1938-39 Old Emanuel 1st XV in the Second World War

Rugby OEA 1938 39 full_163

This photo shows the 1938-39 Old Emanuel First Fifteen at Blagdons, the Old Emanuel Rugby grounds. But the men in the photo were anything but ‘old’. Most of them had only left Emanuel a few years previously and when this photo was taken they were all in their early twenties. They couldn’t have possibly known what the future held as they gathered that winter afternoon in Raynes Park. Within nine months Europe was at war for the second time in less than a quarter of a century. Within two years the European war had become a world war and these young men signed up to serve in the forces. They served in Britain, Burma, France, Italy and North Africa. They saw action in some of the fiercest theatres including at Dunkirk, the Italian Campaign battles, Kohima, D-Day and the North African War. Three were made POWs and four were killed in action.

Below are six short portraits of six of the fifteen. The photos show each of them in the winter of 1938-39 and then a photo of them during the war.

Hoare, D S_165Postcard Sent from Oflag XXIB Schubin Poland - opened Dec40 - closed Sep43

Douglas ‘Sammy’ Hoare, F/O 74 Squadron RAF, later Group Captain, POW 25 June 1940 – September 1944. He was captured during the evening of 25th May on the beach between Calais and Dunkirk, together with French civilians and some British Army officers who had evacuated from Calais.

Horseman, K_179Ken Horseman

Ken Horseman, Rifleman, 6915329, Rifle Brigade. Captured 29/12/41. POW 1941-1945

On being captured in the Desert on 29th December 1941 Ken remembered: “I got up, and immediately about three Jerries came towards us, one with a revolver, and the other with Tommy-guns. They shouted ‘hands up, hands up’, and we had to explain that the Major was wounded and couldn’t put his hands up. We got to the truck and the Jerries were already looting the back. I saw Bert for the first time, and he wasn’t a pretty sight, so we put some of the truck sheets over his head as he was lying on the ground near the tailboard. The Jerries looked after the Major pretty well, and bandaged up his arm right away, while we asked the jerry sargent if we could bury Bert. He seemed quite pleased that we had suggested it, so Shirley, one of the other signallers and I dug a shallow hole (all we had time for), wrapped Bert in a couple of blankets, and covered him up.”

Millist, K M_168Kenneth Millist209

Ken Millist, P/O, DFC, 615 AND 73 Squadrons RAF. Killed in action 7th April 1941, North Africa.

Page, E D_176IMGA0009

Eddie Page, Captain, 1st Gurkha Rifles. Eddie saw action throughout the campaign in Burma, including in the Battle of Kohima.

Skillern, A R J_169Skillern in service uniform

Alan Skillern, Major, 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. Killed in action 17th January 1944, Garigliano River.

Alan wrote about his experiences shortly after the Allied Armies launched their campaign to liberate Italy from German forces in September 1943. Writing a few days after the Salerno Landings in September 1943, Alan described how he felt the night before: “After dinner most of us went to our own cabins where, in the privacy of them, we studied our maps and mosaics for the hundredth time. As a Company Commander – I did. I remember asking myself, ‘what haven’t I done?’ – ‘Did I explain that?’ – ‘God, that road looks different’ – If “————“ goes, can I have Sergeant “————“ to take over the Platoon? – and so on unceasingly . Finally and almost in desperation, I tried to sleep but, like the others, I only turned restlessly; waiting for the loud-speakers to announce TROOPS PREPARE TROOPS PREPARE. It came and the reaction was in the pit of my stomach which momentarily experienced a sudden sensation of – nausea was it? I don’t know!”

Warren, D J_166during war_313

David Warren, Major, later Brigadier, Hampshire Regiment, MC, DSO

From David’s obituary we learn that: “On September 8 1943, Warren, who had already taken part in the invasion of Sicily, was commanding C Company, 1st Battalion the Royal Hampshire Regiment, part of 231 Infantry Brigade, in an assault landing at Pizzo in Calabria. Racing up difficult, hilly country, Warren and his men reached the main coast road and surprised a column of German armoured fighting vehicles.

