Oct 01

Thame School, the Norreys family and the revenge of the Berties

 

The school archivist has written the piece below on the connection between the school and the Norreys family.

Lord Williams may have founded and given his name to the school but it was the family of his son-in-law Henry Norreys (or Norris) that had the closest connection with the school during its first century. This is because the 1575 statutes laid down that the final decision about appointment of a new Master lay with Henry and his heirs.

The Norreys family moved in the highest circles of the Tudor and Stuart royal court for well over a century, but even by the standards of that turbulent period, they were remarkable for their extremes of good or ill-fortune. The first notable member of the family, Henry’s father, also called Henry, was near the head of Henry VIII’s court hierarchy as ‘Groom of the Stool’ – graphically described elsewhere as ‘responsible for changing Henry’s underpants’. Though this might appear to be a menial task, it actually meant being part of the staff of the Privy Chamber: those courtiers closest to the king in his more intimate moments. But being close to Henry Tudor was a high-risk situation for the king was both volatile and ruthless. However, it was alleged intimacy of a different kind, with Queen Anne Boleyn, that cost Henry Norreys his head, a victim of Henry Tudor’s desire for a new wife and the devious machinations of his chief adviser Thomas Cromwell. At the time, John Williams, not yet a lord, was one of Cromwell’s chief aides. Though there is no evidence that he was involved in the events that would bring Henry Norreys to the executioner’s block, it is quite likely that he was party to what was going on. Norreys would almost certainly have known or known of Williams as and up and coming member of the Royal household with the as joint Keeper of the King’s Jewels, an important post shared with Cromwell himself.

Not only did Henry Norreys senior lose his head in 1536 but his considerable landed property was also forfeited, leaving his young son both landless and an orphan as his mother had died five years earlier. But in the topsy-turvy world of Tudor politics, Henry junior’s fortunes quickly recovered. Most of his family lands were restored to him after only three years and he. Shortly after the Norreys family’s rehabilitation, Cromwell fell from power and was executed; the conservative Catholics headed by the Howard family’s, Duke of Norfolk were restored to favour and the pretty teenager Catherine Howard became Henry Tudor’s new wife. The ever-flexible John Williams quickly re-aligned his loyalties and in 1540 invited Henry Tudor to spend part of his fifth honeymoon at his Rycote Park residence. Henry’s divorce settlement with his previous wife Anne of Cleves was proving very expensive so he was probably quite pleased to be offered a free stay: expensive for Williams but a sound investment. Another sound investment at some time in the early 1540s was to marry his younger daughter Margery off to the up-and-coming Henry Norreys, who in 1541 was designated the heir, jointly with Margery, of his guardian, his childless uncle Sir John, who also had extensive property. The advantage for the Williams family is clear. Why Norreys agreed to marry the daughter of a former close associate of the man who had contrived the execution of his father is much less clear, for at that moment Margery had elder brothers and her prospects of bringing significant wealth to the marriage were remote. Just possibly it was a love-match, though this was a rare occurrence in Tudor times, especially amongst the aristocracy where the prime purpose of marriage was to increase landed property.

Both Norreys and Williams survived the religious upheavals of the short reigns of the Protestant Edward VI and the Catholic Mary and continued to prosper. Unfortunately for Williams all his sons died before he did, but this only increased the fortunes of Norreys and his wife Margery, who inherited Rycote Park.  Williams in his will appointed several executors to carry out his wishes that of course included the establishment of Thame School. Norreys was not one of these executors, nor so far as we know was he directly involved in appointing the first Master, Edward Harris, almost certainly done by the executors on the advice of the Warden of New College. However, it seems probable that he and Margery took an interest in the events leading up to the opening of the school in November 1570 and almost inconceivable that that the executors and Warden would not have ensured that their choice was acceptable to the daughter of the school’s founder and to her husband. We knin the appointing a new Master in its early years. What is certain is that in those clauses of the statutes that laid down how a new Master was to be chosen, it was Henry or his heirs that had the right to choose between two candidates put forward by the Warden and Fellows of New College. In the event, Norreys had to wait over twenty years to assert that right in the person of Richard Boucher because Harris remained in office until his death in 1597. Meanwhile, Norreys became one of Queen Elizabeth’s closest advisers and friends, holding a series of important posts in her government and frequently providing the Queen with hospitality at Rycote Park. Legend has it that he assured her that his father was innocent of the adultery charge made against him and her mother Anne. (That legitimised her claim to the throne but privately she might have preferred to have had Henry Norreys as her father rather than the odious Henry Tudor.) Norreys was blessed with six sons but cursed by the fact that, like Williams, they all died before he did. We tend to think of Elizabeth I’s long reign as one of peace and prosperity but in fact the country was frequently at war. Five of Norreys’s sons died fighting for their country, a sombre record that probably exceeds any family mortality in World War 1.

When, after a long life of mixed fortunes Henry Norreys died in 1601, he was succeeded by his grandson Francis. Francis’s character was notable for its impetuosity, pride and violence. Though far from being a charming man he led a charmed life and frequently escaped from what should have been the deserved consequences of his many misdemeanors. At the age of 21 he inherited the headship of a highly regarded noble family, great wealth, extensive estates and the title of Baron Norreys. Two years before he inherited the title and the lands he had married Bridget de Vere, whose uncle was Robert Cecil the chief adviser of both the Queen and the new king James I, so he moved in the highest political circles. However, he got on badly not only with his own uncle but with his wife. In a faint echo of his great grandfather’s misfortunes, the collapse of his marriage was said to be the result of Bridget’s infidelity and miscarriage of a baby which might not have been his. Despite these marital troubles he remained in high esteem with King James, who visited Rycote five times. Even when his long-running feud with Bertie family, (which the Norreys family eventually lost), led in 1615 to his killing of a Bertie servant and conviction of manslaughter, he received a royal pardon and in 1621 he was further promoted by James to be Viscount Thame and Earl of Berkshire. But he persisted in his violence. The following year he was imprisoned for a brawl in the House with Lord Scrope, in whose castle his wife had fled on their separation, an incident all the more serious because it took place in the presence of the Prince of Wales. For this outrage he was committed, but only briefly, to the Fleet prison, but having made both a written and public apology in the Lords he was allowed to return to Rycote. There, supposedly, he tried to commit suicide with a crossbow and died of his wounds after two days, though the circumstances of how he died remain unclear. The misdemeanours of modern nobility pale into insignificance by comparison with this ‘hell-raiser’, yet this was the man charged with appointing a suitable Master for Thame School. Luckily he was not called upon to make the choice as Richard Boucher served the school for 30 years, even longer than Edward Harris, and outlived the errant Francis by five years.

The next member to choose the Master was Elizabeth, In view of her parents’ marital relations, it is hardly surprising that she was their only legitimate child, though Francis also sired an illegitimate son, which rather casts doubt on his constant assertion that it was Bridget who was entirely responsible for the marriage breakdown. As the sole heir, Elizabeth inherited the baronial title and was Baroness Norreys in her own right. So it was Elizabeth, not her husband who made the choice of Hugh Evans as Master in 1627. She gives the impression of being a spirited, strong-willed woman, a long way from the stereotypical modest and subservient and wife. Though her marital relationships were less fraught than her parents’ they were full of incident. Initially there was some talk of her marrying the brother of Robert Carr, Duke of Buckingham, a favourite and perhaps something more of James I, who seems to have been bi-sexual. (Although James had seven sons, the educated wags on his succession were fond of quoting:  Rex fuit Elizabeth, nunc est regina Jacobus (Elizabeth was King, now James is Queen). Possibly her father’s survival in royal circles despite his conviction of manslaughter and brawling in Parliament was due to his relationship with the king, whatever exactly that was.

Had she married into the Buckingham family Elizabeth would have moved in the highest level of the royal court, for the Duke of Buckingham was a leading figure in the reign of both James and his son Charles. Elizabeth, however, had other ideas. In 1622 she secretly married Edward Wray, Groom of the Bedchamber, without the King’s permission. Edward was arrested, imprisoned and dismissed from his post. Elizabeth was placed under house arrest by Lord Pembroke but managed to escape, presumably back to Rycote. Once again, however, the Norreys family quickly bounced back from disgrace. On the accession of Charles I in 1625 the Wrays were restored to royal favour. To avoid the 1625 plague raging in London, the new king stayed at Rycote while Parliament met at Oxford. So it was as Elizabeth Wray, Baroness Norreys, that Elizabeth chose the next Master Hugh Evans in 1627 but also four years later the more famous William Burt, who went on in 1647 to become Headmaster and Warden of Winchester College. As with Francis and Bridget Norreys, so with Edward and Elizabeth Wray: they had only one child, a girl, another Bridget. That Elizabeth chose her mother’s name for her own daughter strongly suggests that Elizabeth did not blame her mother for the breakdown of the marriage. After Elizabeth died in 1645, her daughter Bridget duly succeeded her as the second Norreys heiress and Baroness and so had the right to choose the next Master, William Aycliffe in 1647. But she was the last of the Norreys name to do so for the following year she married Montague Bertie, 2nd Earl of Lindsey in Rycote chapel. He was her second husband, her first having been killed in during the Civil War in 1646. Montague Bertie, by a remarkable irony, was the son of her father’s great enemy Robert Bertie, who had died at the battle of Edgehill in 1642. It was therefore Bridget Bertie who in 1655 made two appointments and consequently the only Norreys heir to appoint three Masters in all. Master Henry Beeston almost immediately followed Burt to Winchester as Headmaster, and was succeeded by Hugh Willis. Two years later, when Bridget died, Rycote passed to her four-year old son, James Bertie, the first of that name to take over the Rycote estate in his own right, a family that was to own Rycote and have the right of appointing Masters for the next 250 years or so.

However at the re-founding of the school in the 1870s the revised statutes, much to the disgust of some Thame locals at the time, changed the procedure for appointing a headmaster so that it became the sole responsibility of the governors.

Jacksons Oxford Journal, 26 October 1878

“On Thursday there was a meeting of the Governors of Thame Grammar School when five candidates for the Mastership were selected out of a number of applications to present themselves early next month before the Governors, in accordance to a resolution to that effect.”
In the end George Plummer was chosen as the new headmaster.

Oct 01

Robert Ernest Crawford

Remarkably, while Mr Crawford attended the school in the 1890s, this year his generosity once again favoured us when we were informed that a legacy payment in his will was due to the John Hampden War Memorial Fund.
He was born in Newtown, Canningham, Res, Donegal, Ireland with an Anglo-Irish background. His father was the Rev. James Alexander Crawford, and mother was Margaret Elizabeth Crawford nee Mooney.
His story below is taken from the Tamensian magazine of 1956.
A Grand Old Tamensian
Robert Ernest Crawford, born 10 November 1876.
On 10 November Mr Crawford celebrated his 80 birthday, although not the oldest living OT, he certainly has for a long time been the oldest active member of our association. For many years he and his charming wife and two daughters have been regular attendants and familiar figures at the cricket and rugger matches. (His wife was Gertrude Ellen Mathews, who he married in 1908.)
Crawford was a pupil at the school during the early nineties, when Benjamin Sharpe was Headmaster, and he later proceeded first to St Catherines College and thence to Wadham College where he was a contemporary of F E Smith (later Lord Birkenhead) and John (later Lord) Simon*. He read Classics and Jurisprudence and was for a few years a schoolmaster, then a private secretary before he decided on a career in business. He became an insurance broker and later an underwriter at Lloyds. He is a well-known and respected figure in London City, and it is only very recently that he retired from active business.
Crawford’s special interest has been the John Hampden War Memorial Scholarship Fund, which he not only originated in 1931 but has lavishly supported with his own money. It must be highly gratifying to him to contemplate today the success which his project has achieved, when there are nine Old Boys at Oxford University alone, many of whom are receiving aid from the Fund, and recently no less than seven requests for financial assistance were received and everyone was acceded to.
For many years he and his family lived in Fir Tree Hill, Chandlers Cross, Croxley Green.
He died on 10 April 1965 leaving in Probate £81,966 to a solicitor and his daughter Margaret Ann Crawford, spinster, born in 1924 in Croxley Green. She died in 2014 and we are now a part-beneficiary of the residue from a Trust that Crawford had set up.
* Lords Birkenhead and Simon were well known in the legal profession and there is a lovely story about F E Smith, as Birkenhead then was, addressing a rather dim judge in court who told him: I’ve listened to you for an hour and I’m none wiser.
Smith: None the wiser, perhaps, my lord but certainly better informed.

Sep 29

Timings for Founder’s Day, 4 November 2017.

Update on timings for Founder’s Day, Saturday 4 November:
 
Church opens 09:00
Service of remembrance 09:15 – 09:45
Coffee and first look at the archive exhibition 10:00 – 10:45
Tours of the new science block 10:45 – 11:15
AGM for the OTA 11:15 – 12:15
Lunch and archive exhibition 12:30 – 13:30
Netball 13:45
Rugby 14:30
Tea, awards and photos 15:45

Sep 25

The Controversy Over John Hampden’s Death – the Truth.

John Hampden was one of the school’s most illustrious alumni, although in truth nothing is known of his schooldays when he was enrolled as a boarder. Born in 1595 this would have been in the mid 1600s as by 1610 when fifteen, he matriculated as a commoner at Magdalen College, Oxford.

His fame comes, of course, from his opposition to the Ship Money levy, and his role as one of the leading Parliamentarians in resisting Charles I’s execution of the monarchy, which ultimately led to the Civil War (1642–1651).

Thame is said to have divided loyalties in the conflict. Oxford was the Royalists’ regional centre whereas Aylesbury was in Parliamentary hands – Thame found that it hosted both Roundheads and Cavaliers, though the antiquarian Anthony Wood who attended the school during the Civil War, thought it leaned towards the Parliamentarians, and the commander of the Roundheads, the Earl of Essex, was able to use the town and surrounding area as a camp for his troops in 1643.

