Sadly, we know very little about the life of Eric James Walrond Hughes. He was born on 25th Februrary, 1892, the only son of the Rev. James Hughes, LL.D., Vicar of St. John with St. Paul, Battersea and Ethelhina Walrond, daughter of Francis Walrond Middleton Abadam, of Middleton Hall, co. Carmarthen. He joined Riguad’s House in January 1903 and left the school in July 1907. He then became a clerk in the office of the Asiatic Petroleum Company and was sent to Hankow (now romanised as Hankou), China in 1912.
He returned home in 1915 to enlist and initially served as a Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters, going out to the Western Front in February 1916. He was made an acting Captain in July 1917 and commanded the 154th Machine Gun Company. He was killed in action at Poelcapelle, Flanders on 20th September. He died unmarried.
May joined Homeboarders’ in May 1906 but migrated up Rigaud’s during his time at the school. He was athletic and was awarded pinks in his final year at the school, following a football match against Winchester. We know he weighted 11st 3lb at that time was he also took part in the final of the Inter-House Tug of War, losing to his former house. He left school in July 1909.
He started his career as a tea and rubber planter in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and on the outbreak of war enlisted with the Ceylon contingent. He served in Egypt and Gallipoli and went to France in 1916. He returned to England that year and was appointed a temporary 2nd Lieutenant in the newly created Machine Gun Corps.
The experience of fighting in the early clashes and in the First Battle of Ypres had proved that the machine guns required special tactics and organisation. The Machine Gun Corps was formally established in October 1915.
In February 1917 May went out again to France. He was killed in action near Ypres, Flanders during the Battle of Passchendaele.
Frank Jonas was a Rigaudite, joining the house in 1895 and leaving in 1898. After leaving the school he travelled to Copenhagen to study brewing and went on to become a manager of a branch brewery of Messrs. Miskin and Co. in India. In 1908 he married Maria, the only daughter of John Fell Swallow, of Mosborough Hall, Derbyshire. On the outbreak of war, he returned to England and joined the Cambridge University Officer Training Corps. He took a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Cambridgshire Regiment in October 1914. He went out to the Western Front in November 1916.
In July 1917 Jonas was commanding C company, whose soldiers were drawn from the Cambridgeshire towns of Whittlesey and Wisbech. They were in the second line of the advance that day and pushed past St Julien occupying captured bunkers – Jonas was sent with two platoons to occupy the bunker known as Border House and hold at all costs. They killed or captured the defenders and held it against successive counter attacks until ordered to withdraw. The party that remained at the end of the day was led by a Lewis gunner by the name of Private Muffett who declined to withdraw until he received written orders because those were the only conditions Jonas said that the position should be relinquished. Muffett had held the position by replenishing the drums for his Lewis gun from the contents of a knocked out Tank.
During the offensive, heavy rains and shelling destroyed the drainage system in the Ypres Salient, creating a swamp-like terrain. This meant that over 125,000 casualties, including Captain Jonas, were never found.
Jonas has two memorials in Duxford, the village where he lived with his wife in the old rectory and where his parents, George and Jane Jonas, owned a farm. The Duxford village memorial Celtic cross was unveiled in 1920 and can be found on the village green. The names on this memorial are ordered by rank and as Captain Jonas was the highest-ranking casualty from the village, he is listed at the top. There is also a plaque within Duxford Church. He has also been commemorated in Ely Cathedral on one of 16 painted oak panels in the Chapel of St George.
Norman Victor Lewis was born on the 12th March 1895. His father, Victor Erskine Lewis, was well known in the theatrical world. His mother, Edith, was of Scottish descent; her father came from Linlithgow. Norman was their only son and they sent him to Westminster in 1909.
He was in Rigaud’s house until 1912, when he left the school for Johannesburg to work as a clerk in the Standard Bank of South Africa. On the 11th March 1915 — at the age of 20 — Norman joined the 12th (Service) Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment as a temporary 2nd Lieutenant. The following May, he was transferred to the 15th Service Battalion, and then sent to France.
Norman was killed in action at Beaumont Hamel, in the attack near Serre, on 13th November 1916. An eye-witness who survived that battle — Private A. F. MacPherson — wrote in his diary of the early morning attack: “we woke before the time and waited for the bombardment. It came all of a sudden like the long roll of drums, the individual sound of the explosions being merged in one long continuous rumble; appalling to hear. One moment all had been quiet – the next everything was dominated by the crashing rumble of the guns. It was hard to believe that human beings could live through such a whirlwind of fire.”
Norman is commemorated on his parents’ grave at Kensal Green Cemetery, in the London Borough of Brent, with words from the hymn Lead, Kindly Light.
