On 1 July 2016, Sherborne School will commemorate eight of its former pupils who died in the fighting on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Henry Robinson King, a Classics teacher at Sherborne School, described the 1 July 1916 in his diary as ‘Cold and objectionable till 4, then fine.  Watched some cricket in the afternoon in half a gale of wind from West.  Walk after tea.  Country as usual after rain, indescribably sweet.’  Little did he know that 300 miles away the Somme Offensive, one of the largest battles of the First World War, had begun.

King, HR

Henry Robinson King (1855-1935) taught at Sherborne School from 1883 to 1925.

That day the British suffered over 57,000 casualties, including more than 19,000 men killed.  Amongst the fallen were eight Old Shirburnians (follow the links to their entries in the School Book of Remembrance):

The youngest of the eight Old Shirburnian fatalities that day was 19 year old John McGowan who had left Sherborne the previous summer.  John had arrived in France with the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment on 20 May 1916 and was killed less than 6 weeks later.  His body was never found and his name is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial along with those of 72,194 officers and men who have no known grave.  After the war, John’s mother donated £5 towards the School War Memorial which was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield who also designed the Menin Gate.

John Spencer McGowan (1897-1916).

John McGowan (1897-1916).

Amongst the Old Shirburnians who survived the Battle of the Somme was Charles Hudson VC, CB, DSO, MC.  Charles attended Sherborne School, from 1905 to 1910.  By 1 July 1916, he was a 24 year-old Lieutenant in charge of a company in the 11th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters.  He described his experiences that day in his journal.  ‘At dawn the huge, unbelievably huge, crescendo of the opening barrage began.  Thousands and thousands of small calibre shells seemed to be whistling close above our heads to burst on the enemy front line.  Large calibre shells whined their way to seek out targets further back, and shells from the heavies, like rumbling railway trains, could be heard almost rambling along high above us, to land with mighty detonations way back amongst the enemy strong-points and battery areas behind…  The march to Berlin had begun!’

Charles Edward Hudson (1892-1959). At the age of 26, he was one of the youngest Old Shirburnians to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Charles Edward Hudson (1892-1959), one of the youngest Old Shirburnians to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

However, Charles soon discovered that the German lines had not been badly damaged.  He came upon ‘the Brigade trench mortar officer, and went to get the latest news from him.  To my disgust I found he was not only very drunk but in a terrible state of nerves.  With tears running down his face, and smelling powerfully of brandy, he begged me not to take my Company forward.  The whole attack he shouted was a terrible failure, the trench ahead was a shambles, it was murder up there…’

By the end of the day, Charles recorded the devastating losses incurred by the 11th Sherwood Foresters: ‘Out of a battalion of 710 men, including the transport men and 10 per cent who had been left out of the battle, we had lost 508 men.  Out of 27 officers, 21 were killed or wounded.  Only one other officer who entered the battle, besides Bartlett and me, survived unwounded.’

Sherborne School War Memorial

Sherborne School War Memorial & Books of Remembrance.

A full account of the role played by Old Shirburnians during the Battle of the Somme and throughout the First World War can be found in Patrick Francis’s book Vivat Shirburnia: Sherborne School and the Great War, 1914-1918.  Copies are available from the School reception and from Winstone’s Bookshop, Cheap Street, Sherborne, Dorset.

Vivat Shirburnia by Patrick Francis

Vivat Shirburnia by Patrick Francis.

Sherborne School’s Roll of Honour is available online via the Old Shirburnian website.

 

Rachel Hassall, Sherborne School Archivist.

27 June 2016.