Radley College: From School To The Somme

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The current Radley College boathouse on the Thames. Picture: Motmit at en.wikipedia

Tim Koch writes:

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 will be familiar with the recent much acclaimed series, ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’.  Made in partnership with the British Museum, it is 100 15-minute radio programmes which uses ancient and modern objects from art, craft, industry and technology to give an overview of human history. Inspired by this, Radley College, a fee-paying school for 690 boys, aged 13–18, which is situated near Oxford, decided to produce a weekly blog, ‘The History of Radley in 100 Objects’. The blog says that its aim is

to explore a facet of the school through a single item. The items chosen vary from ephemeral moments to those objects or buildings that are so iconic that they define Radley as a school and are immediately recognisable to all generations…. [This] project is designed to engage present Radleians and Old Radleians to share experiences and memories prompted by one object.

Compared to some of the other great Public (i.e. Private) Schools in Britain, Radley is somewhat of a ‘new boy’, having been founded in 1847. However, this has not stopped it from, amongst other things, becoming one of the country’s top rowing schools. The school’s website has an overview of the boat club and also posts a brief history of rowing at Radley.

It is not surprising that object number 6 of 100 is a rowing prize, a 1913 pewter tankard. Clare Sargent, the Head of Archives at Radley, has been kind enough to allow HTBS to reproduce the entire post, both text and pictures, for which we are very grateful. The references to ‘Socials’ are the school’s ten boarding houses. The text below is copyright, Clare Sargent, and the pictures are copyright as indicated.

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Object 6: A tankard given to one of the winning crew in Radley’s ‘Trial Fours’ in 1913. © Clare Sargent.

There are many tankards in the Archives and the Boathouse. Others appear regularly on eBay. This one, dated 1913, was given to the College on 23rd April 2008 by Tony Redman. Mr Redman found it amongst the belongings of his late mother-in-law. The family has no known connection with Radley nor any idea how it came into her possession; its primary use in recent years has been as part of flower arrangements. Mr Redman’s letter accompanying the tankard explained his reason for returning the tankard to Radley:

Bearing in mind the event’s proximity to the ‘Great War’ I just thought that for historical interest, this Tankard would be better placed back at Radley than simply being sold off by us at some nondescript jumble sale!

I guess I also wonder what ever happened to the boys concerned…

This particular tankard records a relatively rare event – trial fours rather than trial eights. In the spring of 1913 the school was laid low by an epidemic of measles. When the Boat Club wanted to run trials for the crews for eights for the summer regattas, including Henley, it proved very difficult to raise enough healthy rowers to compete against each other. Consequently the trials featured fours instead of eights. The Radleian magazine describes the event, but note that the names of the coxes of the two competing boats are reversed: the tankard lists Le Mesurier as cox for Morris & Co., but The Radleian lists him as cox for the opposing boat. This raises a point about the accuracy of the printed record, which could only be corrected by the physical object.

It has been usual for the last few years to row a trials race in fixed-seat eights, excluding from them the eight or nine Seniors, who are actually being tubbed on slides. It had been determined this year to follow the usual procedure, but such have been the ravages of measles among wet-bobs, that eights had to be given up, and two fixed-seat fours were all that could be managed. This race took place on March 25th, at Nuneham, on a perfect day for rowing except for a strong flood stream.

The crews were as follows:
Bow. T. Morris, 2. W. C. Hetherington, 3. J. E. H. Freeman, Str. M. Le Blanc Smith, Cox A. H. O. Riddell

Bow. M. H. Garrard, 2. W. D. T. Green, 3. C. H. B. Slocock, Str. H. C. Caffin, Cox. J. F. L. Le Mesurier

Smith won the toss and chose the outside station in spite of the stream, for which compensation was given of a length’s start. On the word go, Smith got off at a considerably faster stroke, Caffin being content with a modest 32. He however showed greater length and was able to hold his opponents till the corner before the bridge, when, taking advantage of the corner, they sprinted right away and won comfortably. In the winning crew, Smith, though rather short, stroked with some life and vigour, and kept his crew going to the end. With greater steadiness over the stretchers they would have gone faster. Freeman is promising, but must learn to use his legs. Hetherington flattens his knees down before his work begins, and is consequently ineffective. Bow is very stiff, and neutralizes considerable efforts by being so.

