February 23rd 1917

west-n-2

Capt. Nevile West (Royal Berkshire Regiment)

Another Old Dragon has joined our Roll of Honour. Nevile West has been killed. He had already had one lucky excape. You may recall that he sent us an account of his experiences in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915.  He described how his camera was hit by a bullet that would otherwise have killed him.

Nevile’s bravery was recognised in the award of the MC ‘for conspicuous bravery‘ when he was twice wounded in an attack not long after the above incident.

It is understood that Nevile met his death on the night of January 16th when, in preparation for an attack, he and his company moved into position, where they experienced severe shelling. This bombardment claimed the lives of Nevile and one of his men, whilst five others were wounded.

Letters from fellow officers are always appreciated by family and friends alike, and it is inspiring to hear when one of our Old Boys is given such respect as Nevile was:

“His disposition was always bright and cheery, in fact he was the life of the mess, a good musician and a very fair artist, and up to the time of his death appeared to have led an almost charmed life, for he knew no fear or hesitation where duty called him and his one thought was the comfort and safety of his men.”

Nevile was somewhat reserved and diffident as a boy, as I recall, but had plenty of energy and ‘go’ and was much beloved by all who knew him at all intimately.

June 24th 1915

Nevile West

Nevile West has been awarded the Military Cross.

In today’s edition of ‘The London Gazette’:

“Second Lieutenant (temporary Lieutenant) Nevile West, 2nd Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Royal Berkshire Regiment).

For conspicuous gallantry on the 9th May 1915, near Rouges Bancs. When the leading line of his battalion was unable to advance, all the officers having been shot, he rushed forward and attempted to lead the men on. He was almost immediately shot down, but, picking himself up, he went forward again till he was hit a second time.”

Nevile last wrote to us in March (see March 22nd) following the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, describing the loneliness of leadership thrust upon him in a similar situation.

Having visited us at the OPS recently, we are happy to report that Nevile is making a good recovery from his wounds.

May 30th 1915

A Memorial Service for the life of Ronnie Poulton was held in St Giles’ Church, Oxford, yesterday, which I attended with some of the OPS staff and boys.

Rev. William Temple gave an excellent address in which he emphasised the role Ronnie might have played at Huntley & Palmer (which he had inherited in 1913) and in a wider field of industrial relations after the war.

“Many of us believed that with his ready sympathy, his utter freedom from selfishness, and his courage to follow what he saw to be right, he would grasp the causes of our labour unrest and class friction, and by removing them from the great industry in whose control a large part was to be his, set an example which would prove a great force in our social regeneration… What he hated most in our usual manner of life was the artificial barriers that hold people apart, and the suspiciousness of one class towards another…”

Commenting on Ronnie’s ready sympathy, his utter freedom from selfishness and his courage to follow what he saw to be right, he added,

“There are many of us who, if asked to point to a life without blemish, would have pointed to Ronald Poulton.”

* * * * * * *

We are grateful to Lieut. G.M. Gathorne-Hardy, who recently sent this picture of Ronnie’s grave to his parents.

RWPP grave

May 8th 1915

 

Ronnie Poulton

Lieut. Ronald Poulton Palmer (Royal Berks Regiment)

We have received further details from Jack Conybeare of dear Ronnie’s death, which occurred on the night of May 4th/5th.

5/5/15. “I have just heard that poor Ronald is dead. He was shot through the heart, in the early hours of this morning, and was killed instantaneously. This is the first real shock I have had since we have been out here. There always are a certain number of bullets flying about, but they never seem to hit anyone one knows, and in consequence, I, at any rate, had half forgotten that a friend might at any moment be killed. This is rather a rude awakening.

I last saw Ronald about ten days ago, when he came to see me in the trenches, as his company were taking over from us. It seems, indeed, hard lines, that a stray bullet should light on one who had both the power and the inclination to do so much good in the world…

I was talking to one of the Berks’ officers this morning. He told me that Ronald was far and away the most popular officer in the battalion, both among officers and men.

Apparently he was standing on top of the parapet last night, directing a working party, when he was hit. Of course, by day, anyone who shows his head above the parapet is courting disaster; in fact if one is caught doing so one is threatened with court-martial. At night, on the other hand, we perpetually have working parties of one kind or another out, either wiring, repairing the parapet, or doing something which involves coming from under cover, and one simply takes the risk of stray bullets.”

