In the entrance lobby of King Edward VII School in Sheffield, there are a number of photographs of former pupils. On one side are the recent colour photographs of the whole of the Year 11 Group covering the preceding six years; the sixteen years olds who may be leaving or more likely staying on into the Sixth Form. On the other side are five quite different photographs of pupils from long ago, decked out in their football gear or their cricket flannels. They are a few of the annual team photos, taken every year until 1940, of the 1st XI at both games, and presumably those few on display were originally selected at random to represent many more that now languish in the archives.
They show boys about to become men, who were trying, perhaps a little too hard, to strike the fashionable pose of the day that marked them out as the sporting heroes of the school. My eye is always drawn to two particular team photos, both of them of cricket sides, one from 1913 and the other from 1939. For these boys, their seasons became significant, not so much for their success or failure with the bat or ball, but because of when they played. For many years I looked at those faces and wondered what happened next to those two generations who, unlike mine, were torn away to serve on numerous battlefields and in many cases inevitably give their lives.
In 2002 I was surprised to be invited to write the history of "King Ted's", which was due to celebrate its centenary in 2005. Three years and 450 pages later we launched the book at the Centenary Celebrations before a rather distinguished audience of Old Edwardians and past and present staff. It had been one of the most fulfilling and agreeable tasks I have ever undertaken, because, suffice to say here, this school has a history whose diversity few could match. It started life in 1905 as an amalgamation of two much older institutions, one going back to 1604, and at the beginning it was an exclusive boys' fee-paying school, later becoming the best performing LEA grammar school in the country. Now, it is a successful co-educational comprehensive school serving a wide social spectrum of students, and doing it with some style and considerable academic achievement. The whole story was a privilege to write, but it also enabled me to do some research on those old team photographs, especially 1913 and 1939.
I tracked down what happened to almost every one of the players in both sides, and it was as humbling and poignant a story as I had expected. Half the boys on the 1913 photo had been killed in the First World War, two of them on the first day of the Somme, when at least twelve other Old Boys lost their lives. On the headstone on the grave of one of them, who lived in a house at the bottom of my own road — a house he would instantly recognise now if he could return — his parents had arranged to be carved, "Halleluya! The Lord God omnipotent reigneth!" as if they welcomed his entry into heaven. Others have no grave and are commemorated on the Thiepval or Passchendaele memorials and some are buried in those small, well-manicured British cemeteries often situated on an old front line where the men were killed. There was Private R H B Mathews, a doctor's son, who went to help dig out a comrade who had been buried alive. Later, when rescued, the soldier related to Mathews's parents that, "while your son was clearing an air hole his hand found mine, and with a strong grip on it, assured me that he would get me out. At this moment I heard a loud bang and his hand went limp in mine ". Another shell burst had hit him and his short life was over. In the same battalion, the Sheffield City Battalion, the 12th Bn. York and Lancs Regiment, killed on the same day was 2nd/Lt E M Carr, one of the star sportsmen of the battalion. The correspondent in the school magazine for July 1913 had written, "Gives promise of being a good cricketer. " This would never be, nor would 2nd/Lt. F M Marrs, who was the first boy at KES to score a century in an inter-school match, ever realise his cricketing promise. He won a Classics scholarship at Peterhouse, went to Sandhurst instead and then was commissioned in the Worcesters and was killed in 1917.
One boy on the photo — one says boy but he looked a mature adult already — was William Penrose Taylor, who was the Head Prefect in 1913. He won a Mathematics Scholarship to Queen's College, Oxford, and before he joined up had already proved himself as one of the finest mathematicians at the University. Who knows where he would have ended up if he had survived. In 1917 he led his platoon of local lads into the German trenches and took the position. While consolidating, he was injured but only agreed to return to the RAP when he had fully secured the position. Walking back across no man's land a sniper killed him outright. His mother and sister, in 1922, established the school mathematics prize dedicated to his memory. It is still awarded annually, and recently the winners of the prize have been made aware of why it was created.
The three Head Prefects who followed Taylor, George Holmes 1914, Duncan Thornton 1915 and Bernard Robinson 1916 were also all killed leading their platoons in attacks on German positions. Thornton is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Robinson at Tyne Cot, Passchendaele, but only Holmes has a grave. It is at Wancourt near Arras where he fell in the Battle of the Scarpe in 1917, and the original cross that marked his burial plot hangs to this day on the wall of Hathersage Parish Church
Not all the cricketers on that photo perished on the Western Front. Corporal A E Budd won the Military Medal and returned home to play for the Old Edwardians C.C. So did Captain Alfred Bagnall MC, who had started a theology course at Durham University in 1914, but, appalled by what he saw on the Western Front, abandoned the course and his religion when he returned home to Rotherham, where he continued to work for many years for the Borough Council. Flight Lieut. Fred Ambler who had transferred from the infantry to the fledgling RAF also survived, despite serving as an artillery spotter flying above the battlefields of Artois and Flanders. Ambler had captained that 1913 team and was described as, "a tower of strength, a wonderfully safe bat and an excellent captain ". He played for many years in the local leagues between the wars and no doubt considered that reward enough.
The Team of 1939 fared better than their forbears of 1913. Only two of them were killed in the Second World War, although the school lost 110 former pupils between 1939 and 1945, more than in the Great War. All the team members served in the forces, but in a far wider war their stories of military service are much more varied than those of the boys of 1913.