On 18 June of that same year, John Hampden was mortally wounded in a skirmish between the Roundheads and troops led by Prince Rupert in a field outside the Oxfordshire village of Chalgrove. Despite his wounds, Hampden was able to leave the melee, ride to Thame and, according to tradition, seek sanctuary in the house of Ezekiel Browne (which later became the Greyhound Inn). He survived six days, but on 24 June died, most likely of tetanus and loss of blood. His friend Arthur Goodwin was probably the last person to see him alive and wrote a letter to his daughter Lady Wharton.

“He was a gallant man, an honest man, an able man, and take all, I know not to any man living second… I would lay it to heart that God takes away the best amongst us”

Two days later, he was buried in, Great Hampden church, close to his home and the ancestral family seat.

But how was Hampden mortally wounded? Two theories exist. Both agree that it was a wound sustained in the very first stage of the Chalgrove skirmish but one claims he was shot by troops loyal to the King, while the second says his wounds were the result of his own pistol exploding when being fired.

Inevitably there is no substantive evidence to make an incontrovertible and definitive conclusion either way so the purpose of this short paper is to examine the known evidence and to reach a point of view as to which of the two is more likely to be true.

We draw our conclusion at the end.

The immediate documentary evidence surrounding the circumstances of Hampden’s wounding is scant and comes down to a single piece: the letter written by the Earl of Essex, leader of the Roundhead army, to the Speaker of the House of Commons in which he mentions the wounding of Hampden. The letter was written the day after the Chalgrove skirmish but was headed ‘…the true state of the skirmish at Chinnor between the KINGS and parliaments forces…’ and gives a Parliamentary view of events that omits rather than adds detail. Perhaps most importantly Essex fails to mention Chalgrove by name, and his description of what happened to Hampden is a single sentence:

‘Colonel Hampden put himself in Captain Cross his troop, where he charged with much courage, and was unfortunately shot through the shoulder.’

A number of other accounts appeared shortly thereafter. In chronological order:

 

  1. A Parliamentarian news pamphlet entitled ‘A true relation of a Gret fight’ printed in London some days after the skirmish, apparently as Hampden lay wounded in Thame and before he died, claimed,

‘certain that Colonel Hampden, that noble and valiant gentleman, received a shot with a bullet behind in the shoulder, which stuck between the bone and the flesh, but is since drawn forth, and himself very cheerful and hearty, and it (through God’s mercy) more likely to be a badge of honour, than any danger of life’.

The writer was living in London and receiving various accounts but he says that he ‘shall omit uncertain reports rather than commit them to writing, which hereafter may be questionable…and write only those things which are authentic.’

In fact the pamphlet is, to all intents, a copy of Essex’s letter with some embellishment, and was not adding anything new other than hearsay. His report on Hampden was clearly erroneous or indeed ‘uncertain.’

A true relation of a great fight between the Kings forces and the Parliaments, at Chinner neer Tame on Saturday last: With the manner how the Kings forces made the assault, and by what meanes they were forced to retreat. Also in what manner Colonell Hampden is wounded, with the names of the chiefe commanders that were killed and taken prisoners on both sides: as also the firing and burning of the towne of Chinner, by the Kings forces, and many other remarkable passages concerning the said fight Published 1643, London : Printed by B. A. for Robert Wood, and Iohn Grenesmith,

 

  1. Mecurius Aulicus was an English newspaper, printed in Oxford by Leonard Lichfield of the Oxford University Press. At the time of Hampden’s wounding it was printed daily. On Sunday 18 June it fails to mention Hampden in its account of the skirmish (albeit it mentions other Roundhead casualties) but does so the following day on Monday 19 June,

‘Hampden himself (who did most eagerly persuade to give the order) being so sore wounded in two places, and his body so extremely bruised, that it was verily conceived he could not live.’

(Essex had not commented on the severity of the wound possibly because he did not want to be alarmist, or give the Royalists succour or perhaps when he wrote the letter he did not possess any details. In fact there is no record of Essex either having visited Hampden on his deathbed or attending the funeral.)

 

  1. The most detailed contemporary account of the skirmish was published by the Royalists a week or so later and printed by Leonard Lichfield (as above). His Highness Prince Rupert’s Late Beating Up the rebel quarters. However, when it comes to Hampden, it only repeats what Essex’s description of Hampden’s wounding i.e. he was shot through the shoulder (and acknowledges the source). It adds though ‘so we heard to, and the anguish of it had put him into a fever of which he is since dead.’

 

  1. On Saturday 24 June Merurius Aulicus published an update,

‘This day we were advertised that Master John Hampden (the Principle Member of the Five) was dead of the wounds he received on Sunday last. If so, the reader may remember that in the first week of this Mercurium we told the world what fair warning Master Hampden had received from the beginning of this rebellion (whereof he was Chief Incendiary), how he had buried his son and heir and his two daughters, two only sons surviving, whereof one was a cripple and the other a lunatic, which though this desperate man was unwilling to make use of, yet sure it may startle the rest of his faction especially if they consider that Chalgrove field (where he now received this mortal wound) was the self same place where he first mustered and men in arms to rebel against the King. But whether the life and death of Master Hampden be the better lesson against Treason and Rebellion let posterity judge.’

 

  1. Certaine Intelligence from different Parts of the Kingdom was printed for Parliament in London. The story published on 26 June simply says that ‘Colonel Hampden was shot into the shoulder.’

 

  1. The Parliament Scout communicating his intelligence to the Kingdom has a very brief account published on 27 June. After referring the reader to Essex’s letter for the full particulars of the skirmish the articles says,

‘Colonel Hampden and Sergeant Major Gunter were hurt in the first charge…Colonel Hambden (sic) who came by accident into this Skirmish and charged in Captain Croft’s Troop was shot in the shoulder but is now dead.’

It was to be some decades later before the first full scale account of the Civil War was published in the form of The History of the Rebellion by Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon. This work was originally published in 1702–1704 and was not only a detailed history of the Civil War but one written by a key player. However it is not recognised for its scrupulous accuracy but none the less it became the most common source for historians and biographers to quote from over the next one hundred and fifty years or so.

Within Vol. IV, Clarendon refers to the wounding of Hampden on three separate occasions, each in a slightly different way:

‘…Colonel Hampden with a brace of pistol bullets, of which wound with very sharp pain, he died within ten days.’

In another MS, Clarendon records that Hampden ‘…received a pistol shot to his shoulder that broke the bone and put him in great torture…’

In a third iteration, he writes that Hampden ‘…shot into the shoulder with a brace of pistol bullets that brake the bone, within three weeks after died in extraordinary pain…’

Clearly he is incorrect when describing how long Hampden lingered before dying and with all the contemporary sources making it clear that Hampden died within days it is wondered why Clarendon made such an elementary mistake. (Perhaps the magazine Notes and Queries Vol VIII Dec 1853 comment that his account of the war was ‘imaginary’ was not being harsh.)

So far as is known it was another century before the the next piece of new evidence appeared: a record of Hampden’s death written by one Edward Clough sometime in 1643 but which only appeared for the first time when published in The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle May 1815 (page 395). Clough was apparently present when Hampden died – and in his account makes it clear that he was a Parliamentarian and fighting in the army.

It was sent to the Gentleman’s Magazine by someone who only identified himself as ‘A’ and who, apparently, lived in Stoneleigh, Warwickshire. ‘A’ claimed it had been in possession of his family for many years.

Most of Clough’s account records Hampden’s last words and final moments but he notes that he had been injured in the arm by two carbine shots.

However, John Howard Brown in his History of Thame Grammar School in his essay on Hampden writes that the account is a ‘shameless forgery’ that was exposed by Charles Harding Firth who wrote the biography of Hampden for the early editions of the Dictionary of National Biography. Here, in reference to the Clough manuscript, he writes,

‘This, though accepted as genuine by Hampden’s biographers, is an impudent forgery, largely based on hints derived from Clarendon, and containing many words and expressions not in use in the seventeenth century. The last words attributed to Hampden (‘O Lord, save my country’) are probably copied from the somewhat similar utterance ascribed to the younger Pitt.’

As noted above, Clough’s narrative appeared in 1815 but it was not until 1832 that a new and extensive biography of Hampden appeared. Written by Lord George Greville Nugent, and using Clarendon extensively as a source – as well as Clough – it was called Some memorials of John Hampden, his party and his times. His description of Hampden’s death, as is always case due to the paucity of sources, is brief,

‘Hampden put himself at the head of the attack; but in the first charge, he received his death. He was struck in the shoulder with two carabine balls, which breaking the bone, entered his body, and his arm hung powerless and shattered by his side.’

Finally, returning to Firth. In his biography of Hampden in the National Dictionary of Biography first published in 1885, he recounts both theories without drawing any conclusions.

‘Round Hampden’s last days a number of legends have gathered and animated controversies have taken place. The precise nature of the wound which caused his death has been much discussed (e.g. Notes and Queries, 1st ser. viii. 495 646, xii. 271)… All contemporary accounts agree in ascribing his death to the consequences of a bullet-wound in the shoulder, but in the next century a report spread that it was due to the explosion of an overloaded pistol which shattered his hand. This story, said to have been related by his son-in-law, Sir Robert Pye, found its way into Echard’s ‘History’ (App. 1720) and Seward’s ‘Anecdotes’ (i. 235, ed. 1795). Its original source seems to have been a memorandum drawn up by Harley, Earl of Oxford (now in the possession of Captain Loder-Symonds of Hinton Manor, Faringdon).’

As Firth highlighted, the story of the exploding pistols first appeared in Laurence Echard’s History of England in 1720, within an Appendix to the volumes that had been published earlier. (The purpose of the Appendix was to add amendments, make apologies, corrections, and to include new items.)

In this instance he wished to add an amendment to what he had written on Page 415 Volume 2. ‘Delete the last period of the first paragraph and add these words’:

‘As his Death was a great surprise, so the manner of it was very uncommon, and

generally unknown, as I am assur’d by a great man, who says his death’s Wound proceeded from the Breaking of one of his Pistols, which happened to be more than doubly charg’d. This was one of a choice Case presented to him by his Son-in-law Sir Robert Pye, to carry on the War and at the first sight of him in his illness he cry’d out to him ‘ Ah Robin, your unhappy Present has been my ruin.’

This ‘great man’ was most likely Harley, the Earl of Oxford as Firth notes but this conclusion also reflects that of the Historical Manuscripts Commission. (They’re now part of the National Archive.)

At Hinton Waldrist Manor is kept a small collection of papers of the regicide Col. Henry Marten (1602 – 1680), two of which have been identified as coming from the house of the Harley family at Eywood in Berkshire. (The Harley’s being the Earls of Oxford.) The first is a narrative of Hampden’s death in which the wound is attributed to the bursting of his own pistol.

HMC concluded that the paper is a copy made, not with perfect accuracy but in a very legible hand, from some other paper, or, it may be, from dictation, and is probably of a date about 1720. They also believed, as already noted, that the ‘great man’ referred to in Echard’s account was the Earl of Oxford and that the Earl had sent Echard the story as a manuscript.

When the story first appeared there is no record of the Pye or Harley family or indeed anyone else objecting to it. It should be remembered that the History, quickly became the standard reference book and was certainly not an obscure volume.

The story further appeared in books and journals later in the 18 century. It is known for example that it appeared in the St James Chronicle (a newspaper) in 1761 with the embellishment that the pistol in question had been overloaded with charges due to the negligence of a hapless servant.

In this instance, its appearance in the Chronicle was recorded in Henry Pye’s Commonplace book. Henry was the great-grandson of John Pye but he also makes the note that his father, having read the piece, doubted its authenticity for the reason that the publisher of the Chronicle said he had found the story among papers belong to Lord Harley and that his father had not heard it previously. (This begs the question were the family unaware that the story had already been published forty years earlier?) There is also no extant copy of the book or Henry’s annotation.

A second appearance came in the The Memoirs of the Protectoral-house of Cromwell: Deduced from an Early Period, and Continued Down to the Present Time. Mark Noble, 1787. Noble concludes that the story is true.

William Seward in his Anecdotes Chiefly of the Present and two preceding Centuries and published in 1798 decides,

‘So little is known respecting this [Hampden] illustrious character that even the manner of his death has never been ascertained; for some persons supposing that he was wounded in the shoulder by the shot of the enemy, and other supposing that he was killed by the bursting of one of his own pistols, with which his son-in-law had presented him.’

We don’t know when Pye told his story to Harley other than he was having dinner with the Earl of Oxford and near his neighbour.

It is easy to understand why Pye had decided not to make this story public and it should also be remembered that Pye’s father – another Sir John Pye – had let Hampden down by being a reluctant Parliamentarian and had tried to reach some form of accommodation with the King. To have two black marks in the immediate decades after Hampden’s death would not have helped the reputation of the Pye family.

The two theories by the end of the 18 century were now well established and when it came to writing a new biography of Hampden, in order to settle this important question Lord Nugent, and a select party of friends, broke open what they believed to be Hampden’s grave to exhume the body and examine it.

In fact in an article complied by or under the direction of Nugent in The Gentleman Magazine August 1828, he lays out the two theories stating that the story of the exploding pistols came from the papers of Lord Oxford and gives a description of the exhumation. It is generally thought that initially Nugent wanted to disprove the story by showing that the injury on Hampden’s body was on the shoulder and not the hand. In fact by the end of the article the distinct impression is left that he has now leaning towards the exploding pistol narrative. And it is he himself who writes in reviewing the evidence gathered during his research, ‘what reliance can we place on historians when we see such contradictory statements?’

The exhumation had taken place on 21 July 1828. Whatever its purpose, the desecration of a hero’s grave was an extraordinary and gruesome undertaking. None the less this did not stop The Times being the first to recount the events, published some days later on 28 July 1828. This was an extensive and rather embellished account clearly made more sensational for the readers of the newspapers.

