Gresham's School in Wartime

We would like to invite people who have an interest in our WWI story to get in touch with us through the blog. Our sixth form researchers will be contributing their own experiences of the project to the blog and we hope to update the website as new material becomes available. If you have any relevant comments or contributions of stories or archive material we would be delighted to hear from you.

If you would like to submit a blog entry, please email Liz Larby.

Henry Neil Newsum - older brother of Clement Neill who died on 27/9/1917 - by Kit and Dolf

Henry was a boarder in Howson’s between 1908 and 1912.  He received colours in rugby and hockey as well as being a good cricketer, and was made a School prefect. In 1912, as School Captain, Henry played an important role on the ceremony for laying the foundation stone of the Chapel, handing a copper box to Sir Edward Busk, Chairman of Governors, for burial as a time capsule. Henry attended University College, Oxford before becoming a timber merchant in the family business in Lincoln.  He joined the Lincolnshire Regiment in 1915, serving as a Captain, and won the Military Cross for a courageous act of reconnaissance. Both brothers trained their companies for the action of 26 September 1917 which claimed the life of the younger, and it was probably due to the insistence of a CO that Henry stay behind that the family did not lose two sons that day.  After the War Henry created a unique memorial to his brother by having his study in Howson’s panelled in oak complete with a beautifully carved school crest and plaque.  Much later, in 1932, he wrote a book about the experience, ‘Behind a Mask – the European War 1914 – 18’, perhaps inspired by the death of his brother. He married Beatrice Hillas, and sent his son David to Gresham’s (Farfield 1942-46). Henry Newsum died in 1968 and was buried in the cemetery at St. Peter’s Church, Eastgate, Lincoln, where there is a memorial window to his brother.  He is pictured below in a 1911 cricket XI, front row, left.

James Humphrey Cole - OG surveyor of the Great Pyramid of Giza

James was born in 1891, the fourth of six children of Herbert and Amy Cole, who lived at Hill House in Brundall, Norfolk.  His father was a solicitor, and James attended King Edward VI School in Norwich before registering at Gresham’s in September of 1904. James’s older brother Arthur also attended the School (1902-5) and his adventures in the silver mining district of Canada are recorded in The Gresham magazine, followed in November 1917 by his death at Passchendaele while serving with the Canadian Mounted Rifles. James won an Open Scholarship to Gresham’s and boarded in Bengal Lodge.  He soon proved himself to be a sportsman, playing rugby for various teams, and doing well at athletics and gymnastics, as well as representing his House at swimming.  James won several prizes for science and maths, and was a regular and entertaining speaker at the debating society, addressing some ‘more or less coherent remarks’ on Turkey in 1908 and denouncing the war with Italy. After leaving at Christmas of 1909 he was to return to play in an OG rugby match the following year, and much later in 1920, attended an OG reunion at the School.

In 1909 James was awarded a scholarship of £80 per year to study maths at St. John’s College, Cambridge where he achieved First Class Honours, as well as playing cricket and stroking for the Lady Margaret Boat. In 1912 he was appointed to a post with the Egyptian Civil Service as a mathematician carrying out survey work. During the War James was asked to assist the British Army in compiling maps from aerial photographs, becoming so successful he went to Mesopotamia at the request of renowned T.E. Lawrence of Arabia to conduct the first ever aerial survey of the town of Baghdad. In 1917 he left to carry out further surveys in the Sudan and Egypt on which the entire irrigation system of the two countries was based. He was Mentioned in Despatches for his work in 1918, and later made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.  After the War James was in charge of survey work in the Nile Valley which occupied him for the next twenty years and led to the publication in 1925 of the first accurate survey of the Great Pyramid of Giza.  James Cole retired to Sheringham, and his obituary in the 1963 OG Magazine described him as “a man of quiet and modest disposition who was much liked and esteemed by all who knew him.”

Sun compass designed for use in tanks in the desert during WWII by James Cole.

Photograph copyright  IWM(FEQ 416)

Wartime debating at Gresham’s - researched by Henry, himself a debater of some note

The most remarkably obvious fact about the Gresham’s debating society is simply how popular it is.  Dozens of people vote in each debate, but what is even more striking is that many of them speak on either side.  Individual houses also had their own debating societies, showing the seriousness in which it was taken.  The motions of these were, as might be expected, rather more esoteric than the main debating society, for example, ‘In the distant future passengers will cross the Atlantic by air rather than by sea’. It is perhaps less surprising that debating was seemingly so essential to the life of the School, given the reforms introduced by Howson and later Eccles, making Gresham’s arguably the leading school in the country for those who desired a less traditional and more radical education, for those privileged enough to afford it, of course! 

