Author's Note: As I was completing the drafting of this article towards the end of June 2016, I was acutely aware that precisely 100 years before, the great bombardment by the British Army that preceded its Somme offensive was reaching its crescendo and tens of thousands of British and Commonwealth troops were making their way to the deadly frontline for the opening attack on 1 July 1916. Of that total of men, a few thousand were South African troops, many of whom were destined to perish in the Battle of Delville Wood less than three weeks away. As a teacher at my oId school, Maritzburg College, I am especially interested in its 27 alumni who fought and died in that great battle a century ago, as well as the other battles of the Great War. This article, then, looks back and acknowledges the precisely 100 young men who were nurtured at or taught at KwaZulu-Natal's oldest boys' school and perished in that great; four-year struggle.
College's Memorial Tablet, unveiled in 1882 in honour of
the eleven Old Collegians who died in the Colonial Wars of the 1870s.
Often known simply as 'College', Maritzburg College was founded in a carpenter's shop in March 1863, when the founding headmaster, Mr William Calder, opened the doors of his new village school to 33 'colonial ruffians', as he so memorably described them years later. Over the following 153 years, the school has built up a rich heritage, at least some of which was forged on numerous battlefields scattered around the world. Its martial tradition dates back to 1873, when Maritzburg Foundation Scholar, Trooper Robert Erskine of the Natal Carbineers, was killed by the amaHlubi at Bushman's Pass. The school's badge of a crossed assegai and carbine, its colours of red-black-white, and its motto of Pro Aris et Focis all date back to the colonial conflicts of the late 1870s, especially the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. In January of that year,! seven past pupils of the old Pietermaritzburg High School were killed at Isandlwana, prompting the then headmaster of the school, Mr R O Clark (the 'Mighty Clark', as he was known to some admirers), to erect a memorial tablet in their honour, that is today displayed in the foyer of the old boarding house that carries his name. It was from the Latin tribute inscribed on that memorial, penned by Clark himself, that the school's motto was, in due course, derived. Indeed, the school's complete Roll of Honour, which is made up of the names of 261 Old Collegians (OCs) killed in all wars, is an enviable one of which the school is justifiably proud, even if it is, of course, a tragic one too.
In the First World War, the then still rather youthful Maritzburg College - it turned 50 in March 1913 - offered up 800 of its past pupils for service in the South African and imperial forces in the fight against Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany. This tally was no mean feat, given that only 1 919 boys had ever been entered into the old admission book by the time war broke out on 4 August 1914. The martial culture in the fledgling Colony of Natal was clearly a strong one, and the old boys of Maritzburg College - like those of other traditional all-boys' schools in the Colony - flocked to join up and to 'do their bit' for King and Empire.
The names of scores of the 800 Old Collegians who fought in the war were sewn by the headmaster's wife, Mrs Barns, onto two Union flags, which are, these days, prominently displayed in the school's Victoria Hall, itself a former military hospital. One must also remember that it was not only the past pupils of the school who went off to fight, but six of its teachers too. The staff common room at the time was a rather sparsely populated place, and the departure of such a high proportion of his teachers on active service would have placed enormous pressures on the then headmaster, Mr E W 'Pixie' Barns. Sadly, half were destined not to return, with Privates Christian Ludwig Fischer (1 South African Infantry), Donald Morris and William Mitchell Reid (both from 4 SAI) all being killed on the Western Front.
In the end, 97 OCs and the three teachers already mentioned paid the ultimate price in the conflict. When one examines their personal details, one is immediately struck by how many of them suffered violent deaths at the hands of the enemy. For me, there was, during my preliminary research, something rather gruelling about typing out so many entries that included the words, 'died of wounds' or 'missing in action'. The latter phrase was an especially chilling one in the context of the First World War, as it insinuated death by shellfire, the likelihood of total obliteration, and a graveless end.
Lest we forget...
What of the social backgrounds of the 97 Old Collegian casualties? Not surprisingly, a number of the prominent men of the Colony at the time sent their sons to Maritzburg College, its oldest boys' school, and the roll of service of the 800 OCs who fought in the war includes the surnames of many so-called Old Natal Families (ONFs). Thus, surnames like Acutt, Alexander, Boast, Drew, Forsyth, Groom, Harrison, Payn, Shaw, Shepstone, Tomlinson, Vanderplank, Whitelaw, Wolhuter etc. Abound amongst the lengthy service lists contained in the wartime school magazines.