And with the morn those angel faces smile, Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!
Charles Gow was a member of Rigaud’s House from 1905 until 1908. He was the only son of the Reverend Henry Gow and his wife, Edith. He had a keen interest in Natural History, which may have developed at school; the Westminster’s Natural History Society was founded during his time at school. Upon leaving Westminster he studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge before training as a doctor at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.
He joined the navy as a surgeon, shortly before the outbreak of the war, and served on the destroyer HMS Laforey. After returning home to complete his medical training, he served with the Royal Naval Division in Gallipoli and Salonica before going to the Western Front in early 1916. He was killed while attending to the wounded near Beaucourt-sur-Ancre, France. A letter to his father from Lieutenant Commander Bernard Ellis provides further information:
I am more sorry than I can say to have to inform you of the death of your son Surgeon C.H. Gow of this Battalion who was killed in action on the 13th. He accompanied the Battalion in an attack on the German trenches, and did splendid service attending to the wounded all day long. At dusk he went out from a captured German trench to look after wounded lying in the open, and then he was hit by machine gun fire in two places. He was brought in and died of his wounds not long afterwardsÔÇªI knew him pretty well and I admired him extremely: he was so upright, honest and fearless. His last action was very typical of him, for when he was dying he wrote three notes, thinking entirely of others and not at all of himself. One note I believe has been sent to your wife; another was to direct that his medical staff should have his things and here and any parcels coming for him, the third was to recommend two of his staff for their devotion to duty — their names have been sent in for reward. I think your son was one of the finest men I have ever known, and I offer you and your wife my greatest sympathy in your loss. All the officers of this Battalion unite to praise him, and his own medical staff were quite devoted to him.
William Ash began Westminster School in Dale’s boarding house in 1883, before migrating up to Rigaud’s. He was a keen cricketer, playing for the school in the Charterhouse match. Cricket continued to be an important activity in his life after leaving the school, in 1888, for the army. In addition to taking part in military cricket, he also played for Old Westminsters, Free Foresters, the Butterflies and Berkshire and was a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club from 1896. He married Edith Learoyd, the second daughter of Edward Wright Barnett, in 1894.
His first commission in the army was as a 2nd Lieutenant in the The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (The Middlesex Regt.), in 1892. He was made a Lieutenant in 1895 and a Captain in 1900. He served in the South African War in 1902 and continued to advance through the army ranks after the conflict had finished. When the First World War broke out he had achieved the rank of Major and was serving in Malta. Ash went to the western front in November 1914 and was wounded at Loos on 25th September 1915 and invalided home. He returned to the front on 3rd May 1916 to command a Football Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment.
At 11pm on the night of the 14th September 1916 his Battalion moved forward from the village of Montauban to assembly trenches in Carlton and Savoy Trenches for an attack on the village of Flers the following day. By 1am on the 15th they were in position and at 6.20am the leading units went into the assault, led by tanks which were being used for the first time in the history of warfare. The Middlesex men moved off at 10am; as they went forward they had to shelter from enemy shelling on a number of occasions. At midday they were ordered to take up positions at Scimitar Trench and they again moved forward under fire, with the battalion split either side of the Flers Road. By this time Flers itself had been taken but the situation in the northern part of the village was obscure. The battalion resumed the attack and at 5pm they lost their Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel William Claudius Casson Ash, who fell mortally wounded, having led the attack. He died at Etaples on 29th September from his injuries.
His widow, Edith, placed an In Memoriam notice in The Times every year until her death, in her 80s, in 1955. Each year she included a different paragraph, the following is from 1926:
Noel Marshall Vernham was a member of Rigaud’s house from 1910 until he left to join the army after the outbreak of war in 1914. Whilst at the school he was an accomplished gymnast, helping Rigaud’s to secure second place in the Senior House competition and representing Westminster at Aldershot. He was also represented the House at fives and football.
Vernham’s athletic antics appear to have got him into some scrapes — in July 1913 he broke his nose, but made a speedy recovery and in November 1913 he injured an eye. He took part in the Officer Training Corps and advanced through the ranks whilst at school, helping to prepare himself for his military career. Initially he enlisted in the Middlesex Regiment, but was transferred to the East Surrey Regiment in March 1915. He first went out to the western front on 19th March 1916.
