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.

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

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.


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.


Two Sides of a Postcard

Rugby Postcard 1 front_047

The Emanuel Master Mr. Parkinson held back no punches in his criticism of his Emanuel First Fifteen side of the 1912-13 season commenting in The Portcullis, ‘The chief causes of weakness in the First Fifteen have been a deplorable lack of “three-quarters” of any size or weight and a want of “grit” and “backbone” in the team generally; it was at its worst in an uphill fight and should have done much better.’

The team was photographed outside the main School entrance and the image was subsequently turned into a postcard. There are always two sides to every postcard and similarly there are two sides to the story of these boys whom Parkinson thought lacked a certain something on the rugby pitch. Within a couple of years of the photo being taken the majority of these boys were in a far greater conflict in which they displayed all the “grit” and “backbone” any human could faced with the trials of combat in the First World War.

The other side of the postcard shows the fate of this Fifteen. It is now known that eight of these young men were killed in the war. The captain of the side Eric William Dilnutt played forward in the team and was captain of it up to Christmas 1913. Parkinson described him thus, ‘Did excellent work in the “Scrum”, a trifle wild in open play.’

Rugby Postcard 1 back

The University of London Officer Training Corps Roll of War Service records Eric’s fate:

Captain Royal Fusiliers son of Mr. and Mrs. C. J. Dilnutt of Balham killed instantly by a bullet in the head while attempting to occupy craters formed by the explosion of mines under the enemy’s lines in France on 2nd March 1916. Buried at the bottom of the crater No, 4 gained by his men near Hohenzollern Redoubt.

The 8th and 9th Battalions’ objective was The Chord which connected two German trenches, Little Willie and Big Willie. Eric, who was only aged 19, is remembered on the Loos Memorial.

Me at Loos Memorial

Eric’s name on the Loos Memorial

Basil Horswell was described in the Rugby notes as, ‘Flying Half. An excellent player; rather apt at holding onto the ball too long. Defence good’. In the Christmas Term Portcullis we learn that Basil was killed on 11 October 1917, ‘while flying a new and difficult type of machine.’ That machine was an F.B.A. ‘B’ Pusher Biplane Flying Boat. From the Admiralty Basil entered the Royal Naval Air Service as a Probationary Flight Officer in March 1917. He returned from a post at Vendome to an appointment at Cranwell in the summer of 1917 being described as, ‘a very good pilot recommended for seaplanes’. His rank at the time of death was Flight Sub-Lt. The Portcullis recorded his last flight which occurred just off Calshot, ‘He had made a successful flight of ten minutes duration, at a height of 600 feet and was on the point of descending, when the machine “nose dived” and Horswell was thrown 300 feet into the sea. Although speedily rescued from the water, he succumbed to his injuries.’ He is buried in Paddington Cemetery.

Little is known about Frederick Kimber and John Roberts. In the Fifteen critiques Frederick was noted as ‘Three Quarter. Has also filled the position of back; was improving every match, but unfortunately left us.’ And John’s critique noted, ‘Three Quarter. Has played consistently well through the season, but has had very little support. Takes a pass wonderfully well.’. These two young men died just two days apart in the Battle of Ancre, 13-18 November, 1916. It was the last major British offensive in the Battle of the Somme and the last of 1916 before winter set in. Both served in the Honourable Artillery Company, Frederick as a Private and John as a Lance Corporal.

Kenneth Newton, ‘Forward. A good and keen forward who should do well when he has more weight.’ On leaving school Kenneth joined the 1/4th Seaforths B Company and made his journey to the front on 5 November 1914. Kenneth saw action at Neuve Chapelle and Aubers Ridge in 1915 and experienced three winters on the Western Front. He rose to the rank of Corporal and was attached to a Trench Mortar Battery when on the 24 April 1917 at the age of 20 he was killed. The Captain of the Trench Mortar Battery wrote to Kenneth’s parents:

I deeply regret to inform you that your son, Corporal K. F. C. Newton, of this Battery, was killed in the heavy fighting on the afternoon of the 24th. He accompanied the officer in charge of his detachment on a reconnaissance of a very difficult and dangerous enemy position from which our troops were being held up by a party of snipers; and, while crossing the open, Kenneth was shot through the head and killed instantaneously. His death was a tremendous blow to the Battery, and from our own grief we can form some idea of what his loss will be to you. Please accept for yourself and for the other members of the family our very deepest sympathy.

