We know very little about Walter Vivanti Dewar Mathews. He was born in Wandsworth in 1878 and joined the school at the age of 12 in 1890. He was a pupil in Grant’s house, but is only mentioned twice in the house’s magazine, The Grantite Review, both times in connection with ‘Yard Ties’ – games of rackets which took place in the house yard, where Grant’s Dining Hall now stands.
After he left school there are nearly four years which are not accounted for, but on 23rd June 1898 he took a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. He served in South Africa between 1899-1901 in the Boer War and continued his career in the army after returning home. In October 1914 he was promoted to the rank of Major.
He died on 9th December from wounds received in action on the previous day. He left behind a wife, Marie Laure. He was buried in Rocquigny-equancourt Road British Cemetery Manancourt, France. The school appears to have been unaware of his death until at least 1960. His name was added to the school’s war memorial at some point before 1989.
John Ince Liberty was born on 26th January 1888. His parents were John Barnes Liberty, an Old Westminster and wine merchant, and Elizabeth Ann (née Ince). He was the only son, but he had two sisters, Gwendolen and Dorothy.
He arrived at the school in September 1901. He started out in Ashburnham, but moved to Grant’s House in 1903. He opted to study the “Moderns”, joined in with the Literary Society readings, and in 1904, was a finalist in the Football Yard Ties.
He left the school in July 1905 “to the sincere regret of all” and went to become a cattle farmer in Argentina.
While at home on holiday, he enlisted with the Honourable Artillery Company on the 8th of August 1914. He served in Egypt with B Battery, but was invalided home.
On the 22nd October 1915, John became 2nd Lieutenant with the Royal Field Artillery, and went out with them to the western front in April 1916. By July 1917, he had been promoted to Lieutenant.
He was killed in action near Ypres, Flanders, on the 28th November 1917.
John Herbert Williams was in his late 50s when the First World War broke out. He had a well-established career as a Barrister and Judge, he was appointed a reporter on the staff of the Law Reports in 1911, and was one of the editors of ‘Smith’s Leading Cases,’ brought out several editions of ‘Goodeve’s Personal Property’ and collaborated in a book on ‘The Law of Ejectment.’
Williams had been successful at school, joining Grant’s in 1869 and passing the Challenge in 1872. He remained a Queen’s Scholar at the school until 1876, when he was elected to Trinity College, Cambridge with the prestigious Triplett Scholarship. He was athletic at the school and rowed in the 1st VIII and played for the football 1st XI
Anxious to take a share in war service, he applied for and received a commission and went to France to take up the appointment. He was then 60 years of age. Soon after arriving in France he was taken ill and invalided home. He died in the war hospital at Reading.
Ralph Cecil Batley was born on the 2nd December 1862. He was the son of John Batley, of Somerset, and Louise Marie, daughter of James Bonsor, of Lille, France. Ralph was admitted to Grant’s in January 1872, following his brother John Armytage Batley.
While he was a pupil here, he played football. The Elizabethan records that he “did useful work” representing the school against Charterhouse. He went on to study at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was admitted as a pensioner in October 1881.
He continued playing football whilst he was at university. A couple of years after leaving the school, in November 1883, he returned to Westminster, bringing a team of players to play football against the school team (which Ralph’s team won 2:1).
He was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn on the 26th January 1882, and was admitted a solicitor in 1887.
Ralph went out to South Africa. He joined the Salisbury Horse volunteer force, and served with them in the First Matabele War in 1893. He also served with the Rhodesian Horse during the rising of 1895-7. He returned to England in 1897, where he joined the Dorset Yeomanry. During the South African War, he served with the Imperial Yeomanry, but was wounded at Diamond Hill 12 Jun 1900.
Following his injury, he was employed as Civil Commissioner for Pretoria and district. He was made Honorary Captain on 26th Jul 1901, and was mentioned in despatches L.G. 10 Sep 1901. By April 1902, Ralph was promoted to the rank of Major.