Besides the graphic account given in The Times others can be read across a number of journals in the 19 century but one to highlight can be found in Frederick George Lee’s, The History, description and antiquities of the Prebendal Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Thame in the county and diocese of Oxford. (Published in 1883) as it would appear to be the most objective.

“I am indebted to the late Mr WJ Bernhard-Smith barrister-at-law for the following:

On Saturday, 19 June 1828, I left London with Lord Nugent and Mr Denman, then Common Sgt of London afterwards Lord Denman. We halted at Chalfont to see the church and house where Milton had for a time resided, hence to Amersham and Aylesbury where we visited the county jail and upon that occasion I made my first and, I hope, my last appearance on the treadmill in company with the future Lord Chief Justice of England. We arrived in the evening at Lilies, Lord Nugent’s residence and on the following Monday morning started early for Great Hampden where, at the church door, we were met by the Rev Mr Brooks, the rector, Mr Grace, Lord Buckingham’s land steward, Mr C More, the eminent sculptor, Mr Coventry, and one or two other gentlemen.
After the inscriptions on several coffins had been examined, one was found about 4 feet from the surface on the right-hand south side of the communion table on which no letters were legible. It was cut open and the lead rolled back. The body was laid in a wooden shell and, upon removing the sawdust, was found to be enveloped in very numerous folds of cerecloth, which would perhaps account for its remarkable preservation. The flesh was white and firm but with no other odour than that of the surrounding earth; the features were much compressed by the weight of the bandages; the eyes were covered with white film; the beard had been shaven but that appeared a growth of about the 16th of an inch; the hair was long and flowing as the represented in the portraits of Hampden. It had been collected and tied with black ribbon at the back of the head. In colour it corresponds with the description given by Mrs Grote. I cut off a lock, which is still in my possession. As there was no surgeon present, Lord Nugent descended into the grave and endeavoured to ascertain whether there was any wound upon or near the left shoulder but it being found impossible thus to make a satisfactory examination the coffin was a raise and set upon trestles in the middle of the chancel.
The body was placed in a sitting posture with a shovel to support the head. The shoulders and arms were then carefully inspected and the result proved that Lord Nugent’s foregone conclusion that Hampden’s death was occasioned by a gunshot wound in the shoulder was at once dissipated. There did not appear any discolouration or the slightest injury to the shoulders or arms but in order to be perfectly satisfied, Nord Nugent himself with a small pocket knife borrowed from me made several incisions in the parts adjacent to the shoulder joint without finding any fracture or displacement of the bones. Lord Nugent was evidently disappointed. He did not care to establish the fact that Hampden’s death was occasioned in any other manner than by a shot from the King’s troops.
My own opinion rather leaned to the tradition related by Sir Robert Pye – Hampden’s son-in-law – that his right hand was shattered by the bursting of his pistol, and death probably ensued from lockjaw arising out of extensive injury to the nervous system.
When I took up the right hand, it was contained in a sort of funeral-glove like pocket. On a raising it, I found it was entirely detached from the arm; the bones of the wrist of the hand were much displaced and had been evidently splintered by some violent concussion. Only the ends of the fingers were held together by the ligaments. The two bones for about three inches above the wrist were without skin and flesh but there were no marks of amputation; both the bones perfect. The left hand was in a similar glove but it was firmly attached to the arm and remained so when the glove was drawn away. There were slight portions of the flesh upon the hand, the bones were complete and still held in their places by the ligaments which supported them. This remarkable difference in the condition of the hands sufficiently proves the truth of Sir Robert Pye’s relation of the causes of Hampden’s death.
The following is Sir Robert Pye’s account of Hampden’s death:

That in the action of Chalgrove Field, his pistol burst and shattered his hand in a terrible manner. He, however, rode off and got to his quarters but finding the wound mortal he sent for Sir Robert Pye then a colonel in the Parliamentary army – and who had married his eldest daughter – and told him that he looked on him in some degree accessory to his death as the pistols were present from him. Sir Robert assured him that he bought them in Paris from an eminent maker and proved them himself. It appeared on examining the other pistol that it was loaded to the muzzle with several supernumerary charges, owning to the carelessness of a servant. He was ordered to see that the pistols were loaded every morning which he did but without drawing the former charge.

Between 1828 and 1832 there was an extraordinary about turn. Nugent who believed that he had found John Hampden’s coffin does not include the story in the biography. And from being initially a convert to the exploding pistols narrative, he now refutes it. The story of the exploding pistols is ‘groundless’, he writes. Instead he merely repeats what Clarendon had written, the letter from Clough and some other incidental observations. The reason for this change of heart was not explained. And as noted earlier, he claimed to have found the commonplace book from the Pye family and the annotation that Henry Pye had discounted the story. It has to be said, that it is only Nugent who has made this discovery. Perhaps he looked back on the exhumation and was deeply embarrassed by his actions and therefore decided never to mention it again. That said, there is no indication of any outrage among the public or his friends. However when returning his support to the original hypothesis, he did not attempt to offer any new evidence or reasoning for choosing this and, has already been mentioned only wrote the briefest of descriptions culled from Clarendon.

Arguments have sallied back and forth with some claiming that this exhumation proves nothing, that the corpse was misidentified as being Hampden’s and therefore proves the story of the exploding pistols was a myth. This defies logic of course:

  1. It is perfectly possible that the corpse was not Hampden’s. If so, the exhumation proves nothing either way: it neither confirms nor negates any theory. In other words to attribute an argument either way is meritless and we are left with drawing conclusions from the earlier evidence.

 

  1. If the corpse was Hampden’s then it comes down to interpretation of the evidence. Doubter’s might point to The Time’s article and the supposed flaws it contains. The account in truth is clearly a dramatization of the events. Far more reliable is the account by the barrister Barhnard Smith as it has none of the fanciful content printed by The Times, and is clearly a far more considered and factual piece. In fact what you would expect from a barrister

 

Where are we now?

Mr R Gibbs wrote in the Record of Buckinghamshire Vol 3 printed in 1870 by the Architectural and Archaeological Society for the County of Buckingham in a chapter called the Cause of death of John Hampden covers all the above but concludes. ‘It is easy to understand that in the heat of a cavalry charge with exchange of pistol shots those engaged would not observe the precise nature of the wounds inflicted, and that his comrades seeing Hampden ‘ride away with his arm hanging by his side’ would attribute his injury to a shot fired by a Royalist…it is however probably impossible now to ascertain the cause of Hampden’s death with undoubted accuracy.’

‘The narrative, however, is so circumstantial in its details, and as an invention so purposeless, that it appears to deserve more consideration than it has hitherto received, and which it may have partly missed from no direct source for it having been hitherto distinctly traced.

Historical Manuscripts Commission, ‘The manuscripts of Capt. F.C. Loder-Symonds’, in The Manuscripts of Rye and Hereford Corporations, Etc. Thirteenth Report, Appendix: Part IV (London, 1892), pp. 378-404’

The most recent biography of Hampden was written by Professor John Adair. He wrote a separate paper in 2016 where he comes to the conclusion, for many reasons, that the story of the pistols is most likely true.

http://www.johnhampden.org/1/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/jhdeath.pdf

If it is true then there is an irony here. Prior to the skirmish, Hampden had hardly participated directly in any of the fighting. He played more the role of a strategist but here he was charging towards the enemy. We don’t know if he was at the head of the charge but at some point he raises his pistol to fire one of the first shots and it exploded sending shrapnel into his body very possibly into his upper arm and shoulder as well as causing severe damage to his hand. It might well have dislocated his shoulder. In other words, this story does not contradict in anyway the earlier descriptions of the mortal wound.

It also explains why he died so soon. His injuries were severe and multiple. While a single carbine shot to the shoulder might well have led to death it would have been an unfortunate and rare occurrence.

In addition, it is a story that would not offer any benefit to others. As others have concluded, Pye himself would not want it to be known. The Royalists clearly had no idea of their own on how Hampden died, although their account of Hampden’s last days was the most accurate for the simple reason that both camps were riddled with spies. For Essex, if everyone was satisfied with the simple statement he was wounded in the shoulder then he too would be happy. It was probably not a lie but it was economical with the truth, which was Essex’s way. None of the doctors either then or subsequently decided to describe their experiences but then this was not a time for making independent statements.

Bringing objectivity back to the discussion none of the early accounts tell us a lot other than:

– the wound was received in the shoulder or arm

– his body was bruised and bones broken

-possibly more than one bullet was responsible

– and it happened at the beginning of the skirmish.

We should make an underlined note that not one of the accounts tells us who was responsible for firing the shot(s) – whether those accounts were written by those faithful to the Parliamentary cause or those who were Royalists. Interestingly no one from the Royalist side came forth subsequently to make such a claim. In fact the way his death is described is brief and banal compared to the descriptions of others who fell in the skirmish.

This leaves us with the three possibilities:

– it was ‘enemy’ fire

– friendly fire (not uncommon at the time)

– self-inflicted

Our conclusion is that the mortal wound was accidentally self-inflicted by the explosion of his pistol.

Aug 16

2017 Golf Results

OLD TAMENSIANS GOLF SOCIETY (EST 1994)

24th ANNUAL EVENT

Studley Wood GC Friday 12th May 2017

Results of our annual event held at Studley Wood on May 12th so here they are now.

We had a magnificent turnout of 44, the highest for some years, including 8 guests.

The new winner overall was Brett Chowns.

Secondly, the OT’s played the LWS staff in our first ever golf match last Sunday [2nd] again at Studley Wood.

The staff were triumphant with 232pts compared to 226pts from OT’s. Highest individual scorers were Chris Penny 38pts & Tony Lord 37pts

 

RESULTS

NEAREST THE PINS

4th:             Pete Green

8th               Mark Gregory

11th           Stephen Southey

16th             Bob Peacock

TEAM COMPETITION

Winners: Tim Green; Pete Green; Clive Tack; Mike Holifield                                       91pts                                                                                                                        

Runners up: Ian Dillamore; Paul Dillamore; Darren Hedderman [G]; Nick Eva [G]   90pts                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

QUARTLY TROPHY (overall Winner)

1ST;         Brett Chowns                                                                               41pts

2ND;         Pete Green                                                                                  40pts                                    

3rd:           Andy McStay                                                                               39pts

PETER ALLEN TROPHY (Div 1 Winner H/C 0-12)

                 Pete Green                                                                                40pts

ROY HOLLAND MEMORIAL TROPHY (Div 2 Winner H/C 13-18)

                 Rob North                                                                                38pts

JOHN FULKES MEMORIAL TROPHY (Div 3 Winner H/C 19-28)

                 Gareth Jones                                                                             34pts

NIXEY SHIELD (Best Senior age 60+)

                 Bob Peacock                                                                              36pts

GUEST PRIZES; –  

             Winner: Darren Hedderman                                                         39pts

Aug 08

Wilfred Ernest Cubbage War Diary

W E Cubbage – an Introduction
In brief he was one of the brightest pupils of his era. The admissions register has the following information about him.
Wilfred Ernest Cubbage, born 12 Jan 1897, son of Arthur Edwin Cubbage, ‘smith’ living in Queen’s Road, Thame. Oxon.
Admitted to LWGS on 17 Sep 1909 on a Oxfordshire County Scholarship with full remission of fees. Placed in Form III (lowest but one). The brightest boys were usually placed in III and the remainder in II. Unlike today, Form placement was based on academic ability and prior achievement not age, and promotion to higher forms also depended on academic progress not age. Placed in Urban House. (There were three Houses: ‘School’ for boarders, ‘Urban’ for boys from Thame, and ‘Rural’ for boys from the villages. Previous education was at John Hampden School (originally Royal British School).
He sat four sets of external examinations (even worse then than now!) between 1911 and 1914 with the following results:
1911 Oxford Junior Local, Pass
1912 Oxford Junior Local, 1st class honours (1 of 2 in the school)
1913 Oxford Senior Local, Pass
1914 Oxford Senior Local, 1st class honours (the only one in the school) Distinction in History and Oral French (1 of 2)
While we don’t have any statistics about pupils’ exam achievements but we suspect that his are exceptional and perhaps unique in the school for that period.
Attended for 6 years (18 terms), left 29 July 1915 from form VI (top form).  First occupation post school: ‘assistant clerk, surveyor of taxes department’.
The other main source for the period, the termly school magazine The Tamensian, adds only a little as most of its contents at that period were related to sport, and Cubbage was clearly not a sportsman at school. References to him that have been found are:
1909 in 3rd football set (out of 3)
Dec 1912 issue, joint editor of The Tamensian (young to hold that post. The editors in subsequent issues are not named so it is not clear whether he continued as editor for the rest of his school career.)
1917 listed amongst Old Tamensians who had enlisted since July 1916, stated to be in the Wiltshire Regiment. (With thanks to Derek Turner for this information.)

Introduction from Nigel Cubbage, Grandson.

My Granddad, Wilfred Cubbage, was born in 1897. His father died when he was young, so, as the only male in the family with 2 sisters and a Mum to support, he was forced to go out to work at age 18. He was a very bright man but had to turn down a place at Oxford because the family could not afford to lose his wages. Instead, he became a tax inspector! Interesting that this role in life was considered priority when he tried to join up in 1915 aged 18! He had to stay on another 2 years before he was accepted into the army. Says something about national priorities!

This diary is incomplete and we are still searching the family vaults, attics and archives for part 2. It charts the first 2 years of his service in WWI, including facing the Germans in both battles of Ypres. We know that he was later taken prisoner and was held as a POW for the last 9 months of the war in pretty primitive conditions.

Like so many of his generation, he never talked much about his experiences, although he did commit them to paper in 1920, whcih is what you are reading here. He was a classic old school, stiff upper lip, God-Queen-and-Country type who voted Labour all his life. I never really got to know him, as my Grandmother was ill with what we now know (but then didn’t) was Alzheimer’s during my teens. By the time I was 18 and old enough to think a bit more and ask questions, he was very ill and died in 1980.