As an N.C.O. your son was in a class by himself. All his work was done with exceptional thoroughness and care; and no one could help being struck by his constant and ungrudging efforts in the service of the battery and by his steadfast devotion to duty. He gave himself at all times without hesitation and without reserve to the work that came to his hands. His place will be hard indeed to fill; for we had come to rely upon him in every emergency, and he never failed to rise to any task. It may be of some help to you in your sorrow to know that he was recommended for recognition in the New Year Honours, but for some reason or other his award did not come through. And if he had survived he would certainly have been recommended for the day’s work in which he met his death. I had also written to his battalion asking them to put him forward for nomination to an Officer’s Cadet School with a view to promotion to a commission. If he had only lived the splendid work of the last two years might have been more adequately rewarded. But, after all, the truest reward lies in the knowledge that the work was done, and that your son’s life was continually devoted to the highest ends. He lived and died a brave soldier and a good man.

Owing to the peculiar difficulties of the situation, the officer who was with him was unable to recover any of his personal belongings that afternoon, and as our place was taken a few hours later by another division, we were withdrawn before any opportunity arose. The Commanding Officer of the relieving unit, however, promised faithfully to have his body taken in and his belongings forwarded to us as soon as the exigencies of the situation would permit. We shall write you again, therefore, in a few days, and by then we hope to be able to send any little things of value that he carried with him.

Kenneth had not been home on leave for sixteen months. He was his parents’ only son and fittingly a newspaper article described him as, ‘A brave and intrepid, although youthful soldier, loving and beloved, with strong home instincts, and the soul of honour.’

Newton K F C

Kenneth Newton

Harold Buchanan ‘Bay’ Ryley, Captain of Emanuel, was the son of the pre-war Headmaster H B Ryley and was killed at Delville Wood on 5 September 1916. Bay served in the North Staffordshire Regiment, as did another boy in the 1912-13 Fifteen, Ivor Austion While, whose brother Eric is also pictured in the postcard. Ivor played a full part in Emanuel life being a Prefect, Captain of Lyons House, a Senior-Cadet officer and was elected Captain of the First Fifteen in 1913 but left school to take a Commission in the North Staffs. Ivor wrote to the school in 1915:

Things at School are as per usual my brother gives me to understand, though I am rather disappointed that the whole School has not joined the O.T.C. Surely the Senior boys can see that the war will last years and that they will all be wanted badly in a few years.

The great thing that strikes me here is the cheerfulness of the Tommies. They march all day, are on fatigue and in the night go as working parties to dig trenches and yet they are cheerful. None like the war, but we have never had a single case of discontent.

I am engaged in tabulating the different sounds, but my list is not complete as I pen different ones practically every day.

Ivor was killed on the 31 August 1916 whilst meeting an enemy advance in his trench. Bay Ryley and Ivor’s names appear on the same panel on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. Sadly neither has a known grave.

H B Bay Ryley

Bay Ryley

Harold Norton White was another whose rugby critique was far from glorious but who returned to France three times to serve in the war. The critique noted, ‘Scrum Half. A player with more pluck than science; very prone to get off-side, passing with faulty lines at times.’ In the Summer Term Portcullis we learn that Harold ‘is suffering from trench feet, having been out through a period of very bad weather.’ Harold had three brothers and was distinguished from them by being known as ‘dark-haired White’. He served in the Machine Gun Corps and had returned for his third duty in France in early September 1918 when on 6 September he was killed, ‘by the bursting of a shell in the room which he, with six other officers, used as a mess.’

