“We were cadets so they sent us at once to the Belgian front”

A refugee teenager ended up involved in the final push of the war, and helped to liberate his homeland.

The Head Master has recently received the following letter from Devos. We all remember how good a sportsman Devos was, and how thoroughly he entered into the spirit of English School life. It is good the think that he carries home with him some pleasant memories of his exile. We hope he will come and see us again.

Dear Mr Keeton,

It is already a long time I have not written you, but don’t think I have forgotten about Reading School. No, for my greatest pleasure is when I am at home to look at the old Reading School Magazine again. It reminds me of my former English teacher, whom I will never forget, the boys and the School where I had such a happy time.

Since I wrote you last time a lot of things have happened and the big war is over. Let me tell just what became of me. In the beginning of 1918, about the month of April, they sent me to the Belgian Sub-Lieutenant School near Treport (along the coast). I stopped there for six months, when the offensive broke out. We were cadets so they sent us at once to the Belgian front. I came too late for the first push, but the second was mine. On the 6th of October I was in front of Roulers. On the 14th at 5.35 our artillery began and we pushed forward. My battery was with the English people. After about three hours everything became quiet. Our troops were advancing and I went to a British ambulance nearby, to help carry the wounded.

The next day I had to move again, this time to Iseghem, where the French came to take our positions. Later on we came down to Thourout for two day’s rest. Hearing that our troops had entered Ostend I asked for one night and a day’s leave and went walking to Ostend where I arrived at night. You could never imagine what a sensation you have to enter your birthplace again after having left it for five years, not knowing anything about it and fearing not to find anything but ruins. Luckily for me I found everything back, except for the small pieces of furniture and copper they took away. I stopped in Ostend till the next day, when I met my brother, then came back to the battery. They had just received orders to move.

We had to go to Bruges to a small village called Ursel to the north of Ghent. We did not stop long, for we were trying not to the Germans time to breathe. On the 31st of October we made an attack but we could not pass the canal de derivation. We tried again the same morning, but again we could not get through. That day we had rather heavy losses. Two days later, on the 2nd of November, we heard the Germans had left their positions in front of us and were retreating. At once the cavalry began to chase them as far as Ghent. Our artillery pressure had become useless there and we moved to the south of Ghent. Everything was ready to make our big push on the 13th of November early in the morning. We had seen our infantry going up to the line in order to start at daybreak. Our guns and munitions were ready – (at that time I had to look out for the munitions of my battery) – even the men were already at the guns, when the order came that we had to return to our quarters, for the Armistice was signed. Luckily for Fritz ! For his worst time was coming, especially now because we had French and English reinforcements behind us.

From Ghent I went to Brussels and stopped there for about two months. Then we had the re-opening of our universities. I went in for Mechanical Engineering at the Brussels University, and have just finished my first year. I have still three others to do.

Please remember me to Mr. Newport, Mr . Thorpe, &c. Give them my kind regards, and tell them I have I have not forgotten all about the School. I suppose games have begun.

I hope that the list of casualties of Old Reading School Boys is not too heavy.

Yours Sincerely,
G. DEVOS.

October 18th, 1919.

Reading School Magazine, December 1919 (SCH3/14/34)

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The O.T.C. had never been so strong in numbers as it was now

Reading School boys did much to support the troops.

The O.T.C.

The O.T.C. had never been so strong in numbers as it was now. There were 158 in the corps, and there were 77 recruits. At the War Office inspection in June last the officer inspecting was greatly impressed with their “soldierly contingent,” and though great credit was due to the officers and instructor. The corps had suffered a loss by the retirement of its commander, Captain Crook. After a long period of service, and he was also sorry to say that Sergt- Major Green, D.C.M. had been obliged to give up the post of instructor owing to ill-health. It was agreed to give Sergt-Major Green some material recognition of his good services to Reading School, and a fund had been opened for that purpose. Mr Keeton referred to what the old boys had done during the War, as reported elsewhere.

