The impact of the Great War on the College
While we know that all of British society was affected, often personally, by the Great War, some groups within society as a whole may have felt that impact more than others. Just how were students at the College affected? Certainly some lived in streets bombed by the zeppelin and bomber raids, and while none of the bombs were dropped on Dulwich, Ian Castle’s books in the Osprey series show that there were hits over South London where Dulwich boys lived.
I have carefully looked at the Dulwich College War Record 1914-1919 in which McCulloch Christison tried to record a biography of all Old Alleynians who died. He was helped by Captain H. F. Hose, who commanded the Dulwich O.T.C. during the war, and who tried to keep an accurate record of those serving. Christison knew that his record was not complete, but he was sure that what was published was at least accurate.
In particular, I have looked at members of the College sports teams who lost their lives, knowing the great effect that one death of a sports hero can have on a student. I have had to make some assumptions: that Christison is correct in his facts and, remembering him, I could hardly think otherwise; that 1st XV 1910 means for the 1910-1911 school year; and that 1st XI 1911 means for the 1910-1911 school year.
Every 1st XV from 1886 to 1916 lost at least one player, except for the 1889 and 1890 teams. The 1914 and 1915 teams each lost five players, the 1916 team lost four; and nine teams lost three (1893, 1894, 1897, 1898, 1899, 1900, 1905, 1907 and 1911). 41 players were killed – many had played for more than one year. Similar figures for the 2nd and 3rd XVs are not as accurate because they do not include players who would later play at a higher level, but the 1908, 1911 and 1915 2nd XVs each lost three players.
The cricket teams were not as affected – there are of course 25% fewer players. All 1st XIs between 1887 and 1916 lost at least one player, except for 1888, 1889 and 1902. The 1893 and 1894 teams lost three, and the 1915 team lost four. 24 players were killed – again, many are counted on more than one year. The 1903 2nd XI lost three players.
Ten deaths came to OAs who had played for both the 1st XV and the 1st XI, including Lt. L W Franklin who played 1st XV 1913, 14, 15 and 16, and 1st XI 1915 and 1916; he captained both in 1916. He also captained athletics, gymnastics and swimming! After Dulwich, he went through the Artillery Cadet School, and within nine months was in France with the 147th Brigade, Royal Artillery. He survived for 19 months before being mortally wounded during the final advance on Valenciennes on 16th October 1918. The other nine who had played on both first teams were:
- Major Percival Anthony (1st XI 1895-8, 1st XV 1897-8) who was killed on the Somme on July 9th 1916
- Captain Sholto Douglas (1st XI 1890-93), 1st XV 1892-93, Captain of Fives) who was killed near Cambrin on January 28th 1916
- Corporal Ronald Easterbrook (1st XI 1887, 1st XV 1886-8) who died at sea, April 12th 1919
- Lieutenant John Farquharson (1st XI 1899-1900, 1st XV 1898-1900) who was killed at Messines on November 1st 1914
- Lance-Corporal Robert Firth (1st XI and 1st XV 1904-6) who died of wounds at Mendinghem on September 26th 1917
- Major Charleton Gordon-Steward, known at Dulwich as Robin Gordon, (1st XI 1894, 1st XV 1893-94) who was killed in action in France on April 12th 1916
- 2nd Lieutenant William Gill (1st XI and 1st XV 1913) who was killed in Gaza on March 27th 1917
- 2nd Lieutenant John Paterson (1st XI 1911-12, 1st XV 1910-12) who was killed near Zillebeke on 31st October 1914
- 2nd Lieutenant Leslie Paton (1st XI and 1st XV 1915) who was killed near Arras on March 21st 1917
I believe 13 past members of the Shooting VIII, and 9 past members of the Gymnastics VI also died. Others had been members of other minor sports teams.
Of note: 38 had passed out of Sandhurst, 17 from RMA Woolwich, 5 out of RNC Greenwich and 3 from HMS Britannia. Christison also noted that 372 members of the Old Alleynian Football Club served, with 76 being killed.
To be noted also is that the Halahan family had six sons serving, two of whom were killed: Captain Henry Halahan on the Zeebrugge raid on April 23rd 1918, and Lt.-Commander Robert Halahan who died commanding submarine E 18 sometime after June 12th 1916. While each death would have had an effect on those who remembered the Alleynian, the overall effect as major sports teams began to be annihilated must have been very strong on those still at the College who looked around at their friends and wondered what fate lay ahead for each of them.
Peter Gower OA, 1953-61