White H N

The story does not end with those who lost their lives for seven others also served in the war and survived. There is minimal information on Cuthbert Harvey who is seen as the touch judge in the photo and Serge Trechatney, founder of Emanuel School rowing is believed to have emigrated to the USA, marrying the actress May West’s sister Beverly in 1917 and divorcing in 1927. More information is available for Leslie Clinton who was Emanuel’s first recipient of the MC and whose story can be read elsewhere. Percy Knight gained the rank of Captain in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and fought in the Battle of the Somme. He was injured during the war but he survived and moved to Dorset working for the auctioneer Rumsey and Rumsey in Bournemouth between 1923 and 1976. He became a Freemason being initiated into St. Aldhelm’s Lodge and was Director of Ceremonies for fourteen years. Percy was also curator of the Masonic Museum.

As a rugby team they may have lacked “grit” and “backbone” but as individuals in a far greater test of endurance they proved to have real guts and determination, giving themselves fully to their teammates on the front lines.

Camm, G F_134Clinton, L S_146Dilnutt, E W_144Harvey, C_140Holland, F R_136Horswell, B W_141Kimber, F W_138Knight, P J_145Newton, K S_139Parkinson, W W_131Roberts, J H_147Robertson, A_137Ryley, Harold Buchanan_135Trechatnee, S_132Vaughan, W T_130While, E M_142While, I A_133Wilson, R D_143White, H N_129

‘By his example he made life easier for others’ William Frank Godfrey (Emanuel 1909-1914)

William Frank Godfrey would walk through the door of 32 Bramfield Road, Battersea, a short walk up the hill until he reached Wandsworth Common and looking across from Bolingbroke Grove he would see the spire of Emanuel School, where Frank attended between 1909-1914. Down the drive and into the microcosm that is Emanuel School. In the last summer of peace we read in the Howe House cricket notes from the Emanuel School Magazine, The Portcullis that, ‘Some good hard hitting was done by Godfrey…’ He also gained special praise ‘for the hard work in which he worked for the House in the team race’ during the House athletics competition. He also took the young platoon of ‘budding warriors’ under his command as a Company Sergeant Major in the Emanuel OTC.

Within a couple of days of the outbreak of the First World War young Frank made an application to the War Office and received a Commission on August 15 1914 in the North Staffordshire Regiment. Frank had literally walked out of the Emanuel School gates and straight into the army. A local newspaper noted, ‘From the outset he perceived the struggle would be severe and prolonged, and realised that it would require each and all to give of their best. He could not resist the call of Empire in its hour of peril and grave anxiety…’.

Godfrey william frank001

Frank’s letters were reprinted in The Portcullis during his time on the Western Front. All the original First World War letters have since been lost and so we owe a debt of gratitude to those Old Emanuels who reprinted OE correspondence in the School magazine, for without them we wouldn’t have these precious vignettes of how Emanuel boys saw their experiences. Although letters were censored they still offer important information on the experiences of the war.

Letter Summer Term 1915

W. F. Godfrey, Esq.,
“B” Coy. 1st Nth. Staffs. Regt.,
17th Brigade, 8th Div. B.E.F.

I was first under rifle fire when in charge of a fatigue party making a communication trench, but nobody was hit. The starlights which are thrown in order to see what the enemy are up to, produce very pretty effects at night, and it is entirely by means of these that the fire is directed.

My first two days were in the support trenches, but since then I have been in the fire trenches and so far have only lost two men out of my platoon, both wounded by snipers.

On the whole the work out here is very interesting and one cannot help being fascinated with it.

Regarding aircraft the activity is entirely on one side, only once have I seen a German aeroplane and he made off rapidly when one of ours came in sight. Our men are extremely daring in the way they utterly disregard the German anti-aircraft guns.
We are billeted in the sixth line of trenches, which is on the bank of a canal.

