Cranleigh School in Wartime

A blog about the history of Cranleigh in wartime and those who served in the First and Second World Wars.

The bloody month of July

A unique photograph from the second line trench of troops advancing from the forward trenches on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916. It was taken by John Stanley Purvis, a teacher at Cranleigh (1913-1938)

A unique photograph from the second line trench of troops advancing from the forward trenches on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916. It was taken by John Stanley Purvis, a teacher at Cranleigh (1913-1938)

While much has been written about the first day of the Battle of the Somme (July 1, 1916) when there were 19,240 British soldiers killed, the appalling loss of life continued for the remainder of the month. By the end of July there had been 158, 786 British casualties,  49,859 French and 103.000 German.  It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the worst month of the war as far as Cranleigh were concerned.  Twenty Old Cranleighans died in July, more than 10% of the total lost in the conflict overall; all but one of those fell in France.

Three perished on the first day. Sergeant Leo Last (House 1916) fell in the initial assault;  his regiment, the 19th Middlesex, the The Public Schools Battalion, “advanced into withering German machine gun fire. A few men reached the German barbed wire but got no further. Most were cut down or trapped in no man’s land. After nightfall those that were pinned down near the German wire were rounded up and made prisoners of war. The Public Schools Battalion suffered 522 casualties on 1 July, 22 officers and 500 other ranks.”  It was Last’s 20th birthday.

2nd Lt Walter Woodstock (2&3 South 1902) of the 8th battalion York and Lancaster Regiment was in all likelihood mown day within seconds of going over the parapet. “Immediately after leaving their trenches the battalion came under heavy machine gun fire and most of the men were killed or wounded. The remainder carried on and took the enemy front line trenches and about 70 men eventually reached as far as the third line of German trenches, but only one man returned from there. What was left of the battalion remained fighting in the first line of trenches until overwhelmed. The Regiment took 680 men and 23 officers over the parapet, all the officers were either killed or wounded and of the battalion only 68 returned.”

2nd Lt Arthur Eames (2 North 1911) of the 1st battalion East Yorkshires died while leading a small party to try to flush out some Germans in an adjoining trench.  The regimental diary states: “A superior number of Germans was encountered and it was while dealing with this situation that Lt Eames was killed.”  He had been wounded in early June and had only just returned to his regiment.

On July 2 Major Robert Raper (House 1887) of the 8th battalion South Staffordshire Regiment died during an assault on Fricourt. He successfully led a patrol to clear the dugouts in the German front line and pressed on across no-man’s land. Raper was leading the two forward companies and succeeded in taking the final objective of Lozenge Alley under heavy fire but was killed in doing so. Later his body was brought back by a friend and buried south west of Fricourt.  The villagers named a road in his honour after the war.

On July 3 Major Lascelles Barnett (2&3 South 1896) was killed during an early-morning assault on Ovillers by the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment).  He had served with the regiment for 11 years before moving to Canada where he became a rancher.  When war broke out, he joined a Canadian regiment before switching on arrival in England.  On the same day 2nd Lt Thomas Beven (East 1914) perished in an assault on German trenches near Authuille by the 2nd battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment.  It suffered heavy losses and failed to reach their objective. Bevan was 19 and had left Cranleigh in December 1914.

On July 5 Captain Herbert Carpenter (East 1901) of the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) died during an assault on German lines. That evening 2nd Lt Harold Pither (1&4 South 1903) of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was wounded when taking part in a raiding party. He was captured by the Germans but died of his injuries the next day.

On July 7 Lt Neil Crawhall (House 1904) of the 2nd Bn. East Lancashire Regiment fell during an attack on capture Bailiff Wood. His brother, Fritz, had been killed 15 months earlier.

On July 9 Lt Harold Jaye (2&3 South 1905) of the West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own) died in a field hospital from injuries sustained four days earlier.  He had been in France six weeks. On July 10 Lt Frederick Dunn (1 North 1910) of the Lancashire Fusiliers was shot through the head.  His commanding offer wrote to his parents that “your son was killed in action whilst gallantly organising the defence of one of our advanced trenches, which was being attacked by the Huns”.