Captain Jack Conybeare (Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry) was at both the OPS and Rugby with Ronnie.

April 30th 1915

Readers of the Times yesterday will have seen the letter written by our neighbour Dr. JS Haldane to Lord Kitchener, in which he confirms that the gas used by the Germans on our troops at Ypres last week was almost certainly chlorine or bromine.

Having witnessed a post mortem at a Casualty Clearing Station at the Front, he has returned with one of the man’s lungs for further examination in his laboratory at his home, ‘Cherwell.’ He is now involved in experiments to find an effective respirator for the troops. Apparently, so his daughter Naomi tells us, the ideas given in the press for various home-made appliances are totally ineffective.

As for Dr Haldane’s son Jack, who was the first of my boys to win the top scholarship to Eton, he is now Lieut. JBS Haldane of the Black Watch, improvising bombs to lob into enemy lines, so I am told.

* * * * * * *

We have further news from Ronnie Poulton. No sooner than troops are out of the trenches and they are put to hard work. It does seem right to call it “Rest.”

Saturday 24th April. “We came out after four days in last night, and immediately went off digging, after ¼ hour’s RWPP profilerest.

The whole thing as a war is an absolute farce. This is honest fact. We went up to part of the line near here, which has a gap of 200 yards in it. Here Territorial Engineers are building a magnificent breastwork and parados and Territorials supply working parties. The joke is we are 120 yards from the German trench and about 80 from the German working parties. And we make a hell of a row, laugh, talk, light pipes etc and sing and nobody fires a shot, except one old sniper who seems to fire high on purpose; and yet when the flares go up, we stand stock-still so as not to be seen!!”

The period of so-called rest being over, Ronnie Poulton returned to do another spell in the trenches on April 27th, but he was only there for a day before going back into reserve for three days.

Having told us that snipers were not a thing to worry about at night, I cannot help but feel they should not be underestimated. Snipers are an ever present threat, clearly:

Thursday 29th April. “It is quite absurd to see the quite immovable landscape, with no movement of any kind on it and yet to hear the most accurate shots on our parapet, shots which have killed two men dead in the last two days, who foolishly put their heads up carelessly in a low part of the parapet to look back. Don’t worry about me in this respect.”

This is easier said than done. Parents, family, schoolmasters on the touch line of any rugger match – we  are always more nervous than the players, who are wrapped up in the game.

April 24th 1915

Ronnie Poulton has completed his recent spell in the front line and we can share another entry from his journal.

During this past tour of duty Ronnie was in charge of all repairs and improvements to the section of trenches for which his company was responsible. Platoon Commanders had to report to him by 3 p.m. daily with their suggestions. His day was then spent planning the next night’s work.

RWPP profileWednesday 21st April: “The work is the most important thing, as I am in charge of it, and my time is filled up with it – by day getting the work organised for the night. This has got better and better, and now I have a good system. Of course it is nearly all done at night. It is curious, at ‘stand to’, at about 8 p.m. to hear the sniping dying down, and then suddenly the ‘tap tap’ of the German party starting. Then we know we are safe, as there is a kind of mutual agreement not to fire on each other’s working and ration parties. So out we go and hardly a shot is fired.

The men betray the usual good humour at it all and are in perfect spirits, only betraying annoyance at the absence of biscuits, and the presence of biscuits (not Huntley and Palmers’!)

They have grown quite callous and you hear them whistling and shouting while working on the parapet, in the full moonlight. We did a good deal of work in our four days. My plan was to superintend till 12.00 or 12.30, then at times I was on duty at 4.00 a.m. or 8.00 a.m., so sleep was a bit short at the end. The sniper was active and we haven’t got him yet…”

There is a continual risk of being hit by a sniper’s bullet and much time and effort goes into trying to locate the position of German snipers.

“Sniping is all that goes on and in this at present they have an absolute superiority. We have constructed steel-plate loopholes but cannot find the brutes. When we do, we shall have them, as we have some wonderful shots. They got one of our men in the throat last night, but it is not a bad wound. The trouble is to locate the snipers. We reconnoitred to where we thought he was last night, but he wasn’t there…”

We trust that Ronnie will keep his head down.