Cranleigh School in Wartime

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

New War Memorial unveiled on OC Day

The unveiling of a poignant new war memorial in front of the Chapel was the focus of OC Day on July 1.

The statue, by leading British sculptor Nicholas Dimbleby (2 North 1964), was unveiled by General the Lord Richard Dannatt in a special ceremony that drew together several generations of Old and current Cranleighans. That was preceded by a special service in a packed Chapel.

At the heart of the memorial is a three-metre high sculpture made in bronze and Bath stone.  It depicts a  naked boy attempting to stride ahead into his future but who finds himself restrained by what appears to be the ruin of a conventional, stone memorial ravaged by further war.

Entitled Leaving, the dramatic sculpture is surrounded by sweeping glass panels engraved with the names of 382 former pupils who have died while in service  during the School’s history.

General Dannatt said: “I think this is a most appropriate sculpture in a setting such as Cranleigh. It shows the vulnerability of youth and the hopes and ambitions of so many; it is therefore very appropriate to reflect that many young men from the school lost their lives giving us peace and freedom so that we can realise these ambitions.”

Dimbleby added: My client for this commission has been the children, in particular those of school leaving age – whose predecessors one hundred years ago walked straight into war. Through conversations with these young people it became apparent that the desire for peace greatly outweighs the ‘nobility of death in battle’ and that therefore this should not be a ‘generic’ memorial, simply a listing of the fallen.

“This age is much more sceptical.  Alongside leaving and service to the outside world, the sculptural element of this memorial is intended to convey vulnerability and the devastation of war. It is entirely right that the figure should be an unclothed youth.  It shows us in our most vulnerable state of being.”

Engraved in the stone are the conventional words of commemoration “We will remember them”, seemingly damaged by gunfire to represent the destruction caused by World War Two.  Also W.H. Auden’s foreboding  “We must love one another or die”.

Click here for more pictures from OC Day

War memorial unveiling, July 1, 2016

War memorial unveiling, July 1, 2016

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.”

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.