The losing crew were not together, 3 being always late on stroke. 2 kept time fairly, but needs strength. However, he shows some promise. Bow is a pretty oar, but very light. If he grows he might do well. Caffin strokes as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. He gives his crew no beginning, bearing slowly back, as if the weight were too much for him. He slides up and down his seat, ie. is not learning to row in a fixed-seat, and is very stiff in all his movements. If he wants to become an oar, he must loosen out and show more dash and vigour in his rowing.

Slocock, as has been mentioned, was always late, and seems too anxious to keep his back quite straight. Important as that is, at the end of a losing race many things are allowed, among them a back that has given, for all one’s efforts must be put into catching the other crew, and that was not the impression given by him or any in the losing boat. It is easy enough to row stylishly in a winning race, but in a losing race one must kill oneself. In The Times account of the Boat Race it was remarked that no. 6 was rowing towards the end as if he had never been at Eton and been carefully taught the art of good rowing. But if he and the others had not all been going right out, they would not have been close enough at the finish to turn certain defeat into a narrow victory.’

The Radleian, 29 March 1913.

Inter House Fours on the Thames at Radley, 1909. © Radley College and The History of Radley in 100 Objects.
Inter House Fours on the Thames at Radley, 1909. © Radley College and The History of Radley in 100 Objects.

It is interesting to compare the weights of the winning crew with modern crews.

The 1913 Crew


The 2012 1st VIII


The five crew members of the winning boat were each awarded an engraved tankard; it is impossible to say which of them received this particular one, nor to trace its subsequent history until it came into the possession of Mr Redman’s mother-in-law.

‘I guess I also wonder what ever happened to the boys concerned…’:

In March 1913 they were all very young men who can have had little idea of their immediate future. In the event, four of them survived the First World War, a remarkable statistic given that Radley lost over 200 Old Boys and staff in the course of the war. Of the four survivors, two won the Military Cross and a third the Distinguished Flying Cross; one went on to be awarded an OBE in later life. The one who died, Jim Freeman, is commemorated by a stained glass window in Radley College Chapel, shared with his close friend Gilbert Whittet, also a member of the Rowing VIII in 1914, who was killed on the Somme in 1916.

A stained glass window in Radley College Chapel commemorating James Freeman (‘3’ in the winning Trial Fours crew of 1913) and Gilbert Whittet, a member of the 1914 VIII. © Radley College and The History of Radley in 100 Objects.
A stained glass window in Radley College Chapel commemorating James Freeman (‘3’ in the winning Trial Fours crew of 1913) and Gilbert Whittet, a member of the 1914 VIII. © Radley College and The History of Radley in 100 Objects.

Bow: Temple Morris, born 1896, son of Rev. A.J. Morris. Entered Radley as a member of Lowe’s Social (H) in 1910. He was a Junior Scholar, and played for the First XI football team in 1913. He left the school in 1914 to attend the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He remained in the army for the rest of his career. Served in France in 1915-18, promoted to Captain in 1917. He was twice wounded and awarded the Military Cross. After the War he eventually rose to the rank of Colonel in the RAOC. He was awarded the OBE. He married Agnes Gaw in 1920. He died on 19th January 1962.

