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.’
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.
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.’
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.
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.’
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.