After his death his father received a letter from another member of his son’s regiment which was printed in The Elizabethan:
SIR,—With reference to the death of 2nd Lieut. Vernham, I wish to describe what I saw of it. At 4 a.m. on the morning of July 28 the regiment proceeded into action at Longueval. Mr. Vernham was then commanding No. 14 Platoon, No. 4 Company. This platoon was immediately in front of me in a communication trench, which was being very badly knocked about, owing to the very severe shelling which was prevailing at the time. Mr. Vernham, however, highly indifferent and utterly regardless of all danger, stood and walked about on top of the trench, organising and generally looking after his men. He stood on top that he might more easily do this, fully aware that every second his life was in danger, as there was no pause whatever between one shell and another. However, he was not the least disturbed, but added greatly to the safety of his platoon by moving them every moment to places of safety (such places as existed); of these, there were very, very few. About 5.30 a.m. to 6 o’clock he was killed by a very powerful shrapnel shell which burst above his head, a piece striking him on top of the head. Death was instantaneous. Owing to his bravery and zeal and continued thought of the welfare of his men, his platoon looked to him as their chief protector and thought the very world of him. It was chiefly owing to his zealousness and great care for his men that he met his death in this way. I can assure you, his loss was felt very acutely by his company, more especially by the platoon he commanded, and they offer their deepest sympathy to you in the loss of such a gallant son. His body was buried at Longueval.
Eric Hinckes Bird was a member of Rigaud’s House from 1907-1912. After leaving school he went to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. He obtained a commission just after the outbreak of the war and initially served as a Lieutenant in the City of London Regiment of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. He was invalided home after six months on the western front in which his Regiment was involved in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, the Battle of Aubers and the action of Bois Grenier. He recovered and returned to active service and subsequently became attached to the Royal Flying Corps as an Observer. He was sent out to France in June 1916.
His aircraft, an FE2b fighter, was returning from a successful bombing raid on Henin Leitard early in the morning of 26th June. As the aircraft returned home it was attacked by German Fokkers and, along with other allied aircraft, became embroiled in a frenzied fight.
Bird’s pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Riley made a forced landing near Mazingarbe but the aircraft ran into hidden barbed wire defences, turned over and was wrecked. Riley was thrown on to his head and suffered a severe concussion but he later recovered. Bird was less fortunate receiving a blow to the back, breaking and wrist and dislocating a shoulder and died of his wounds the following day.
German solider Lt. Max Ritter von Mulzer claimed to have caused the aircraft to crash.
Edward Hickman Tucker Meeson was born on 20th December 1877. He was the only son of Frederick and Emily Meeson, of Eastbourne. He was admitted to the school on 24th April 1890 up Rigaud’s.
After leaving the school in 1891, Meeson began training as an engineer. In 1894 there was a note in the Elizabethan congratulating him on passing into the Royal Navy as Engineer-Student. Between 1894 and 1899, he trained at Keyham and became Engineer Lieutenant on the 1st June 1904.
On the 28th December 1908, Meeson married Gladys May Joy, the elder daughter of George Robert Gordon Joy, and they had a daughter, Margaret. By June 1912, Meeson had been promoted to Engineer Lieutenant-Commander.
In 1914, he served on HMS Laurel in the action in the Heligo┬¡land Bight on the 28thAugust, and was present at the sinking of the Bl├╝cher during the Battle of Dogger Bank in January 1915. He was also at the evacuation of both Anzac and Cape Helles. He was promoted to Commander in recognition of his services on board the Laurel, and was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order in 1915.
He sank with his ship, HMS Defence, at the Battle of Horn Reef, off Jutland on the 31st May 1916, at the age of 38. His widow Gladys went to Johannesburg, South Africa, where she remarried 5 years later.
Wilfred was the second of his family to attend Westminster; his elder brother Gilbert had already been at the school for two years when Wilfred was admitted up Rigaud’s as a non-resident Queen’s Scholar in January 1897. When Gilbert left the school in 1899 Wilfred became a boarder.
At the age of 16, Wilfred sat and passed the entry exams to R.M.A. Woolwich. He left the school in 1900 and had worked his way up to Lieutenant by November 1904. He retired from the army in 1907 to become a journalist and worked on the staff of TheStandard and The Globe newspapers.
Following the outbreak of war, Wilfred rejoined the army as a Lieutenant in the 12th Service Battalion, King’s (Liverpool) Regiment on 1st October 1914 and was promoted to Captain at the end of December. His battalion was attached to 20th (Light) Division, which was somewhat chaotic at this early stage, and lacking in trained officers and equipment. The Division assembled in Aldershot, and were moved to Surrey before ending up on Salisbury Plain in April 1915.
They were ready to be inspected by King George V at Knighton Down and finally landed at Boulogne on 27th July. They spent some time around Fleurbaix, where they had training and their initial familiarisation with the trenches.
He was invalided home in February 1916 on account of wounds received while on active service and sent to Millbank Military Hospital, which is near the site of the Tate Britain. He died there from the effects of his wounds on 10th April 1916 at the age of 31.