College members remembered on Somme centenary
July marks the centenary of the start of the bloodiest battle of the Great War. Among the thousands killed and wounded during the Battle of the Somme, which lasted until November 1916, were several Sidney men. This is an appropriate moment to commemorate them, writes College Archivist Nicholas Rogers.
Among those killed on the first day of action, on 1 July 1916, was the poet Alfred Victor Ratcliffe (1907), a friend of Rupert Brooke, who fell in the attack at Fricourt, while leading his company. One of 123 casualties in three minutes of machine-gun fire, he lies in Fricourt New Military cemetery, where his grave has an additional marker erected by his family. Also killed on the first day, in the attack on Beaumont Hamel, was Sidney Todd Martin (1909), who had previously been wounded at Gallipoli. His remains were never identified, so he is named on the Thiepval Memorial. Another casualty at Beaumont Hamel was Oliver Crossley Rayner (1911), serving with the 2nd Manchesters, who were practically wiped out. Warwick Hall, who was to have matriculated in 1914, died of wounds received in the capture of Mametz on 1 July. Arthur Egerton Spencer, who had been entered for admission in 1915 but did not matriculate, was killed on the second day of the battle, and is commemorated at Thiepval, as are John Paul Bromhead (1912), killed near Pozières on 2 or 3 August, Edward Millett Mair (1905), killed in action on 3 September, Andrew Montgomery Rees (1914), killed at Gueudecourt on 18 October, and George Stuart Taylor (1911), attached to the 17th Field Ambulance, who was posted missing on 18 September.
John Maitland Stenhouse (1897), a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, who had a distinguished career as a doctor at the Union Medical College, Peking, died on 25 August in the 8th General (Base) Hospital, Rouen, of the effects of a shell splinter lodged near the spine in action on 18 July.
Lieut. George Shankster (1912) was wounded at Mametz Wood on 1 July and repatriated. Shortly afterwards, on 26 July he married Phyllis Worsdale at St. James, Grimsby. He returned to the Front on 14 September and was killed on either 9 or 10 October at Cabaret Rouge, while leading a raid. His Commanding Officer wrote: ‘He had the reputation of being a brave and fearless soldier, and we all mourn the loss of an officer who under such circumstances displayed so high a spirit and afforded so fine an example of courage and bravery.’
Reginald Hugh (Rex) Lawson (1912) had been awarded the M.C. for gallantry at Hooge on 31 July 1915. He had been wounded in that action, but returned to the Front in June 1916, to be killed by shell fire on 24 August while working with a digging party in front of the lines on the Somme. His grave is to be found in Dantzig Alley British Cemetery, Mametz.
James Hiscock, the Head Porter from 1912 to 1932, serving as a Sergeant-Major in the Suffolk Regiment, was wounded in July, but recovered and transferred toward the end of the war to the R.A.F. He died in 1953, aged 82, so his wound does not appear to have had any long-lasting effect on his health. However, Clennell Anstruther Wilkinson (1902) died prematurely in 1936 after a long illness, his constitution evidently undermined by the large lump of shrapnel left in him after he was wounded on the Somme.
Another survivor of the Somme was Sidney Rogerson (1912), whose memoir of a spell of front-line duty on the Somme, Twelve Days, first published in 1933, is a remarkably evocative account of the conditions under which men fought. ‘Life in the trenches was not all ghastliness. It was a compound of many things; fright and boredom, humour, comradeship, tragedy, weariness, courage, and despair. Those who were lucky lived, and every six or nine months saw most of their friends die’.