a cup for shooting competitions. The cup was ‘a silver coveredcup surmounted by the figure of a private soldier in the time of the First World War, 1914-18, in full kit with rifle at the slope.’ It bears the School Arms and the inscription:
This Cup Was bequeathed to his School by RONALD EDWIN GRUNDY (sometime Prefect of the School) 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd B’n The Middlesex Regiment who fell near Ovillers, July 1st, 1916, as a perpetual Trophy for House Competitions In Marching and Shooting.
“Stand fast, brave hearts; what will they say of this in England.”

It was fitting that the first House to win this cup was Howe, Ronald’s old House. In 1935 Mrs Grundy, in the presence of Emanuel School pupils, staff and Mr. John Grundy, presented the cup to Richard Kemp Wildey, who was a Company Sergeant Major in the
OTC and also Captain of Nelson House. Interestingly Richard lived in St James’ Road, the same road on which the Grundys had lived. Richard lost his life when the Halifax he was piloting crashed on the night of 15 October 1942 on a bombing operation on Cologne.

Mrs Grundy presenting Grundy trophy to R K Wildey

Mrs Grundy presenting the Grundy Cup to Richard Wildey at Emanuel School in 1935

Tomorrow on 1 July 2016 at 7.28am I will be thinking of Ronald and all those young men who went over the top. May we and future generations never forget them – they didn’t get a chance to have a full life – so those of us who do must remember them.

DSC_0104

Ronald’s Grave Stone – although he is believed to be buried somewhere near this spot

Ronald Grundy

2nd Lt Ronald Grundy, 2nd Btn Middlesex Regt.

I am hoping to get the Grundy letters published as an ebook – if anyone could help me achieve this goal please get in contact as I lack the funding to achieve it at present.

A Shot in the Dark – 100 years ago

Cecil Grundy004

Cecil Grundy in his Emanuel School uniform

Cecil Grundy lived with his family a few minutes walk from Wandsworth Common. He was the eldest of 4 boys and attended Emanuel School between 1906-1909. In 1912 he travelled to Argentina to work in Burberry’s Buenos Aires branch. At the outbreak of the First World War he returned to England sailing in RMS Alcantara. He enlisted, serving initially with the Honourable Artillery Company and later, in 1915, he gained a commission in the Middlesex Regiment. On 28 October 1915, whilst inspecting the barbed wire in front of his trenches, 2nd Lt. Grundy was shot in the right thigh. The next morning, 29 October 1915 – exactly 100 years ago today – 2nd Lt Athelstan Douglas Dempster Bonnor, second in command of A Company, 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment – wrote to Cecil’s mother Emily to tell her what happened.

Dear Madam,

I am sorry to say that your son was slightly wounded last night in the right thigh, but it is nothing to worry about and he is quite as well as can be expected under the circumstances as I promised him I would write and tell you at once. I was just going to bed at 10.30 when Captain Bucknall came and ordered me to go on guard in place of your son as he had just been wounded, so I went up at once to the firing line and saw your son who had the doctor in attendance and he immediately gave me your address and asked me to write to you as soon as possible as he was very afraid that you might hear he was wounded and think it might be serious. He was quite normal and only appeared to feel excessive pain if the stretcher-bearers jolted him. I gave him one of my blankets as his servant had already packed his own up and they carried him to the Field Ambulance. I have not been able to write sooner as we have been leaving the trenches today and there has been no outgoing post; but as we went through the big town today (which I am afraid must be nameless) the doctor went in to the hospital and saw your son who he said is quite comfortable today. I think they will be moving him tomorrow and he will commence his journey to England. So I hope you will soon see him. He and I are the only two subalterns in this Company so needless to say we shall miss him very much in many ways.

I saw his binoculars hanging up in our dugout this morning and my servant has brought them down here, but I won’t send them on till I hear from you on him and make quite sure that this address has reached you. So I do hope you will not upset yourself and I might say that the conditions out here are such that most people who have spoken today to me about your son have envied him and wish they could change places with him! I must now stop if you will excuse me as I am absolutely done up after this march and last night,

Yours sincerely,

A. D. Dempster Bonnor.

P.S. We should all be awfully pleased to hear how your son is when he has reached home if you could send us a line.

Next year I am publishing a book on Cecil and his younger brother Ronald’s life in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. You can read their full life stories through their own words and photographs.

Book Cover

Book Cover for forthcoming publicaton

VJ Day 70th Anniversary Commemorations

Chiles John001

Saturday 15 August 2015 marks the 70th Anniversary since the end of the Second World War and also the day Japan surrendered. A large number of Old Emanuels served in the Far East during the Second World War. Here we remember John Chiles who died in October 2014. I was privileged to have interviewed John in 2013 and to mark the 70th Anniversary of Victory in Japan Day you can read about his experiences during the Second World War.

JOHN CHILES MBE