Tag Archives: Officer Training Corps

Randle William Gascoyne-Cecil

Randle William Gascoyne-Cecil was born on the 28th November 1889 to a high-profile family.

His father, Rupert William Gascoyne­-Cecil, was the Bishop of Exeter. Rupert was admired for his loving personality, but earned himself a reputation for eccentricity. On one occasion, he surprised a guest by throwing powdered copper sulphate on the fire to turn the flames green!

His mother was Lady Florence Mary Bootle-Wilbraham, daughter of Edward, 1st Earl of Lathom. She was nicknamed “Fluffy”. Randle’s grandfather was Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil.

Randle arrived up Ashburnham in January 1903. He was followed by his three younger brothers Victor Alexander, John Arthur and Rupert Edward Gascoyne-Cecil. There were also three sisters: Eve Alice and Mary Edith, who were twins, and Anne.

Randle’s career at the school was interrupted by a significant absence due to illness in 1904, and he was unable to return until February 1905. He left the school in the December of that year.

In 1908, he matriculated at University College, Oxford, where he was involved with the Officer Training Corps, with the Cavalry Squadron. But he was sent down from the university for throwing rocks through the windows of Balliol College.

After that, Randle worked successively as a secretary, a journalist, and an actor. He appeared in plays at the Gaiety Theatre, London in 1914, and toured America with the actor George Gossmith. In June 1914, he married Dorothy Janaway, but the marriage was short-lived. He divorced her in July 1915.

Meanwhile he had emigrated to Vancouver, where he worked as a car repair assistant for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He enlisted in the Rocky Mountain Rangers, and returned to the UK with the second Canadian contingent in February 1915.

On the 11th July 1915, Randle’s youngest brother, Rupert was killed in action near Ypres.

Randle himself was eventually sent out to the western front with the Scottish Canadians in April 1915. He became a 2nd Lieutenant with the Warwickshire Royal Horse Artillery on the 13th June, and he returned to England upon obtaining his commission. He went out again to the western front in February 1916. He sustained injuries on two occasions while he was there, in July and September.

At some point during 1916, Randle re-married. His second wife was Elizabeth Claire Turner, the daughter of George Turner of Birmingham.

He was promoted to Lieutenant in July 1917, and attached to a Trench Mortar Battery. During the same month, he was injured a third time.

Randle was killed in action at Masnières on the 1st December 1917. Seven months later, his widow Elizabeth gave birth to their daughter, on 29th July 1918. She was called Anne Mary.

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Harold George Fairfax Longhurst

Harold was the youngest of four brothers, all of whom attended Westminster School.  There was one of the Longhurst siblings at the school from 1885 until 1907, when Harold left.  Harold was in Homeboarders’ House and from 1902 was an exhibitioner.

Harold took an active interest in many areas of school life.  He was a Lance Sergeant in the Cadet Corps and on the Committee of the Debating Society.  He often spoke at meetings, proposing the motion that ‘in the opinion of this House the encouragement of Minor Sports at Westminster is not detrimental to the welfare of the rest’, and opposing the motion ‘That this House disapproves of Vivisection’.

He also played sport at the school, playing initially for his house cricket team.  In a house match against Ashburnham in 1906 he scored 46 runs and bowled out three members of the opposing team.  He went on to play for the school’s 1st XI and received half-pinks.  In his final year he was made Head of House.

We do not know what he did immediately after leaving the school, but on the outbreak of war he joined the army, taking a commission as a temporary 2nd Lieutenant in the 6th Service Battalion of the Berkshire Regiment in September 1914.  He rose swiftly through the ranks and was a Captain by the time he first went out to the Western front in July 1915.  He was wounded in 1916, but returned to action.  He was acting Lieutenant-Colonel when he died during an attack by his battalion on the village of West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.  It had been raining for two days prior to the action and the ground, churned up by shellfire, had become a quagmire making movement difficult.

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Edmund Davison

Edmund Davison’s first years at the school were spent in the shadow of his elder brother, Ralph, who was two years above him in Rigaud’s.  Once his brother had left, Edmund came into his own.  He excelled at sport, playing for the House team, initially described as a ‘useful and speedy half though not a polished player’.  He rose to the 2nd XI and finally appeared in the 1st XI in his final year at the school, receiving full pinks.  He won the 300 yard race at Athletic Sports, with a time of 36 2/5 seconds, leading most of the way and winning ‘fairly easily in average time’.

Edmund was particularly valued in the house as a recruiting sergeant for the Officer Training Corps, getting 14 boys to join in his first term alone.  He rose through the ranks here and ended his school career as the head of the school’s force, the Company Sergeant Major.  He was also appointed a monitor, Head of House and elected Head Town Boy.  His last at school was tinged with sadness though, as his elder brother was killed in action on 9th May 1915.

