Harold Embleton Macfarlane

Harold Macfarlane was the elder son of Harold and Elizabeth Macfarlane. He was born in Harrow on 11th September 1898 and spent his early years at Mr Douglas Gould’s Preparatory School, The Briary, Westgate-on-Sea.

Both his father and his mother’s brother had been educated at Westminster, and Harold arrived at the school in September 1911. Like his father, the young Harold was a Home Boarder.

Whilst at the school, Harold represented his house at Cricket, Football, Fives and the OTC. Upon leaving the school in July 1916, he joined the army. He received his commission as a temporary 2nd Lieutenant with the Royal Flying Corps on 27th February 1917. He was given his “wings” in May, and went out to the front in June.

Harold was only 18 when he was killed in France while testing a new machine on 14th July 1917.

His father, who died two years later, donated a photograph of Harold to the Imperial War Museum. He also gave them a hand-written biography, in which he describes:

“An all-round sportsman possessing a cheerful and optimistic disposition, he was beloved by all with whom he came in contact. His eighteen years of life were redolent with happy memories.”

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Roland John Howard Bull

Roland was born at 2, Hill Crest, West Hill Road in Wandsworth. He was baptised at St Peter’s, Hammersmith by the Revd. George Henry Tidcombe. Aged 12 he joined Westminster School, becoming a member of Ashburnham House and remaining until 1907. He served for a period in the army, joining the Artists’ Rifles in February 1909. He later trained as a solicitor with his father’s firm, being admitted to the profession in December 1913 and becoming a partner in the family firm, Bull & Bull, shortly afterwards.

On the outbreak of war he joined the army once more, taking a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Queen’s Westminster Rifles. In September 1915 he first went out to the Western Front and was attached to the Royal Engineers for Army Signal Service. The group had been formed in 1908 and provided a communications service throughout the war using dispatch riders on motorcycles and wireless communications. As the war went on telephones became increasingly common. Increasing numbers of soldiers were trained specially in communications. Roland was promoted to Lieutenant in June 1915 and then to Captain in 1917. He then moved to the 8th Heavy Artillery. He was killed accidentally at Canada Farm, Elverdinghe near Ypres on 13th July 1917.

His uncle dedicated a memorial to Roland at the entrance to St. Luke’s Church on the Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush.

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John Daniel Gifford

John Daniel Gifford was the third son of Robert and Annie Gifford. His father was from Colonia, Uruguay, and his mother was the daughter of Reverend Evan Eugene Hughes, Rector of Llanddeiniolen, Wales. John was born on 10th March 1872 and arrived at Westminster in April 1884. He joined Ashburnham House, and was a keen sportsman. He represented the school in both football and cricket.

After leaving the school in July 1890, John moved to Argentina for fourteen years, where he played cricket for South Argentina. His team beat North Argentina at the Buenos Aires Cricket Club Ground in December 1894.

John returned home and in July 1915, enlisted in the 25th (Service) Battalion the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). He was on active service at Retford, Nottinghamshire, when he died on 8th July 1917.

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Arthur Lindsay Maury Churchill

Arthur Lindsay Maury Churchill was born in Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, where his father was Director of Public Works. He joined the school, boarding in Riguad’s House for two years in September 1879. Whilst at Westminster he played football with some success, scoring a goal in a house match against Homeboarders. After he left the school he became a doctor at Westminster Hospital, before moving to work at Wonford Hospital, and County Asylum, Lancaster before undertaking general practice in Mevagissey, Cornwall where his mother had grown up.

Upon the outbreak of war, Churchill, then aged 49, joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was attached to the Hampshire Battalion of the Royal Field Artillery in December 1914. He was promoted to the rank of Captain and transferred to the London Irish Rifles in 1915. His Batallion was stationed in Greece in late 1916, and then sailed for Egypt in June 1917. Churchill died on active service whilst the troops were training in the desert conditions at El Sahuth.