The main debates were far more dominated by current events.  While some of the contributors clearly mirror the opinions of their fathers, often Liberal MPs, there were enough Conservative members to make for a lively debate. It was all recorded with the dry and quietly insulting wit of the anonymous reporter, eg. ‘J.H. Cole confidentially addressed some more or less coherent remarks’, and the ‘verbose invective’ of N. Drey when quoting figures ‘absolutely unintelligible to himself and others.’ Henry and his classmates were amused by the archaic attitudes shown by some OGs in their debates, particularly in bringing class into everything, although ‘politics is not the trade of a gentleman’, clinging onto to colonialism wherever possible, and, of course, when discussing the thorny subject of women’s suffrage.

Lieutenant-General Sir William George Holmes(1892-1969) – a distinguished OG career soldier

William was born in Westminster, the son of Dr William Reid and Elizabeth Holmes.  The 1901 Census records the family, including older sister Elizabeth, living in St. James with a governess, housemaid, parlour maid and cook to look after them. He attended Prep. School in York before registering at Gresham’s in January of 1904.  He boarded in Woodlands, where he later became a prefect, playing both rugby and cricket for House and School.  William also did well in the junior steeplechase, and performed in two plays, ‘The Tempest’ where he was ‘splendid’ as the jester, and as Sir Toby Belch in ‘Twelfth Night’ in which he was described as ‘quite first rate’.  An obituary in the OG Magazine reveals that he was a keen and accomplished boxer and swordsman as a young man.

He leaves the School at Christmas of 1909 and in the following year is mentioned in the honours lists for admission to Sandhurst where he also continues his rugby playing.  In 1911 he is commissioned into the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and is listed as serving with them as 2nd Lieutenant in 1914.  William was wounded twice during his service in France, Belgium and Italy, and received the DSO & Bar in 1917, when, “During the final stages of the fighting he was the soul of both defence and offence,” and “it was mainly due to his gallantry and dash that the enemy counter-attack was defeated.”  He also won the Italian medal for valour and was mentioned in dispatches four times. Continuing his army career after the War, William is promoted to Colonel in 1933, and in 1937 becomes the youngest Major-General.  In WWII he commands the Territorial Army’s 42nd Infantry Division in France, going to North Africa after Dunkirk as Lieutenant-General. Between 1943 and 1945 he is in command of the IXth Army in Palestine.  After his knighthood in 1945 he retires to a ranch in Arizona.


George Lee Temple - Gresham's 'Baby Airman'

In the early hours of 2017 a themed pub in Acton, The Aeronaut, suffered a disastrous fire which saw party-goers evacuated and the building’s upper floors gutted. The pub was celebrating the New Year with typical events, including cabaret acts and circus performances with airborne feats in honour of its local hero George Lee Temple. Born in Acton in 1892, George was the youngest of the four children of retired naval lieutenant George and his wife Philippa.  He attended Trent College before registering at Gresham’s in January of 1908, winning a prize for drawing in the following year, as well as representing School House in swimming races, before leaving at Christmas. George soon embarked on a motor apprenticeship in Coventry and was a keen ‘daredevil’ motor cyclist, racing in a team for the Singer Works.  An accident in 1912 perhaps brought him to the realisation that his talents lay in the fledgling aviation business, though, and in September he went into partnership and opened a flying school at Hendon. The young man began learning to fly and purchased a biplane.  He was granted his Royal Aero Club Certificate in February 1913, but sold his interest in the flying school that Summer after concluding that there was money to be made in exhibition flights for the entertainment of the enthralled public.  One of his daring stunt flights, on 17 May, drew a crowd of 6,000, who each paid 6d to enter the landing ground and watch the aerial acrobatics.  