On July 14 Captain Joe James (East 1890) of the Royal Berkshire Regiment died at Bologne while waiting to be repatriated on a hospital ship.  He had sustained serious wounds on July 3. He was 40 years old and was a veteran of the Boer War (1899-1902) where he had won the Queen’s and King’s medals.

On July 20 2nd Lt Arthur Lord (West 1913) of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers died in an attack on High Wood.  The assault was later written up by Robert Graves, of the same regiment, in Goodbye To All That. Graves was badly wounded in the same attack.

On July 22 Captain Alex Loch (2&3 South 1907) of the South Wales Borderers was killed in a late-night attack along the length of the Fourth Army front that completely failed.

On July 23 2nd Lt Francis Mott (West 1912) of the Royal Fusiliers died of wounds received a week earlier. Private Samuel Platt (1&4 South 1900) also lost his life that day. “A and B companies of the 14th Royal Warwickshire attacked on the left, but were met with a fire of such violence that Colonel Murray at once formed the opinion that nothing could live against it. The attacking companies were immediately cut to pieces, and those few who got within distance were met by a regular curtain-fire of bombs.”

On July 27 Sergeant Leonard Iceton (2 North 1908) of the Seaforth Highlanders died in fighting near High Wood. His colonel wrote: “He lived as he has died, a brave man and a gallant soldier, ever at his post.”

On July 29 Private Randolph Loibl (West 1911) of the Royal Fusiliers died of his wounds after being hit by shrapnel while waiting to go into the front line. A farm labourer in Canada at the outbreak of war, he immediately enlisted and reached the front in November 1915.

On July 30 Private Chas Norris (East 1902) of the Rifle Brigade was killed by an accidental explosion at a bombing school behind the front lines. He had been rejected for the army five times before finally being admitted in 1915

A soldier's story

Leo Last (East 1906)

Leo Last

The programme for the service which preceded the unveiling of Nick Dimbleby’s magnificent sculpture included the story of one of those named on the memorial, Lionel ‘Leo’ Last (House 1906).

General the Lord Richard Dannatt’s address started and finished with references to Last who died 100 years before to the day, killed advancing towards the German lines early on July 1, 1916, the infamous first day of the Battle of the Somme.  It was also his 20th birthday.

Last was one of seven brothers.  One of his siblings Harold ‘Tertius’ Last (East 1905) lost his life in 1915.  Tertius had joined the HAC in early 1914 and so was one of the first sent to fight. In late March 1915, four months after arriving in France, he was hit by shrapnel and left paralysed in a field hospital in Belgium. It seems likely that he would have died there but for his 25-year-old sister Dorothy. Last’s niece Bridget Sudworth  explained. “Dorothy may have been a bit psychic as she had a premonition that Tertius was in trouble in March 1915 and bullied her way into getting a passage across to Belgium and found him paralysed from the neck down. She brought him home to die.”  He succumbed to his wounds on April 26. He was 22.

His younger brother, Leo, who enlisted in September 1914, remained in England until the spring of 1916 when he was sent to France with the 16th Battalion Middlesex regiment – the Die Hards – ahead of that summer’s offensive.   He first saw action in late April, and on June 27 received orders that the attack would commence the next day.

From the time he enlisted he exchanged regular letters with his sister. The final one written by him was on June 28 as he prepared to go into the line. It was brief and ended: “I cannot write any more, Old Girl.  I am very sorry but I seem a bit jumbled up in myself, but I want you to pray for me especially in the days that are coming, that I may do my duty as I ought.”

The memorial unveiling

The memorial unveiling

As it was, the attack was postponed for two days.  At 10.20pm on June 30, Last’s battalion reached Auchenvillers and at 7.30am the following morning, Sergeant Last was one of 660 men of ‘C’ Company who went over the top in the opening offensive of the Battle of the Somme. Only 72 attended roll-call that evening. Last was not among them. It was his 20th birthday.