Mr Titchmarsh, S H Holmes, E Allsop,
R Stamp, Dr. A. W. Barton (Headmaster), G R Gilfillan, J K Olivant, P J Gunter,
Mr L A Waghorn;
K C Hutton, T R Buckley, P J Wheatley (captain), L W Fletcher, W E Wigley.
Photo courtesy of Dorothy Buckley, names via Eric Allsop
on back say:
"King Edward VII School, Sheffield England, 1st XI Cricket team,
T. R. Buckley 2nd from left, front row. Standing centre Dr. A. W. Barton, Headmaster, former international soccer referee."
Ken Hutton was an opening bat who headed the averages that season with 300 runs. He flew from carriers in the Fleet Air Arm, while Tom Buckley, Captain of Football that year and a more than useful bat, flew with the RAF and ended the war leading a squadron of Beaufighters in Coastal Command. in 1954 he emigrated to Canada and died there recently. The RAF was a popular choice of service among boys leaving the school. The glamour of an Irvine jacket and the promise of a chance to take the controls of a Spitfire, blinded many to the danger of what became, for the British, the new killing fields of this second world conflict. Both of the Old Edwardian cricketers who were killed, along with half the names on the school war memorial, were aircrew. Leslie Fletcher was the school's star bowler in the 1939 and 1940 seasons. His haul of 115 wickets for the two seasons set a new record for the school. He was killed in a training accident when his plane crashed in Bulawayo, in what was then Southern Rhodesia, and never got the chance to complete his studies at Brasenose College at Oxford when the war was over.
Ross Gilfillan, the very popular Captain of Football in the 1940-41 Season, did go up to Cambridge and even won a war-time "Blue", before training to be aircrew with Bomber Command. On the night of 13th/14th February 1945 he was a navigator in a Lancaster that was part of the huge force that bombed off the face of the map, the untouched, baroque city of Dresden, on the banks of the Elbe. The great majority of the RAF planes came home that night but not Ross Gilfillan's, the swing bowler and middle order batsman who in the summer of 1941 had scored a graceful 76 against the Headmaster's XI, and also taken 8 for 16 against Repton.
That team of 1939 almost certainly will have expected a war, unlike the boys of the 1913, but two of them cannot have imagined where that war would take them. Peter Wheatley was the Head Boy for two years between 1938 and 1940 and, in 1939, was the Captain of the KES Cricket XI. In his wildest dreams he could not have guessed how he would spend the next few years. After a year at The Queen's College, Oxford, he was called up in the Royal Artillery and sent off to the Far East just in time for the surrender to the Japanese. He spent the next three and a half years as a Japanese POW, and when he returned he was almost unrecognisable to his former school friends because he was so emaciated. He recovered, became a Life Fellow of Queens' College, Cambridge, a Senior Proctor of that University, and later a visiting professor at several foreign universities, including Minnesota, Arizona and Natal.
The youngest member of the team of 1939 was Eric Allsop*, who still lives less than half a mile from the school. He lives about the same distance from the Whiteley Woods ground where the school played its matches on its bizarre wicket on a raised plateau, surrounded by a steeply sloping outfield that included a tree within the boundary. A year later during the Sheffield Blitz of December 1940 he won the King's Commendation for his brave actions supporting the ARP during the raids themselves. Three and a half years later he found himself with a R.E. Assault Engineers' detachment as one of the first Allied soldiers on the Normandy Beaches on D-Day. His unit's task was to defuse the mines on the underwater obstacles positioned in the sea off Juno Beach where the Canadian 3rd. Division was about to come ashore. Later in the day he would meet another Old Edwardian, whom he has never met since, who was calmly sketching the scene on the beach in his role as an official war artist.
The story of the Old Boys of KES in both wars is not unique. The school that I attended had a Memorial Hall with four long bronze plaques containing the names of the dead of 1914-18 and 1939-45. It was not lost on us that there was plenty of space for our names, if the Cold War with the Soviet Union ever became a live conflict. Every school in Britain mourned the loss of so many promising young men, from the most exclusive public schools (over a thousand Old Etonians were killed in the First World War) to the back street elementary schools like Western Road in Crookes (now called Westways and a feeder school to KES), whose carved wooden war memorial contains sixty-four names, several of them decorated soldiers. It was a situation that was replicated in all the schools of all the combatant nations of the Twentieth Century's wars, none would have escaped the appalling slaughter and for a few countries it was a far worse sacrifice than Britain's. My generation was uncertain how we would cope if, as seemed likely, war were to engulf us. It didn't and we are eternally grateful.
J C Cornwell
* Ron Spencer believes that Sid Holmes was younger than Eric Allsop: "Sid was my best friend at King Teds and was in the 1936 Scholarship class of 2D. We were joined by Eric in 3A and 4B but the paying pupils were in general a year older. As an example, when my tenure came to an abrupt end on the night of the Blitz I was still only 15 whereas Eric was in the ARP and therefore 16+. Sid was a natural sportsman picked in the soccer second X1 at 13 (his body swerve sent me the wrong way every time in house matches) and was subject of much headshaking from staff about the effect on his studies but he was still higher than me."