On the 14th June 1904, Ralph married Mabel Gwynnedd Terry-Lewis, an actress from a successful acting family. Mabel’s mother, Kate, had also been an actress and was the elder sister of Ellen Terry. Mable retired from her own successful stage career to begin their quiet married life together at Seaborough Court in Dorset. By 1911, the couple had moved to Benville Manor, Corscome, Dorchester.
When his regiment was ordered to Gallipoli, Ralph was declared medically unfit for foreign service. Instead he was given command of 3rd line Dorset Yeomanry battalion.
However, his ill-health meant that he had to retire in January 1917. He was awarded a TD for long service, and died at Silton Lodge in Wiltshire on 23rd October 1917.
After Ralph’s death, Mabel returned to the stage in 1920. She went on to resume her career on the stage and on film. Famously, she appeared as Lady Bracknell opposite her nephew John Gielgud in The Importance of Being Earnest in 1930.
Leonard Davies Looker was the only son of William Looker, of Westminster, and Katherine, daughter of John Price Davies, of Knighton. He was born on 16th September 1888 and was admitted up Grant’s in September 1900.
In 1902, Leonard came second in the U13 120 Yards Race, and gave a good performance at the high jump. He was tanned “for messing in dormitory, not owning up and lying” and “for sending John round to Master’s when he had been fagged to go himself.” He gave a strong performance against the much older W.T.S. Sonnenschein in a game of racquets: “Looker started with a long lead in spite of all his physical disadvantages, but Sonnenschein gradually wore him down.”
He left the school in December 1906 and became a member of Lloyd’s in 1911. On the 21st September 1916 Leonard married Molly, the elder daughter of Richard John Davies, of Poynder’s Road, Clapham Park. Soon afterwards, he joined the army.
He enrolled as 2nd Lieutenant, 5th Battalion, Royal West Surrey Regiment on 19th December 1916 and went out to the western front in January 1917. He was killed in action at Klein Zillebeke, near Ypres, on 1st August 1917.
John Collinson Hobson was born on 27th August 1893. His parents were Thomas Frederick Hobson, a barrister, of Kensington, and Mary Innes, the daughter of John Borthwick Greig, of Hampstead, who was Writer to the Signet.
John’s elder brother, Frederick Greig Hobson, was up Grant’s between 1905 and 1910. John joined him at the school in September 1907, where he took part in the shooting, boxing, OTC, football and cricket teams.
At the meeting of the Debating Society on Friday 15th December 1912, John proposed the motion ‘that this House deplores the existence of a privileged social class’: “Mr. J. C. Hobson in a few faltering and somewhat incoherent periods pointed to the extremes of wealth and poverty. In every civilised country the wealthy classes were not only idle and luxurious but effete and barriers to all progress. He concluded a sentimental speech by a fervent appeal to the members of the Society ‘to slay the drones of the community, to push the demon of Wealth over the precipice back to the infernal abode from whence it came.’” The motion was lost by 7 votes to 13.
He was head of Grant’s over the uneventful year of 1911-12. In the house ledger, he summed up his first term as follows: “nothing of importance occurred this term. There does not seem to be much talent either for work or games in the house. But many of the younger people are promising. At least it appears there will be no big rows this year.” And his second term “was distinguished by the absence of influenza or any similar epidemic” and by the fact that “there were no rows of any quality”.
He was elected to Christ Church, Oxford in July 1912, and he matriculated in Michaelmas to study History.
He enlisted as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 12th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment) on the 12th September 1914. After having been promoted to Lieutenant in February 1915, he went out to the western front in April 1915. He was attached to Machine Gun Corps, 116th Company in July 1916.
John was killed in action during the Third Battle of Ypres, on 31st July 1917, near St. Julien. His commanding officer later explained that John had been “selecting a position for his guns – deep in the German lines – when he was killed instantaneously by a German shell”.
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.
Wilfrid James Nowell was the only son of the artist, Arthur Trevethin Nowell and Lucy Helen Daniel. He attended Westminster School for a brief period from April 1910 until December 1912 and boarded up Grant’s.