PREFACE

The aim of this account is to attempt to give a full description of my travels and adventures during the two years that I served in the army in the Great War.

JOINING UP AND TRAINING

I joined the army as a soldier on April 3rd 1917 at Cowley Barracks, Oxford. I had previously offered my services on December 9th 1915 but, owing to the national importance of my civil occupations, I had not been allowed to join before 1917. My feelings were varied with regard to joining. There were all the natural disinclinations to leave home and parents and yet I had a desire to do whatever might come to me for the good of the dear old “Land of Hope and Glory”. And now I feel in the words of the song: “Thank God, Thank God, I went”.

There was much to do on enrolling, including the medical inspection, taking the oath and the posting to a battalion. This was not all done in one day. In fact, a week passed at the barracks before we eventually arrived at the unit. This was the 9th Reserve Batt’n Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, stationed at Sutton Veny near Warminster. I arrived there on Tuesday night, April 10th 1917. Here we had to give further particulars of ourselves. Then, the draft of which I was a member, was taken and the men allocated to various huts. Hardly had we put out kitbags down than we were called upon to go and draw equipment and rifle. “Count them before you leave,” said the Quartermaster. “Nineteen pieces, including the outside valise.” Mine was correct, and so away I went back to the hut. Then came another puzzle: How to put it together for the parade, which was to follow next morning. After puzzling for about two hours, I received the information from a fellow who had just come into the hut that it would not be wanted next morning and so the awful difficulty was solved for he time being. At night, there was another medical inspection and we were all inoculated as well. My first sentiments on the matter were rather those of curiosity than of apprehension. Anyhow, I was not in the least affected by it, and even a second dose had no effect. During the following week, I had my first experience of “Slope Arms” (&c) (by numbers!).

I shall never forget my first Full Pack Route March. It was a night march as well. My being accustomed to light office boots did not exactly conduce to the welfare of my feet when the wearing of the heavy ten-pounder steamrollers. Oh! That night! Pitch dark. Raining. No one was allowed to speak a word. Miles seemed leagues. But it ended. I didn’t do any parades for a week afterwards. I was under the doctor with septic heels. As time went on, we were initiated into the mysteries of company Drill, Musketry and Open Warfare Tactics. Eight weeks passed thus. The ninth was occupied in Rifle Firing at the Range. Here I earned my first and only “Jankers”. For the sake of the uninitiated, I shall explain that “Jankers” is Tommy Atkins’ euphemistic expression for “C.B” (which, on active service, is termed 2nd Field Punishment) And Jankers it is: One has to answer one’s name at 6.15 in the morning, a quarter of an hour after Reveille; again at 1.20, twenty minutes after dinner is served; again at 5.30, just after tea, from which time, until 7.30, you are occupied in fatigues under the Provost Sergeant; and then again, every half hour until 9.30. The crime I committed was that of firing one shot on the wrong target at the Firing Trials. My punishment was four days “Jankers”. I only served two of them, as I was away home on draft leave on the third. Here, I think, I will close the chapter on training, as, upon returning from Draft Leave, we were supposed to be trained soldiers.

FIRST EMBARKATION FOR FRANCE

Home on Draft Leave. Many have experienced it and so many know what the feelings are of those who (I might say) undergo it. It is a hard subject to write upon. Picture a trainload of lads, all going home. They are glad to go home but how different the coming back. It is a journey home for a purpose. For some, it is the last time they will ever go home to see their friends. For others, it is not the last. Yet there is the same fear in the heart of each. Unexpressed, perhaps, yet felt. “I wonder when I’ll be going home again” – the thought is in the minds of all.

A week after returning from Leave, the Draft was assembled, full Field Service Kits were handed out and every preparation was made for proceeding overseas. Our port of embarkation was Folkestone. We arrived there at 8.30 in the morning, after travelling all night from Warminster, via Swindon and Reading.

Owing to submarines being about in the Channel, no boats sailed for France the day we arrived at Folkestone and so I spent the day in wandering around the town and trying to enjoy myself.

We embarked on the following morning. As the chalk cliffs of the Homeland receded into the mist, I began to realise what so many other have realised, what it is to leave one’s country. When should I see it again? All that I could do was trust, simply trust in the Almighty, that he would keep me and bring me through, safe. Then, something seemed to bring me the assurance that I should return and I turned and went forward to see the cliffs of France appearing. Here was the Land of the Unknown, but the revealing I awaited with confidence and hope, inspired by that Trust. (“Lo, I am with you always”). Everything seemed bright. The sun was shining.

FRANCE

Our port of landing was Boulogne, where so many had landed before and where many more would land later. After getting our kits together, we proceeded on shore. Arrived In a fairly open space, the various drafts were formed up and marched off to the Rest Camps. During the march through the town, we were pestered by children asking for “Bully-bif”!; and by women and girls selling “Chocolat” and “Appuls” But these gradually fell away, as trade did not prosper. The camp was on the summit of a terribly steep hill, which none of us were sorry to have ascended when we reached the top. Our stay in the Rest Camp was of short duration. We arrived at 12.30. At 6 in he evening, we left for the station to proceed to Rouen.

I shall never forget my first ride in a French railway train. The accommodation was forty men in a cattle truck. Oh, the Glory of that ride! It took 2 days and 2 nights to travel about 120 miles. At one village we stopped so long that everyone went off down the street and some bought wine at the estamineto, some favoured chocolat and some coffee. In the midst of he fun, the whistle blew but there was no necessity for hurry, as everyone was back in the train before it had gone 10 yards. Some people say they have picked primroses and cowslips while the train proceeded and then caught it up. I wandered some way and found some bluebells but the train went just too fast for me to wait for the others to grow. And – they say – France holds the record for train travel. It cannot be for speed, anyhow.

ROUEN AND THE BULLRING

We arrived there at 10 o’clock in the morning, after a journey through a terribly long tunnel, during which we were choked with smoke. But the spirits of Tommy never are quelled and so, through the darkness, came various catcalls, instructions to the driver, compliments which hardly bear repeating. On emerging from the tunnel, the railway crosses the River Seine by means of a large suspension bridge and then bends round in a terrible curve, into the Rive Gauche Goods yard.

When the train had stopped -I say stopped, because it was not like a comfortable passenger train, fitted with the most up-to-date brakes, but rather a goods train, the trucks of which first rush one way -clank, clank clank -and then seek to retrace their footsteps, so to speak. When the train had stopped, therefore, the work of unloading commences. “Where’s my rifle?” “Where’s my mask?” “Somersets this way” “Lead over here, Oxfords” “Any more Worcesters in that truck?”

In a quarter of an hour or more, there was a scene of pandemonium. Then people began to sort themselves out a bit. Gradually, all were formed up in a column of fours and the march to the camp began. We passed won the Rue Dufronche to the Rue de La Mire and thence to the Rue d’Elbeuf. After a march of about a mile and a half, we arrived at the Base camp. Here commences the work of calling the Roll again and checking it to see that every man’s name and number was properly recorded. This done, we were formed up in one of the Dining halls and instructed to place out our kit for inspection. When everything was laid out in its proper order, round came a Sergeant Major with the Colonel to inspect. Then woe betide the unlucky one who was anything short. Down went his name in the little book in the RSM’s hand and against it the article missing. The next morning, he was up before the Colonel to explain the reason why.

After the inspection, we were taken and allotted to tents. And here I want to point out what I consider to be the utter neglect of our Government with regard to the housing of the troops at our Base. There was no improvement in the arrangement when the Armistice was signed at the end of 1918 and, in my opinion, the Government has no excuse. We were put 22 in a tent. Of course, as it was summer (being July), the fellows did not mind so much, as they could sleep in the open air if there were no room inside. But the arrangements continued in winter, when lads could not sleep outside. Winter or summer, rain or fine, the troops at Rouen were always housed under canvas. In 4 years of war, arrangements should have been made for the better housing of the troops.

The following day, all the newly arrived draft had to parade to be inspected by the Doctor. I need not dwell on this matter. Anyone who has been in the Army knows the utter farce of an Army Medical Inspection. Needless to say, everyone was passed A1.

In the aftermath, we paraded again to go through gas in order to test our gas masks. Each man in turn was fitted by an officer in charge of the Anti Gas Measures Drill with a gas mask. As he was fitted, he passed into an airtight chamber filled with poison gas, I remained in it for about five minutes. At the slightest scent of gas through the mask, the man was instructed to ask to be let out of the chamber. I smelt no gas and so my mask was pronounced quite reliable.

The following day commenced our excursion to what is termed the Bull Ring. I had heard a lot of its horrors while in England but when eventually I arrived there, I could see none of its horrors (so called). I will explain here that the ‘The Bull Ring’ is Tommy Atkins’ Pet name for the Central School of Infantry Training at Rouen. We went there every day for ten days, at the end of which time we were pronounced fit to join the Battalion up the line.

There were two incidents of interest which I would like to mention before leaving this chapter. One was the visit of the Queen Mary to the Base Camps and Hospital. To celebrate this our training ceased at 12 noon on the day Her Majesty motored round instead of at 4 p.m. as in the ordinary course.

The other was my own visit to Rouen Cathedral. I managed to obtain an afternoon off in order to go and have a look round the Bristol of France, and first of all I made my way to the Cathedral. It was the first Cathedral I had ever entered then. I have been in several since. Unfortunately I could not get into the Chancel and so my explorations were confined to the outer nave. It struck me as rather a gloomy building something after the style of the Brompton Oratory in London.

I went in again, however, after tea, and this time I happened to be in time for the Angelus, and while there I heard some of the most lovely music I have ever heard in my life. Those harmonious sounds echoing and the re-echoing through the arches above seemed to remind me of the presence of the angels ever near to bear us up ‘lest at any time we dash our foot against a stone’.

I was alone in a foreign land, away from all I loved. ‘My future all unknown’, but here I was reminded that ‘Jesus I knew, and He is on the throne’. I left there feeling I had that ‘Peace Perfect Peace’ the hymn speaks about: and I felt that night that I could trust in Him, and He would bring me through. A few days later our Draft was warned to process up the line to join the 1st Battalion Wiltshire Regiment.

MORE TRAINING

Our destination eventually turned out to be Arneke, a small village about seven miles from St Omer in northern France. We were dumped here one evening and put to sleep for the night in a barn. Our palliasso was straw and our covering was our top coat. It was summer time and so we did not sleep cold. In the morning we turned out at 6 am and, after a hasty wash in a water trough, proceeded to the cook house for breakfast. It consisted of a mess tinlid of tea and a small portion of porridge.

After this most satisfying meal, we paraded ready for marching off to our final destination. Just as we were about to move off for what was supposed to be a twelve mile march, a noise of lorries and motors was heard behind and we were all pleased to discover that sufficient motor buses had arrived to take us all to our destination. This was the first time that I had seen the London General Omnibuses on war work and it was in gratifying circumstances. We were soon “all aboard” and away for Millam, which we reached after an hour’s ride.

Millam is a small village about 5 miles from St Omer on the Hazebrouck-St. Omer canal. Here was situated the 2nd Corps headquarters and the 25th Divisional Base. I stayed here three weeks. When we arrived, we again had to undergo the whole process of roll-call, kit inspection, and medical inspection and by the time I got my dinner, I was pretty fed up.

I had not been in this camp three days, when I had orders to report myself at the Orderly Room one morning. It was with varied feelings that I wended my way thither, as no-one knows what trouble may be in store for one when you have to go there. However, I had no cause for fear. When I got there, I was offered the job of Adjutant’s Cyclist Orderly, which I accepted with alacrity, as it gave me a splendid chance o avoid parade, of which I was never very fond. I held this post during the whole time I was at the camp and was very sorry when the time came for the Draft to proceed to join the Battalion. My duties consisted of the taking of orders from one Headquarters to another and also to the various officers belonging to the camp, who had their billets in the villages around. I used to enjoy my cycle rides of a summer’s evening round Watten, Wulverdinghe and Echtegeele, which were the places I had most to visit. But I had to leave my work when the Draft went away up the line and the only remains of it now with me are the pleasant memories of cycle rides along the country lanes and roads in the cool of a summer’s evening. They were times when I could think of all God’s goodness to us, of His care for us boys away out there, away from all we loved; and yet how near we were to the evidence of His promises.

I often used to go into Millam church of an evening too, and sit and lose myself in the quiet and stillness. I was away from everybody there. All the rush and tumult was outside. How those words come back to me: “Be still and know that I am God”. Yet in the midst of the solemn stillness, one could hear from away in the distance the sudden muttering of the guns away on the Ypres sector. It was a reminder of what I had got to face and yet here, I had the Promise and I went out from that place with the words tingling in my ears “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end.” On August 8th, we paraded and marched down in to the village, where we found the Lorries which were to convey us to the Battalion, which was staying at Steenvorde. When we arrived there, there was again the process of Roll-call, kit inspection and medical inspection, after which the Draft was split up, some being appointed to one Company and some another. I was posted to Number 10 Platoon, C Company.

When we arrived at the Battalion, they had only been out of the line for about 4 days and had only arrived at Steenvorde from Poperinghe the night before. It was here that I first became acquainted with the fact that a war was in progress. German aeroplanes were flying over every night and dropping bombs on the railway or, should I say, near the railway as they seldom secured a direct hit. It was here I first learned the significance of the expression “Jerry up!” I shall be using the expression fairly frequently later on so I might as well explain that it is Tommy Atkins’ expression for the presence of German aeroplanes overhead.

The next four days were spent in various drills and training; then, one morning, we were roused at four o’clock, as the Battalion had orders to move up to Dominion Camp, Reninghelst as Brigade Reserve. At Dominion Camp, we were inspected one boiling afternoon in full marching order by the Divisional General. Every night, Jerry used to come overhead and give us a dose of bombs. For two nights, one aeroplane in particular was allowed to bomb us unmolested. The third night, however, directly he was heard, the beams of thirty searchlights were turned upon it and about eighty Lewis Machine and Anti-Tank guns commenced to wake and re-wake the echoes of the night. Never have I heard such a noise as those machine guns made that night. Shells were bursting all round the aeroplane but it was not touched. And so, it dropped its bombs and got away unharmed.

