Above Passchendaele

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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

‘Eddie Fisher – Boy Soldier’

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

VE Day 1945 – Emanuel’s exodus to Petersfield ended

On 8 May 1945 Emanuel’s exodus to Petersfield since 1 September 1939 was nearing its end. The School had spent six long years away from Battersea and in Petersfield as hosts of Churcher’s College. The war in Europe was over and next term they would return to the old building which had been partially bombed during the Blitz. Emanuel were on their way home – (although some boys only ever knew of Emanuel in Petersfield and Tutorial classes had started in the old building in Battersea in 1943 for around 100 boys). The following report was written for the School magazine The Portcullis in the summer term of 1945 about how the boys celebrated Victory in Europe.

‘Our first intimation that the end was so much nearer than we thought was on Sunday, then it was announced by the BBC that Mr Churchill was expected to make his speech announcing the end of the war in Europe before the end of the week, probably on
Thursday, the anniversary of his accession to office five years before. This news caused a considerable stir at Emanuel.

The next day, in break, Younger came out to announce, with a forced calm, that the German radio had stated that the Wehrmacht had accepted unconditional surrender terms. Milk drinking continued as before, but one could not help feeling that this announcement had produced a disturbing effect upon minds which, a few minutes before, had been in a state of scholastic contemplation for the past two periods. In the evening, we hung around the wireless set expecting an official announcement, but our hopes for an official celebration that evening were disappointed, for no such announcement came. There was merely a repetition of the German radio announcement. This, however, was a sufficient excuse for the Windsor Rhythm Kings, who, with the encouragement of a few senior members, proceeded to entertain the local populace in the Square. Dancing proceeded from 8 o’clock until about 10.30, when it began to get dark. During the course of the evening it had been announced that the next day, Tuesday, May 8th, would be VE Day and that the Prime Minister would speak at 3 o’clock.

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Emanuel boys celebrating VE Day by climbing the King William III statue in Petersfield Town Square 

The next morning a spirit of gaiety prevailed. An assembly was held at 9.30 outside the pavilion, and we were dismissed for the next two days. The crowd surged out of the gates of Churcher’s and down Ramshill. By the time we had reached the bottom of the High Street, we were strung out across the road, and, arm-in-arm, we marched up the flag-bedecked High Street singing. The march continued round the town and back to the Square, where it broke up, and we all dispersed to our various occupations, the Sixth Form mainly to imbibe coffee.

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Emanuel boys in Petersfield 8 May 1945

The afternoon saw many Emanuel seniors arrayed in original if somewhat loud costumes, which at times verged on the fancy-dress. Some idea of these may be gathered
from the photographs which were taken by Hardcastle that afternoon and afterwards
printed en masse and sold to the School. The chef d’oeuvre was a snap of the Headmaster standing at the foot of the statue, in the centre of a mob of gesticulating Emanuels, all obviously enjoying themselves immensely.

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The Headmaster Cyril Broom, centre, with Emanuel boys in Petersfield VE Day 1945

Many of those now at the School will cherish this photograph in after-years as typical of the spirit of Emanuel on VE Day. In the meantime, the equestrian statue of William of Orange had been variously decorated with School ties and scarves, and a certain well-known type of black headgear. The School’s greatest service to Petersfield that day was the re-appearance that evening of the Windsor Rhythm Kings, this time on top of the
shelter in the Square. Lights had been fitted up during the day by Manley, and the band was able to play until midnight. Petersfield’s own official celebrations were not until the following evening, so the band proved a great attraction. A large crowd of people were obviously extremely grateful for its efforts, and £15 was collected for
the Hospital. The crowd danced to its music for over four hours. The band that evening consisted of Younger, Higgs, Sutters, Rassell and Ley, the regular members, augmented by Goodchild and Dudley. To all of them we owe our thanks for an extremely happy time that night. Without the band there could have been no dancing or general jollifications such as took place, and without the School the town would not have been enlivened or amused during the day.’

