1st World War Centennial Stories

2nd Lieutenant Ralph Piggott Whittington-Ince (1&4 South 1915)

While November 11 1918 is remembered for the Armistice which ended World War One, what is often overlooked is that the war continued right up to the 11am ceasefire. On that day around 11,000 men were listed as casualties, including 2738 killed (863 from Britain and the Commonwealth). One of those was 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Piggott Whittington-Ince (1&4 South 1915) of the 11th Battalion of the East Yorkshires.

Whittington-Ince was the second youngest of eight children (and the youngest of three sons) of the Rev Edward Ince. The family name of Whittington-Ince was created by Royal Licence in 1893 when the Reverend Ince was granted the use of the surname and coat of arms by William Whittington-Ince of Douglas, Isle of Man in his will. The family can trace its ancestry back to William the Conqueror.

Ralph was born at the British Chaplaincy in Milan in 1898 and grew up in Ellesmere where, along with his two brothers, he attended St Oswalds School. In 1912 the family moved to Hampshire and Ralph, by then 11, was sent to Cranleigh. Throughout his time at the School he was known by the surname Ince.

In June 1915 he secured a place at Sandhurst and left Cranleigh midway through the summer term for officer training. Herbert Rhodes, his headmaster, wrote that he was “satisfactory but very slack at times”.

Ralph obtained a commission in the East Yorkshires on April 7 1916 and proceeded to France at the beginning of February 1917. He saw a considerable amount of action with his battalion and after a daylight raid at Fresnoy on November 8 1917 he was awarded the Military Cross for his “fine leadership and good example”.

By November 1918 the 11th battalion of the East Yorkshires were in pursuit of the retreating Germans along the Renaix-Brussels Road. German deserters, who had been hidden in the cellars of Renaix, gave themselves up on the morning of the 10th. As the advance pressed on, C Company,  including Ralph, met sporadic resistance, but this became more intense as they reached the village of Flobecq where “a considerable amount of opposition was met with enemy machine guns”. It was here that he was hit by machine gun fire and seriously wounded. He was evacuated to Casualty Clearing Station No. 36 at Sweveghem  where he died in the early hours of November 11. He was buried in the local churchyard and later moved to the CWGC cemetery at Vichte.

The battalion diary noted that at 2.30am on November 11 “news was received that an armistice was signed and would come into force at 11am.”. Even then, the battalion were ordered to “establish a line as far east as possible” and the advance continued, albeit without any resistance.

One can only imagine what his mother, who had been widowed the previous summer, went through. As the Armistice was celebrated on November 11 she almost certainly would have thought her three sons had all survived. Within a day or two the telegram containing the news of Ralph’s death arrived.


The Silent Armistice

As the country celebrated the Armistice on November 11 1918, all was quiet at Cranleigh where the boys had been sent home after the School was overwhelmed by Spanish flu. The Cranleighan noted that “one small boy remarked there might have been a half-holiday, had it not been for the flu … whereas, of course, as it was, he only had a fortnight’s holiday at home”.

The School was lucky in that there were no fatalities but in Britain overall there were 228,000 deaths, and globally it is estimated as many as 100 million may have perished.

The first wave of Spanish Flu had first been noted in the trenches in the spring where it was known as la grippe (influenza). Initially not serious, it quickly started taking a toll. The first Cranleigh casualty was Sergeant Cecil Bate (1&4 South 1907) of the RAF who died in Lilliers, France on July 10.

The second wave, which arrived in the autumn, was catastrophic. It is thought the virus had mutated and it swept through a population already weakened by four years of war.

In early October 1918 the Surrey Advertiser carried a headline “‘Influenza in Surrey: A Widespread Epidemic”. The article said: “So far, there have been comparatively few deaths among the civil population, but in the camps, it is a different matter … there are victims by their hundreds.”

In this day and age we are used to influenza being an unpleasant illness, but rarely fatal outside the elderly or infirm. Spanish flu was altogether different in two ways. Firstly, it impacted on the young far more, with the majority of victims being in their 20s or 30s. Secondly, it was severe. About a fifth of those infected developed pneumonia or septicaemia. Someone healthy in the morning could be dead by the end of the day.

A doctor wrote to the British Medical Journal explaining the infection. “It starts with what appears to be an ordinary attack of la grippe. When brought to the hospital, [patients] very rapidly develop the most vicious type of pneumonia that has ever been seen. Two hours after admission, they have mahogany spots over the cheek bones, and a few hours later you can begin to see the cyanosis [blueness due to lack of oxygen] extending from their ears and spreading all over the face. It is only a matter of a few hours then until death comes and it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate. It is horrible.”

On October 8 came the first Cranleighan victim when Trooper Arthur Lindridge (East 1903) of the Guards Machine Gun Regiment died in France. He had joined up a fortnight after war was declared in 1914 and served in France since 1915. He was 29. Ten days later Henry Casswell, one of the first pupils who arrived in 1866 and a master from 1870 to 1894, died from influenza at his home in Rusper.

Influenza reached the School in late October. West house, as was the norm as it was closest to the kitchens, was immediately converted into a San overflow (the house was temporarily relocated to the gym) but within a day or two that too was overwhelmed, as were 1 and then 2 North which were also commandeered as emergency sick bays. “The attack came with great suddenness, and within a few days some 260 boys were in bed,” the Cranleighan said. “The disease fell with equal rigour on the masters and the staff of servants, most of whom were caught by the plague.”