After four days at Dominion Camp, we marched back to within a mile of Steenvorde. The Battalion was billeted in several large barns, close to the Godeswaersfelde Road. We stayed there four days. During our stay there, I and a chum went down to Steenvorde for a little outing, spent about thirty or forty francs between us and returned to suffer with an attack of diarrhoea the next day. All this time I did not get near the line but the time was fast approaching when I should, at least, experience that. On Thursday afternoon, August 30th, orders came through that the Battalion was to proceed up the line in order to relieve the 8th Battalion Yorks and Lancs Regiment.

YPRES AND THE TRENCHES

This was the first time I had been in the line. I had heard there was a War on. I had had a few weeks of soldiering, marching in fours, had been taught how to use a rifle but here was I, just going to begin the work in real earnest. I had heard of the terrors of the Ypres Salient. Many were the tales I heard of the fortunes of others. What was to be mine? Should I come out unscathed? Or should I come out at all? I believe I am speaking the truth when I say that as in the case of inoculation my sentiments were rather those of curiosity than of apprehension. What could happen? Well, that had to be left in the hands of Him above. We went in motor lorries the first part of the journey. We disembarked at the corner where the Menin Road joins the Poperinghe Road, just before you get to Ypres Town Hall or, to speak correctly, the remains of it. I shall never forget my first sight of Ypres. There before me stood the bare walls, battered, pierced by shells, of the old Cloth Hall, Hotel de Ville and Cathedral. What once had been priceless architecture, centuries old, was now only charred walls, heaps of bricks and mortar. While ever and again could be seen a cloud of red dust and black smoke, where still another shell had come from the Hun to churn up those almost sacred ruins. Well might our cartoonists produce such a cartoon as that which represents the Arch Fiend himself, turning away in disgust from witnessing the deeds of such a ruler of a civilised country.

Ypres! This had been Ypres. It was now one of the main bastions of the British line. Here British soldiers had bled and died. Here they stopped the Hun from overrunning the fair fields of Picardy. The name is immortal.

“Ypres! Thy name shall be remembered When others forgotten lie Nations, empires may be dismembered Thy fame shall never die.”

As we were within range of enemy guns, we could not proceed any further in a solid column of fours. It was necessary to be split up into parties and so we proceeded by platoons with a Sergeant in charge of each. As we were going along the road, we were blinded and deafened by the flash of one of our big guns, which was fired just as we were passing. It was admirably hidden in some brushwood, fifty yards from the road. There was a battery of them there and they were just commencing to wake Jerry up, so to speak. It would be difficult for me to include in this account everything I saw. Events happened so quickly and suddenly that some things, one is bound to miss.

We proceeded for some distance along a road and then branched off onto the duck boards. All vestige of leaves on the tree or even branches had disappeared. The ground was pitted with shell-holes which, in consequence of the marshy nature of the ground hereabouts, were full of water. In fact the ground in the Ypres Salient is beyond all description. One who has never been there can never realise it.

Our way lay across the old trench where, in 1914, the Worcesters and the Wilts had held the overpowering might of the Hun and had saved Calais. There were no Reserves. If their line had broken, the British Army would have been defeated in the first Battle of Ypres. Wiltshires and Worcesters saved the day and the Battle of Ypres was won. At the reservoir by Hillebeke Lake, we were met by guides sent down by the Yorks and Lancs to show us the way. There were two guides to each Platoon. One now took the lead and we commenced to skirt the edge of the lake for a short distance. Once upon a time, the water in this lake was the purest in Belgium. Now it was, of all waters, the most poisonous.

It was getting dark now and still we had not come to the end of our journey. Our rifle and equipment was hanging heavy and those of us who were new to it were getting tired. But still on, we could not stop. At last we got to Sanctuary Wood. This then was the reality of the name I had so often heard. Occasionally we had to climb over the trunk of a tree which had been felled by a shell. Occasionally from a shell-hole would come up the stench of a dead horse or from the body of a poor lad lying in a shallow grave. And even then, his rest might have been disturbed by another shell exploding in the same place. How many precious lives have been given for Sanctuary Wood! It is only a bit of a copse and yet it has cost so many lives which can never be replaced. Empty chairs and broken hearts, all for a bit of a copse, and that copse: Sanctuary Wood.

We had barely left the wood when shells began to drop too close to be pleasant. The Germans had found out that it was Relief night and were trying to cause as much damage as they could. So we got down into shell-holes until the storm had abated. But they seemed as if they did not want to stop. And so, in order to give them a gentle reminder that we could shoot as well, our guns commenced a barrage which lasted for two hours. Jerry didn’t like it and resigned. While waiting for this tirade to cease, I was so fagged out that I went off to sleep in the shell-hole I was in. While I was asleep, the others went on and so I woke up and found myself all on my own “somewhere by Ypres” -and the first night in the line too.

All I could do, after my rest, was to carry on somehow or other. I heard voices in one direction and made towards the place. It turned out to be a number of fellows belonging to B Company. “Where’s C Company?” I asked “Can’t say, chum. We’re lost.” I was no further forward that way. Anyway, I went on a bit farther. Then, in the distance, I heard my Company Captain’s voice saying “Come along, Headquarters.”

I went over in the direction it seemed to come from and followed on with Headquarters Platoon, till I arrived at the dugout where they were posted. Now I was in the trenches. I had found my company and it was now a question of finding my Platoon, as Company Headquarters was in the Second, or Support, line and the Platoon was in the front line. There was a Sergeant at Headquarters as well, who had lost his Platoon, and so we set off together. The first step I took, I sank into about eighteen inches of mud. “This is lovely”, I thought. I put my other foot forward and again I sank up to my knee. There was about fifty yards of this but eventually we arrived where the mud was not quite so deep. Arriving at the post where his Platoon was supposed to be, Sergeant Lewis was surprised to find the Yorks and Lancs still there, unrelieved. Accordingly, he put me on Sentry Duty on the post, told the others to make their way out and then again set out to find his Platoon. So here was I, all by myself, my first night in the trenches, the sole custodian of a piece of trench usually occupied by about thirty men.

It was a lovely moonlit night and so I began to have a look about me to see what was what. There was the firestep in front of me. Up I got on it and looked over the parapet. About fifty yards in front was a long line of barbed wire entanglements. A few yards in front of that was a tank, which had been knocked out by a German shell. Further in front still, in between two stumps of trees, lay another wreck of a tank. I was just beginning to get interested when -Ping! A sniper’s bullet warned me that other people were having a look around as well as me. But if we worried too much about these gentle reminders, we should never see anything. So, instead of ducking, I stood quite still. In the moonlight, appearances are deceptive and movement only would betray me.

The sound of voices warned me that someone was coming up the Communications Trench. “Who are you?” I challenged. “Number 9 Platoon,” came the reply. So now I was free after two and a half hours guard duty to go on my journey, to try and find my own Platoon.

After about five minutes walk down the trench, I was challenged by a sentry. “Who is it?” I asked. “Ten Platoon”. At last, I had got to my own post. “You are to report to the Corporal at once, in his dugout”, the sentry told me. Away I went to find the dugout and was soon warned that I was not far from it by the number of prodigious snores emerging from its mouth. After a good many unsuccessful efforts, I managed to wake him up. “Oh, it’s you, is it? Where have you been?” “Oh”, said I. “I got lost.” “Lost? Well you can go on sentry now”. “No fear; I’ve just done 2 and a half hours for Sgt Lewis in 9 Platoon.” “Don’t come to me with that tale.” “Go and ask him.” Away the Corporal went. In a few minutes he was back. “You can get down to sleep somewhere till stand to.”

I managed to find a bit of a shelter dugout under the parapet and, after improving it a little with my entrenching tool, I wrapped myself in my waterproof sheet. Crouching into the shelter, I slept my first night in the trenches.

At four o’clock, the Corporal was round waking everybody up. It was Stand-to. There was nothing up. Stand-to is the only term given to the period of dawn and sunset, the periods of transition of darkness to light, or light to darkness. This is the time for attack or to repel attack. If there were going to be an attack, we should always attack an hour before sunrise. The Germans usually attack at dawn.

So every morning and every evening, at a certain hour fixed by the General Headquarters and for a certain period, the whole British Army in the line -in fact the whole Allies Armies -stood to their arms, ready for an emergency.

At “Stand Down”, all rifles are cleaned and when that was finished, we started the process of cooking our breakfast. In 1917, the Army Command had made a better provision for the Commissariat than in 1914. So, in order to boil the water for making tea, we had tins of solidified methylated spirit. With these, the water was soon boiling and so we managed to have a mug of fine tea.

After breakfast, there was nothing much to do except sleep and take one’s turn on sentry. I spelt from six till ten and then thought I would have a prowl round and explore. No Mans Land was 800 yards wide here, so there was not much to fear. About a hundred yards down the trench I came across another trench leading out into No Mans Land. “Let’s have a look down here”, thought I. It was shallow in some places and so I had to keep well down. I hadn’t gone a hundred yards before I found myself close up to the tank I mentioned a little previously and so I had an opportunity of looking at it closely. Not far from it lay the bodies of several Germans in various stages of decay. Here were the horrors of war, naked, grim and ungarnished by the tales of glory. The tank had evidently been knocked out while engaged in smashing some attack and there lay the remains of it.

I do not propose to dwell at any greater length on my first six days in the front line, so I will hasten on.

At night, I received orders to proceed with a party to go and bring up the rations for the next day for the Company. Our journey was only about five hundred yards but it wasn’t plain sailing by any means. We went along the railroad but had I not known it was a railroad previously, I could never have told. A twisted rail showed that once there had been a railroad there. Otherwise it was nothing but a mass of shell-holes. And this was the Ypres-Menin railway. Nevertheless, we must not stay here. We passed about twenty of our tanks, to which the Germans had given the coup de grace in some attack. Every inch of this land had been strongly contested at some time or other and on every side were the evidences of the horror of the conflict.

After half an hour’s steady climbing, we reached the trench where the Quartermaster had brought the Company’s rations. We got our loads and away we started back again, but, as Jerry had commenced throwing a few shells over, we decided to go back through the tunnel. This was a tunnel leading from the Support to the Front line, in which all the men wounded in the day in that sector were congregated, in order to take them down to the Field Ambulance. It was not long before we were back again at Company Headquarters.

The six days in the Front Line passed very quickly. I think we only had three shells burst near the trench the whole time. On Thursday at twelve noon, we were relieved by the Northampton regiment, but we only went back to the Reserve line. It was midday when we were relieved and our journey back lay through Sanctuary Wood and round the edge of Lilliebeke Lake, to some giant dugouts near the Ypres reservoir. We arrived there without incident and commenced to make ourselves as much at home as possible. I omitted to mention that the front line where we had been posted was known as Inverness Copse. To many it is a place of bad odour, but to me it represented one of the quietest periods I ever spent in the line. We were not destined to be so quiet in our stay by the side of Lillebeke Lake.

Opposite our new home lay the ruins of Ypres. There was the last fragment of the Cathedral wall. To the right were the remains of the rampart of the town. To the left was what was left of the barracks. Occasionally from the rampart came a burst of smoke and then, a few seconds later, the report of a gun. Here had been posted a battery of heavy guns and they had held that position ever since the British had occupied Ypres. They had been responsible for a terrible amount of damage to the Germans in that sector and yet, had never been discovered.

The night passed fairly peacefully but early next morning, heavy shells began to drop close in salvoes of three. It was round this region that I saw shell-holes the size of which have no compare in the remainder of the battle area. I have never seen such deep shell-holes since. I think this species of shell must have been reserved for Ypres only.

The first rouser was a salvo which dropped twenty yards behind our dugout. How it rocked! The rubbish all fell down in front of our doorway. The next salvo dropped some distance to our right. Twenty minutes later, another salvo landed on the dugouts two doors to our left. These chanced to be empty and no-one was hurt, although the dugouts were smashed. In fact, our dugout was the only one occupied that morning. Half an hour after, another three screamed over and fell about a hundred yards in front of our door. Then, to complete the circle, another three fell on the dugout two doors to our right.

By this time, excitement was running high. Some were for staying where they were. Some were for running farther to the left, where so many shells did not seem to be falling. Away they ran, one by one. I looked around. Everybody else had gone and so I concluded it must be my turn. I waited for the next three to come over. When they had exploded, I began to run for it. I was just on the edge of a great lake of mud, when whizz! Over came another shell. The rush of air from the explosion caused me to slip and down I went, to indulge in a mud bath. I didn’t stop to think of that, however. I was on my feet again and away.

On Saturday morning, we received orders that we should be relieved at night and so at seven o’clock, we paraded outside, ready to be off. The relief was accomplished without incident and after an hour’s march, we arrived at Diekebusch Camp. At Diekebusch, we stayed the weekend and part of the next week, in fact. Our time was occupied in training and also in getting a much needed bath. On the following Friday we received instructions that we were not going into the line in the Ypres sector again and the following day, the Battalion marched via Reninghelst, Boeschepe to Abecle, where we stayed for Sunday. On Monday, our march was continued via Boeschepe, Godewaersvelde, Mont des Pars to Caestre. Tuesday, we continued via Aire, Steenbecque and Thiennes. We completed the fourth stage on Wednesday, via Hazenbrouck, Mazingheur, Lambres, Norrent Fontes, Bequesecques, Lespresses, Burbure, Allouagne and Lozingeur.

I shall never forget those four days of marching. Our equipment consisted of course of full pack, and oh!- It got heavy! The weather was that of glorious summer, but, nevertheless, our clothes were wet through. And here at Lozingheur, my first spell of field service ended.