In the column in the old admission book detailing the occupations of the boys' fathers (and of the 97, we have the details of 79 of them), we find twenty men of the professional classes (including eight lawyers, two doctors, two accountants, two engineers, two men of the cloth and one headmaster - alas, the 'Mighty Clark' himself)) and 15 who were civil servants. Amongst the latter group we find men of such standing as the Clerk of the Assembly (the fathers, respectively, of 2nd Lt David Blackie Robb of 4 SAI and Pte Arthur Royle Payne of 2 SAI), the Clerk of Works (the father of Lt William Harold Binnie of 206 Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF), but previously of the Royal Scots Regt), the Controller of the Government Savings Bank (Lt Edwin Albert Pope of 8 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps (RFC)), the Controller of Post & Telegraphs (Lt Stephen Trevor Beckerleg of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry), a future Provincial Secretary (Pte Leslie Plowman of 2 SAI) and two colonels in the army (2nd Lt Aylmer Templer Wales and the grandly named L/Cpl Arthur Charles Lyster Alexander Chalmers Duff of 4 SAI). (I add, as a matter of interest, that the unfortunate Pope was shot down and killed over the Somme in 1917 by the German air ace, Leutnant Werner Voss.)
Lt Edwin Albert Pope,
Royal Flying Corps.
A further 19 Old Collegians were the sons of farmers, some of whom were also prominent members of the Colony, like the father of Lt Patrick Evelyn Smythe of the Black Watch, who had been the Prime Minister of Natal in 1905 to1906, and 2nd Lt Kenneth Keir Struben of 4 SAI, who was the son of Mr W C M Struben, CMG, of Charlestown. Amongst the sons of ONFs, we find two Trafford brothers from Kilmore, Rosetta (Lt Edmond Thyrkel Trafford of the Norfolk Regt and Capt Geoffrey Thomas Trafford of the 1st Life Guards), a Phipson (Pte Rochfort Lindley Phipson, who was killed while with 2 SAI at Bernafay Wood on the Somme), a Hosken (2nd Lt Victor Frederick Hosken of Bulwer, the son of Col C V Hosken of the Natal Carbineers), and a Geekie (2nd Lt 'Archie' Geekie of the RAF).
A total of twelve of the College Old Boys who died were the sons of miscellaneous managers, merchants and brokers, but it is perhaps the thirteen boys who were the sons of tradesmen, storekeepers and the like who are somehow more interesting. Of this baker's dozen of men who were from a perhaps more modest social stratum in the Colony, I found it especially noteworthy that in those socially conscious times three of them had earned commissions.
Second Lieutenant Henry Albert Salter joined the officer cohort of the London Regt, despite his being the son of a barkeep living at 62 Loop Street, and 2nd Lt Charles Leonard Kelly was an officer in 204 Squadron, RAF (having, to begin with, been commissioned into The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment), although his father had been a tailor from 236 Loop Street. I add that the father of 2nd Lt Robert Gibb Miller (2 SAI), a former Natal rugby player who was killed in action at the Battle of Delville Wood, had been a blacksmith in Braid Street.
Second Lieutenant Robert Gibb Miller, 2SAI, the former Natal rugby player
killed in action at the Battle of Delville Wood .
Amongst the Old Collegians themselves we find a smattering of scholars and sportsmen of renown, but of course many run-of-the-mill, 'ordinary' Maritzburg College boys. Only one dux student was killed (Geoffrey Trafford of 1913), as well as only one head prefect (Geoffrey's older brother, Edmond, of 1910 and 1911), and one Old Boy, who had been captain of both rugby (in 1908 and 1909), and cricket (in 1909). The two Trafford brothers on the Roll of Honour were half of a quartet of brothers who all enjoyed successful careers at the school. Notably, the oldest of the quartet, Edward Le Marchant Trafford, is the only boy in the history of College to have attained the 'royal flush' of being (in 1905) the head prefect, dux, and captain of both cricket and rugby. As already mentioned, Geoffrey was commissioned into the 1st Life Guards, the most senior regiment in the British Army, and was killed in action in France on 23 July 1918, while attached to 9th Battalion, Tank Corps. He was 22.