Parents and friends who lived locally offered help, which was readily accepted, and, as was usual when large-scale sickness hit, extra nurses were drafted in, but despite this the School could barely function. The Headmaster had no choice but to close the School and telegrams were sent to all parents that boys would be sent home for a fortnight. Those unaffected were sent home by train immediately, others followed after recovering (“happily the type of influenza was mild, and most of those who suffered were in a few days able to get up”). A few who lived far away were billeted with masters or friends. The break worked in that the illness was contained.

The Prep School was largely unaffected. It, rather flippantly, dismissed the illness in one short paragraph in the school magazine. “The epidemic tried hard to get in here, in fact, it caught Mr. Norman when he was not looking, just fluttered over the boys, and was then driven out by a liberal use of quinine and fresh air. Several boys went home in a fright, but recovered their equanimity within a week.”

On the Western Front, influenza continued to take a toll. On November 9, 23-year-old 2nd Lieutenant Len Thornback (1&4 South 1911) of the RNVR died.  Like Lindridge, he had served throughout the war.  

When the third wave of influenza hit in the New Year, the School was largely unaffected as, generally, those who had recovered from it had immunity. Although West house was again turned into a sick bay, the illness was contained.  However, in the Village there were fatalities, perhaps none as tragic as the three Gamblin brothers – John (18), William (27) and Henry (25) – who died within three days of each other in March 1919.  Two other Gamblin brothers had already been killed in the war.

Another three Cranleighans on military service perished from influenza in that third wave. On February 20 1919 Lieutenant Charles Hobson (1N 1899) died while serving in Ireland.  On February 21, Lieutenant Sidney Kemp (West 1917) of the RAF died at Etaples. He had just turned 19.  A day later 34-year-old Private William Newton (East 1900) of the Army Ordnance Corps also died.


Well over 1300 Cranleighans and Masters fought in WW1

Although Cranleigh was a relatively small school, the death toll during World War One was disproportionately high. Well over 1300 OCs and masters fought in the war and 201 of them were killed.

Ten of those who died left Cranleigh after the start of the conflict. The youngest of them was Sidney Kemp who had left in the summer of 1917 while at the other end of the scale Major William Archbutt had left in 1874. 

The youngest to perish was Ivan Fellowes (2 North 1910), who was 17 when he went down with the HMS Irresistible in 1915; the oldest to die in battle was Captain Sylvester O’Halloran (2&3 South 1889) who was 49.

Although boys often headed to far-flung parts of the world on leaving, many returned to their homeland to fight, while 25 died while serving with Canadian, Australian or New Zealand regiments.

At least four of those who died had German or Austrian parents. Eric Melville Ludwig Ferdinand Harry Kerle (East 1911) joined the navy in 1914 but was discharged when it was found out he had been born in Germany to an Austrian father. He immediately enlisted in the London Scottish Regiment, and fell at Locre in 1918.

As was the case nationally, families often had several sons fighting. Of the five Northovers at Cranleigh, four served. All survived. Less fortunate were the Holland brothers, six out of the seven of whom went to Cranleigh. Charles (House 1894) died in 1918 when he crashed his Sopwith Camel while off duty. Eight months later Algernon, the only non OC, was killed when his seaplane hit a ship’s mast. A third brother, Sydney Holland (House 1893), by then 53, was the only OC to die in the Spanish Civil War, his ageing plane shot down by German fighters in 1936.

Harold Last (East 1905) died in 1915 after being shot in the neck; his brother Leo (House 1906) was killed in the first minutes of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916 – it was his 20th birthday.

Claud Chaland (1N 1909) died from wounds after being captured by the Germans in October 1915. His younger brother, Maurice (1N 1910) was killed in December 1917.

Colonel Percy Maclear (2 North 1887) perished in the Cameroons in the first month of the war and Lt Col Harry Maclear (2 North 1889) was killed by a stray bullet when he stepped out of his dugout to clean his teeth in France in 1916; a third brother, Basil, who played rugby 11 times for Ireland, also died in the war.

Edmund Tennant (East 1900) was killed early in 1916, seven weeks after arriving in France; the same shell also killed his brother, and they are buried together.   Charles Bosher (East 1901) and his cousin, Ronald, who had enlisted together, were also killed by the same shell in 1915.

Captain Stuart Dennison (West 1894) was killed on 9th May 1915; on the same day his brother, 2nd Lt Ralph Dennison (West 1897), died serving in another regiment in a different area.

The Kell brothers died at either end of the war and on opposite sides of the world: Philip (House 1887) in September 1914 when HMS Cressy was torpedoed and Herbert (1 North 1886) in June 1918 when his ship was sunk off the coast of New Zealand.

Jack Smellie (1&4 South 1914) died in 1917 from injuries sustained almost a year earlier on the Somme. His brother Archie (1&4 South 1912) survived the war despite being wounded twice only to die in 1940 when  the boat he was sailing to Dunkirk to help with the evacuation was hit and destroyed.

At least a dozen others who died lost brothers who had not been at Cranleigh. Godfrey Twynam (1 North 1908) was one of five brothers, four of whom died; only his twin survived. Captain Francis James (1N 1905) was mortally wounded in Gallipoli in 1915. His brothers George, Charles and Henry James were all killed within a year. 2nd Lieutenant John Lee was killed on the Somme in September 1916; his older brother died three days later. 2nd Lieutenant Kenneth Williamson perished in Flanders in 1917, a week after his older brother.

A fair number died of wounds; in the pre-antibiotic days infection killed almost as many as perished instantly. And some lived on after the Armistice but, their health weakened, died in the years that followed. Their names are not recorded, not is their suffering. Perhaps the last death directly resulting from the war came as late as 1973 when John Walker (East 1913) died in a nursing home. Aged 19, he had been shot in the head in Gallipoli in 1915 while serving with the Suffolk Regiment. He was brought home where he remained in a semi-vegetative state until his death.