‘Eddie Fisher – Boy Soldier’


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.

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.

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

Emanuel School at War: A History


After 5 years of research the new history of Emanuel School at War will be published in November 2014. [639pp and fully illustrated].

This is the story of a school at war – the boys and masters who fought on every battlefront. It’s Emanuel’s hidden history – stories locked away in archives for decades. Now much of this is published here for the first time. These voices from the past reveal the contrast between a world at peace and a world at war. The experiences of Emanuel boys, from 1914 to the Liberation of Europe in 1945, are vividly brought to life in their own words – through letters, diaries, documents and interviews. Many never returned. Those who did never forgot them.


This is an exceptionally moving and well-researched book to commemorate the centenary of the Great War. Richly illustrated throughout and with illuminating biographies of members of the Emanuel School community in two world wars, it offers a unique tribute to the service and sacrifice of these generations. This book is a fitting memorial to the lost generation, and a wake-up call to the young of today to seek to emulate the courage and service or duty of those who attended school a hundred years ago.
Sir Anthony Seldon Master, Wellington College

A truly fascinating and beautifully produced book which weaves diligent research and historical detail with the personal First- and Second-World-War stories of boys and teachers and thereby brings our history and our story to life. This is such a worthwhile and poignant tribute to those who went before us.
Jeremy Trevathan Publisher, Macmillan

Emanuel School has a rich history and has produced some remarkable characters who more than played their part in Britain’s two
world wars, and who repeatedly showed astonishing ingenuity, fortitude and bare-faced courage during these periods of national peril. From sailors to soldiers, to fighter-, bomber- and reconnaissance-pilots, as well as renowned entertainers, translators and war artists. Emanuel’s old boys served in almost every theatre from the Western Front in the First World War to the Atlantic and the Far East in the Second. They took part in the Battle of Britain, the air campaign against Germany and in the battles for North Africa and Italy and landed on the beaches in Normandy on D-Day. This is a superb book, beautifully written and illustrated, and a lasting testimony to the heroic contributions of these exceptional men.
James Holland Author and Historian

Emanuel School’s First World War Pro Patria

On the eve of the 100th anniversary of Britain’s entry into the First World War we are publishing Emanuel School’s updated First World War Pro Patria.

As part of the Emanuel School at War project it was decided to update the School’s First and Second World War Pro Patrias. This has been a fourteen-month project. There were several versions of the original First World War Pro Patria. Using the School’s original pupil index cards, School register and a host of other sources it has been possible in most cases to determine the full names and School dates of many of those who were originally listed by surname and initials. Through meticulous research it has been possible to add new names to the list. The original records contained a large number of mistakes and so we have been working from imperfect data. While many inconsistencies have been corrected there remain a number of queries that at the present time are not possible to answer.

The updated Pro Patria lists the names, ranks, regiments, and awards of over 900 former pupils and masters of Emanuel School who served in the First World War. It indicates all those who lost their lives as a consequence of the war and gives dates of birth and death of individuals if known. It also indicates those who were made POWs and provides extra details such as those who were invalided out.

If you recognise any of the names on the Pro Patria we would be interested in hearing from you. Please contact us via the contact tab at the top of the page.

Pro Patria is currently being updated. Please revisit soon.

The Great War in Portraits

Alec and Family

Photograph Copyright Reader/Goodman/Collins: Alec Reader and family January 1916.

Old Emanuel Alec Reader was 18 years old when he was killed at High Wood on 15 September 1916, a fateful day for the Civil Service Rifles and the 15th London Regiment.

Alec currently features in the National Portrait Gallery’s new exhibition, ‘The Great War in Portraits’, http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/firstworldwarcentenary/exhibition.php

Alec’s story features in the History of Emanuel School at War in November 2014. My thanks to Doug Goodman, Alec’s nephew for providing a wealth of information on Alec and Doug’s brother, the late Roger Goodman who did so much to uncover Alec’s story.

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