14th Mar 1919. The British Tommy, Humour in Face of Death

Famous Actor’s Experience at the Front.

Sir F. R. Benton, England’s greatest Shakespearean actor, who has been serving as an ambulance driver with the French Army, gave a delightful lecture, entitled “ The French Poilu and the British Tommy,” to the members of Rugby School in the Temple Speech Room on Tuesday evening.

At the outset the Lecturer, who was in uniform, said khaki had now become synonymous with the mantle of the knights of the Round Table, or with the knightly mantle of any chivalry of the brave in any age, in any country in the world. This had been made so by the splendid selfless heroism and patient endurance of their soldiers, sailors, and airmen. The greatness of the British race, he said, was due to its love of poetry, and a nation’s character could be judged by the song words of its people. He traced the song words of the English race from the days of Alfred the Great, through the intervening centuries till the present day, when the song words of Tommy Atkins might be interpreted as
“ Carry on, never mind me.” This was the song word which Tommy Atkins had contributed to the song words of freedom and of service upon which their Empire was based. But the contribution of Tommy Atkins to the song words of the nations could only be adequately described by an appeal to the representative poet of the English, and Sir Frank recited, with intense dramatic effect, several soul-stirring epics from the treasures of Shakespeare, breathing in every line the deathless courage and stern resolve which has always characterised the British race. After drawing a vivid word picture of Passchendale,
absolutely blasted with the hot breath of hell,” the Lecturer recounted many incidents typical of the humour and splendid courage of our soldiers. “ The British soldier,” the French say, “ is the strongest fighter in the world.” “ And,” they add, “ he is also the gentlest.” This was a great compliment, a great national characteristic, and he hoped they would always possess it.
Sir Frank Benson has a rich fund of anecdote, and he gave of his best on Tuesday. “ When war broke out,” he said, “ I, in common with everybody else, went to the recruiting office, and I told the sergeant that I was 29 years of age, or rather that I hoped to be 29 if I escaped measles, whooping cough, bronchitis, and other childish ailments. I also descanted at some length on my fitness physically. The sergeant interrupted me, however, by quietly remarking, “ Excuse me, sir, but unfortunately I saw you trying to play ‘ Hamlet ‘ more than 29 years ago ’ ” (laughter). “ I should not have minded,” Sir Frank added, amid renewed laughter, “ had he not laid emphasis on the ‘ trying to play Hamlet.’ ”
Another delightful story concerned a friend of the Lecturer’s, who had a mania for being taken prisoner. He was made a prisoner in the Boer War, and when the European War broke out he enlisted and became a major, and again he was wounded and taken prisoner. He had previously, however, requested his man to write to his wife and break the news gently to her if anything happened to him. Fortunately she received a wire from her husband, stating that he was slightly wounded and a prisoner, but news reached the regiment that he was dead. On learning this the servant scratched his head, and, after an hour’s hard thinking, he wrote : “ Dear Mrs. Major,—Major says to me before he goes over the top : ‘ Jack,’ says he, ‘ if anything happens to me, you are to have my best pair of brown boots and my second best uniform. Well, ma’m, I have got ’em all on at this moment.—Yours, Tommy Atkins.’ ” (laughter). There was, after all, a sort of philosophic “ Carry on, lads, never mind me,” spirit about that letter.
Then, dealing with another phase of the British Tommy’s character, the Lecturer related a never-to-be-forgotten story of the smith of the Scots Greys, who, fired with indignation at the horrible stories of the devilish deeds of the Germans, picked up the biggest hammer he could find, and, with his leather apron on, his sleeves rolled up, and his shirt open to the chest, sprang on a hone and took part in a splendid charge of our cavalry, when they rode backwards and forwards through the German ranks. There was no parry known in the German text books for a heavy hammer wielded by an English smith, his heart ablaze with righteous anger. Surely Thor, the thunder god, with his heavy hammer, rode in the English ranks that day.
Then there was the epic story of the, 19-year-old public school boy, who, when all the officers were killed and the regiment reduced from 2,000 to only 200, held a position for 23 days. He was soon afterwards promoted to command a company, and was ordered to take a difficult position held by machine gun fire. While attempting to do so a rifle bullet shattered his jaw. He fell, and as he lay, half-way between life and death, to his dim consciousness there came a whisper that the attack was not going all right, that all the officers had been killed, and the men were wavering. So he struggled to his feet, held the shattered remnants of his jaw in his left hand, waved his sword with his right, and led his men on to victory, till death the healer came in the shape of a bullet through the brain and eased him of his sore anguish. It was, he concluded, such deeds as this, which were performed every hour of every day, which led a famous French General to say to General French : “ I and my division would esteem it a great honour and a great happiness to come here and die by your side.”


On Saturday evening the Rugby Salvation Army band welcomed the nine bandsmen who have been demobilised at a tea in the Citadel, the arrangements for which were in the hands of the wives of the band locals. At the close a presentation was made by Bandmaster Burton, on behalf of the band, to Bandsman Rupert Martin, who had acted as deputy bandmaster during the absence of Bro. P. Allen on service.

