Tag Archives: Officer Training Corps

James Hamilton Spence

James Hamilton Spence was the only son of Hamilton Robert Spence and his wife Constance (whose brother was also an Old Westminster). He joined the school in 1911 and was admitted into Grant’s House.

He was exceptionally athletic. He took part in gymnastics, fives, racquets, swimming, athletics and football whilst at school and also became a Lance-Corporal in the school’s Officer Training Corps. He won the Under 15 High Jump and Long Jump for his house and The Elizabethan noted that ‘Spence showed exceptionally good athletic ability for a boy of thirteen, his Long Jump has only been beaten twice in the last sixteen years.’

The school’s magazine also reviewed his performance on the football pitch. A report of the Town Boy’s match against the King’s Scholars states that ‘Spence was the better of the backs, but kept too far up, and was apt to muddle his halves.’ During the 1914-15 football season it was noted that he ‘played with dash’ and that ‘Spence improved greatly and was very useful. He kicked and headed reasonably well, and always tried to put the ball to one of his own side, and he learnt to anticipate where an opponent was likely to pass. His worst faults were keeping a little too far up the ground, and at times a curious hesitation in getting rid of the ball when on the defensive.’

On leaving the school he went to the Royal Millitary Academy at Woolwich, joining the Royal Artillery as a 2nd Lieutenant in October 1915 and served on the Western Front. In 1917 he became attached to the Royal Flying Corps. He took off on the evening of 16th July 1918 and his aircraft was last seen going down in flames near to Courthiézy whilst attacking a Halberstadt 2-seater enemy plane. The Elizabethan noted that he was ‘a lad of high character and fine physique’ and ‘did excellent service before he was brought down in the enemies’ lines.’

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Henry Lionel Storrs

Henry Lionel Storrs was the second son of Harry Townsend Simons Storrs, Head Master of Shirley House Preparatory School and his wife Clara. He attended his father’s school, before obtaining a King’s Scholarship to Westminster in 1912. Henry was actively involved in many elements of school life. He won his full pinks for rowing, was a corporal in the school’s Officer Training Corps, and helped his house with the Singing Cup in his final year at the school. His obituary in The Elizabethan noted that his ‘high character was thoroughly appreciated’ at the school.

In 1916, Henry was elected to a scholarship at Trinity College Cambridge with both Triplett and Samwaies prizes. However, instead of going to University, he took a commission in the Royal Flying Corps in August of that year. He first went out to France as an observer in January 1917. In July of that year he returned to train to become a pilot, completing his course in November. In December 1917 he returned to France and served successfully until June. On 15th June he was wounded in a fight with ten enemy aeroplanes, but managed to make his way back to allied territory and to safely land his aircraft in the aerodrome. He was sent to the Duchess of Sutherland’s Hospital, near Arras where he died on pneumonia five days later.

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John Ernest Vivian Rathbone

Rathbone was a well-liked pupil whilst at the school. He joined Ashburnham House in May 1911 and stayed at the school until the age of 17, leaving at Easter 1915. The Elizabethan records that ‘he showed great energy and in his regiment he was a very effective and particularly popular officer. At School he was a football Pink and Company Sergeant Major in the Corps.’ He was also active within his house, serving as a monitor in his final year. His Head of House recorded in the Ashburnham ledgers that it was ‘…clear that Rathbone was a really good chap and I liked him immensely. He was senior NCO in the corps his last term and he did a great deal for the House in this line. He was immensely keen on all games. He was rather wild in his nature… he was however, I believe a true sportsman out and out.’

On leaving school Rathbone joined the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps. He received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion of the Dorset Regiment in June 1915. He was severely wounded at the Somme in July 1916 but quickly returned to the front. He was killed in action near Arras in 1918.

Rathbone was the younger brother of (Philip St John) Basil Rathbone, who survived the war and found fame as an actor, perhaps best known for playing Sherlock Holmes. When asked about his brother’s death in later life, Basil stated that he had instinctively felt his brother’s death at the moment that he was killed. He wrote the following passage in a letter to his family on 26th July 1918 following John’s death:

‘You ask how I have been since we heard, well, if I am honest with you, and I may as well be, I have been seething. I was so certain it would be me first of either of us. I’m even sure it was supposed to be me and he somehow contrived in his wretched Johnny-fashion to get in my way just as he always would when he was small. I want to tell him to mind his place. I think of his ridiculous belief that everything would always be well, his ever-hopeful smile, and I want to cuff him for a little fool. He had no business to let it happen and it maddens me that I shall never be able to tell him so, or change it or bring him back. I can’t think of him without being consumed with anger at him for being dead and beyond anything I can do to him.’

John Rathbone, centre, with elder siblings Basil and Beatrice.
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Arthur Charles Lionel Abrahams

Arthur Charles Lionel Abrahams was the only son of Sir Lionel Abrahams, K.C.B. and his wife Lucy. He was admitted to the school as a non-resident King’s Scholar in 1911 and was based in Grant’s House. Arthur was Jewish, and his faith may have led him to become an honorary scholar, rather than residing in College.

He excelled at the school and took an active role in the Debating Society. In 1915 he seconded the motion ‘That in the opinion of this House the present situation renders Conscription imperative’ and the school’s magazine, The Elizabethan records that:

‘with the help of a great many statistics, informed the House that there were at least one and a half million men who were able to join the Forces. Conscription, he considered, would be fairer and more economical all round. As to the ‘volunteer worth three conscripts’ fallacy, Napoleon practically conquered the world with a conscript army. He said that the Opposer’s views were those of a sentimentalist, and, after informing the House that he knew twenty-seven slackers, sat down.’

Arthur was also heavily involved in the Officer Training Corps, where he made a ‘very efficient sergeant’.  On leaving school in July 1916 he was elected to Christ Church, Oxford. However, he chose to join the war and took a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Cold Stream Guards later that summer. He went out to the western front in February 1917 and joined the 3rd Battalion of his regiment there. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in December and was killed in action the following year on 13th April 1918.

An excerpt from his obituary in the Jewish Chronicle, published in June 1918 read as follows:

‘The Commanding Officer with whom he served during the greater part of his service abroad has written to Sir Lionel Abrahams, “I knew your boy well and was commanding the battalion when he joined. He was most popular with all ranks, and he was particularly fearless……….Arthur was a Coldstream Guarder through and through. He fought like one and he died like one.” The colonel commanding the Guards wrote: “The regiment can ill afford to lose men like him”, and from the ranks there has reached his family the equally prized message: “The boys would follow him wherever he wanted them to.”

After he had been reported missing his parents learned that he fell on April 13th, when England lost a gallant son, Anglo-Jewry one of the most promising of its youngest generation, and his immediate family the joy of their hearts.’

You can read more about Arthur here:

https://www.jewsfww.london/arthur-charles-lionel-abrahams-1496.php

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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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