He is remembered on a memorial Mevagissey and his name was included in WildWorks’ 100: The Day our World Changed, a continuous theatrical event from dawn till dusk, travelling from the harbour of Cornish town Mevagissey to the nearby Lost Gardens of Heligan on 3rd August 2014.

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Norman Cairns Robertson

Norman Robertson was born on the 9th January 1876 to William and Mary Elizabeth Robertson. He arrived at Westminster in 1888 where his elder brother, William Alexander, was in his final year. Their younger brother Laurence Grant joined him in 1891. The three Robertson boys were all members of Homeboarders’ House.

It is uncertain what Norman went on to do immediately after leaving the school in 1894. However, on the outbreak of the First World War, he joined the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps.

On the 20th February 1917, he became a Captain in the 2nd Battalion Royal Hampshire Regiment. During the second Battle of Arras on the 23rd April, Norman was taken prisoner near Monchy-le-Preux. He died two months later, at the age of 40, in a German military hospital at Hanover on 20th June 1917.

His eldest brother, William Alexander was the only one to survive the war; Laurence Grant had already been killed in action during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. In memory of his two brothers, William left a bequest to the National Trust, which enabled the purchase of Sutton House – a Tudor house in Hackney. William also commemorated his two brothers on the Robertson’s Corner memorial on the Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire.

Commemorative plaque at Sutton House
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Geoffrey Richard Dudley Gee

Geoffrey Gee was born in Summergangs, Pinjarra, Western Australia to Raymond Gee and his wife Annie Matilda Alderson. His father was English and at some point before 1888 had emigrated to Perth, where he was Head Master of Hales School for a year.

Geoffrey was sent to school in England, joining Ashburnham House in September 1909. He was made an exhibitioner in 1910, and a King’s Scholar in 1911. Outside of term time he lived with his paternal aunt and her husband, Dr Bernard Ley, in Earl’s Court.

Geoffrey was very successful in a range of school activities. He was athletic, winning the school fives ties and was a runner up in the gymnastic competition (losing out due to a ‘lack of symmetry in some exercises’). He played cricket and football for the 1st XIs, earning full pinks after his performance in the Charterhouse football match, although ‘he dribbled much too close on to his forwards and only passed moderately’. In his final cricket season it was commented that he had ‘persevering temper, and both with bat and with ball did better than some of his critics expected’.

Gee was academic as well, winning the Phillimore prize for translation and speaking regularly at the school’s debating society – opposing a motion to restrict the franchise in this country. He performed ‘very creditably’ in the 1913 Latin Play. In his final term at the school, Election 1915, he was made a monitor.

Although Geoffrey won a place at Christ Church, Oxford, he joined 3rd Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment straight after leaving the school. He went out to the western front in August 1916, but was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in January 1917 as an observer.

Geoffrey went up in his aeroplane near Ypres on 4th June 1917 and was never seen again. His name is on the Arras Flying Service Memorial in the Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery.

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Rolf Mayne Neill

Rolf Neill was the only son of Harold and Louisa Neill of 22 Eldon Road, Kensington, London. He was born on 7th February 1898 and arrived at the school in September 1911.

He represented his house – Ashburnham – in Football, and eventually captained the Westminster 2nd XI by the time he was in his final year.

He was a member of the school’s Debating Society. On Thursday 9th March 1916, he seconded the motion “that in the opinion of this House it is inadvisable for Great Britain to attempt reprisals for air raids.” He is recorded in The Elizabethan as arguing:

“…we had already attacked fortified towns, but reprisals would be the attacking of unfortified towns. Taking reprisals would only cause competition with the Germans, and make them more ‘frightful’ than ever. Also we have no aeroplanes to spare.”

In February 1915, he enlisted as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 3rd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, and was attached to the machine gun corps the following December. He left the school in April 1916 to join the Royal Flying Corps (Special Reserve) as a 2nd Lieutenant, and he became a Flying Officer with them in August.