Good work has been done in other directions, and the School workshops, under Mr. Spring, had turned out a great deal of material, such as crutches, splints, bedrests, &c., for the Reading War Hospitals. The boys had also helped in food production. Many had given up a portion of their time to gardening, and a squad of 50 boys did harvest work last year in the neighbourhood of Hastings. In the matter of war savings the School had subscribed £1,650.

Reading School Magazine, April 1919 (SCH3/14/34)

Promise of such a splendid leader

A young man with a bright future was the latest to fall at the Front.

Walford Vernon Knowles

By the death of Walford Knowles on the last day of the old year, yet another name is added to the Roll of boys from Trinity who have laid down their lives in defence of home and country and of human liberty, whose names will live while Trinity stands.

In a letter dated the 6th of January, 1918, Capt. H. A. Curtis writes:

“It is with deep regret that I have to write and inform you of the death of your son. It happened at about 6.15 on the morning of December 31st. We were ‘standing to’ at the time, and the enemy put down a heavy barrage on to the position we were holding. As is usual, all Officers were on duty at the time, and it appears that a heavy shell fell within a yard or so of your son, killing him instantaneously. I am more than sorry to have lost him, as during the short time he was with us he had become very popular amongst his brother Officers, N.C.O’s. and the men, and we all miss him dearly. It seems all the more sad owing to the fact that this was his first tour of trench duty, and he gave promise of such a splendid leader.”

The elder son of our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Knowles, he was born in January, 1898 and educated at Reading School, into which he took an open Scholarship in 1909, one of the first Scholarships offered by the Reading Town Council. In 1916 he passed the Higher Certificate Examination with distinction in French and German. During his last year at school he won the Laud Scholarship (the blue ribbon of Reading School). Also an exhibition at Worcester College, Oxford, and was further awarded the Ewelme Exhibition at New College, Oxford.

It was not only in his studies that he did well, but in every side of School life he made his mark, becoming a member of the Rugby Football and cricket teams, a sergeant in the Officers’ Training Corps, and finally Captain of the School. Of those who have in recent years held this coveted position he is the third to make the supreme sacrifice during the war, the other two being Marsden Cooper (another Trinity boy) and D.J. Davies.

“As head of the school,” says Mr. Keeton, the Headmaster, “he was extremely conscientious and energetic, and in all departments showed the same qualities and zest and keenness and the desire to do his very best. He won the esteem and affection of all, both masters and boys.”

On reaching military age he carried the same characteristics into the sterner school of war, passing with credit through his cadetship at Gales and afterwards Portsmouth. He went out to France early in October as a Second Lieutenant in the County Regiment and in his all-too-brief period of service had already won the affection and esteem of his comrades and superior officers.

Walford Knowles was in the fullest sense of the words a child of Trinity. There he was baptized, and there he attended during the whole of his life. For several years a loyal member of the Institute, he joined this Church and was received into its fellowship on his confession of faith on September 13th, 1914. During the early winters of the war, and especially during last autumn, before leaving for France, he showed a very keen interest in the Trinity Soldiers’ Club, where his presence and companionship was always appreciated by the men.

The sad news of his death reached us a few minutes before the January Church Meeting, and a resolution of deepest sympathy with his parents and family was passed with the heartfelt consent of all present. In moving that this message be sent, the pastor spoke of the very fine qualities both in mind and heart which had endeared Walford to so a wide circle of friends, and caused them to entertain high expectations for him of a successful career at the University and after that of a life of fruitful service. He referred to his own close and intimate friendship with him, and the great opinion he had formed both of his character and abilities. Undoubtedly there were in him the making of a genuine scholar, a sincere and able thinker, a trusty friend, and a particularly fine type of Christian citizen.

We are sure that the sympathy of Trinity folk as a whole goes out to Mr. and Mrs. Knowles, and their family in this sorrow, and the prayer of us all is that they may be greatly comforted.

Trinity Congregational Magazine, February 1918 (D/EX1237/1)

Hard training under canvas

A teacher from Reading School who had recently joined up wrote to his headmaster to report on his experiences. Unfortunately, he later found that he had been sacked while on service despite having been promised that his job would be held open. He sued.

