Great War OS Club Pilgrimage

Casualties, Honours and a brave OS ANZAC!

To date, the Club Pilgrimage has focused, and continues to focus, on the resting places or memorials to the 257 fallen Old Sedberghians. 44 have been visited so far and plans are afoot by many to visit more this year, not least the Club Pilgrimage to Gallipoli which now numbers a healthy Expeditionary Force of at least 33.

It is important that we maintain momentum of our visits, and we do ask that you let the Club know of your visit plans, order the Pilgrim Packs and Winder’s soil from the Club, photograph the grave, and let us know about your visit. There is still much to do!!

However staggering the bald statistics may be from a School which, at that time, barely numbered 300 boys, they are thrown into even starker outline if one takes account of the numbers who were Wounded or captured as  Prisoners of War. Total OSs wounded numbered approximately 350, though the effects of gassing and shell shock did not always manifest or become recognised until much later – what is termed today as post-traumatic stress disorder. Consequently the wounded numbers are almost certainly understated. 28 OSs were captured and endured captivity as PoWs. In the words of The Sedberghian in 1920, “ Total Casualties could be reckoned to be 628”, to be augmented by the 7 names added to the Great War casualty list since that date, making a total of 635 Casualties in all. The Sedberghian assessed the Sedbergh contingent in The Great War to be approximately 1265 strong, though this figure is almost certainly understated too. It meant that almost 60% of the living Old Sedberghians of the day served their country on Active Service, in uniform.

This means that more than one in two Old Sedberghians alive at the time volunteered to fight for their country. Just think about that for a minute. It is a staggering statistic. And of that total, more than 50 % were casualties – every second serving Sedberghian, and therefore one in four of every single Sedberghian alive. A quarter of the OS Club killed, captured, or wounded.

Statistics are never infallible, and at 100 years distance, they must be treated with some caution. But by any measure this is an astonishing record of service, of putting one’s country and the national interest before self.

And it doesn’t stop there. The Sedberghian went to great efforts to track the Honours and Awards gained by the Old Sedberghians. The list is extraordinary. It reveals (statistics again!) that every second Sedberghian who served was recognised by the Award of a combat Honour. In reality, there were those who survived who were to gain a number of Honours, or display repeated acts of heroism; for example, of the 139 OSs who won the Military Cross, the 8 who won Bars to their MC, and the 2 OSs who won a second and even a third Bar, must have been extraordinarily brave, and fortunate, men indeed!  And – as with all military honours – those who fell  as a result of individual acts of heroism, unseen or unreported; the deserving, – whose courage, leadership, or deeds were lost in the fog of war, or in the death of comrades, or the reporting officer,  -find no place in these statistics.  And most poignantly of all, are those whose brother officers or officers commanding may have recommended for an award, only to be rejected by a Staff officer back at base, often for relatively inconsequential or procedural reasons. The story below of our own ANZAC hero at Gallipoli, highly topical at the moment, amply illustrates the tragedy and vagaries of War.

Thomas Evans (Evans House 1894-98)

Lieut. 3rd Bn, 1st Australian Division,

Killed in action ANZAC Cove,

26 April 1915


T H Evans

Thomas Evans was born in Huyton, Liverpool, and became an Australian by adoption. On leaving Sedbergh, he joined the Leicestershire Imperial Yeomanry and served in the South African (Boer) War, receiving the Queen’s Medal with four clasps. Clearly an adventurous spirit, he travelled extensively in out-of-the-way places before settling down to farm in New South Wales. On the outbreak of War, he volunteered immediately, and was enrolled as a Private in 3rd Australian Infantry Battalion, part of the 1st Australian Division, which was in turn incorporated into the Australian & New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).

In November 1914, Evans, by now 2nd Lieutenant, was in Egypt training with the ANZACs Expeditionary Force for the Western front, but found themselves pitched into the ill-fated, and poorly planned, landing at ANZAC Cove and subsequent assault at Cape Helles.

The Australian Official History specifically picks up the story of Lt Evans as exemplifying everything about the fibre, and strong independent will of the Australian soldier.

“Towards the evening some New Zealand and Australian infantry were lying out on Plugge’s when several salvoes of shrapnel fell about them. Further to the right the Otago Battalion lost 30 men in a few minutes. A message came, shouted from the rear “Pass the word to retire!”

Lieut Evans of 3rd Bn, who was sitting in the open at some risk of a sniper’s round, overheard these words

What’s that message?” he asked sharply.

“Word to retire, sir” said a man lying beside him.

“Who said retire?” asked Evans. “Pass back and ask who said retire?”

“Yes –who said retire?” called several of the men around him.

“Pass back and ask who said to retire?”

The enquiry could be heard proceeding from mouth to mouth, and the next minute there came back a very different command.

“Advance and dig in on the forward slope of the hill”

“The men picked up themselves and their rifles and went forward.”

That day Evans selflessly and courageously helped carry four wounded men to the stretcher bearers under heavy enemy fire.

The next day, again as recorded by the Official Australian History,

“Lieutenant Evans of the 3rd Battalion volunteered to carry orders to a neighbouring machine gun which it was desired to stop in order to tempt the Turks on. He had reached the gun and was returning when a man in a pit in the support line was wounded. Evans picked him up, only to fall riddled with machine gun bullets. ”

His Commanding Officer described the incident rather more expansively in a letter to Evans’ parents in Liverpool thus:-

“Lieut Evans went over and when returning stopped to succour a wounded man who had been left in the open. Having bound up the man’s wound, he tried to carry him back to safety, but was hit repeatedly. Though badly wounded he still tried to save the man, to the admiration of all those who saw his gallant conduct. An attempt was made by my men to rescue them, but your son was riddled with bullets and died a hero.”

His CO recommended him for a posthumous Victoria Cross, and the Official Australian History commends his “strong independent will and steadying influence”.

Thomas Evans was just one of 358 Sedberghians who were Mentioned in Despatches – in this instance by Sir Ian Hamilton, Allied Commander at the Gallipoli Campaign, who commended ‘ his gallant and distinguished conduct in action “.

The award of a Victoria Cross was not forthcoming.

Thomas Evans had tried to save someone’s life while at Sedbergh, this time successfully. Aged 14, and while out on the fells, his companion suffered a serious fall in Thrush Gill.  Evans extemporised with a tourniquet made by tearing up his cricket shirt to staunch the bleeding which had pierced an artery. He then ran to fetch help and brought his friend back to Sedbergh for a full recovery.

Given their shared heritage with Evans House, it seems entirely appropriate to link Thomas Evans’ deeds with Wordsworth’s memorable line “The Child is father of the Man”.

Thomas Evans is buried at Shrapnel Hill, and he is remembered on his father’s grave in Liverpool.

The full list of Great War Honours and Decorations is as follows

Great War Honours and DecorationsNumber
Brevet Rank31
Bar to DSO6
2nd Bar to DSO2
Bar to MC8
2nd Bar to MC1
3rd Bar to MC1
Bar to MM1
Total British Honours294
Mentioned in Despatches358
Foreign Decorations57
Total Honours351
Total Honours & Decorations 709

With grateful acknowledgments to The Sedberghian, and Richard Overton (Sedgwick).

NAHMcK(S) – OS Club President – 23/4/15