On 4 September George became the youngest pilot to make the journey from France to England, but his performance in a handicap race from Hendon to Brighton was somewhat hampered by his compass falling off into his lap! On 25 November he became the first Englishman to attempt the bunt(loop) in England, a feat so dangerous he was lucky to escape with his life, indeed The Times reported that he joked he would kill himself with these exploits one day!  Having succeeded at flying upside-down, although not achieving the elusive loop, George continued to give daring performances to large crowds, the adulation encouraging him to take even greater risks. Luck ran out for the so-called Baby Airman, though, on 25 January 1914 when he set off from Hendon in very cold and windy weather despite recovering from a bout of flu.  After flying his Bleriot plane round the enclosure for ten minutes the engine suddenly failed, causing the machine to execute a complete loop, landing upside-down in the middle of the aerodrome.  George died of his injuries, which included a broken neck, later believed sustained by collapsing at the controls due to illness, but the plane was unscathed.  The 21-year-old airman was buried in the cemetery at Acton in the family plot, his memorial an angel, and his epitaph read, “Now gallant boy pursue thy happy flight with swifter motion haste to purer flight.” (Photo courtesy of National Portrait Gallery)

Prize book - A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens - awarded to G.H. Lowe donated by his father-in-law Tony Mortlock

The prize was awarded for English in 1913 to Guy Humphrey Lowe(9/6/1898) who was born in Harrow.  His father was Charles, a surveyor, his mother Charlotte, and like his older brother Harlowe, Guy attended Woodridings School in Pinner before Gresham’s. He registered at Old School House in May of 1911 and progressed to Woodlands, where he was soon representing the House at cricket.  Guy also played hockey and rugby for the School, returning as an OG to play in matches, and did well in the steeplechase and athletics.  He won prizes for Latin, English and History in 1913, and performed a piano solo at a concert, as well as singing in the choir.  In 1916 Guy achieved promotion to Lance-Corporal in the OTC, and in the following year is reported to be at a training centre prior to becoming a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. He attended OG events in the early 20s and married Miss Ella Brookes at Hendon in June 1923.  The register records that Guy went on to have a career as a technical brewer, and his father-in-law believes he suffered lung damage throughout his life because of gas attacks during the War.  Guy died aged 89 in Staffordshire.

Harlowe Robert Lowe(9/5/1897) began the family tradition of boarding in Woodlands, having registered at Michaelmas 1905 in the Junior House.  Like his brother, he too showed promised at athletics and steeplechase, played cricket for Woodlands, and hockey and rugby for the School. Harlowe won a prize for French and was promoted to Band Corporal in the OTC.  The family were great supporters of the School, Charles giving money to the Chapel Fund in 1912, and both sons subscribing to the Old Boy’s and War Memorial funds.  Harlowe is listed as serving as 2nd Lieutenant in the Gloucestershire Regiment in 1916, being awarded the M.C. for “handling his platoon with great courage and skill.”  He married Miss Molly Doig at the Savoy Chapel in 1931, attended a London OG dinner in the following year, and like his father, became a chartered surveyor. Harlowe died in 1950 and the OG magazine printed an obituary reiterating his great love of Gresham’s, showing his faith in all it stands for by sending his son Ian to Woodlands. 

Guy and Harlow had another brother, John Henry Charles Lowe, too young to serve in the Great War, who boarded in Woodlands from 1926-30.  He too won prizes for French and English and served in the OTC, as well as performing in House and School plays.  In his final year, he took part in debates on subjects such as the spirit of adventure and progress in modern society, often in the company of another Woodlands boy, young Donald Maclean.

Ronald Neal - brother of Archer Neal who fell on 15 September 1916

Ronald was born on 22 November 1893, the second of the four children of Holt watchmaker & jeweller Owen Neal and his wife Fanny. The family, including sisters Hilda and Frances, lived on the High Street, not far from Old School House. He attended The Limes in Holt before registering at Gresham’s in September of 1904 as a dayboy.  Ronald won a prize for writing in 1906 and was awarded a scholarship to continue his education in 1909, playing cricket for the dayboys that Summer, just as his younger brother would a few years later. He returned to the School in 1919 as an OG to play in a hockey match. In October 1914 he is listed as serving as a Trooper with the Royal Dragoons, and two years later receives the news of his brother’s death on the Somme.  OG News for 1918 records Ronald as being at Cadet School, and later as serving in a Cavalry Regiment, being awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre.  In 1922 he is reported as wounded during fighting in Johannesburg whilst serving with the South African Mounted Police.  Ronald married Catherine Hart in 1927 at Christ Church, Arcadia, and his death in the Transvaal Province is recorded in 1945.