The multi-talented sportsman of 1908 and 1909 was 2nd Lt Norman Lindley 'Rosie' Watt of 53 Squadron, RFC, late of King Edward's Horse, who, whilst still a schoolboy, represented Maritzburg against the touring Transvaal XV. As was stated in a newspaper article published shortly after his death, '[t]o his school fellows he was a miracle, and it is not too much to say that few schoolboys have ever had such a profound influence for good.'
Not surprisingly, Rosie was in 1911 awarded the Natal Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, but was unable to complete his degree following the outbreak of war. Interestingly, his brother, 2nd Lt William Watt, was the Natal Rhodes Scholar for the following year and served in the same squadron. An aerial observer, Rosie was killed after the pilot of his aircraft was killed in combat with the German ace, Leutnant Ernst Hess. Seated behind his dead colleague, he had landed the aircraft using the rudimentary controls available to him. He died of his wounds shortly after being taken to a first aid post - it is said that he held on until William arrived at his bedside before he died.
Another scholar of renown killed in the war was 2nd Lt Norman Carey Lucas, whose father was the architect who designed the Pietermaritzburg central post office in Langalibalele Street. Norman was described by his former headmaster, Mr Barns, as being one of the finest scholars of his generation, and, having secured a home exhibition scholarship to the University of Edinburgh, he had just been awarded a Carnegie Scholarship when war broke out. An officer in the Royal Irish Rifles who served in the Dardanelles (Galli-poli), Serbian and Macedonian campaigns, Norman died from wounds received in Patrol Wood, Salonika, and is buried in Macedonia.
Second Lieutenant Norman Carey Lucas,
one of the finest scholars of his generation at the school
Another all-round sportsman was Lt Garnet Edwin Driver of the 8th South African Horse, who had played first-class cricket for Griqualand-West and rugby for Wasps, and who, having been mentioned in dispatches, died of his wounds in September 1916 at Kissaki in East Africa.
Second Lieutenant John McKenzie Ross of 2 SAI, from Reitz in the old Orange River Colony, who died at Arras at 12 April 1917, had been the SAI middleweight boxing champion. Second Lieutenant Lawrence George 'Lolo' Ross of the 7th Dragoon Guards (Princess Royal's) was a farm boy from Nottingham Road, who was described as 'one of the finest polo players in South Africa.' He died of his wounds on the Somme in May 1917.
Second Lieutenant John McKenzie Ross, 2 SAI,
the brigade's middleweight boxing champion.
The school, at the time of the outbreak of war in August 1914, was a small one, and the eventual size of the OC casualty roll of 97 names is all the more remarkable given that there were only 241 boys on the school roll in mid-1914. If the same proportion was applied today, 525 of the present day Maritzburg College boys would be killed - a frightening number! Interestingly, the greatest number of boys killed who were all at the school at the same time was 31, in 1908, which is a fraction over 12% of the entire school at the time.
The school's casualty toll in the war started off mercifully slowly in 1914, with the death in that year of only one OC, Rfm George Jenkin Waters, serving in the 1st South African Mounted Rifles. He was killed in action at Sandfontein in German South West Africa. In 1915, four Old Collegians were killed in action - all officers in imperial regiments - three on the Western Front and one, 2nd Lt Charles Nicholas 'Charlie' Hathorn in the 3rd Dragoon Guards/Loyal North Lancashire Regt, at Gallipoli. Charlie was the son of another Foundation Scholar, Judge Kenneth Hathorn, who was to lose a second son, Capt Walter Blaikie Hathorn (MA) (Cantab), in the Second World War.
The War intensifies
Not surprisingly, the highest number of casualties suffered in a single calendar year was in 1916, especially around the great Somme offensive from 1 July onwards. A total of sixteen Old Collegians were killed in July of that year (eleven at the Battle of Delville Wood alone), and a further ten in October (nine of those at Butte-de-Warlencourt, also on the Sam me) as the great British-led offensive flared up one last time before finally petering out by 18 November. A total of 27 OCs died during the four-and-a-half months long Battle of the Somme.
'College Boys at the Front' (Front page of the The Natal Witness, 16 December 1916).