June 7th 1916
A Company 2/7 Bat RWF Regiment
Stationed at Elveden Camp
Thetford
Norfolk

Dear Mr Keeton

Many thanks for your letter regarding my application for a testimonial. I agree with you that it might be better to have it later on so as to have it up-to-date, as well as adapted to circumstances. It will also diminish the chances of its being lost either on my travels or at home.

As you will notice from the address, we have been moved from North Wales. We left Abergele rather over a week ago and were sent to Bedford to join the 68th Division, and then sent on here for a few weeks’ special training. I have had a chat with my platoon officer, but he told me there was no probability of my obtaining my commission later on unless I can pass for General Service, and that of course is out of the question owing to my sight.

We have been subjected to rather hard training down here, and are living under canvas. Weather so far has been fairly propitious, however, with the exception of a few thunderstorms and occasional showers of rain. In a few weeks we expect to move again, either back to Bedford or else to a new place.

Yours sincerely
C W Hardisty.

Letter to the headmaster of Reading School (SCH3/5/50)

“When one looks at the casualty lists, one has a vague feeling that the need is very great”

The headmaster of Reading School was keen to serve.

The Burlington
Sheringham
Norfolk

April 17th, 1916

Dear Mr Wells

Thank you for your letter. There could I think be no question of my going until at any rate after the end of the summer term. As you say it is very difficult to say how great the need is. When one looks at the casualty lists, however, one has a vague feeling that it is very great. I should be glad if you would bring my letter before the Governors and let them decide what they think is best.

Kind regards
Yours sincerely

George H Keeton

Letter to the Clerk to the Governors of Reading School (SCH3/5/50)

A disservice to the state

The Reading School teacher who was a conscientious objector was keen to return to school – but would he be welcome back, when his headmaster was planning in joining up himself?

44 Marlborough Road
Hightown
Manchester

April 15, 16

Dear Sir

Will you please bring my case before the proper authorities?

I have written to Mr Keeton today in answer to a letter from him in which he says that he is informed that I cannot carry my case further and that he is justified in assuming that I shall not return next term to Reading School. I want to state that with regard to the first point he has been misinformed. The Military Service Act (Section 3) gives me the right to apply again to the Local Tribunal for a variation of my certificate of exemption from combatant service. I propose to take this course and I do not think it is right that any action should be taken by the Headmaster or the Committee until my case is fully and finally disposed of.

Should it turn out that I shall be allowed to remain my present employment I think it right for me to return to Reading School and I cannot see any greater disservice that could be done to the State at a time when the State is demanding National Service for all than to throw out of useful employment a citizen with a capacity for a certain kind of national service which is plainly service of national importance. I therefore appeal to the Committee and the Governors for a suspension of any action with regard to myself until my case is finally settled.

Yours obediently

R W Crammer

Letter to the Clerk to the Governors of Reading School (SCH3/5/50)

The only thing is to beat the Germans and we need every able-bodied man

The headmaster of Reading School was ready to join up.

The Burlington
Sheringham
Norfolk

April 13th, 1916

Dear Mr Wells

I am inclined to think that the time has now come when schools should be left in the hands of those who are either incapable of or past military service. It is true that I have offered myself to the War Office for Foreign Service, but I have a feeling that something more is required of a citizen than to wait until our Government can make up its mind.

I should be glad then if you will be good enough on my behalf to ask the Governors whether they will arrange for me to go into the Army if I can induce the military authorities to take me. It may, of course, be that the Governors may think that in view of the amalgamation [with Kendrick Boys’ School] the School may suffer somewhat by any change at this moment, but for myself, I think the only thing is to beat the Germans and for that what with our conscientious objectors and the exemptions for one cause or another we need every able-bodied man.

I am very sorry to see today that Mr Sutton has lost one of his sons.

Kind regards.

Yours sincerely

George H Keeton

Letter to the Clerk to the Governors of Reading School (SCH3/5/50)