Tag Archives: First Battle of Ypres

Denis Duncan Philby

Whilst at school Denis Duncan Philby lived in the shadow of his older brother Harry St. John Bridger Philby. Harry Philby was Captain of the School and elected to Trinity College Cambridge with the junior Samwaies scholarship. A talented cricketer, Harry went on to become a well-known Arabist and father to Kim Philby, the infamous 3rd man.

The 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers at Aldershot in 1914
The 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers at Aldershot in 1914

Comparatively we know little of Denis Duncan Philby’s short life. He joined Ashburnham House in 1903 but later moved to Grant’s, presumably so that he could board. He took part in a House debate stating vociferously that he disapproved of Oliver Cromwell’s policies, particularly those towards Ireland. The football report notes that he ‘was very good at pushing his way up the touchline and at times surprised us by scoring goals’.

He joined the army well before the outbreak of war, joining the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1910 (presumably there was some family connection with Ireland). He was attached to the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers on August 18th 1914 and went out to the Western Front a few days later.


On the 27th August the 2nd Battalion was chosen to form the rear-guard to cover the retreat of the 1st Division during the Battle of Mons. The 2nd Battalion suffered large casualties losing 9 officers and 87 other ranks whilst many more were taken prisoner. They stemmed the German forces who were five or six times their strength for over a day, allowing their division to escape. When the scattered battalion reassembled on 29 August it was down to a mere 5 officers and 196 others. New recruits were co-opted over the next two months to bring the battalion back up to size.

The next action took place at Klien Zillebeke, near Ypres on November 12th, defending against the last major German offensive in the First Battle of Ypres. It was here that Philby was killed in action. He is buried in the New Irish Farm Cemetery in West-Vlaanderen, Belgium

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Frederick Roger John Tomlinson

Tomlinson after winning the Greaze in 1909

Frederick Roger John Tomlinson attended Westminster from 1905 to 1910, boarding inGrant’s for a number of years with Lawrence Tanner, whose diaries tell us a lot about Tomlinson’s time at the school. He was not really one for sports, but he did make a stir winning the Greaze two years in a row, even appearing on the front cover of the Daily Graphic after the second victory. Tanner also tells us that he broke a window in Grant’s with a snowball, and got into a number of fights while he was at the school.

At Trinity College, Cambridge, he continued to make an impression where he was apparently an ardent motorist, originally driving a car the Elizabethan reported as being “of dubious make and more dubious date; it is bizarre”. Later in his time at Cambridge, he rowed for his college and focused more on motorbikes, which he was very passionate about. In 1912 he is described as sporting a very impressive moustache, though sadly we have no photographs of him from this time.

We know that Tomlinson was first involved in the army through the cadet corps at Westminster, in which he was made a Lance-Corporal, in November 1908. He received a commission and went out to Belgium early in the war, probably landing in Zeebrugge on October 6th 1914, as part of the 1st Battalion, the South Staffordshire Regiment. The Division they were with was tasked with assisting with the defence of Antwerp, but the city was already falling to German forces when they arrived. Instead, they aided with the evacuation of the Belgian army, before moving to Ypres.

Tomlinson was killed on October 26th, just a few days after his 23rd birthday. Casualties at that time were incredibly high, and there was confusion surrounding his fate. He was reported in The Times as wounded, and the Elizabethan of June 1915 says this: “In October he was reported missing. It is now known that he was wounded, and while he was on the way to the field hospital, was struck by a shot or splinter and killed.” He has no known grave, and is commemorated with 54,000 others on the Menin Gate in Ypres.

Grants in 1909. Tomlinson is in the centre, behind the housemaster.

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