Taken in northern France a few days before the start of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916,
by the time this group photograph of Old Collegians appeared in the newspaper,
a number of these men had been killed, a grim reminder of the sacrifices made during this hideous conflict.
Out of the eighteen pictured, eight never returned home. They were: Cpl AA Larkan, Pte FM Drew, Lt EA Goodwill,
Pte FP Houshold, 2nd Lt DB Robb, Pte WM Reid (staff), Pte FL van der Heyde and Pte EC Shepherd.>
In the last two years of the war, the great battles of the Western Front again took their toll, with ten College Old Boys dying in April 1917 (nine of them in action on the Western Front) and another seven in March 1918, as the German Army made its final great push for victory.
Four OCs (including the champion boxer, 2nd Lt J M Ross, and Pte Gideon George Pringle also from 2 SAI) were killed on the same day, 12 April 1917. This was during the Battle of Arras and they were part of a casualty rate that saw '1 400 men from Scotland and South Africa of the brave 9th Division ... [fall] in just 30 minutes.' The battle inspired a 2009 documentary called Murder on the Hill, which was very critical of the callousness with which the Tommies were dispatched to their deaths by an unyielding High Command.
The total of Old Collegians killed in 1917 was 31, with a further 25 being killed in the final year of the war, 1918, and a further two perishing in 1919, both of illness, before they could be 'demobbed' from the army.
A glance at the details of the service rolls in the old school magazines confirms that the hundreds of Old Collegians who fought in the war were engaged in all the main campaigns and theatres in which the Western Allies were engaged. Scores, like the unfortunate Rfn Waters, had their baptism of fire in German South West Africa at the end of 1914, and many were later shipped to East Africa, for the Smuts-led campaign against the elusive von Lettow-Vorbeck in what is today Kenya and Tanzania.
However, it was to the great carnage on the Western Front from 1915 onwards that most of the men were dispatched, and it was in this muddy and grim theatre of the Great War that the majority of the casualties were suffered by Maritzburg College boys.
Others were dispatched to the Levant - specifically, Egypt, Palestine, Gallipoli and Salonika - and at each of those places there lies a cross or gravestone somewhere with the details of a fallen College boy.
Killed in Action
As I have already mentioned, I found it especially gruelling to discover that a considerable proportion of the deaths endured by College Old Boys was as a result of direct enemy action, with 81 of the 100 deaths being either 'killed in action' (KIA), 'missing in action' (MIA), or 'died of wounds'. This is a remarkably high proportion, given that the average for the war for all combatant deaths was about two-thirds, illness and disease (including the 1918 flu pandemic) claiming the other third.
A surprisingly small number of Old Collegians (only eleven) died of illness. Soldiers who fought in East Africa were especially susceptible to diseases like malaria, typhoid and blackwater fever. Other manners of death encountered included a drowning at sea while en route home. This was the sad fate of Lance Corporal Alexander Noble Henderson of 4 SAI Regt, aboard the SS Galway Castle, less than two months before the armistice. There were a number of deaths in aeroplane accidents, and one 'self-inflicted wound'. This misfortunate fellow was the gallant Lt Ian Russell MacKenzie, who had entered Maritzburg College in 1888, the year in which it moved to its present position overlooking the Msunduzi River. Born in July 1875, MacKenzie was one of the older OCs to die in the war, and it is recorded that he died of a self-inflicted 'but unintentional' wound in Malawi in 1917, aged 40. He had earned the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) during the South African War (1899-1902), and was twice mentioned in dispatches, having earlier in the war served in Botha's Light Horse.