Even that is a perfect heaven to where I am now, as my Company occupies a very advanced part of the line round a small village, which has been shelled until it is little more than a heap of bricks and a few walls, the mud is nearly knee deep in places. There are very few dug-outs and those there are, are of a very inferior quality. Mine measures two feet high by three feet square.
Frank’s next letter discusses the issue of not having had rest and his tone has changed in the course of a few months, showing the effects of what long spells at the Front could do to morale.

Letter Christmas Term 1915

For some time past the rumour has gone round each time that we came out of the trenches that we were going well back for a three weeks’ rest, but so far this rumour has never materialised, and now we are about the only Division at the front that has not been to a rest camp since it has been here. For some reason best known to higher authorities, we are leaving the trenches tonight, instead of Sunday next, by which time our twelve days would have been completed. Needless to say, rumours are rampant. Suggestions are that Arras, Hooge, Archangel, India, or our three weeks’ rest are in sight – nobody knows. Anyway, it is a wet night, and I would far rather be going out of than into the trenches, even if we go to a bivouac if leaky tents in a wood.

I am pleased to say that I. A. While and H. B. Ryley are still going strong, in fact are thriving on the air of Flanders. I wish Emanuel all good luck when next term commences.

By the time Frank was fighting on the Somme in the summer of 1916 he was with the 4th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment and was attached to the 72nd Trench Mortar Battery. The tone of the second letter suggests that he was battle weary and work with the Mortar Battery would no doubt have added to this feeling. We next hear of him in the Christmas Term Portcullis where in the Howe House notes we read, ‘It was with the deepest regret, that we heard of the death in action of Second Lieut. W. F. Godfrey. He was a Company-Sergt.-Major to the Corps, and in that position, as in all others, he worked untiringly for his School and House. To his bereaved parents we all offer our sincere sympathy, knowing that their loss is his great gain.’

Within the space of one week, Frank, Harold Buchanan Ryley Junior and Ivor Austin While, all Old Emanuel boys and all in the North Staffordshire Regiment, had been killed in action in the Battle of the Somme. Frank was killed by the explosion of a shell on 3 September 1916 a few weeks after his twentieth birthday. He was in action at Delville Wood on the last day of the battle of the same name. Frank would have seen Delville Wood as a desolate landscape, having been scared by heavy shelling in the previous months.

Frank’s Captain remembered him, ‘He was always cheerful, even under the most adverse conditions, and was recognised by his senior officers as very plucky indeed’. His Chaplain noted, ‘He was one of those who, by his example, made life easier for others.’ The newspaper article continued its commentary:

A truer epitaph of his life cannot be written, as he never spared himself in his unselfish devotion to everything worthy and inspiring. He will be sadly missed by all who knew him, and the memory of his splendid character and really lovable disposition will long remain.

Frank wouldn’t walk through the doors of 32 Bramfield again but his parents and elder sister had to and one can only imagine the sense of loss they must have felt. The South Western Star put it just right with these lines:

The debt that is owing to those young lives who answered the first call, can never be measured. They gave themselves ungrudgingly, and sacrificed all to ensure the eventual triumph of Right over Might. Among that gallant company of heroes, Second-Lieut. W. F. Godfrey truly earned an honoured place.


Today when one visits Frank’s grave there is nothing but silence, but his memory is full of the life of a young man who was cruelly cut down in youth, having known only the serene sports field of Emanuel School and the hellish French landscapes of the Western Front. He is now remembered in the Emanuel School Chapel, St. Michael’s Church, Bolingbroke Grove in addition to his name being inscribed on the St. Mary Magdalene memorial, Trinity Road, Wandsworth Common.

GODFREY, WILLIAM FRANK Second Lieutenant 03/09/1916 20 North Staffordshire Regiment United Kingdom VII. L. 10. DELVILLE WOOD CEMETERY, LONGUEVAL

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

Ronald Grundy002

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.
Scan 114
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.
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.
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.