Tag Archives: The Somme

Harold Leofric Helsdon

Harold Leofric Helsdon was born on 18th November 1896. He was the eldest son of Horace John Helsdon, an architect, and Flora, the eldest daughter of W. Franklin Dickson. He was admitted to Ashburnham House as an exhibitioner in September 1910 and made a monitor in Lent Term 1914.

Harold was made Head of Ashburnham in Play 1914, and although he was not an entirely successful Head of House, he seems to have been reasonably well-liked. His successor wrote the following, rather equivocal, account of Harold’s year as Head of House in the Ashburnham Ledger:

“Helsdon had a great many natural advantages, but he made very little use of them during his last year. He was clever to a very high degree and probably his last year’s behaviour here will cause him much regret and sorrow. Helsdon was extremely good-natured and pleasant to get on with in House matters. In the matter of punishments etc. I consider him to have been scrupulously fair and justÔǪ Helsdon was not much use at games, but he was decidedly keen on them and set the House a good example which I believe has been well followed. Financially Helsdon left the House slightly in debt which should not have been the case ÔǪ Finally I trust and hope that Helsdon will have greater success in his future. He is at present in the Inns of Court OTC and expects a commission shortly.”

(J.L. Strain, Lent 1915)

After leaving the school at Easter 1915, Harold entered the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps. He became a 2nd Lieutenant for the 3rd Battalion (Reserve) Dorsetshire Regiment on the 28th July of that year. He was attached to 1/7th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and went out to the western front in June 1916, where he acted first as bombing officer, and afterwards as intelligence officer.

The Royal Warwickshire Regiment resting during Battle of the Somme 1916
The Royal Warwickshire Regiment resting during Battle of the Somme 1916

Just a week after his 20th birthday, on the night of the 25th and 26th November 1916, Harold was killed in night patrol work near Butte de Warlencourt.

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Norman Victor Lewis

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!

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Charles Humphry Gow

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 afterwardsÔǪI 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.

German barbed wire entanglement at Beaucourt-sur-Ancre after the village was captured on 14 November 1916, by 63rd (Royal Naval) Division during the closing phase of the Battle of the Somme.
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D’Arcy Algernon Cuthbert Dillon O’Flynn

D’Arcy O’Flynn was born on the 12th November 1885 to John James Dillon O’Flynn, of Kensington, and Elizabeth Louisa, the eldest daughter of George William Lowe, of Southampton, Hampshire. Unfortunately, when D’Arcy was 9 years old, his family was caught up in scandal.

His parents had married in Madras in 1876 and were living in Houlgate, Dulwich. However, John had been systematically swindling two women — Emma Eliza Bevan and Hetty Michell — out of hundreds of pounds, by claiming to be investing their money in white lead and iron ore companies. Posing as a single man, he had made advances on both women, and even went so as to promise marriage to Miss Michell. Hetty Michell called the wedding off upon discovering the existence of John’s wife and family, but John told her that “the woman you are pleased to call Mrs. O’Flynn is not my wife, and has nothing to do with me”. John O’Flynn was found guilty of fraud and was sentenced to five years’ penal servitude on the 23rd July 1894.

The devastating impact of this scandal upon D’Arcy and his sister and three brothers — not to mention their mother — is uncertain. However, five years later, D’Arcy and one of his brothers, Albert, found themselves at Westminster School. D’Arcy joined Ashburnham in 1899, and left in July 1902.

In December 1906, D’Arcy emigrated to Canada, where he became a farmer. He enlisted in the 47th Battalion Canadian Infantry in May 1915 and was promoted to Sergeant that December. He went out to the western front July 1916 and was at the Canadians’ first major battle of the war at Courcellette, Somme. On the 10th November, D’Arcy was wounded in action and he died the following day — the day before his 31st birthday.

Medical orderlies tending to the wounded in a trench during the Battle of Courcelette
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William Claudius Casson Ash

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:


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Victor Roundell George Biddulph

Victor Biddulph was the only son of George Tournay Biddulph and Lady Sarah Palmer, youngest daughter of Roundlell, 1st Earl of Selborne. He was born on 24th May 1897, after his parents had been married for over a decade. He shared his birthday with Queen Victoria, who insisted that the baby should be named after her. Victor was baptised the week following the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in Henry VIIth Chapel, Westminster Abbey.

Victor’s paternal uncle had been at the school in the 1850s, so it was natural that he should also attend Westminster. He joined Grant’s House as a half boarder from September 1911 until Easter 1914. He was probably planning on joining his father’s bank, or perhaps he intended to practice law. Either way, he joined the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps in 1915 and became a 2nd Lieutenant the 5th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade on 11th August 1915. His parents were keen supporters of the Ham & Petersham Rifle Club so his choice of regiment is perhaps unsurprising.

The following year Biddulph was attached to the 8th Battalion and went out to the western front on 12th July 1916. He was killed in action on the Somme, near Flers aged just 19. His body was not found, but a gravestone was added at the foot of his mother’s grave — she had died in 1910.


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Stephen Arthur Herbert Codd

19160909_Codd,SAHStephen Codd was the only son of Arthur and Florence Codd of West Hampstead. He was born on the 24th October 1891, and was admitted to Homeboarders House as a non-resident King’s Scholar in 1905.

He was a keen public speaker, regularly participating in the Debating Society. On 17 February 1910, Stephen argued in favour of Vivisection: he “fluently demonstrated what benefits had been conferred upon mankind by vivisection, and indulged in some rather gruesome detail.”

In his final year at school, he won first place in the Orations — a public speaking competition — and was commended for his “sweeter voice” and was “word perfect” in the final performance of a passage from Isaiah predicting the fall of Babylon.

Stephen left the school in July 1910, and entered the office of the High Commissioner for South Africa, Herbert, 1st Viscount Gladstone. However, after three years, Stephen decided to take holy orders, and went to King’s College London, where he gained the Wordsworth Latin Prize in the Intermediate B.D. Exam, in 1914.

In September 1914, he enlisted in the Universities and Public Schools Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, and was made 2nd Lieutenant, 11th (Service) Battalion, Gloucestershire Regt in the December of that year. He was attached to the 7th Battalion and went out to Gallipoli on 24th September 1915. That November, Gallipoli was hit by a great blizzard; Stephen suffered from frostbite and was invalided home.

After his convalescence, he went out to the western front on 24th August 1916, where he took part in the attack at High Wood. The plan was to use tanks later on in the month, and Stephen’s regiment was preparing the way by attempting to penetrate into the German trenches. Stephen was the only officer of his battalion to succeed in doing so, but he was never seen again.

In June 1917, the King’s College Review quoted a letter that Stephen’s Colonel wrote: “The regiment attacked on the 9th and your son gallantly led his men into the enemy’s lines but were driven out by superior numbers. Your son was last seen at the head of his men… he was a brave splendid officer and at once made himself popular with his brother officers and men.”

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