I have already briefly referred to some of the College Old Boys who were able to earn commissions as officers, and the overall breakdown by rank of the 100 men on the school's roll of honour is 45 officers, 11 non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and 44 privates (including all three of the teachers). As far as the regiments in which they served are concerned, a total of 22 of the men who died were officers in imperial regiments of the British Army, including such prestigious units as the Life Guards, the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA), the 7th Dragoon Guards (Princess Royal's), the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), the Royal Scots, the Royal Fusiliers, the King's Royal Rifles and the Royal Irish Rifles. One of the younger Old Collegians to perish was Lt Edward James Allan-Hay of the 41 st Dogras Regt, Indian Army, who was one of 23 teenagers from College to die in the war. Amongst the 100 men on the Roll, a further eleven were officers in the RFC or its successor, the RAF, six were in miscellaneous South African army regiments like the Cape Corps, the Motor Cycle Corps and the Signals Service, six were in mounted regiments like the South African Horse and South African Mounted Rifles, and the remaining 54 all served in the various South African Infantry regiments. Most (27) were in 2 SAI, which was raised in Natal and the Orange Free State, fifteen were in 4 SAI (known as 'the Scottish') and the remainder were distributed amongst the others. Three men served as officers in the miscellaneous South African army regiments, one in a mounted unit, and seven in the SA infantry regiments.
Regarding the ages of the men, the youngest of all the Old Collegians to die in the First World War was Pte Philip William Dix, who was killed during the Third Battle of Ypres, aged only 17 years and 2 months, the age of a Grade 11 boy today. Other youngsters included the 'intelligence agent', A S Early, who was killed in action at Tandamuti in Kenya, aged 18, and the similarly aged Pte James Martin 'Jimmy' Morton, who was killed in action at Butte-de-Warlencourt, a particularly gruesome battle that claimed the lives of eight other College Old Boys and was part of the greater Battle of the Somme. Jimmy was the brother of Pte Alexander Archibald Morton, a 19-year old killed at Delville Wood in July 1916, and he had himself been wounded in the same battle, only to die three months later.
Pte Alexander Archibald Morton,
one of two teenage Morton brothers killed in 1916.
Other teenagers include Sapper Robert Kenneth Hanson of the South African Signal Service, who died of blackwater fever in Pietermaritzburg of all places and is buried in the Chief Albert Luthuli Road Cemetery, and the baby-faced Pte Walter Basil Horsley, who, with the older Morton boy, was killed at Delville Wood during one of the most gruesome battles of that bloody year. Like so many of the men who died in that grisly action, he was reported as 'missing in action' and his body was never found. Like fourteen other Old Collegians, his name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial, which acknowledges and remembers those soldiers who died at the Somme and have no known grave. The oldest Old Collegian killed in the First World War was the 52 year-old Pte Samuel Harris, who died of blackwater fever in Tanzania, whilst a prisoner of war. The oldest OC to die as a result of enemy action was Pte Harry Blackmore Rowse, who died of his wounds at the Battle of Ypres in Flanders, only six months shy of his 40th birthday. In a typically sardonic entry in the old admission book, he is described as being 'very dull; amiable'.
The baby-faced Private Walter Basil Horsley,
killed at Delville Wood.
The Somme battles
The great event on the Western Front for 1916, the Battle of the Somme, is regarded as the bloodiest battle ever fought by the British Army. Indeed, on the first day of the battle on 1 July 1916, the British Army suffered 54 000 casualties, with nearly 20 000 KIA. That battle, which lasted until 18 November, claimed the lives of 27 College Old Boys, and it included such well-known actions as the battles of Bernafay Wood, Delville Wood and Butte-de-Warlencourt. The Battle of Delville Wood has entered the history books as the bloodiest battle fought by South African soldiers in the war, and many publications have been written about the 3 153 'Springboks' who entered the wood at 05h00 on 15 July, and the small fraction of those men present at Roll Call on the 20th. It is notable that, to begin with, the battlefield commander was Lt-Col William Tanner, an Old Collegian who had attended the school in 1889 (another 'dull but amiable' fellow, according to the admission book). He was wounded in the leg on the second day of the battle and had to be relieved of his command, but he ended up being promoted to Brigadier-General by the end of the war, commanding an entire brigade of the British Army and arguably the most-decorated South African soldier of the war, with post-nominal letters including CB, CMG, OSO, MC, Legion d' Honneur, Croix de Guerre and Ordre de Leopold.
The author, admiring the medal collection of Brig-Gen WEC Tanner,
on display at the Ditsong National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg.
Sadly, eleven OCs were killed at Delville Wood and a number of others were wounded during the hand-to-hand struggle against the equally determined German forces. Almost as many, nine, were killed at Butte-de-Warlencourt, where most died during an attack by 2 SAI and 4 SAl on the Germans' 'snag and snail trenches'. Four College old boys had been killed at Bernafay Wood, in a bloody battle that preceded Delville Wood, and a total of six OCs were killed in the various battles that were fought on or near the Ypres Salient, including two at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. Six were killed in action and seven died of illness in the East African campaign.