2: William Cockayne Hetherington, born 1895. His brother was also at Radley and died very suddenly in 1910 whilst still at the school. Their parents endowed the Hetherington Scholarship in his memory. William entered Radley as a member of Bryans’ Social (G) in 1909. He was a talented all-rounder who played the clarinet very well, and starred in the debating team. In 1915 he became the Second Prefect (Deputy Head Boy), was editor of The Radleian Magazine, won the History Essay Prize, and became Captain of Boats. As Platoon-Sergeant in the Officers’ Training Corps he was employed during the school holidays in 1915 in training recruits for the Territorial Force. He left the school in 1915. There is no war record for him, but in 1915 he entered St. John’s College, Oxford. He rowed for the College in 1919. In 1922 he was listed as the co-proprietor of a prep school. He had a varied career, at one time he was a poultry farmer, and at another, Headmaster of Braidlea Prep School. He married Emily Cockayne in 1921. He died at Bristol, 2nd June 1944.

3: James Edward Hutton Freeman, born 1896, only son of Edith and Joseph Hutton Freeman. Entered Radley as a member of Barmby’s Social (C) in 1910. He rowed for the First VIII in 1914. He left the school in 1914 to join up. He was appointed a temporary Second Lieutenant 7 Battalion The Queen’s Own in 1914, seconded to the Royal Flying Corps in 1916. He was killed in a flying accident in Flanders, 24th April 1916. He is buried in Lijssenthoek War Cemetery. There is a tribute to him in The Radleian 20th June 1916.

A memorial window jointly for him and Gilbert Whittet (killed at Trones Wood on the Somme in April 1916) is still in the school chapel.

The obituaries for Freeman and Whittet in The Radleian are moving, and typical of many written for school magazines at the time.

James Freeman © Radley College and The History of Radley in 100 Objects.
James Freeman © Radley College and The History of Radley in 100 Objects.
Gilbert Whittet © Radley College and The History of Radley in 100 Objects.
Gilbert Whittet © Radley College and The History of Radley in 100 Objects.

Stroke: Maurice le Blanc Smith, born 1896. The Le Blanc Smith family has one of the longest continuous connections with Radley, members of the family have attended the school in all generations since 1855 – the most recent left in 2005. Maurice was a member of Barmby’s Social (C). He became a Prefect, and rowed for the First VIII in 1914. He became a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps in 1915, and was promoted to Major in the RAF in 1918. He served in France 1915-16 and 1918-19. He was mentioned in despatches, and awarded the DFC in 1918. He went on to become the Director of Bewlay (Tobacconists) Ltd. until 1959. In 1926 he married Margaret Chance.

Cox: John Frederick Ronald Le Mesurier, born 1896, son of Rev. J C W Le Mesurier. Entered Radley as a member of Kirkby’s Social (E) in 1911. There are no records of any scholastic or sporting achievements for him, and it is possible that he left early to join up. He left in 1914; by 1916 he is recorded as a lieutenant 4th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, and was awarded a regimental commission in 1918. He was wounded in France and received the MC in 1918. He retired from the army in 1922, but joined up again 1939-1942 as a reservist in the Royal Army Reserve Officers with the rank of Captain. He married Esme Dean in 1922. We have no career records for him.

Radley’s colours.
Radley’s colours.

That is the end of the ‘100 Objects’ piece. As a postscript, the school has recently put their wonderful photographic record of most of the Old Radleians who were killed in the 1914 -18 War on ‘Flicker’. The title page says:

1135 old boys, teachers and staff of Radley College served in World War 1. The visible War Memorial carved on Memorial Arch in 1922 contains the names of 235 individuals…. After the War, the school requested a photograph of each of the fallen. 204 photos were sent, which fill 8 albums now kept perpetually in a Chapel of Remembrance…

Radley’s First World War Memorial Arch. © Copyright Shaun Ferguson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Radley’s First World War Memorial Arch. © Copyright Shaun Ferguson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

I have previously written about the disproportionately high casualty rates among the junior officers in the Great War  –  who were overwhelmingly public schoolboys until later in the conflict when their depleted ranks had to be filled by ‘temporary gentlemen’ from state Grammar Schools or from the army’s non-commissioned officers.

Radley’s War Memorials are recorded here. Sadly, this is not just long past history; in recent times two Old Radleians were killed while serving in Afghanistan.

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