His family had no news for several weeks. On July 28 his sister sent a letter pleading for him to get in touch: “You have not written to me once this term and I wrote you several times.” Eventually her letters were returned stamped ‘missing presumed dead’.  His body was never found and the only account of what were Leo’s last moments came from the father of a captain in the Middlesex whose son died the same morning. “My son was hit and after he fell, he never rose again,” he told them. “Then the young sergeant (Leo) led the men as if nothing had happened and nothing more was seen of them.” Last’s body was never found. He is commemorated on the Theipval Memorial.

The family did not give up hope, placing advertisements in newspapers asking for his whereabouts. Tertius Last was listed on the original Cranleigh School memorial unveiled in 1921. As Leo’s family never notified the School of his fate, he was never so honoured.

We were pleased to be able to put that omission  right a century later and also that his niece and her family made long journeys to be at the unveiling.  “We were profoundly moved by the nature of the service, particularly Lord Dannatt’s address,” Mrs Sudworth said. “It was really quite extraordinary that it should be used as such a focal point and then followed by the revelation of the sculpture which somehow endorsed the whole unspeakable loss of so many thousands of beautiful young men who had barely started their lives.”

From senior prefect to Flanders fields

John Kenneth Brice-Smith, 7th Lincolnshire Regiment, died of wounds, September 11, 1915

John Kenneth Brice-Smith, 7th Lincolnshire Regiment, died of wounds, September 11, 1915

By September 1915 , World War One had been going on for a year and the stalemate which was to be abiding image of the conflict on the Western Front had become established.

Twenty-nine Craneighans had already been killed, mostly in Europe although the disastrous Dardanelles campaign was already taking a toll. At Cranleigh, the boys arrived back from their summer holidays to learn that eight Cranleighans had died during the break. Some would have been known to older pupils, such as 18-year-old John Roberts who left Cranleigh in 1913 and died of wounds in Gallipoli.

In the middle of the month news came which impacted on almost everyone at the School. Second Lieutenant John Brice-Smith (East 1914), who had been the senior prefect in the summer of 1914 as well as captain of both the football and cricket XIs, had been killed in Flanders. He was 20. All but the newest boys had clear memories of him. Others, such as 49-year-old James Usher, was born before the School had opened.

Brice-Smith had gone straight up to St John’s College, Cambridge on leaving Cranleigh but left in November after he received his commission in the 7th Lincolnshire Regiment. He arrived in France on July, 14, 1915 and saw his first action on August 9. He died on September 11 of wounds received during a tour of the front line to the south-west of Ypres the previous day.

Of the 1st XI Brice-Smith captained in 1914, all but one served in the war and three others died – Louis Back (1&4 South 1915) was killed in 1917 aged 19 and Gerald Hodgkinson (West 1914) died later in the same year aged 22 as did John Bull (West 1914) who was 21.

Brice-Smith’s older brother, Harold, who was not at Cranleigh, read medicine at St John’s College, Cambridge, also served in France and was awarded the Military Cross. He survived the war and returned to Cambridge to complete his medical studies.

The wretched month of May

 On May 4, 1915 2nd Lieutenant Vivian Llewellyn-Jones (23)  was killed . He had left in 1911. Llewellyn-Jones had already been wounded and had only just returned to the front line.

On May 4, 1915 2nd Lieutenant Vivian Llewellyn-Jones (23) was killed . He had been wounded a few weeks earlier and had only just returned to the front line

The first nine months of World War One had a marked impact on Cranleigh School, as a number of masters left to join up and hundreds of Old Cranleighans, dozens who had only left in the summer of 1914 and many others with brothers at the School, did likewise.  There there had been casualties and eight deaths by the start of May 1915,  but that month proved to be one of the worst of the war with nine OCs killed, eight in the first ten days alone.

On May 4, 2nd Lieutenant Vivian Llewellyn-Jones (23)  and Corporal Arthur Johnson (20) died .  Both had left in 1911. Llewellyn-Jones had already been wounded and had only just returned to the front line.

The following day 2nd Lieutenant Kenneth Hinde (23) of the Australian Infantry died on board a hospital ship of wounds received on the beaches at Gallipoli.  He had been engaged less than three months.

