The year 2018 marks the centenary of the ending of the First World War; the Armistice being signed at 11 0’clock, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. It is not without significance that in the context of Dover, every year that date records the anniversary of St Martin’s Day. Not only was St Martin a saint but he had also been a soldier in the Roman army. During the history of the school, it has produced many soldiers and military personnel. None more so than those who fought and many of whom died in the Great War. The roll of honour records 177 names of Old Dovorians. Old Dovorians are said to have won more Military Crosses per capita than any other school. A fact which should be recorded as an inspiration, rather than cloying ethereal nostalgia. While we are exhorted ‘lest we forget’ it should be not so much the pomp and pageantry but an acknowledgement of the courage which was spawned by the carnage and horror of bloody conflict. So many of the undoubted acts of bravery, are now sadly lost, in the midst of time.
There are however two heroic episodes both with Old Dovorian and sporting connections which to my knowledge stand out more than any.
First, there was the East Surrey football charge. Dover Castle kindly allowed the football out of their museums for the occasion to be displayed in the chapel and later in the refectory.
The background was the first Battle of the Somme in 1916. While Captain Nevill (who was commissioned in the East Yorkshire Regiment and later attached to the East Surrey Regiment) was on leave in London, he purchased two footballs from Gamages – some reports wrote of four footballs. The idea was to help the morale of his men when ordered ’over the top’. One of the footballs was inscribed:
The Great European Cup-tie Final
East Surreys v. Bavarians. Kick off at Zero
On the second football was written NO REFEREE; which could be translated as no holds barred. Nevill kicked one ball and Lieutenant Soames or Private Fursey the other to-wards the German lines with the rest of the 8th Battalion in pursuit. The East Surreys secured their objective and captured the enemy trenches. Capt. Nevill, Lt. Soames and Pte. Fursey were all killed.
The dates coincided such that 11 November 2018 also fell on a Sunday. There was the Remembrance Sunday Service at Dover College, as every year. This year was more poignant than usual with so many gathered to remember those who had lost their lives. Two of Billie Nevill’s relatives made the journey to see the unveiling of the statue, in honour of Captain Wilfred ‘Billie’ Nevill (1894 – 1916).
The second and less well known happening concerned Lieutenant Commander Arthur Leyland Harrison V.C. (1896 – 1918). Harrison was the only English rugger international to win the Victoria Cross. By a strange co-incidence John ‘Jack’ Harrison V.C., M.C. (no relation) was the sole rugby league player to gain the Victoria Cross. A further coincidence was that he was also commissioned in the East Yorkshire Regiment.
In 2014 Stuart Lancaster the then England coach, introduced the ‘Harrison Honours Board’ at Twickenham to record fearless action on the field of play. Lieutenant Commander Harrison’s posthumous decoration followed the Zeebrugge raid in 1918. The purpose of the exercise was to block the Bruges – Zeebrugge canal for use by German U-boats. The citation to Harrison’s Victoria Cross described his ‘indomitable, resolution and courage of the highest order’. Winston Churchill considered the Zeebrugge Raid as the finest feat of arms of the Great War. During the earlier Battle of Jutland in 1916, Harrison was mentioned in dispatches.
Current Old Dovorians can claim no credit with regard to these and such other displays of courage and personal sacrifice; there should be no basking in reflected glory. It is now our turn to shape the future and to strive for a fairer, more equal and sustainable world.
Finally, those who taught me may well have realised that I am unlikely to come out with the above without assistance. Thank you Roger Hovell for researching and recording. It should be noted that Rupert Hill has spent much time documenting the information that is known about all 177 ODs who gave their lives, and this can be obtained from Dover College in return for a small donation to Charity for those who are interested.