Edmund joined the army immediately upon leaving the school and took a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Sussex Regiment.  He was sent to the front with the 12th Battalion in June 1916 and invalided home wounded in October 1916.  Upon his recovery, he returned to the front in July 1917.  His death was reported in The Elizabethan:

Mr. DAVISON, the youngest son of Mrs. Davison, of Gordon Square, was at the School from April 1910 to Christmas 1915. His loss is much regretted by the present generation, who remember his zeal and efficiency as an Officer of the Corps. He was wounded soon after going to the Front, but recovered and returned. We have before had to record the death of his elder brother, and we feel deeply for his widowed mother in her heavy loss.

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John Loudon Strain

John Loudon Strain, known as ‘Jack’ to family and friends was the eldest son of William Loudon and Dorothy Maud Strain. He joined Ashburnham House in September 1910 and remained at the school until 1915, when he left, with a scholarship, to attend Trinity College Cambridge. Whilst at the school he was active in the Debating Society and the Scientific Society. In January 1915 he gave a paper to the latter society on ‘Diseases of Plants’ in which he showed ‘a very thorough knowledge of his subject, which he illustrated with large diagrams on the board’

His ambition was to train as a doctor, but he was also determined to play his part in the war. Initially, as a medical student, he was refused a commission, but he managed to obtain a post as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery Special Reserve. He went out to the Western Front in September 1916.

Whilst on leave from the front he visited the school to give a lecture to pupils in the Officer Training Corps within the school.

He was killed in action at Frezenberg, Flanders when he and a fellow officer and signaller were caught in the German barrage.

Jack Strain’s family have produced an excellent website, which commemorates his life and includes transcriptions of letters written by Jack, and those sent to his parents following his death. A letter from his fellow soldier, Lieutenant A. W. Cockburn is particularly poignant:

‘Nobody could help loving Jack, even people who saw him only occasionally. It took a very short time to size him up as the most perfect little gentleman in his unvarying cheerfulness, his thought for others and contempt of danger when occasion demanded it, and the wonderful way in which he lived up to a wonderfully high ideal of thought and word and deed.

Those of us who knew him intimately in Ypres can hardly believe he has gone. He was the life and soul of the Mess, always joking and playing like a child, and yet most efficient as an officer and hugely respected by the men.’

You can read more here: http://www.jackstrain.co.uk/

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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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Richard Radford Turner

19170203_Turner,RRRichard Turner was the only son of Reverend Richard Turner, Vicar of Barnstaple, Devon, and Lydia Lucy, the daughter of Daniel Radford of Tavistock, Devon. He was born on 29th March 1986, and was sent to the school in 1910 as a King’s Scholar.

He played both cricket and football, representing the King’s Scholars as goalkeeper: he was described as doing “all that was necessary in goal, though at times rather slow in clearing”.

In the 1913 Latin play — the Andria — he played the role of Simo, and received the following review:

“The part offers such temptations to an actor to roar himself hoarse and the audience deaf, and Mr. R. R. Turner did neither of these things. He put some real emotion into Simo. His anger was the more credible, because restrained. He left himself plenty of scope within which to work up to the climax of indignation, with the result that he sustained the interest and kept his voice. Moreover his movements were easy, restful and dignified.”

Richard was an accomplished writer; he was the winner of the 1914 Duke of Devonshire’s Essay Prize that was open to all Public Schools, and he also won the Gumbleton Prize for English Verse with his poem on Icarus.

He was involved in the Officer Training Corps and shooting, and was successful in the practical examination — Certificate A — in March 1914.

He was awarded the school’s Triplett Scholarship when he left the school in December 1914, and he went on as a scholar to New College, Oxford.

He enlisted as 2nd Lieutenant, 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment on the 20th January 1915, and was attached to the 12th (Service) Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment. He landed at Le Havre in March 1916, but was wounded on the 9th and 27th of April. He returned to the western front in December 1916. Richard was only 20 when he was killed in action near Vlamertinghe on 3rd February 1917.

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Douglas Morley Griffin

The Elizabethan records that Douglas Morley Griffin was ‘the only son of the late William Hall Griffin, the biographer of Browning, was admitted a King’s Scholar in 1903, and left on his father’s death in 1907. He was a boy of character, and faced misfortune with the courage which he afterwards showed in war.’

Griffin had proved a successful athlete whilst at Westminster, representing the school in gymnastics, although his performance on the parallel bars was once described as ‘disappointing’. He was also in the Officer Training Corps and took part in shooting competitions, exceeding the school’s ‘highest hopes’ with an excellent performance at a training camp at Bisley in 1907 leading to promotion to the rank of Lance-Corporal. Upon his father’s death it clearly became impossible for his mother to pay the fees necessary for him to continue in his education. In order to support his family he joined an architect’s office, Harris and Hobson, in Liverpool, his mother’s home town. He attended Liverpool University School of Architecture and became a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1910. He was elected Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1914.