On May 8, Rifleman Eric Haines (24) was killed when the 12th London Regiment launched a counter-attack to capture a lost trench; it succeeded but at a huge cost, with every officer killed, wounded or taken prisoner. “The Battalion had to pass through a gap in the barbed wire in front of the GHQ line on which German machine-guns were trained, and suffered heavily in its passage,” wrote Sir Herbert Plumer. “The whole of the ground over which the further advance took place was heavily shelled, and in places exposed to heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, so that the Battalion rapidly dwindled.” Later that day 2nd Lieutenant William Sadler (18) of the South Lancashire Regiment was killed by a shell while deepening trenches on the infamous Hill 60.

Corporal Arthur Johnson

Corporal Arthur Johnson

Also on May 8, the Dennison brothers both fell.  2nd Lieutenant Ralph Dennison (36) died when shot as he reached the enemy lines after leading a bayonet charge by the 5th Royal Sussex. “It was the biggest fight of the war,” one of the few survivors said. “I lay in the open from 5.30 till half-past-three in the afternoon. I was the only one left of our little lot that went over. My mates fell like skittles.” In a separate action, Captain Harry Dennison (33) of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (Eastern Ontario Regiment) died at St Eloi during an intense bombardment ahead of a German attack on the first day of the Battle of Frezenberg. Neither brother has a known grave and they are commemorated on Memorials to the Missing: Harry on the Menin Gate, Ypres, and Ralph at Le Touret.

On May 9 Bombadier Frank Willicombe (29) died in an accident shortly after his ship arrived in Marseilles from Bombay where he had been stationed with the Royal Garrison Artillery.

The final casualty of a wretched month came on May 20 when Captain Edgar Brock was killed by a stray shell at St Eloi, near where Harry Dennison fell 12 days earlier. He was 48 and had left Cranleigh 30 years earlier. A professional soldier since 1889, he had fought in the Boer War.

The OC losses in May 1915 were only surpassed by those in July 1916 (20) and April 1917 (12).

On the eve of war

Cranleigh School OTC pictured at Tidworth Camp on August 3, 1914, the day before war broke out

Cranleigh School OTC pictured at Tidworth Camp on August 3, 1914, the day before war broke out

As the summer term of 1914 drifted to a close, it seemed pretty much as those that preceded it. The weather was mixed – a warm June had given way to a damp July – cricket was played most afternoons, and until the final few days the escalating crisis sparked by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand at the end of June did not register in the consciousness of many.

The annual old boys reunion in May had been well attended and talk was of the newly-acquired 13-acre field which was being prepared for opening the following year to mark the School’s Golden Jubilee. Speech Day on July 9 was also uneventful, although there was satisfaction expressed that the Officer Training Corp had grown in two years from 80 to 151. The senior prefect – and captain of cricket – John Brice-Smith made a short speech. Fourteen months later he was died of his wounds in Belgium; four of the side who played in the final 1st XI match that summer were killed in the war.

On July 27, two days before the school broke up, 92 OTC cadets and officers left Cranleigh for the annual camp at Tidworth on Salisbury Plain. Along with Epsom College, they were the first to arrive. Almost 3000 boys from 40 schools were divided into battalions of around 800. The Times report gave hints that camp life was not exactly onerous as “practically all fatigue work is done by orderlies”.

The term ended on July 29 and most boys headed home with no thoughts other than the holidays. They walked down to the Cranleigh station to catch a train to Guildford; their bags followed in the next few days. “The clouds of war were gathering,” wrote Geoffrey Bateman (2 North 1919), “but I think most of us regarded the trouble in Serbia as just a third Balkan war. But by the end of term the situation looked more serious”.

Cranleigh School OTC at Tidworth Camp in August, 1914

Cranleigh School OTC at Tidworth Camp in August, 1914

At Tidworth, life was fairly routine, although the talk all centred on the increasing likelihood of war. On the Saturday night Cranleigh drew with Rossall 3-3 in a game of football, beating St John’s Leatherhead the following evening. “On Sunday, things began to look serious,”wrote a boy from Gresham’s (who were in the same battalion as Cranleigh). “Sunday morning broke in a torrential downpour and news that the fleet was mobilising.”