In September 1916, he joined a Sopwith Squadron on the western but was only out there for a couple of months before being invalided home. He was able to rejoin his squadron in March 1917, but was killed in action near Messines on the 3rd June 1917.

His obituary in The Elizabethan reads as follows:

Mr. NEILL, the only son of Mr. Harold Neill, of Kensington, was at the School from September 1911 to Easter 1916, and was second Monitor in Ashburnham. He left School to join the Flying Corps, and after some meritorious and successful service, fell within the German lines. Our own generation mourns an excellent fellow.

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Colin Hyde Edwards

Colin was the youngest son of Lieutenant-Colonel Edwards and his wife, Mrs Hyde Edwards. He joined Ashburnham House in 1909 and spent two years at the school, before going on to Bradfield College.  On the outbreak of war, he attended the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, taking a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment in May 1915.

He was reported missing on 8th May in the aftermath of the Third Battle of the Scarpe, but it was only established in September, 1917, that he had died of wounds as a prisoner of war on 22nd May that year.  He has been wounded in action near Fresnoy and taken by the enemy to a war hospital at Shelotille, Douai.  According the press-notice on his death ‘he was only 20 years of age, and had proved himself an enthusiastic young officer of the Regiment which his father was for so long associated’.

Soldiers overlooking the town of Douai, which remained in German hands until 1918.
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Valentine Hook

Valentine Hook was admitted to the school in January 1910, joining Rigaud’s House. His father, Bryan Hook, was an artist and he grew up in Surrey. Whilst at the school, Valentine was in the Officer Training Corps and took part in shooting matches. He was also an excellent swimmer, winning the Diving Plate at the School Swimming Sports in 1913.

He left the school in July 1913 and went to Cirencester Agricultural College with a view to farming in British East Africa. He joined up shortly after the outbreak of war and became a 2nd Lieutenant in the 7th (Service) Battalion of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). He went out to the Western Front in the summer of 1915 and was wounded a year later in 1916 at Montauban. The 7th Battalion lost 174 men and 7 officers in this attack and Valentine was one of 293 who were injured.

He recovered and was promoted to the rank of Captain; J.M. Barrie’s play, Peter Pan, was popular before the war and the name ‘Captain Hook’ may well have led to some jokes.

On 3rd May, 1917, Valentine was killed in action at Chérisy, near Arras. The Third Battle of the Scarpe, as the fighting over 3rd and 4th May was named, was an unmitigated disaster for the British Army which suffered nearly 6,000 men killed for little material gain. In the Official History, Military Operations France and Belgium 1917 Cyril Falls gives the following reasons for the failure on 3 May 1917 in the VII Corps frontage:

“The confusion caused by the darkness; the speed with which the German artillery opened fire; the manner in which it concentrated upon the British infantry, almost neglecting the artillery; the intensity of its fire, the heaviest that many an experienced soldier had ever witnessed, seemingly unchecked by British counter-battery fire and lasting almost without slackening for fifteen hours; the readiness with which the German infantry yielded to the first assault and the energy of its counter-attack; and, it must be added, the bewilderment of the British infantry on finding itself in the open and its inability to withstand any resolute counter-attack.”

A Camouflaged Quarry : Between Chérisy and Hendicourt
A view across a camouflaged quarry, which is much like a battle scarred landscape in appearance. The bare trunks of damaged trees are visible in the distance. © IWM
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Ralph Louis Francis Forster

Ralph Forster was born on the 13th July 13 1898 and arrived at the school in September 1912. His father – Ralph William Elliott Forster – had been at the school before him as a Homeboarder, but Ralph junior became a member of Grantite.

He played on the school football team and took part in the Officers Training Corps, as Lance-Corporal. He left the school for RMC Sandhurst in December 1915.

On the 16th of August 1916, Ralph enlisted as a 2nd Lieutenant 1st Battalion “The Buffs” (East Kent Regiment). He went out with them to the western front in the autumn of 1916.

He was one of three Old Westminsters who were killed on the 3rd of May 1917.

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