Spread Eagle’s Winning Team of 1915

During half term, I chanced upon this wonderful photograph of Spread Eagle’s winning swimming team of 1915. I decided to do a little research and discover what became of these proud champions. Most of them served during the First World War and a number served during the Second World War. At least two of the boys in the photograph had lost a sibling in the months preceding October 1915 (when the photograph was taken). 

There is a book to be written about this group of brilliant young men but I hope that you enjoy these brief notes based on an extremely limited amount of research. First and foremost, it is quite remarkable that all of these boys were destined to survive the First World War although their lives were indelibly touched by the loss of so many friends and family. From rubber plantations in Ceylon to administrative duties in Nigeria, their lives reflected the reality of professional life in an empire which was already in decline. One boy was destined to have a small settlement in Canada named after him. They won plenty of military honours, and an O.B.E. or two. Not all of their careers followed a traditional path and one young man chose to embrace the rise of modernity by carving out a career as a domestic refrigerator salesman.

    They came from interesting families and a good number of their fathers were clergymen. One boy’s great grandfather served with Lord Nelson before building a castle in Aberdeenshire though others came from more humble backgrounds. The sons of the previous headmaster and the son of the then bursar are also to be found in this image. 

It is tempting to speculate upon their mood as they posed for what should have been a happy occasion. The year 1915 was drawing towards a close but it was a year that had been marked by unthinkable loss and the occasion of this photograph seems somewhat strained. 

   After the war, these boys would be forced to make their own way in a world that had irrevocably changed. I think we can conclude that they did rather well.

William Gordon Hunter Barr (1899-1975) *incorrectly named as his older brother John

William Barr was born in April 1899 and entered Rossall in 1913. He joined Spread Eagle, following in the footsteps of his brilliant older brother John Young Barr.

Their father was Regius Professor of Engineering at Glasgow University from 1898-1912 although he was later to relinquish his post in order to establish a design consultancy company which specialised in producing optical equipment for military purposes (such as rangefinders). 

William’s older brother John went up to Christ Church, Oxford (1911-14) where he joined the university contingent of the officers’ training corps. He joined the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on 5th February 1915 and was killed in action, just ten weeks later, on 26th April. On 18th June, the Rossallian published a glowing tribute to John, observing that, ‘it is hard to realise that a career of so much promise has been cut off’. John had been an outstanding scholar and the Oxford Magazine states. ‘His qualities were conspicuously those that last well – of judgement, reflection and humanity’. A fellow officer wrote:

He was killed leading his men into the thickest part of the action. Those who saw him say he led his men brilliantly and with great courage…….and although wounded, he continued to lead them until they, with him, fell victims to the machine-gun……At nightfall I went out and found his body in a well-advanced position, a few yards in front of those of his men who had been killed with him.

John had been School Captain and his death caused an outpouring of grief. A private letter from a friend at the front spoke of his simple and sincere straightforwardness and his nobility of character which ‘shone forth a light to those in peril’. 

William stares out wistfully from this photograph of October,1915. He had achieved the highest aggregate score in the inter-house swimming cup but it must have mattered little in comparison to the monumental loss of his brother. William left School in 1917 and joined the Royal Garrison Artillery as a Second Lieutenant. At the end of the war, he took up a scholarship at King’s College Cambridge where he became the university diving champion. For a while, he worked in farming in South Africa and Zimbabwe. He served in the Second World War as a Second Lieutenant before returning to live in Argyll. 

John George Erich Vachell (1897-1978)

John was born in 1897 and joined Spread Eagle in 1911. He left in 1916 and served with the Royal Garrison Artillery in Palestine. He went up to Cambridge after the war, winning a Classics Exhibition to Jesus College.

He clearly had a change of heart because he ended up studying medicine and became a consultant dermatologist. John retained his commission after the end of the First World War and rose up through the territorial ranks.

During the Second World War, he was a lieutenant colonel and served in Palestine, Singapore and North Africa. He was put in charge of a military hospital in Lahore and a prisoner of war camp in Italy (1944). When the war concluded, he was based just outside Tripoli in Libya. John retired to Sussex and died in 1978.

As an interesting aside, John changed his surname from Koelle to Vachell in 1922. The name Koelle was Germanic and his grandfather, Sigismund Koelle (1823-1902) had been a German missionary working on behalf of the London-based Church Missionary Society in Sierra Leone. He was a brilliant linguist and a pioneering scholar. His work ‘Polygotta Africana’ was the first serious study by a European of African languages. John’s father, the brilliantly named Constantine Philpot Koelle, was born in Constantinople. His brother, Sir Harry Philpot Koelle, became a vice-admiral in the British Navy. 

Leonard Romney Furneaux (1859 -1934)

Leonard Furneaux attended Corpus Christi College, Oxford before being appointed to Rossall in 1884.

