Tag Archives: Lawrence Tanner

Donald Stuart Stirling Smurthwaite

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Photograph of Smurthwaite from Lawrence Tanner’s Journal

The second of the two Old Westminsters to die on 26th October 1914 was also a Grantite at school with Lawrence Tanner. Tanner records Smurthwaite’s first day at Westminster inhis journal:

‘The first arrival was about 5.30pm in the shape of a new boy called Smurthwaite. I found him in the process of re-adjusting his ideas about a Public School. At present he is delighted with everything: the School, the House, the arrangement are all that they should be in his opinion. I took him down and showed him Hall and Chiswicks and told him he would be my fag and he seemed relieved at the mildness of my aspect and appeared surprised as he had pictured himself arising at 5.30am to make me cocoa (I can see myself at that hour drinking cocoa!). I only hope that he will not have to re-adjust his ideas again and that he may find everything in the future as pleasing as he does at present.’

He turned out to be an excellent choice as a fag. Tanner recorded that he

‘spoke to the amazingSmurthwaitetoday and told him my books didn’t seem to have been dusted this term, he said ‘oh that’sSorley, it’s really his business but I spoke to him today about it, however I’ll get my duster and do it!!’ He manages to do for his own pleasure three quarters of thefaggingof the House, always the first to answer ‘Halls‘ etc. Consequently this evening my table was dusted and arranged with mathematical precision, everything arranged in severe straight lines.’

Smurthwaite clearly did enjoy his time at Westminster and was popular with other members of the house – although it was reported that he gave ‘lectures to his Dormitory being an Imperialist on the state of the navy and they can’t shut him up’.

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A company of the Blackwatch in the trenches in 1914, wearing kilts

Smurthwaite was an active member of the Corps whilst at school, reaching the rank of Lance-Corporal. Unsurprisingly, upon leaving school hewas admittedwith a Prize Cadetship to the Royal MilitaryCollege,Sandhurst. In 1914has passed out (graduated) fromSandhurst at the head of the list, being the onlycandidate to obtain honours. He joined the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) as a 2nd Lieutenant. A number of authors state that the regiment was given the nickname “Ladies from Hell” (“Die Damen aus der H├Âlle”) by German troops, allegedly on account of their kilts and fighting qualities. The regiment went out to the Western Front in September 1914. Smurthwaite was killed in action at Ypres on 26th October 1914.

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Frederick Roger John Tomlinson

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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.

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

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Ralph Eyre Tanner

Ralph Eyre Tanner was the eldest son of Grant’s Housemaster Ralph Tanner. His younger brother, Lawrence Tanner, went on to teach at Westminster before becoming Westminster Abbey’s Keeper of the Muniments. Our knowledge of Ralph Eyre Tanner’s life and death is largely thanks to Lawrence’s journals and records, which have been serialised online.

As with Major Maitland, Ralph Eyre Tanner was an experienced soldier who had served in India. He had been promoted to the rank of Captain in 1912.

Captain Tanner’s death is recorded in moving terms in The Elizabethan:

‘From an Officer in the Regiment we learn that Captain Tanner was slightly wounded in the leg, and went under heavy fire to help a wounded Prussian Officer who shot at him and missed. Captain Tanner took no notice, but gave the Prussian his own water-bottle and bound up his wounds. He then went back for a stretcher and as he came back the Prussian shot him in the chest.’

Tanner has been married just over a year when he died. His wife, Edith, gave birth to a son, Peter, not long after his death. Peter attended Westminster School in the late 1920s and sent his son to the school in the 1970s.

Letter of condolence sent to Lawrence Tanner by his friend Captain Davidson
Letter of condolence sent to Lawrence Tanner by his friend Captain Davidson
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