On Bank Holiday Monday (August 3) the order was given for the cadets to strike camp three days early. The staff officers had to peddle round on bicycles barking out the orders as the previous day their horses had been requisitioned. Arthur Wilson, who left Cranleigh at the end of the term but attended the camp, said that when war was declared “we all thought it would be over in a couple of months”.

That evening, Private Leonard Arnold won the bugling competition “after a tremendously close contest”. It was his last contribution to Cranleigh life. He joined up later in the year, was invalided out in 1915, rejoined in 1916 and was killed in action in India in 1919.

By the Tuesday morning almost all the regular soldiers had disappeared and the cadets were left to make their way home as best they could. The trains were “deranged” because of many lines being requisitioned to get troops and equipment to the south coast. “Eventually we did move off,” the Cranleighan reported. “Some by train, some by motor bikes and some, we believe, seen disappearing into the morning mist of the plain on foot.”

Wilson was one of a handful sent back to Cranleigh to guard the armoury, even though he was by now an old boy. By the time the School reassembled on September 18 more than 200 Old Cranleighans had enlisted, and three masters were also in the forces. Two Cranleighans – Captain Harold Bass and Major Percy Maclear – had already been killed although Bass was listed as missing for almost another year while Maclear’s death was not announced until early October.

On the first Sunday of term the Headmaster gave a sermon in chapel which began: “Strange things have been happening since we were here last …”

Cranleigh School OTC at Tidworth Camp in August, 1914

Cranleigh School OTC at Tidworth Camp in August, 1914

Honouring the missing OCs

Stawell William Wade Garnett, one of the missing Cranleighans who fell in World War One

Stawell William Wade Garnett, one of the missing Cranleighans who fell in World War One. He moved to Australia soon after leaving the School in the late 1880s where he married and had 12 children. He took four years off his age to enlist and served as a driver in the 38th Australian Infantry Battalion. They arrived in Europe in 1916 but in 1918 he was repatriated after beiung badly gassed. He died at his home in Mildura, Victoria in July 1918 at the age of 44.

Martin Williamson writes: A year or so ago I was reading about a naval encounter at the start of World War One and happened across a mention of an officer on HMS Cressy, Philip Kell, who was killed and the book referred to him as a former pupil at Cranleigh in the 1880s. I was interested to know a little more about him and was surprised to see he was not listed in the Memorial Book in the chapel or on the panels in the pavilion.

I was able to see from the registers in the archives that Kell had an older brother, Herbert, who had also gone to Cranleigh and some light digging unearthed the fact he too had been killed in the war and was not on the memorials. Checking a random sample of register entries showed that there were others.

The superb Commonwealth War Graves Commission website lists details of those who fell in the two wars and where they are buried. It was soon apparent the only way of checking who might have been missed was to plough through the large, dusty and at times semi-legible registers and check each entry against the website.

Even then, often the website only contains scant details of the fallen and so a long system of cross-checking with other ancestry sites and the web in general helps eliminate or confirm possible omissions.

I am now about two-thirds of the way through the checking – sometimes it can take hours on just one name – and have found 42 names missing off the 1914-18 list and another four off the one for 1939-45.

At some point when the names are finally cross-checked and confirmed the School memorials will need to be updated.   It would also be fitting if those who died but were never commemorated were read out in the chapel as was the case when news arrived of another OC death in the wars.

There has been a bonus to the checking in that people have been unearthed who we would otherwise not have known about. An example is in another article in this magazine – the three Old Cranleighans who played football for England, including one who was a three-time FA Cup winner. There is also an OC who captained the West Indies at cricket …

I have been asked how it was possible so many names were missed. It is quite simple really. In those days the OC Society was small (the membership was around 500 of the 3000+ who had gone through Cranleigh and were alive) and unless people actively remained in touch with School or contemporaries, they were soon forgotten.

A very high number moved abroad – Canada and Australia the main destinations – and so lost touch. Also there were a lot of pupils who stayed briefly. Transport was poor so if their parents moved, they moved school too.  And many left at 16 or younger to start work.

What is remarkable is that so many were actually commemorated in the first place.