He was the son of a clergyman and was a formidable rower during his years at Oxford. He fulfilled various roles at Rossall including commanding the Officer Training Corp between 1905-1911. He edited the Rossall Register and was the first Secretary of the Rossallian Club. Upon retiring in 1920, Leonard moved to Surrey where he became a magistrate.

Leonard was very popular with the boys in Spread Eagle and many of those who served at the front wrote to him regularly throughout the war. Some of these letters were published in ‘The Rossallian’. His brother became headmaster of Repton and Dean of Winchester Cathedral. 

John McWilliams Bampfield (1897-1928)

John was born in 1897 and was the son of the highly efficient school bursar.

He was a member of Spread Eagle and was an accomplished sportsman, who played in the First XV.

He left school in 1915 and joined the army. John served with distinction and was awarded the Military Cross in 1917. After the war, he went up to Selwyn College at Cambridge University.

After graduating, he served as an administrative officer in Nigeria before later returning to England. He died in Devon, at the home of his parents, from tuberculosis in 1928 at the age of just 31.

Alfred John Auden (1898-1973)

Alfred was born in 1898 in Clun in Shropshire. His father was a clergyman and, much later, became the parish priest of the parish of Hempstead in North Norfolk.

Alfred’s first cousin was the celebrated poet W.H.Auden.

Alfred was called up in 1916 and served on the Western Front throughout the remainder of the war. In the early 1920s Alfred emigrated to Canada and became a professional forester.

He obtained a Masters in Forestry Management from Yale University in 1923. Alfred was something of a pioneer and proposed establishing woodland villages in the northern regions to facilitate the extraction of timber. The tiny settlement of Auden in the Thunder Bay district of Ontario is named after Alfred. 

David Claudius Gordon Duff (1900-1951)

David was the son of Thomas Duff Gordon-Duff of Drummuir Castle. His great grandfather had fought alongside Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. The castle itself is a spectacular example of the Victorian gothic style. A year before this photograph was taken, David’s much older stepbrother, Lachlan, had been killed at Neuve Chapelle on the Western Front whilst fighting with the British Expeditionary Force. His younger brother, Randall, was to be killed during the Second World War though his sister Katherine lived on until 2003. 

David gained the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery. After the war, he married and emigrated to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and worked within the family’s rubber plantation business. He and his wife Nell travelled a good deal. In 1936, an Australian newspaper records, ‘’No sooner had Nell and David Gordon-Duff got over the round of welcome teas and five-to-seven parties arranged on their arrival from Colombo than the rush of farewell gatherings commenced. They are off to Scotland to see the Gordon-Duff relatives before returning to their home in Ceylon’. He died there in Ceylon in 1951.

Newton Lloyd Wade, O.B.E (1901-1973)

Newton Lloyd Wade’s father was a solicitor in Newport, South Wales. Newton was the oldest of six children and he joined Rossall in 1913. He was a keen rugby player and a swimming champion.

He left School in 1919 and went up to Caius College, Cambridge. He later returned to Monmouthshire where he became a captain in the 1st Monmouthshire Regiment (reserves).

Too young to serve in the First World War, he served with distinction in the Second World War, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

John Anderson Smith (1898-1982)

John joined Rossall in 1912. He was a school monitor and played rugby with the First XV.

He left School in 1916 and saw active service as a second lieutenant with the Royal Garrison Artillery. He served in North Africa and Italy during the Second World War and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. For a short period of time he was in command of British forces in Algiers (May/June 1945).

His manuscript diary is held by the Imperial War Museum. He later retired to Somerset and died at the age of eighty five.

William Linton Hope (1898-1965?)

William was born in India and did not join Rossall until January 1915. He enjoyed his sports and played both rugby and cricket. He left School in 1917 and joined the military before going up to Caius College, Cambridge.

William was a keen golfer and represented the university. More impressively, he played for Great Britain in a match against the USA in 1923. By the 1930s, he appears to have emigrated to Australia.

John Herbert Godfrey Way (1898-1959)

John was born in 1898 and joined Rossall in 1909. His father, Dr John Pearce Way, was the Headmaster of Rossall between 1896 and 1908.

During the First World War, John served in France with the Royal Field Artillery. After the war, John became a solicitor and worked in West Africa and India. He died in Hong Kong in 1959 whilst working for the Hong Kong government as president of the tenancy tribunal.

Cyril Pomery Tothill (1899-1959)

Cyril was born in Salford and joined the Prep School in 1910. It appears that he lied about his age in order to join up underage in 1915. He gave himself an additional two years and his date of birth on a good deal of documentation (including his enrolment papers) is recorded as January 28th 1897.

He served with the Royal Tank Corps. After the war, he lived in London and was a refrigerator salesman during the 1930s.

His house in Slough Lane, Hendon, was situated in the sprawling but genteel suburbs of semi-detached properties which were designed for the respectable middle classes.

Jeremy Quartermain
Headmaster of Rossall School