On the outbreak of war Griffin enlisted, becoming a Lieutenant in the King’s Liverpool Regiment in November of 1914 and going out to the Western Front in 1915. His sister also joined the war effort and worked as a nurse in Rosslyn Lodge in Hampstead from 1916 and we know that Griffin gave her a photograph album to record her experiences.

We know little about Griffin’s death. His battalion were involved in the Battle of Albert, an offensive which formed part of the Battle of the Somme and ran from 1st-13th July. The French Sixth Army and the right wing of the British Fourth Army inflicted a considerable defeat on the German Second Army but from the Albert—Bapaume road to Gommecourt, the British attack was a disaster where most of the c.ÔÇë60,000 British casualties were incurred.

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Officer Training Corps

PARADES take place this term on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. The Friday Parade is devoted to Company drill, the platoons being organized in houses. Much practice has been obtained in close order company drill by those Cadets who are leaving, and we think that they have improved a good deal. It appears that they are better in the position of Company Commander than in that of Platoon Commander, and we should like to suggest that they devote more of their attention to the perfecting of their words of command in the latter position.

The Monday and Tuesday Parades are carried out under House Commanders, the system working side by side with that of football house leagues. This is the arrangement we have had before in the Lent term, and its popularity has justified its working also in the Play term. All the same, the C.O. does not bind himself to adhere to this system always, nor even for the whole of this term.

Shooting has been in full swing on the Tufton Street miniature range, kindly lent to us on three days a week by the Royal Fusiliers. It is hoped that our time may be extended to four days a week before very long. Much as we appreciate the kindness of our neighbours in placing this range at our disposal at certain times, we look forward somewhat vaguely, but none the less anxiously, to the time when we shall have our own range. The vast amount of shooting which has to be got through at our present strength would be much more easily organized if we could have a range entirely under the control of the Corps.

A Field Day was arranged against Cranleigh for Thursday, October 28. We hoped to go down to Chilworth and carry out some manoeuvres on Blackheath—our usual battleground. We woke up to the sound of dripping rain, which had evidently been going on most of the night. It was wisely decided to cancel the arrangements, and we now have the event to look forward to. The date, as far as we know, is not refixed, but we hope to have better luck with the weather next time.

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Slackness in War-Time

THERE have been many signs lately that seem to betray a growing slackness up Fields, a steady falling-off in the interest which should be accorded to games. This has been manifested in various ways : failure to cross one’s name out on the games’ lists, an omission which causes immense trouble ; a disinclination to play football at all on the part of the boys high up in the School ; a wretched attendance, or rather lack of it, at matches, and, as a correspondent points out in this issue, a painful lack of enthusiasm in those who are on the ground, which contrasts vividly with the interest and excitement displayed by the ‘railings.’

This spirit may be charitablyattributed to the War, the universal scapegoat. It is hard nowadays to concentrate even on work, when other work is going on elsewhere that seems so much more engrossing, so much more vital. And it is certainly doubly difficult to find the necessary enthusiasm and energy for games ; indeed many acutely feel the incongruity of their employment when they go up Fields in footer’ change, and have to pass along Victoria Street with its ample numbers of men in khaki, and perhaps a recruiting sergeant hovering near. Now we can only do this without misgiving, and we can only play games as they should be played, with heart and soul, if we are obsessed by the conviction that we are doing the right thing ; and there is no doubt that we are doing the right thing.

If there is one thing this War has made manifest, it is the worth of that much-maligned being, the Public School Man. We cannot be accused of undue pessimism, we think, when we say that the Public School Man is still in great demand, and is likely to be for some considerable time. Therefore the supply must equal the demand. ‘Very true,’ says our advocatus diaboli, ‘but are games necessary at the present time ? ‘We might content ourselves with pointing out that games are an integral part, and no unimportant one, of that system which has produced the men who are so lightheartedly and efficiently officering our armies. But what else can be suggested in their place ? Some form of physical exercise is necessary, especially in London. What about the corps ?’ says our imaginary opponent with commendable promptitude; let us devote all our energy to that, and play no games at all.’ Now this is a specious argument, and the rejection of it would seem to imply a lack of patriotism ; but we do riot think it sound or practicable, although such questions of course must eventually rest in other hands than ours. If we were in the country, and could devote unlimited time to field work, or even if we were so efficient in our drill that we could pay proper attention to physical exercises, then perhaps the question might be considered. By all means take every care that games do not interfere with military duties, which must be paramount nowadays, but, nevertheless, carry on with the games.

All of us, no doubt, have marvelled at the popular catch-word, ‘Business as usual,’ and thanked God that England has not been doing her business as usual during the past year. No ; our duty is to do our business with ten times more zeal than usual, with ten times more energy, with ten times more conviction.

And let us not be deterred by its nature. Whether it be military duties, the most congenial business, or work in School, which is work after all, as we, no doubt, say subconsciously to ourselves, but also if it be games, let us put our whole soul into it, as surely as some day we hope to put our whole soul into a grimmer and more exacting game.

From The Elizabethan, November 1915

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