Taking command at once of the leading sections, Warren personally led an attack which killed a number of Germans and destroyed several vehicles. In the words of his MC citation: “By his promptness and eagerness for a fight he set a fine example, and in his personal leadership showed complete disregard of his own safety.

By June 1944 the Hampshires had been withdrawn from Italy to take part in the invasion of France, and on D-Day they were in the first wave of the landings at Gold Beach, Le Hamel. Warren, still commanding C Company, led his men across the beach under heavy fire and attacked the houses and pillboxes which were his immediate objectives. Later, when the CO was wounded disembarking from a landing craft and the second-in-command was killed, Warren took command of the battalion and, despite it having suffered very heavy casualties, led it on to capture a series of very stubbornly defended gun positions and infantry strongpoints.

In the words of his DSO citation: “Major Warren showed the greatest courage and leadership and captured ground essential to the success of the operation.” Warren remained in command of the battalion until the arrival of a more senior and experienced officer and then continued as second-in-command until, a few days later, he was wounded during the fighting to extend the Normandy bridgehead and evacuated to England.”


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

A week in archives and interviewing OE WW2 veterans

The past week has been full of special moments. Over two days I interviewed a former general manager of Barclays Bank who won the Military Cross in the North African campaign in December 1942, for demolition work. I interviewed him about his pre-war experiences including a school exchange trip to Bremen in 1936 Nazi Germany; his training in the Royal Engineers; landing at Algiers and carrying out work with 564 Field Regiment Royal Engineers in the North African Campaign to his journey through Italy from landing at Taranto to building bridges and bomb disposal work as part of the British Eighth Army’s campaign against German forces along the Adriatic coast of Italy between 1943 and 1945.

S G Holliman001

This week also saw a visit to the Royal Fusilier archive in the Tower of London and a most poignant discovery among a collection relating to the 9th battalion Royal Fusiliers in which a number of Old Emanuels (OEs) fought in the Second World War. Having looked through a collection of photos, finding images of OEs, I saw a small image attached to a larger photo. When I took a closer look the name W. L. Page was inscribed on a cross on the grave of a serviceman recently buried. William “Bill” Page was one of four brothers who attended Emanuel in the 1930s. At the outbreak of war Bill was a Conscientious Objector but later joined and reached the rank of Lieutenant in 9th Btn Royal Fusiliers and was killed on Boxing Day 1944. Why had this one photo been taken among the numbers who were buried in Forli War Cemetery? One cannot possibly now know, but certainly, having already gathered a large collection of materials about the Page brothers, it was a unique moment discovering this photo.


On Saturday 1 June I interviewed an OE who served in the Indian Army and who fought against the Japanese forces in Burma. He discussed his experiences of keeping a number of tanks operational in the Far Eastern theatre; coming in close proximity with a Japanese sniper and conditions under which the Indian Army were fighting in the capture of Japanese garrisons in Burma.


In addition to these I was at the British Library on Friday 31 May in what proved to be an amazing and unique experience, reading the letters from the father of one Emanuel boy to his son whilst the son was serving on the front lines in France, Italy, Palestine and Egypt. The collection is very significant but more will be revealed in 2014.

If this wasn’t enough excitement for one week then a visit to the Battersea Reference Library and two phone calls from relatives of OEs has produced a wealth of materials. Firstly I discovered the 15th name of an Emanuel boy not included on the original First World War memorial. In addition we now have two significant collections relating to OEs who were made POWs in Europe in the Second World War and also a collection of materials relating to the brother of one of the men I interviewed who served in the Fleet Air Arm in the Pacific, including log books, letters, photos and diaries.

Each week I discover new and exciting materials, illuminating the life of Old Emanuels, who served in every theatre and service in two world wars.