The aftermath of the Battle of Delville Wood:
A captured German trench
Of the 97 Old Collegians who died in the war, we know the addresses of 91 of them from the admission book. A total of 56 hailed from Maritzburg, with five of them having lived in Loop Street, four each in Pietermaritz Street, Boshoff Street, Burger Street and Prince Alfred Street, and a further three each in Alexandra Road, Berg Street and Commercial Road. Of the others, eleven came from the Midlands (mainly the sons of farmers) and eight from Central Natal, including Ladysmith and Estcourt, four from the South Coast, four from Durban/Pinetown, and two each from the Transvaal, Zulu land and the Orange River Colony.
We also know the primary education backgrounds of 86 of them, and these include seventeen boys who came to College from the now defunct Boys' Model School (BMS), fourteen from Merchiston Preparatory School, five who were home tutored or were taught by a governess, four from Durban High School, three each from Howick Government School, Weenen County College and Glen Lynn School, and two from a school only known as 'Mrs Archibald's'.
Maritzburg College is justifiably proud of the 61 decorations earned by its past pupils during the Great War, but what of those earned specifically by the men who died? The older child of the 'Father of College', Mr RD Clark, Capt Douglas Scott 'Wiggie' Dalrymple-Clark had earned his Military Cross for bravery in the face of enemy fire when, earlier in 1916, he had rescued men from his unit from immediate death by suffocation, after they had been buried after a bombardment by enemy artillery. Capt Dalrymple-Clark, who double-barrelled his surname at the time of his marriage in 1915, served in the Cameron Highlanders and the King's Royal Rifles and was killed by shrapnel fire during the Battle of the Somme, in an incident that also killed his regiment's commanding officer, adjutant and regimental sergeant major. It is said that his father never recovered from the death of his beloved only son, and died only eight months later, allegedly of a broken heart.
Captain Douglas Scott 'Wiggie' Dalrymple-Clark, MC, who was killed on the Somme. The photo is from the front page of The Natal Witness, dated 29 September 1916.
Another winner of a gallantry award was Capt Vernon Wallace Mileman, of the 7th Battalion, London Regt, who was also awarded a Military Cross. Capt Mileman's grandfather had been a Pietermaritzburg city councillor, and Vernon's own obituary in the school magazine records that he had, before he died, been twice wounded and twice buried. He was killed in action at Ypres in September 1917, and his name is recorded with four other Old Collegians on the famous Menin Gate, at which the 'Last Post' has been played every night since 1928.
Pte GG Pringle (see earlier) of the 2 SAI was killed east of Fampoux on 12 April 1917, during the Battle of Arras. He was awarded the Military Medal, having been wounded earlier at Delville Wood.
Lance Corporal William Alexander 'Willie' Lundie, 3SAI
Pte John Christopher St George, also of 2 SAI, died of his wounds received in action at Butte-de-Warlencourt on the Somme on 15 October 1916. The school magazine of February 1917 records that St George and a friend had, as stretcher bearers, saved sixteen men the night before he was killed - for which he was awarded a posthumous Military Medal.
Not many of the 800 Old Collegians who served in the war have left written records of their wartime experiences that are in the possession of the school's archives, although a number of suitably jingoistic, belligerent and anti-'Hun' pieces from the various school magazines from the time survive. No doubt, like the many thousands of young Natal boys who went off to 'do their bit', they were proud, loyal, and filled with a naive sense that the war would be over before Christmas - ignorant of the grim horrors of a modern, mechanical war. Capt Dalrymple-Clark was the writer of sensitive, thoughtful and loving letters to his wife in England, and they offer some illumination on the mindsets of these civilian-soldiers, as they girded their loins and prepared themselves for the horrors of battle. One of the more well-known relics of the war is a poem written by Lance Corporal William Alexander 'Willie' Lundie of 3 SAI, which was found amongst his possessions after he had been killed in action at the Somme on 6 July 1916. Titled simply, 'A Poem', it reads as follows:
'Mid the battle roar and the noise of war,
on the crest of death's red tide,
when I come to die, it's thus that I
will pass to the other side.