I had been troubled with my teeth for a long time. Accordingly, after another week of agony, I decided to take my life in my hands and trust myself to the dentist. Accordingly, I reported sick and, after a lively altercation with the doctor, managed to secure an order to see the dentist at the Casualty Clearing Station in the village. The report of the dentist was for me to enter the hospital and have at least nineteen teeth extracted. I accordingly returned to the billet, packed up my kit and went into hospital. The awful operation, I underwent on Sunday morning, September 23rd 1917, just at the time when the people at home were dozing off the effects of the sermon. On Monday, I was evacuated to number 4 Stationary Hospital near St Omer. My face was very painful and I got in rather a low state. On top of this, I contracted Trench Fever and so on Wednesday 26th September 1917, the Doctor had me sent to Number 59 General Hospital, St Omer.

Here I saw the white sheets again and from the moment I got into them, until I left them for the tram which was to take me to the boat for England, I slept. I had to be wakened for every meal. On Saturday, the Doctor came round and after a conversation with the nurse, marked my record card with a “B”, which to me stood for Blighty.

At two o’clock next day, I left St. Omer, bound for Boulogne. As the train arrived in Boulogne too late for the patients to be put on board ship, we were taken to the various hospitals in Boulogne. I stayed the night at Wimereure. Next morning, Monday October 1st at 7.30, we were again aroused, taken in ambulances to the Quay and put on board the boat. We got to Dover at One o’clock. The work of transfer from the boat to the tram was soon accomplished and, by two o’clock, I was on board a GWR train bound for Birmingham. My first adventure in France was ended. God’s Promise was fulfilled. My heart was full and as I lay in my bunk on that train, I sent up my little word of thanks to Him who had brought me safely through and in so short a time.

Hearing we should pass through High Wycombe where my eldest sister Daisy stayed, I scribbled a short note to her. As we rushed through the station, I gave it to an Orderly to throw out onto the platform. And glad I am that I did this, for twelve days later, I was called to her funeral. I could never have had a better friend than my sister was to me but she had done her work on this earth. Our Father had better work for her to do with him. He called her to him. Therefore, why should we weep? There is a gap in our home which can never be filled but we know she is with Him and will be waiting to meet us in the Glory Land.

Sister mine! Thou art gone from us But why should we be sad? The Comforter is still with us He will make us glad.

Sister mine! It cannot be That thou hast worked in vain Not one minute, not one hour Need e’er be worked again

Sister mine! Thy labour’s o’er To the Kingdom thou hast gone Receive thy well-earned reward The Master’s sweet “well done”.

After a month in Dudley Road, Birmingham Hospital, I went to convalescent Depot at Plymouth. For the first fortnight of my stay here, we lived under canvas. The month was November and – oh! -how it rained. In consequent of the wet, the whole Depot was moved to Wearde Camp, Saltash. Here, we were accommodated in huts. It is not my intention to give an account of what befell in England and so I shall move on rapidly. Many tales I could tell of the games we had, jokes practical and otherwise.

I made many excursions to Plymouth and Devonport, visiting the Hoe, where Drake played bowls on that eventful day that the Spanish Armada was sailing up the English Channel.

After seven weeks stay at Plymouth, I went home on my days furlough. Fortunately, I had Christmas at home. After Christmas, I returned to my regimental Depot at Sittingbourne, there to undergo the old routine of training until I was physically fit for overseas again.

As I had a cousin living at Canterbury, I used to fill in the Sundays by cycling over and staying there for the day.

While I was at Sittingbourne, I was fortunate enough to “click” for a job which was considered to be “cushy”. This was to go with a detachment to mount guard over a ferry between the mainland and the Isle of Sheppey. This lasted for a week and, at the time, proved to be a very comfortable undertaking. I was fortunate enough to have two weeks on it and could not have minded if I could have gone on guarding that ferry till peace was signed.

On February 20th 1918, I was again on my homeward way on Draft Leave. There is no need to repeat what I have said on a former occasion with regard to this. But this time I had the feeling in me “You’ve been home on Draft Leave before. God brought you back again. Trust in Him and He’ll bring you back again.”

On February 25th, I was back again at Sittingbourne. When I arrived back I was informed that our Draft was for Salonica and a few days later we were all served out with Pith Helmets and thin clothes, so we really thought we were going at last.

Then, a few days later, came the news of the great German onrush. Orders were cancelled, the helmets and Salonica outfits were handed in and Field Kits were served out for France.

We left Sittingbourne on March 28th 1918 at eight o’clock in the morning, for Southampton, where we arrived at two o’clock in the afternoon. After waiting on the Quay all afternoon, we went aboard at seven o’clock. Again I was on board a transport leaving the Homeland but this time I had a faith in a God who had vouchsafed Himself to me before and I knew Him for a God who keeps His promises.

“Faith, mighty faith, which laughs at impossibilities and cries It shall be done!”

As we moved down Southampton Water and Spithead, I saw over in the mist the dim outline of Southsea and Portsmouth, where my sister lived.

Again, England was disappearing in the mist. Darkness came on. Then the moon rose. We had nine hours journey before us. I was put on Raft Patrol and had the charge of five rafts on top deck. It was my duty, if our ship should be torpedoed by an enemy submarine, to throw these rafts overboard and, of course, follow them out myself.

Fortunately our journey was accomplished in safety and there was no necessity for recourse to these measures.

We reached the harbour at Le Havre at two o’clock in the morning and so, my trust being ended, I got into a cupboard which was used for storing lifebelts and resigned myself into the arms of Morpheus.

We landed at two o’clock in the morning and marched up a terrible hill to the Rest Camp.

The British Govt has a terrible mania for putting Rest Camps at the top of a terribly steep hill. At Boulogne, there is a hill to climb to the rest camp and, similarly, at Havre. We were not, however, at the Rest Camp many hours. At five o’clock, the Draft paraded again and we returned to the station, and spent the night travelling to Rouen in those extra-specially comfortable cattle trucks, for which France has such a capital reputation. In the morning, we were at Rouen. There it lay, still the same. Again, that march up the Rue D’Elbeuf to the Base Camp. Into the same camp we went. There was the self-same old Sergeant Major. The self-same old routine followed: Roll-call; Medical Inspection; Allocation to Tents. I was back in the same old tent almost but we were not to stay at Rouen long this time. We got there on Saturday March 30th. On Tuesday April 2nd, we were on the train again, en route for the 7th Battalion Kings Shropshire Light Infantry, to which the whole Draft had been transferred. Our journey lay through Amiens, Lillers to Bethune. We disembarked at Lillers after going up to Bethune and back again. From Lillers, the Draft matched to the 3rd Divisional Headquarters at Allouagne not a mile away from Lozingheur, where I had left the 1st Wilts the previous September.

After the usual routine of Roll-call, Medical Inspection etc we were put in billets. Hearing there was a good canteen down in the village, we were not long in dumping our kit and getting down there, as we hadn’t seen a stick of chocolate since leaving England and goodness only knows when we might see any more.

On Saturday April 6th came orders for the Draft to proceed to join the Battalion and so, about two o’clock, we started off on our march. Our route lay through Lozingheur and Marles to Vaudricourt, about a mile and a half from Bethune. At the top of the hill after passing through Marles, it commenced to rain and so we eventually arrived at our destination well-soaked. This was a mining district and every now and then, we met a collier returning home from his day’s work. Many pit boys we also saw returning home with their once blue blouses bulging out at the back with lumps of coal purloined from the mine where they worked.

Arrived at Vaudricourt, we had to go through the process of Roll-call again and Medical Inspection and then we were allocated to Companies. My Company was D Company and my Platoon number 16. I was fortunate enough to get posted to the same Platoon as my two chums Hawkins and Kingswell, whom I would like to mention here. I had lived for the past three months with Kingswell, in the same billet at Sittingbourne and we stuck together until September. Hawkins was an Isle of Wight man and was given very much to pessimistical soliloquy about the War. “Wet Blanket” was my name for him but he always turned out to be a good chum in a tight corner and a hard worker.

For the next two or three days, we did nothing but drilling and parades but on Thursday April 12th, an order came through for the Battalion to “Stand To” with Battle Order ready. An hour later, we were out on parade, but in full marching order and soon we were on the march. As we did not turn up towards Bethune, we thought we were going back further; but we continued to march in a direction parallel to the Line and not away from it. We passed through Fouquereuil, Aunegin, Veudin to Oblingheur about a mile from Hinges. Arrived here, we fell out in some fields and had our tea.

At Eblingheur and Veudin, evidences of the German advance were manifested by the crowds of people who were departing from the villages to take up their residence at some safer abode. What a sickening sight it was! To see all these poor people leaving their little homes to be smashed up by some shell. What they could not carry away in their hands had to be left. The poor old Cure was superintending the departure and was the last to leave. Those villages I have seen since. They have not been so badly smashed up as some I have seen but they were badly hit.

After tea we had orders to take our packs to the transport wagons which had followed us, and put together our equipment in battle order. We did not know it then, but we heard afterwards that the Portuguese had been drive out of Neuve Chapelle and our Line was then retiring to Locon, two miles north-east of Bethune. We were going up as a Reserve.

As it began to get dark, we set off to go up the Line. Everywhere, the Royal Engineers were busy putting out large tracts of barbed wire. In case of emergency, Blocks were being made ready, wherewith to stop the roads. Heavy guns were coming up behind us to take up positions and rain death upon the advancing hordes of the enemy. Some were even in position already and “Despatching Xmas boxes to Jerry”.

Our way lay over the Canal de La Lame, which runs from Bethune at right angles to the La Bassee Canal. Here a pontoon stretched from one bank to the other and we crossed over on this. Arrived on the other bank, we were placed out in sections and told to dig ourselves in.

Fortunately our Platoon was given a ditch by the side of a road and so we did not have quite so much work as the other fellows.

There was a farmhouse close by and so some adventurous spirits went off to investigate. The door was open. Dinner was out on the table and also a jug of beer. Tommy concluded: “Where there’s a jug, there’s a barrel.” And if there’s a barrel in a French house, there’s a cellar. The stairs were soon found but, hardly had one of them gone down two steps than he heard a shout of anger from below. The worthy farmer had not left his house to be plundered by Hun or to be robbed of its beer by Tommy and was expostulating “You English, no bon!” For which kind expression he was marched off to Headquarters under guard. There proved to be four barrels in the cellar and soon there was a general procession up to the farmhouse. Buckets, tin cans, pots, anything that would hold the liquid, were taken and brought back full, and so the Battalion spent a fairly good night, in spite of the cold.

In the morning, orders came through for us to go up in support and so we marched up the Psoars-Locon road until we reached the outskirts of Locon, and dug in on the right hand-side of the road, close to a couple of farmhouses. There were several enemy balloons up and so we had to get down under cover quickly, in order to avoid observation.

The weather was glorious, and, as everything seemed quiet, we got out of the trench and got down on some straw from some nearby ricks and went off to sleep. About twelve o’clock, our Platoon officer came and wanted someone to go with him to reconnoitre the Front Line. I got my rifle and went along with him. A few Whiz-bangs came over but, beyond that, nothing exciting happened until we got to the Front Line. We were proceeding gently along but as we got to the Front Line, somebody must have seen us, as Jerry’s machine-gun began to “Check-check-check” and we quickly dropped into the Front Trench. After the fire had died down a bit, we got out of the trench and went along the line a bit but Jerry began to give us a dose of whiz-bangs. After one had dropped about twenty feet away, the Officer said: “I think we’ll be getting back now” and I wasn’t very sorry. Jerry chased us down the canal bank with about a dozen more whiz-bangs and then he must have had enough of it.

In the afternoon, news came through that two companies of the Royal Scots Fusiliers had been taken prisoners that morning, and the Royal Scots were retiring rather hurriedly. We received orders to turn back all Royal Scots who we should see running away. About three o’clock, we were startled to hear a big explosion on our left. The Artillery, thinking they could not remove it, had blown up a big dump of ammunition. It was said afterwards that some Colonel got into trouble for giving the order to blow this up, as it was considered that the whole dump could have been easily transported to safety. A little while after, our Company had orders to go up and re-establish the Front Line. And so, we were in for it.

We commenced to advance in extended order, about twelve paces between each man, and I may say that our only anxiety lay not in how to dodge the German bullets, but in how to keep the line straight. At one point, a brook lay across our way. Some jumped it, others waded through it. I was one of the latter. It was a warm day, so a little paddling didn’t hurt, although it was with boots and socks and puttees on. In order to get up to the position we were to take up, which lay behind a hedge along a road, we had to pass a gap. Two German snipers were watching this and so we had to run the gauntlet one by one. The gap was safely passed and we flopped ourselves down at intervals behind the hedge and commenced to fire at anybody we could see. A farmhouse about four hundred yards away seemed to be a centre of great enemy activity and so I watched that. I could see them coming here on bicycles and horseback and so I and my next door neighbour let go whenever we saw anyone. That cottage must have got too hot for Jerry as, after about an hour, we saw quite a party make a sudden rush away fro this place to get cover somewhere else.

Then a couple of machine guns opened up on us. There were some stinging nettles in front of me. ‘Of two evils, choose the lesser’ -and I dabbed my face down into them. When the machine guns stopped, we sent off a few more bullets. As time wore on, however, ammunition commenced to run short. The Germans seemed to be advancing on our left and things were a bit lively a little way down the road. We looked as if we should be surrounded. So a Corporal and two men went off to reconnoitre. We were lying in an orchard and at the end of the orchard was a farmhouse and farmyard. At first sight, there was no-one in the farmyard and so the Corporal went into the kitchen in the house. Here was a jug of milk. This was a pleasant discovery, as our friends were rather thirsty after the afternoon’s scrap. But hearing a noise from the front part of the house, they had a peek into the other rooms and -Lo and behold! -there were about a dozen Germans sitting around a table enjoying themselves, drinking wine and regaling themselves with food, beer and various other good things. Thinking discretion the better part of valour, the Corporal decided to depart while still undiscovered. But on coming out of the back door, he perceived sitting behind the barn door a wounded German with a machine gun, one of our tickers. The German began to shout but the Corporal made a dive for the machine gun and between the three of them, our boys carried it off.