Boxing Day 1944 – In memory of Bill Page

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Bill Page (First From Left) clearing the hurdles on the Emanuel School Sports Field

William known as ‘Bill’ was a talented athlete at Emanuel.
He was also a Prefect and Captain of Drake. The Portcullis
recorded some of his many sporting achievements:
“There have been few in recent years who could rival
Bill Page’s achievement in games. In both Rugger and
Cricket he received Colours in five successive seasons,
from 1935 to 1939. Tall and powerfully built, he was
a fine forward and a successful captain in his last two
seasons.

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Bill Page (Second from Right) Emanuel Cricket XI

In the Cricket XI he was a valuable bowler,
slow left-hand with a nice variation of pace and flight
and a forceful bat. He proved a skilful captain in the
1939 season. What one admired most, however, in his
sports activities was the tireless devotion with which he
coached younger boys in junior team rugger practices,
in the nets, or on the fives courts. His all-round
excellence, together with his seriousness and depth of
character, won him general respect and made his name
something of a legend.”

Bill Page was politically aware in an era when international
politics was critical to the lives of ordinary citizens
everywhere, and was selected to take part in a Youth Group
discussion which was broadcast on the BBC.

Bill Page East Surrey Regiment uniform

Bill Page in East Surrey Regiment uniform

He was originally a Conscientious Objector but enlisted in the East Surrey Regiment, first serving in a pioneer unit, then in the Royal Engineers and, finally gaining a Commission as a Lieutenant, he was attached to the 9th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). Bill was killed in action around 5.20pm on 26 December 1944 during bitter fighting on the northeast coast of Italy as his company was ordered to hold the via Mazzolana, south-east of Ferrara. The Allied advance up the north-east coast had been fiercely contested by German forces during the Christmas period.

Bill Page Royal Fusilier

In 2013 I was in the archive of the Royal Fusiliers in the Tower of London researching Emanuel boys who had served in the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers in the Second World War. I was looking through a scrap book of photos relating to the 9th Battalion and having found a number of items I put this rather delicate old book back in its case. I stood up to walk away when I felt that I had to open the book again – something was telling me that I hadn’t found everything I was looking for that day. As I opened the pages again a small photo dropped out of one of the back pages. When I looked closely at it I could see it was a photo of one of the original graves from the Italian Campaign with a simple wooden cross. On the cross were the initials W. L. Page. It was a photo of Bill’s grave taken by an anonymous photographer. It was a photo Bill’s family had never seen. Bill’s brothers had all died before I started writing the history of Emanuel School at War but during the Emanuel School at War Exhibition in November 2014 the Page family were all in attendance to see Bill and his brothers’ war service remembered.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of Bill’s death and I wanted to mark it by remembering that young man full of life who could have scored many more runs on the cricket pitch had it not been for war.

Daniel Kirmatzis Boxing Day 2014

Bill Page Grave

Bill Page’s grave in Forli War Cemetery

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Bill’s brother Eddie and his wife at Bill’s grave in the 1990s

BBC World War One at Home – Emanuel School

Emanuel School’s World War One story is now part of the BBC World War One at Home series. It covers the story of the Grundy brothers and the origins of the School song which can be heard on the piece.

Book photo

Click here to listen http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02b2l71

News for Emanuel School at War Exhibition

The Emanuel School at War Exhibition is now over but it will live on in the memories of those who were there. A big thank you to everyone who attended and supported the exhibition.

A more detailed blog post will follow but here are a few news stories from the 5 day exhibition.

Listen to Daniel Kirmatzis discussing the Emanuel at War Project on the Robert Elms show BBC Radio London from 30mins in http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p029ptgc

Also see London Live who recorded current Emanuel pupils’s impressions of the Exhibition http://www.londonlive.co.uk/news/2014-11-11/schools-remember-conflicts-past

We have had many lovely comments from people who visited the Exhibition including Dr Andrew Murrison, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office and the Prime Minister’s special representative for the Centenary Commemoration of the First World War whose tweet can be seen below.

Emanuel at War Exhibition10 Nov 2014