The icy breath of the Angel of Death,
no tear holds for me;
For, though I'm cold, beneath the mould,
my spirit will be free.
It is not easy for modern Maritzburg College boys to always be mindful of the terrible sacrifices made by their forebears over 100 years ago, accustomed as many of us are to our middle-class, suburban lives.
The First World War Memorial at its unveiling on 7 September 1923:
The Maritzburg College cadets have been formed up, and the memorial
is draped in a Union flag bearing the words 'Loyal Natal'.
However, even for the College teenager of today, those sacrifices cannot be ignored. The school's First World War Memorial, unveiled on 7 September 1923 by Sir George Plowman - himself a College parent mourning the loss five years earlier of his younger son remains a regular reminder to all Maritzburg College boys of the losses of long ago, as does the Remembrance Day ceremony held at the Memorial each year. Notably, junior College hays are also still required to 'run' past the First World War Memorial, in a small and silent gesture of respect made to the hundred names engraved on its two panels.
When young Pte Leslie Plowman was reported as 'missing', this offered the possibility, at least, of his eventual safe return, and one can only imagine his parents' anxiety and then sadness, as his status was only later, in 1919, finally confirmed as 'killed in action on 24 March 1918'. His father, Sir George, who had at one stage been the Colonial Secretary for Natal and at the time of the unveiling was the Administrator of the province, included the following in his address: The mottoes inscribed on the memorial have .... been well chosen, and should inspire the boys with patriotism and the feeling that the traditions of the school have been nobly maintained and handed on' and 'the sacrifice [of the fallen] was made for hearth and home [the school's motto], and for the uplifting of humanity'.
At the unveiling in 1923, the headmaster, Mr Barns, offered the comforting words that '[t]o us who knew and loved them in the old days at school they have left a memory which can never fade away, and they have handed down a record of service and of duty faithfully done which, I doubt not, will prove an inspiration to generations of boys yet unborn.' As I was able to remind the schoolboys at a special assembly held in late May 2016, Mr Barns was referring to boys like them.
On 12 July 2016, a party of 42 Maritzburg College people, including 33 schoolboys resplendent in their No 1 uniforms and with 'bashers' proudly upon their heads, will be present at the centenary parade of the Battle of Delville Wood on the Somme. At the parade, a wreath will be laid by present College boys - of that 'unborn' generation referred to by the now long-dead 'Pixie' Barns - in memory of the eleven Old Collegians who died at that famous battle. It will hopefully be yet another reminder to all the present Maritzburg College boys that while they might be mercifully spared the bloody horrors of the battlefield, they nonetheless are part of an institution that remains wedded to the timeless values of loyalty, camaraderie and honour.
On a personal note, while there I sincerely hope that we will be able to locate the headstone of 2nd Lt AT Wales, who died of his wounds in the battle on 17 July 1916 and is buried nearby in the Dive Copse British Cemetery. His gravestone is inscribed not just with the touching, parochial farewell from his family, 'Lalagahle, umtagwetu' [sic] [sleep well, brother], but also with the Latin words derived from a far-off memorial tablet from old Natal: 'Pro Aris et Focis' ('For altars and hearths', in the sense of 'For God and Country').
The gravestone of 2nd Lt Aylmer Templer Wales,
in the Dive Copse British Cemetery.
A notes on sources
This article was compiled using the information available at the Maritzburg College Archives (especially the old admission book and past school magazines) and the respective websites of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (www.cwgc.org) and the South African War Graves Project (www.south africawargraves.org). I am especially indebted to my friend and former colleague, Dylan Loser MA, who put together much of the initial research into the school's Roll of Honour for the First World War.
On 1 July 2016, immediately after this article was submitted to this journal, Matthew led a party of 42 military history enthusiasts from Maritzburg College on a 16-day tour of the First World War battlefields of the Western Front. Although they were unable to visit the grave of Lt Wales, they did attend the centenary parade of the Battle of Delville Wood and, over the course of their travels through Flanders and Northern France, were able to personally honour a number of men who were featured in the above article. A brief summary of the 2016 Maritzburg College Tour of the Battlefields of the Western Front will feature in a future edition of this journal.
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