First Monmouth School boy killed in WW1 remembered 100 years on

October 17, 2014

Horace Watkins was a student very similar to 17-year-old Harry.

A young, popular and driven boy, he was preparing to make his mark on the world.

Head of his boarding house at Monmouth School, just as Harry is now, the talented sportsman went on to study at Oxford – until the call came to go to war.

Horace Watkins was killed in action after being shot three times on October 21, 1914 in Belgium, aged 23.

The first of 76 Old Monmothians to have lost their lives in the First World War, a service was held at the school’s chapel on Friday (October 17) to mark the centenary of his death.

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Harry, who is today’s head of School House, laid a wreath for the fallen soldier at the school’s war memorial following the service.

He said: “I was happy to be given to opportunity to contribute to the remembrance of Horace Watkins.

“Because my father is in the military, remembering those who fell in the First World War and wars since then, is something I feel very passionate about.

“Given the fact Horace was also head of School House makes it even more significant in a way.

“It is almost weird to think that he was in the same position as me over 100 years ago and I feel honoured to follow in the footsteps of someone who gave their life for their country.

“Being alive while the war was going on must have been a terrible time and cannot imagine what the men and women of the time must have gone through.”

A keen sportsman, just as Horace was, Harry plays squash, cricket and rugby for Monmouth School, which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year.

The boarder, from Innsworth, Gloucester, hopes to pursue a career in engineering.

He added:  “I believe that it definitely makes us think about how we live and the freedom that we have, as the people who have died in wars of the past did it for us, and made a significant impact on the lives that we live.

“Without remembering them I do not believe we can truly appreciate what we have today.”

Horace’s is the first name engraved on his former school’s war memorial.

His is also the first name students will read on the memorial at Oxford’s Hertford College.

A second lieutenant with the South Wales Borderers regiment, the soldier attended Monmouth School between 1905 and 1910.

Archived stories paint a vivid image of who Horace was, and the heart-breaking way in which he died.

The Oxford Magazine, published on November 13, 1914, revealed: “He had already, in barely 10 days at the front, got a wonderful hold on his men, who noted alike his strictness about such things as clean rifles, his almost reckless scorn of danger, his constant thought for their comfort (as for instance fetching them mugs of tea in the trenches), his undisguised preference for ‘mucking in with the boys’ rather than living with the officers, and his unfailing cheerfulness and humour.

“He was constantly laughing, and when the bullet hit his temple, as he exposed himself to try and locate the enemy, who had unexpectedly opened fire, had just been joking with those near him about some jam (pozzy) that had been served to them. He fell senseless, but recovered consciousness, smiled, and said: “It’s alright, boys; pass the word along to Mr S that I shan’t want any pozzy tonight.”

“That was all.

“Mr S, the nearest officer, on getting the message, burst into tears; and all the men were quite downhearted.”

An inspirational leader, Horace was also the first soldier from Hertford College to be killed in the conflict.

The magazine article added: “Hertford’s first loss is a very heavy one. For the last four years HH Watkins had been a leader in every kind of College activity, and in the ordinary course of events he would still have been up for a fifth year. He took good Seconds in Mods. and Greats, played for Oxford at Hockey and represented Hertford at Rugby, Association, Hockey, Tennis and also in the Torpid. But he still found time to be one of the most efficient members of the Officers’ Training Crops has had. He obtained Certificates A and B, and another certificate for qualification in a course of musketry which he attended on his own initiative one summer. As a recruiting sergeant he had no equal. He believed in the Officers’ Training Corps as a real preparation for the crisis which has now come, and his arguments, ingeniously explained to everyone in the College at personal interviews, doubled the size of the Hertford detachment during the two years in which he led it.

“As a man he combined great personal charm with energy and common sense. The complete independence of his very healthy views and the candour with which he expressed them would have damaged most men’s popularity, but only served to increase his. All his friends knew that he would do something big in the world of action, and, without waiting to hear the details of his death, they know that he has done it.”

During Friday’s service, David Ibbotson, Chaplain of the Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools, told the boys: “I wonder what Horace thought about when he went off to war.

“He started here at 14 and he would have sat in these very pews and listened to the chaplain at the time.

“Through his schooling, the thought of war would not have entered his mind – Europe was peaceful then.

“His mind would have been occupied with the things that occupy yours.

“In many ways his education here at Monmouth and at Oxford would have prepared him for what lay ahead and when the call came he had no reservation in being first in line to volunteer to go to war.

“He would have been up for the fight, ready to see this evil in Europe being overthrown.

“But I wonder if this Old Monmothian was really ready for the realities of war – the anguish, the pain, the death and the destruction, the far from glorious nature of war where in the mud of battlefield, husbands are killed, children are orphaned and mothers rendered childless.

“Far removed from his experience of sitting in the pews in this chapel, and being Head of School House.

“Today we remember this brave OM who fell in battle – almost exactly 100 years ago and shortly after the outbreak of war.”

Today’s Headmaster of Monmouth School, Dr Steven Connors, said: “The Hertford archives tell us that Horace joined up on 14 August 1914, joining the Third Battalion of the South Wales Borderers (attached to the First Battalion). He was killed at Langemarck, near Ypres, on 21 October 1914, in the first battle fought at Langemarck.

“He matriculated to Hertford College in 1910, and was the son of Thomas and Fanny Maria Watkins. He is also commemorated on panel 22 of the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

“Those are the bare facts of a short life, well-lived and full of promise, but snuffed out in a moment.

“It is with a poignant mixture of sadness and pride that we will mark his death before we who live in more fortunate times break for the half-term holiday.”

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