Year 9 Project Michaelmas Term 2016 : A School Photograph

This Term students in Year 9 have continued their work on WWI in History, with a particular focus on the boys from Gresham's who fought and in significant number, fell in the conflict. Students have worked in groups to launch their own research project based upon an old school photograph. Their task was to find out all that they could about the young men in the photo, those that fell and those that survived. They have, in most cases, had the opportunity to visit the School archives, and to use the School registers and various School magazines and national databases to research and present their findings. They have produced work of a very high standard, worked collaboratively to corroborate evidence and to meet tight deadlines. In consequence Year 9 have learned much about the methodology and the pitfalls of genuine historical enquiry. It has been a fascinating and highly important process and one which the students have clearly engaged with and enjoyed. Chris Cox, Head of History

The Marriott brothers - researched by Isaac, Will & Henry

Stanley Marriott, the middle of three brothers who attended the School as dayboys, died on 21 October 1916(see profile on Roll of Honour)  The family of seven children were brought up at Brinton Grange, Norfolk, by their civil engineer father, William, and mother Gertrude.  William senior served with the Midland & Great Northern Railway for forty years and is remembered as an important figure for helping bring vital rail links to Norfolk. One of the volunteers at the North Norfolk Railway's Marriott Museum, Chris James, is researching his biography.

Stanley’s older brother, William Aubrey Layard, born in 1886, attended the School in 1897-98, before the move to the present site, and before the start of The Gresham Magazine in 1900. After qualifying as a doctor at Glasgow University in 1908, William went on to enjoy a successful career in medicine, including an appointment as Medical Officer at the London Homeopathy Hospital, and a practice in Norwich.  He is also remembered for his association with the Baptist Church in Norwich and for helping to found the Red Cross Society in Norfolk. He died in 1967, and was survived by his wife Irma, who was also a doctor.  

Francis Keene Marriott was born in 1892 and attended Bracondale School in Norwich before coming to Gresham's in September 1906.  He did well here, becoming a School Prefect, playing in teams for cricket and hockey, and returning as an OG to play in matches.  He was a regular subscriber to the Chapel Fund and donated to the Howson Memorial Library.  In 1915 he qualified as a doctor at the London Hospital, but soon obtained a commission as Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps.  Lieutenant Marriott was awarded the MC in 1916 for "conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty".  After leaving the Army he established a rural practice in Yoxford, Suffolk, where he became a well-known local figure, holding office on the Parish & District Councils and the British Legion.  He served as a Major in WWII in the Home Guard and taught first-aid in the Yoxford area.  Francis took an active part in the MBA and worked at the Patrick Stead Hospital in Halesworth, but loved spending time in his home and garden with his wife and two daughters enjoying the delights of country living.  He died after an illness of several months, aged 55, on 30 August 1949. The photograph shows the Marriott family enjoying a chilly picnic on Cromer beach.

Dorothy M. Bristow(1881-1969) Art mistress 1915-40 researched by Alice & Chloe

Dorothy was born in Brixton, the daughter of William and Martha.  She studied at the Slade and was a successful still life painter before becoming a teacher.  Miss Bristow, or the 'Bristine', was welcomed to Gresham's in 1915 on a temporary basis to take the place of art teacher Vivian Smith during his military service, and stayed for 25 years.  Before the opening of the Art Room in 1921, classes were held in the physics labs, and the subject given very little importance.  Dorothy soon became involved in fund-raising for the new buildings and the war effort, holding popular annual exhibitions and sales of arts and crafts.  Art came into its own with the new rooms and its teaching was given more time and extended to higher forms.  Pupils began winning prestigious prizes, and several OGs such as Gerald Holtom, Richard Chopping and Robert Medley were inspired to follow successful artistic careers. Miss Bristow led sketching parties out onto Kelling Heath at weekends and encouraged the boys to use the art facilities outside lessons.  Firm, but fair, she was both loved and teased by her pupils, and was a familiar figure, dressed in grey and carrying a bag of art materials and an umbrella, walking along the Cromer Road.  This 'brave woman who took her lonely place in a man's world' was a friend to may a homesick junior, and had became part of the fabric of the School by the time she retired in 1940. Dorothy lived the rest of her life in a rural cottage on the Downs with her sisters Olive and Grace, dying at the age of 88, a much-loved and remembered Gresham's character.  She can be seen seated, third from right, in this 1930s staff photograph.