They came back to where the rest of the Platoon was waiting and it was decided to retire before we were absolutely cut off. We crept down underneath the hedge to a corner of the orchard, where we got through the hedge somehow and silently made our way down the road for a quarter of a mile. Here we were met by the Captain, who wanted a dozen men to go up into the village with him. A dozen of us accordingly about-turned and followed him back up the village street. About halfway up it, six of us and a Corporal were posted as a patrol, while the other six with a Sergeant were sent further up on a scouting expedition. As these six disappeared into the darkness, four of our six settled themselves down into the ditch to sleep, while two of us stood in the road on sentry for two hours, to be relieved by another two.

It was my turn to go on sentry again. Kingswell went on with me and half an hour passed in silence. Then footsteps could be heard in the road coming in our direction. “Who are you?” No answer. Again. Again no reply. I pushed back the safety catch of my rifle and put it to my shoulder, ready to fire. “Who are you?” A third time. Then, ten yards away I saw a German. I had my finger on the trigger, ready to let go when and English voice came out of the dark. “It’s all right, he’s only a prisoner.” The party which had gone forward had fallen in with a party of about twenty Jerries and, after shooting about six and taking this one prisoner, had put the rest to flight.

Nothing more of incident happened that night. In the dusk of early dawn, we filed back down the street and started to dig a trench at the other side of the village. We had completed it and were settling ourselves down to breakfast, when an R.E. Officer came along, asking for our Captain. His left flank was exposed and he wanted a party to go up through the village and hold a bridgehead over the canal and so protect his rear.

Twelve of us were picked out and away we went, up through the village street again to where the bridge lay across the canal. It was a very misty morning and so the Germans could not perceive our movements. We crossed the bridge and commenced to dig ourselves in on the other side. Suddenly, we were surprised by the noise of an explosion. The bridge across the canal had been blown up and our orders were to hold on to our post to the last man. We had seven boxes of ammunition (7000 rounds in all) and fifty boxes of bombs (about 600 altogether); and our post was to be held at all costs. In about two hours our trench was dug and we had settled ourselves down in it to await events. The mist had cleared away by about eleven o’clock and we could see about us a bit. Twenty-five yards in front ran the road. On our left were two cottages. On the opposite side of the road was the large house with several outhouses. The direction of our observation lay between the two blocks of buildings obliquely across the road (See diagram 2). At the bridgehead was a sand bag shelter. This was soon converted into a pill-box from which two men, one with a Vickers and the other with a Lewis, commanded the approaches by the two roads which met here.

Nothing happened until about two o’clock in the afternoon, when the Germans were seen advancing in extended order over a bridge about 3/4 of a mile away. We loaded our rifles and began a desultory fire, shooting when a favourable opportunity presented itself. The enemy soon began to change his tactics and commenced to advance by sectional rushes. This procedure is carried out by a section of men rushing forward about fifty yards and then lying down and opening fire to cover the similar advance of another section.

Our own artillery had not had time to come up and the enemy artillery was firing miles behind us so that it was a battle of rifles and machine guns. We had the advantage, in that the enemy did not know where our post was situated. As the Germans approached, they had to show themselves more frequently and soon the Vickers, the Lewis and all our rifles were being fires as fast as we could reload. The excitement of battle was on us. There was no thought of danger. Our one thought was to knock as many out as we could and truly, the Huns were being shot down like rabbits. “There’s one behind the hedge!” CRACK! “Got him!” “Look! They’re bringing a machine gun up!” “Let ’em have it!” CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! -Three Lee Enfields go off at once and the machine gun is knocked out. No other Hun tries to man it again.

The racket continued until half past six in the evening, when the Germans gave up their attempt to advance and commenced to run away instead. It might have been a ruse for us to reveal our strength or it might have been a genuine “run-away”. Anyway, the only thing we did was to keep on firing as before but at an increased range. If only we had had an Officer with us then, to have led the advance, the Hun might have been chased back to Neuve Chapelle. But the only Officer who had been up to see us was killed by a sniper when getting out of the trench. As darkness fell, German stretcher bearers were seen over the ground in front, taking back the wounded. All next day, Sunday, they were at their work. We must have inflicted something like four hundred casualties upon the enemy in that Saturday afternoon and not one of our post had been touched.

During the evening, our artillery, which had by now come up, opened fire on various points which they thought could be held by artillery. As our position was rather advanced, and there had been no opportunity for an aeroplane reconnaissance previously, they had no exact idea of where our line lay. Accordingly, shells began to fall dangerously close. We crouched down in the trench, while one of our number ran to Company Headquarters to phone through to the artillery, to raise their fire slightly. Before this could be done, a shell dropped six feet from the trench and the boy next to me was instantly killed by a piece of shrapnel. That was our only casualty. The shells began to fall farther over, almost directly afterwards.

The next day, barring a few rifle grenades falling rather close, there was no excitement. Early in the morning, two Germans had come wandering down the road with rifles slung on their shoulders and, before they knew it, we had seized their rifles and taken them prisoners.

At night, the A.R.R.’s came up to wire the position in. I went out into No Man’s Land and acted as sentry while this was being done. Seizing opportunity by the forelock, as it were, I annexed a sandbag full of various rations which a dead German nearby had evidently been looting from one of our Stores left behind in the retreat. I hung on to that sack when, two hours later, we were relieved by the Second Suffolks and marched to our rest billets, five miles behind the lines. I was well rewarded, for it contained jam, biscuits, tea and sugar which I put last, but to Tommy Atkins were no means least.

We had four days rest and then went up again into a quieter part of the East Bethune front. As our Company had had such strenuous work before, we were placed in Reserve for four days and then we had four days on the Front Line. Our time in reserve was spent in sleeping all day, except when we were brewing tea in a neighbouring farmhouse, and working at wiring and digging trenches at night. The most exciting part of the tea brewing was to keep the smoke down. If a German aeroplane saw that, there would have been a shell on the building directly. While we were in the Front Line, I made my first acquaintance with “minenweifer”, those delightful things which sing as they are falling on you “Where’s your bivvy? Where’s your bivvy?”.

Copyright 2009 Nigel Cubbage. Used by permission

Postscript

Forty or so years later Cubbage wrote a letter to the OTA remembering his friend Hedley Purser who had died in 1967. He was a devoted OT and for many years was a Governor of the School and, for much of that time, Vice Chairman. He was a man of great generosity both to the School and to the town of Thame. W.E Cubbage wrote the following: ‘Hedley and I were great boyhood friends and spent our Sunday afternoon together along with his loyal dog Gyp and also our friend Ray Hester. Then, of course, we had our week night sessions after homework on the piano, tin-whistle and Jews Harp making not whoopee but squeakee. We went into the Army about the same time and found ourselves in France: he between essars and Hebuterne and I between Bethune and Hinges but it was hit or miss as to whether we saw each other. In June 1918, our Division did a big raid at Hinges which put Jerry on edge and meant that attempting to meet a pal was haphazard – just too many snipers and whizz bangs. This didn’t put him off coming to see me, even though on one particular day when, as he put it, ‘there was a luck of muck around’ he arrived to find I wasn’t there. You people who have made his aquaintance in later years and know more about him in later life than I do but I knew him when we were boys and soldiers together and seeing what he was ready to do and did in those days, I shall always remember him braving death to see a friend.’

Jun 19

Comments on the OTA

Brian Ward…

Very interested to catch up with such a wide variety of OT activities, much wider than I knew.  Would welcome more such information for all us OTs. It may  encourage comments, widen awareness and involvement in issues facing the Committee and the School.
Would have been helpful to receive the financial statements as well. Perhaps they could they be sent with the next Newsletter?
Could Minutes with financial statements of past AGMs be incorporated in the OTA website?
And the date of each forthcoming Committee meeting and, later, its Minutes, made available in the Newsletter would be useful.
Does the school have an Archivist? I see Derek Turner and Graham Thomas provide at each AGM a fascinating historical exhibition. Unfortunately it rarely gets the attention it deserves as we OTs are busy on other things: talking to each other, AGM, school tour,lunch etc. Could the exhibition be replicated on the website so all OTs can see it? Reference is made to “the LWS Archive.” Is that Flickr and OT website or something else?
By the way I have spent enjoyable hours at the British Library browsing some of the earliest issues of The Tamensian Magazine beautifully bound into book form by the BL . But its collection is incomplete. It would be a fine thing for the School and/or the OTA to enable the BL to complete its collection. The BL’s policy is to digitise such material so that one day it will be available for everyone… forever.
” The Tamensian” has been discontinued but I see we donate to and advertise in ” the LWS Yearbook.” I have written to Carol Kendall listed as School Liaison to ask for a copy. Maybe these too should be held by the BL?
Without financial details its impossible to make sense of the Operating Deficit of £2,398.
I thought our development of the Honours Boards was well worthwhile.
Item 06:  Newsletters.
I was surprised the total number of OTs is only about 1400 for a school of our size. I suggest those 150 who choose to receive newsletters by post instead of online should pay. At 6-12 issues pa should save £500 – £1000.
OTs under retirement age at Founders Day are conspicuous by their absence and show little interest in responding to the Newsletter. An attitude study of all OTs and those shortly to leave school might help guide the Committee.
“No news means no Newsletter”…..I welcome news about fellow OTs but also about what is going on within the OTA  and at the school. For example I would like the Newsletter to act as a sign-post to important new contributions to the OTA  website, Flickr, Facebook etc. For example the fascinating case history on the website  about Queen Elizabeth 1 and her relationship to the school would be worth drawing attention to in the Newsletter.
You request feedback on whether we should contribute to the £250K cost of a new cricket pavilion and £70K+ for a sculpture in the new school.
Each is important and each should be professionally promoted. I have been an OT for 68 years and have never been approached about a legacy or any fund-raising for the school or the OTA.
Item 09: Head Teacher’s Observations.
I am so out of date and unaware of big changes being planned. Where can I find out more about the ” single site project”  and configuration of the new school?
It would be helpful to understand how serious is the school’s budget deficit of £400,000, perhaps as a percentage.
Item 10: Election of OTA Officers and Committee Members.
Alas I do not know any of the individuals involved. Is there information about them anywhere?  The “ Life Vice President’ role seems to be a new one, not listed in the Rules of the OT Association.
Item 11.02  AOB.
Do not understand the note about sending out the Draft Minutes incurring a risk of “ embarrassing comments”.
Perhaps the Minutes will help keep us up-to-date on the many activities our Committee is engaged in. And encourage us to have a say!

May 04

An Elizabethan Play

Queen Elizabeth comes to town

A one-act historical fantasy performed in Long Crendon, 2017

Notes on the characters

 

Queen Elizabeth’s public character is well known: imperious and sardonic at times but with a popular touch. At the start of the play, however, she is in private mode, talking with a friend more or less as an equal.

 

Margery Norreys is an aristocrat but not of ancient lineage so she too speaks naturally, if with a slightly upper class accent.

 

Alice: ‘a country bumpkin’, speaking with an Oxfordshire accent, not the brightest star in the firmament.

 

Jane Stribblehill, a gentleman’s wife, an old-established Thame family. ‘Middle Class’ accent.

 

John Hester, senior almsman, old and a bit doddery, inclined to stutter, Oxfordshire accent.

 

Edward Harris, Master Elect of Thame School, scholarly accent but speaks enthusiastically though with due deference to the Queen.

 

Francis Hall, vicar of Thame, smooth, obsequious, ‘churchy’ accent.

Conventions in the text

 

The words of the narrator are in italics, as are any spoken indications of how characters speak and act. The narrator introduces the characters prior to their first speech. Thereafter, individual players speak as indicated. Guidance to the speakers, not spoken by the narrator, appears in brackets.

 

Narrator. The year is 1570, in the month of August. Queen Elizabeth, aged 35 and a striking figure, sits at her desk in the royal apartments of Rycote Palace, not one of her own many palaces but belonging to her friend Margery Knollys, daughter of Lord Williams, who treated Elizabeth well when he was in effect her jailor during the reign of her elder sister Mary.

 

Elizabeth (sighing) Not another plot. Another death warrant to sign. She wields her quill elegantly but reluctantly.

 

There is a gentle knock at the door.

 

Elizabeth: Enter. Margery comes in

 

Margery: I’m sorry to disturb you Your Majesty but I have a suggestion to make.

 

Elizabeth: For heaven’s sake Margery stop this ‘your majesty’ thing; we are friends and alone. Sit down, call me Elizabeth and tell me your suggestion.

 

Margery: Well (hesitates) Elizabeth, I know you are very busy with affairs of state but it’s a beautiful afternoon and I wondered if you would care to go riding. You usually ride when you stay with us.

 

Elizabeth: (brightening up) Splendid idea. That idiot bishop of Rome and his ridiculous Bull of Excommunication against me has led to nothing but plots by the wretched Catholics against my life. Thomas Walsingham is doing a great job rooting out the plotters but I really hate to have to sign so many death warrants for treason. I need a break. Where shall we ride?

 

Margery: Well, I know the recently finished new almhouses in Thame endowed by my father are very handsome and the building of the new school he founded is just about finished, so I wondered whether a ride over to Thame to visit them would interest you.

 

Elizabeth: Excellent suggestion, and while we’re there I could also visit the church and pay my respects to the memory of your father, my old friend and protector by praying at his tomb. I hear the tomb is very fine and I’d like to see it. Summon a couple of grooms to bring us horses and to accompany us. We don’t need anyone else; you can be my lady in waiting. We’ll give the good people of Thame a bit of a surprise.