Wilfird showed great potential as an artist. In a biography of his father, Arthur Trevethin Nowell, Christopher Mosley writes:
Some years later Augustus John (1878–1961) called to see his artist friend. His attention was drawn to paintings by Wilfrid. A proud father would tell the story of the day his son took off with one of his canvases and oils to paint a Scottish river in spate. Unaware of the venture Nowell was astonished at the result. The painting took pride of place in his home, never to be disturbed. John expressed a wish to have been equally talented when so young, a politeness perhaps, but, without question, Wilfrid was blessed with a fine natural gift.
We do not know what Wilfrid did immediately after leaving the school, but following the outbreak of war he enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles. From there he obtained a commission in the 460th Howitzer Battery of the Royal Field Artillery. He was initially posted in Egypt in November 1915, but was transferred to the Western Front in March 1916.
His regiment took part in a number of battles from 9th April to 16th May now collectively known as the Battle of Arras. British troops attacked German defences near the French city of Arras and achieved the longest advance since trench warfare had begun. When the battle officially ended on 16 May, British Empire troops had made significant advances but had been unable to achieve a breakthrough. Wilfrid was killed in action on the first day of the attack.
James Montague Edward Shepherd was born on the 2nd December 1895. He was the only son of Montague James Shepherd and Therese Louise, daughter of V. Cazabon, of Paddington.
He was admitted to the school in April 1910, and started off in Home Boarders, but switched to Grant’s at the beginning of Play 1911.
He elected to take the ‘Modern’ subjects instead of the ‘Classics’, and was an active participant in the Debating Society. In March 1914 he argued, alongside R. R. Turner, that “the man of science is of more use to the community than the man of letters” — a motion that was lost by 10 votes to 9.
He earned himself a Shooting Pink in 1912-13 and was made Captain of Shooting. In Election Term 1914, according to The Elizabethan, he “won the Brinton Medal with the fine score of 61; considering the wind, it was a praiseworthy performance”.
His behaviour at the school was not wholly positive, however, as the Grant’s House Ledger records in 1914:
“A distinctly unpleasant incident occurred at the end of this term, when Shepherd who had been ragged a good deal during the term, suddenly lost his temper and broke Hodgson’s jaw. As it was considered to have been done in a fit of blind rage and with no premeditated malice, no steps were taken and the matter was allowed to drop. Hodgson’s Jaw next term had completely recovered.”
Shepherd left the school in 1914 “desirous of entering the Royal Flying Corps”, and matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge. In January 1915, he enlisted as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 15th (Service) Battalion Rifle Brigade and went out with them to the western front the following September. He was promoted to Lieutenant in November 1915, and then to Captain a year later. He achieved his aim of joining the RAF as a Flight Commander R.A.F. on the 6th December 1916.
He was reported missing in action at Bixschoote, near Ypres, on 15th February 1917 at the age of 21. By July, he had been confirmed dead.
Sigurd Dickson was the youngest son of Sir John Frederick Dickson, who had also been a pupil at the school. Sigurd was in Grant’s House from 1897-1902. He played football and cricket for the school — a review of his performance over the 1901/2 season was printed in The Elizabethan:
S.A. Dickson played at his very best against Charterhouse. He lacked weight, but was neat. As was the case with most of the team, he could not face adversity.
Upon leaving he became a District Commissioner in West Africa, and subsequently in South Africa. Later he worked in business as a rubber-planter in the Federated Malay States; rubber production was a large growth industry due to its use in the manufacture of car tires.
Sigurd returned home on the outbreak of the First World War and became a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery. He was attached to the 102 Brigade and went out to the western front with them in 1916.
On 15th and 29th November 1916, Haig met the French commander-in-chief Joseph Joffre and the other Allies at Chantilly. An offensive strategy to overwhelm the Central Powers was agreed, with attacks planned on the Western, Eastern and Italian fronts, by the first fortnight in February 1917. Early in 1917 troops were assembled in the area in preparation for the attack. British determination to clear the Belgian coast took on more urgency, after the Germans resumed unrestricted submarine warfare on 1st February 1917. Sigurd was killed in action near Ypres on 1st February.