The week-end meetings were led by Deputy Bandmaster Allen, assisted by the other khaki men, and during the services each of them recounted their experiences on the battle-field. A march, “ The Brigade,” composed by the Deputy Bandmaster whilst on the Cambrai front, was played, and also arrangements he had composed for two hymns, “ Sun of my soul ” and “ Art thou weary.”


WAR MEMORIAL : RESULT OF VOTING.—At a meeting held some time back it was decided to issue voting papers to all residents in the above three places, so that all over 21 could register their votes for the object they preferred. The following five proposals were placed before them :—(1) To repair and refurbish the south chapel in the church, and make it a war memorial chapel, with the names on the wall of those who have died and fought for us. Estimated cost, about £400. (2) To build a mission room and institute at Bretford ; cost £800 to £1,000. (3) To build a cottage for the pariah nurse ; cost £600.  (4) To put up a cross or monument of some kind on the Derry at Wolston. (5) To erect a clock tower on the Derry. Messrs. E. W. Ireson (Brandon), J. E. Wilkins (Bretford), F. Stevenson, F R. Butler, W.Chick, H. Walding, and G. Webb, jun. of Wolston, met at the Vicarage on Thursday in last week to count the votes. The following was the result :—No. 1, 204 votes : 2, 24 ; 3, 48 ; 4, 80 ; and 5, 191. Thus the war memorial chapel was carried. Thanks are due to the Vicar, the Rev. J. O. Gooch, for getting the voting papers, &c., printed.

A HERO’S RETURN.—Pte. Horace Watts has returned home after being a prisoner since the 21st of March last. He joined the West Kents in August, 1914, and went out in the spring of 1915. He was with the gallant West Kents when they were surrounded in Trones Wood for two days. Although many would have surrendered, they stuck to their guns, and eventually extracted themselves. He was wounded first at Hohenzolern Redout, and after a short time in England returned to France. He was again wounded in the left elbow, and taken prisoner at St. Quentin. The treatment meted out to the prisoners was in many instances of a most inhuman nature. Pte. Watts was himself neglected shamefully. For days together the dressings of his wounds were not touched. In one instance he was 14 days without having them removed. His ration was a portion of bread and barley leaf water. Pte. Watts is the son of Mr. & Mrs. G. Watts, of Brandon Wood. Mr. Watts has been head gamekeeper to Col. Beach for the last 26 years. Pte. Watts is an old Bablake boy. His arm is progressing fairly well, but it is feared it is permanently injured. He was offered promotion on several occasions, but preferred to stay as a private.


INFLUENZA.—The death-rate locally from influenza and pneumonia is still declining, and during the past week nine deaths from these diseases have been registered, as against 16 and 20 in the two preceding weeks.

RE-OPENING OF A GARAGE.—Messrs. Sam Robbins’ Garage at Dunchurch, which was closed owing to shortage of labour during the war, has now been re-opened under the management of Mr. Gilbert.

RIFLEMAN HAROLD LEE, 8th K.R.R., son-in-law of Mr. & Mrs. G. H. Cave, 74 Windsor Street, Rugby, who was posted as missing on April 4th last, is now presumed to have been killed on that date.

WAR RELIC FOR THE O.T.C.—A captured German trench mortar, presented to Rugby School O.T.C, by the Army Council as a mark of appreciation of the work done by the Corps during the war, has been placed outside the Armoury in Lawrence Sheriffe Street.


HARRISON.—On the 11th inst., in the Military Hospital, Leeds, from pneumonia, following influenza, Lieut.-Col. JAMES MOLYNEUX HARRISON, R.A.S.C., fourth son of Alfred Hyde Harrison, late of Dunchurch Hall, Warwickshire, aged 49.


BOTTERILL.—In proud and loving memory of Pte. A. W. BOTTERILL (BERT), 2nd Coldstream Guards, Killed in France 18, 1918. Interred in Frampaux Cemetery, Arras, on March 20th (sonny’s birthday).
“ Loving and loved one, your race is won ;
Nobly and well hath your work been done.
Now you have found your great reward,
And we whom you loved are left to mourn.
Yet how I miss the hand-clasp and the loving smile.”
—Sadly missed and deeply mourned by Wife and little Bert, Church Cottages, Clifton.

SKINNER.—In loving memory of Pte. G. SKINNER, 19th Canadians, killed in Belgium on March 14, 1916.
“ There is a link death cannot sever,
Love and remembrance cling for ever.”
From his loving wife CHARLOTTE.

STEEL.—In loving memory of our dear son, EDWARD, who was killed in action “ somewhere in France ” on March 16, 1915.
“ ‘Tis only a little while longer.
If we march in the heavenly road,
We shall meet and be ever with Jesus,
Who will ease our hearts from its load.”
—Never forgotten by his loving Father, Mother, Sister and Brothers.

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