 

Narrator. Half an hour later they set off, not with any great pomp but with riding clothes that marked them out as people of high degree and the queen with her flaming red hair instantly recognisable.   After a dry summer, Rycote Lane was deeply rutted so they cantered across the fields until they came to the rising ground that overlooked Thame and then followed the lane down towards the town. The water level was low in the Cuttle Brook so they forded it easily and road slowly now up Priest End. It was a working day so most people were out in the fields harvesting but just as they were approaching Stribblehills at the junction of Priest End and the High Street, Alice, a chambermaid to Jane Stribblehill was looking out of an upstairs window, from which she had just finished, fortunately, emptying into the street a chamber pot which she had overlooked earlier in the day. On seeing the Queen and Lady Margery approaching she almost died with astonishment and excitement.

 

Alice, running downstairs. (breathlessly), Mistress Jane, Mistress Jane, The Queen and Lady Margery are riding into Thame.

 

Jane: Nonsense girl, what are you shouting about. Don’t be ridiculous.

 

Alice. But it’s true, it’s true; look for yourself.

 

Jane. (Looking out of the window) Good heavens, you are right. Whatever is the Queen doing in Thame? I can’t believe it; no-one has said anything. Quick girl, run and find the Vicar and the Churchwardens and tell them the Queen is here.

 

Narrator So Alice scampered off as fast as her legs would carry her, which was not so fast as she was a plump girl, shouting out the amazing news to anyone she met. Meanwhile, Elizabeth, Margery and the grooms turned right and rode slowly up the High Street.

 

Margery: Elizabeth…

 

Elizabeth: (interrupts, speaking quietly) I think ‘your majesty’ might be better now Margery.

 

Margery: I know that the new almshouses back on to the High Street Your Majesty but I’m not quite sure where the school is. I’ll ask when we see someone.

 

Elizabeth: If we see someone: it is really strange for me to enter a town and not be greeted by cheering crowds. I rather like it (pauses) but only as an occasional change.

 

Narrator. They ride a little further up the High Street and just before they reach Church Road, an old man appears carrying a bucket. He is John Hester, the senior almsman, who is just returning after clearing the sewer from the almshouses to the school privy. Though his bucket is fortunately empty, the smell of him is even stronger than usual in that age of rarely washed bodies. He is slightly stooped by age and has rheumatic eyes. Elizabeth signals one groom to approach the man and bring him to her. The groom wrinkles his nose as he approaches John but does as he is bidden by the Queen. John approaches the Queen’s horse.

 

Elizabeth. Well met my good man. What is your name, where do you live and where is everyone else in this town?

 

John. Blinking up at her without at first recognising her. My name is John Hester ma’am, I’m the senior almsmen of Thame and I live just here in this wonderful new almshouse on the corner.

 

Narrator: While he is speaking Margery behind the Queen’s back is gesticulating wildly to John, trying to tell him that he is talking to the Queen, pointing at her red hair and miming a crown. John finally catches on, is overcome, sinks to his knees, with difficulty and continues to speak

 

John: (with a trembling voice) Your Majesty, I crave pardon. I meant no disrespect. My old eyes failed me. I humbly ask your forgiveness. Everyone else is out harvesting but I am too old and frail to be of any use to them.

 

Elizabeth: There is nothing to forgive master John. Old men deserve respect. I’m glad to hear that you are comfortable in your new home that my old friend Lord Williams has provided for you. But I have one more question for you.

 

Narrator. John looks alarmed

 

John: I’ll do my best to answer your Majesty but I am not a learnéd man.

 

Elizabeth: Lady Margery and I just need to know where to find the new school. We want to visit it.

 

John: (Excitedly) I know that Your Majesty; it’s just a few yards down Church Street here. You can’t miss it. It’s a wonderful stone building. I just wish I were young again and could be a pupil there.

 

Elizabeth: You have been most helpful John. I am delighted to have met such a gracious subject. She signals to one of the grooms to give John a coin.

 

Narrator: John, again overcome, sinks to his knees again with tears in his eyes, words fail him, he stutters)

 

John; ‘God Bless you Your Majesty’

 

Narrator: The Queen and Margery dismount, leaving the grooms with the horses and walk down Church Road. While all this has been going on Edward Harris, Master Elect and the two executors, John Doyley and William Place have been busy inside the new school building, discussing final details before the school is due to open in three months time. Just as the Queen arrives opposite the entrance door, the three men emerge, still deep in conversation. They look up, totally astonished, rub their eyes as if to banish a mirage, look up again and sink to their knees covered in confusion.

 

Harris: Your Majesty. I had no idea you were coming to visit the school; we would have made suitable preparations for such an auspicious royal visit.

 

Elizabeth: Don’t worry Master Harris. I did not know either of this visit until two hours ago when the Lady Margery suggested we ride over to Thame. We thought a surprise visit might be just the thing on such a beautiful day, but a pleasant one for you I hope.

 

Harris: A pleasant one does not begin to describe it your Majesty, it is a deep honour.

 

Elizabeth: (firmly but kindly) No more of the honeyed words Master Harris. I can already see that is a fine building from the outside. I am impatient for you to show me round the inside and tell me all your plans for the new school. As I am sure you know, I am fortunate to have been given a good education. It was my greatest pleasure during my rather (pauses) chequered youth and I am anxious that as many of my subjects as possible receive a good classical education. It will be a rare pleasure for me to talk with you in the Latin tongue.

 

Harris (deferentially but animatedly). If I may your Majesty, I will lead the way. He and the Queen enter the school building already discoursing in Latin on the New Learning. The executors and Margery follow behind, also chatting but in English.

 

Narrator: Time passes. By the time the Queen and her party emerge again they do so to deafening cheers. (Deafening cheers from audience!] The harvesting has been suspended and just about the whole population of Thame pack themselves into Church Road, anxious to get a sight of her. At the head of the crowd is the vicar Francis Hall, flanked by his three churchwardens, Richard Benson, John Farmer and Hugh Parker all of whom have hurriedly changed into the dress appropriate for the occasion. At the start of the Queen’s reign she had deprived Hall of the rectory at Aston Sandford for ‘favouring the old order’, that is to say her sister Mary’s Catholic regime.

Narrator. Hall steps forward

 

Hall (ingratiatingly) It is the greatest honour imaginable Your Majesty to welcome you to our town even if our welcome comes a little late in the day. We trust that you have enjoyed your visit and that you will complete it by visiting the tomb of our greatest benefactor, the dearly missed Lord Williams, (adds hurriedly) though (with heavy emphasis) of course we are still greatly blessed by the presence of his daughter the Lady Margery.

 

Narrator. Elizabeth, never one to avoid the opportunity for a slightly barbed quip, replies

 

Elizabeth: (tartly) Exactly what I propose to do Mr Francis, and I would be grateful if you would accompany me to the church door, but not beyond as the Lady Margery and I wish to pray privately for the soul of her father at her tomb. (Pauses) And by the way Mr Francis, I trust you are finding the New Order to your liking (slight pause) now?

 

Hall: (stammers) I am your most loyal subject your majesty in matters of both Church and State.

 

Elizabeth: (ironically). Very glad to hear that Mr Francis.

 

Narrator: She turns to Harris.

 

Elizabeth: I bid you good day Master Harris. I found what you had to say most interesting and heartening. I am pleased that you approve my idea of placing the Royal Arms in the schoolroom window alongside those of your dear father. I am sure your school has a great future before it and that, inspired by the two coats of arms in the stained glass its pupils will emerge from their education with sound faith, acquire great learning and always serve their monarch loyally.

 

Narrator: She turns towards the church accompanied by Margery and the church dignitaries, and followed, at a respectful distance, by the still cheering people of Thame. (more cheering, dying away). And there we must leave them rejoicing in a surprising and memorable visit and, most fortunately, all thankfully unaware that within 60 years one of Thame School’s most famous pupils, John Hampden would defy the will of the autocratic monarch Charles the First over the Payment of Ship Money; another former pupil, Lord Justice Sir George Croke in the second most famous court case of the century, would enter judgement for Hampden against the King on this issue; Speaker of the House of Commons, William Lenthall, would rebuff the king’s attempt to arrest the Five Members in parliament, and a few years later Simon Mayne would be one of those who signed the King’s death warrant in the most famous, or infamous, trial in all English history. All of them well educated old Tamensians; all disloyal to the King.

 

The curtain falls,

Feb 24

Leslie Hughes

Recently we have had quite lengthy correspondence regarding the life of Leslie Hughes who attended the school from c1912 to 1916

Leslie was born 4 February 1902 in Lewknor, married 2 June 1934 to Geraldine Vera Ursula Lunck in Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia, and died a few months later on 28 Nov 1934.

His parents were from Welsh and Cornish families and were the two teachers at Lewknor Church of England Primary School

When about 11, Leslie competed for and won a free place to Lord Williams Grammar School. The family say he was an active sportsman in cricket and soccer and his later letters back home to England show he was still playing football in Rockhampton in his early 30s. The sparse school records found that in the under-14’s athletics in the Junior Challenge for the Spring Term in 1916, Leslie was recorded as having run 2nd in the mile, and 3rd in the 220 and 440 yard races. His wife Lily has said that his best subjects were English literature, Latin and French.

After three years education at Thame, Leslie left school at fourteen and took a position as clerk at Huntley and Palmer, a biscuit manufacturer in Reading. It seems likely that he did not work there for long as it appears Leslie then took a position at the Land Stewards Office in Reading and then worked in accountancy in Slough. His firm transferred to Caxton House in Westminster, London.

Leaving school at fourteen was quite common, in fact the default age from 1918 to 1947, when it was raised to 15 and to 16 in 1972. School leavers had a range of choices, from doing nothing, to helping in the family business, farm or whatever, low-paid while collar jobs, clerks, post office  etc, blue collar, e.g. car mechanics, factory hands, miners etc depending on the local job opportunities.

Leslie had several relatively short-lived jobs in the Reading area and then possibly London before he decided to emigrate. Perhaps none of them suited him which is why he decided to try a new life in Australia. (By this time his parents had moved from Lewknor to Culham a bigger school but still in Oxfordshire.) It is also thought that he had gone to live in London where he met and lived with new friends who had young relatives on the canefields at Proserpine in Queensland. What he heard fired his imagination to emigrate to Australia. In the end, the circumstances that led to Leslie leaving England are unknown but it has also been said he wanted to escape entrenched family attitudes that he found to be too controlling; it may merely have been the spirit of adventure of shaping an independent life in a new country and perhaps enthused by stories from other Old Tamensians who had moved overseas.

To Australia

Leslie sailed from England to Brisbane on the Orsova on 25 July 1925, sailing 3rd class and calling at Gibraltar, Toulon and Naples, through the Suez Canal but it appears that when they reached Fremantle the ship was affected by the British seamen’s international strike in 1925 and they were moored in Fremantle Harbour for possibly weeks and impatient to move. Despite this inconvenience those on board were sustained by the travel company. Eventually some people disembarked and moved-on including Leslie who worked his way overland from Perth to the canefields at Proserpine, before settling in Rockhampton, north Queensland in 1926. Here he worked for a time in raising poultry for egg and meat production, then working for a number of years in the sugar and cotton industries, before settling into an accountancy position with Lawrence’s, an automobile franchising business in Rockhampton. He was indeed fortunate to get the position because there were some 600 applications and he was recommended by an agency who interviewed him for a previous unsuccessful application, but had clearly been impressed with his credentials. Competition for employment was fierce not least because the economic depression that had gripped the world and had left to massive unemployment.

It was not all work and no play though: when not working he was active in local football as Captain of the Rovers team.

It had been his intention to return to England, most probably for a holiday in the mid 1930s, when the decision to marry intervened. He had saved assiduously and there was talk about taking his new bride to meet his parents and siblings in England. Leslie enjoyed the outdoor life of his new country but found the heat, unreliable heavy rains, the poor quality of many country roads and incessant attack from mosquitoes difficult at times; but there did not seem to be regrets about coming to his new abode and it would appear that he was committed to staying.

Leslie died prematurely in Rockhampton from a ruptured appendix and peritonitis on 28 Nov 1934, a few months before the birth of a son. He had only married Ursula on 2 June 1934. The underlying cause was that he had caught Leptospirosis, an infection caused by corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Leptospira. This was in the era before the development of penicillin. Being a young man with limited inheritance he left only a meagre estate. His widow Ursula soldiered on with considerable difficulty, but with substantial help from the families of her former colleagues and others who had befriended her.

In The Tamensian magazine we find two mentions of Leslie:

1932: Lesley Hughes who left in 1916 was working in the sugar and cotton industries in Queensland.

1935: the OTA received news of his death.

(With thanks to Derek Turner and Leslie Hughes’ son.)

Feb 24

William Elhanan Gascoyne

We often get asked to provide any information we have on an alumni – more so as family history is such a popular pastime! The most recent was William Elnahan Gascoyne – Gascoyne in fact being quite a popular surname in the school registers at the start of the 20 century.

The details found include:

From the Admissions Register

  • b.12 Jan 1895
  • admitted 14 Jan 1909 from Long Crendon County School, reached standard VII, entered form IV
  • father Gilbert retired manager of harness works
  • Day scholar, free place granted by governors
  • 5 terms in school, Spring 09 to Summer 10, left 27 Jul 1910
  • 1910 Oxford Local Junior Pass.

From the Terminal List

Listed termly as free pupil April 1909 to December 1910. Dec 10 entry starred in pencil as ‘not counted’ and endorsed ‘Left’. This might imply that the decision to leave in July was a sudden one.

From The Tamensian

Issue 21 April 1909

Placed in ‘Rural House’ one of 16. (This was the start of the house system “to increase local esprit de corps and promote healthy rivalry”. The boarders were divided into two houses “upon no very definite principle as yet” and the day boys between urban and rural.)

Issue 23 December 1909

Listed as member of Rural House, one of 24, placed in 3rd football set (of 3)

Unsurprisingly in view of his age, no mention in any sports team or athletics competition, including junior events. Not awarded house colours.

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