Date Posted... Nov 10th 2022

Archive Attic: Letters from the Front

A selection of letters from 1914-1918

Below are a few of the letters published in the school magazines received by the School from or about former pupils undertaking military service during the First World War.  Sadly, those included here now also feature on the war memorial in the School Chapel.

Reginald M. Bell (1897-1918)

Corporal Despatch Rider, 1st Signal Company, Royal Engineers

Bell was a boarder at Truro School from 1908-1909.


In July 1915 it was reported that

He is with the second brigade quite close to La Bassee. The brigade consists of the various Guards. He is on duty sometimes all day, sometimes all night, and sometimes both. He was pitched into a shell hole about 5 feet deep the other day, but got out unhurt. At present they are sleeping (when possible) in some stables, and he counted 20 shells go over into the town behind as he was writing a letter home.

Truro College Magazine, July 1915

After the Battle of Loos on 1 October 1915, Bell wrote:

I expect you will have seen by the papers what we have done. It has been a very big tussle .., and I think we shall move them a good deal bit further before long. We, that is the Despatch Riders, have been working night and day since the night of the 24th, the night before the advance. You can hardly realise the amount of work we have done. I am not boasting when I say it has been well done. I do not know what they would have done to keep up all communications with the various brigades and headquarters if it had not been for the motor cyclists. Until last night I had not had my boots, clothes, or overalls off since the 23rd of last month. Our section of Despatch Riders have come through with only one casualty – one poor fellow being gassed. The Division has lost heavily, but not so heavily as in some of the previous big battles. The troops did splendidly, and we took about 1,200 prisoners in the first two days. I can tell you we gave them a big surprise when we used the gas – it laid out thousands. The only fault of gas is that it lays about for so long afterwards and so catches our own men if they are not prepared with their Smoke Helmets. After the Infantry advanced, we had to go up and follow them to keep up communication with Headquarters. We ran very great risks from stragglers, who got into houses and old trenches and sniped at us from behind walls whenever we got within range. We have nearly all got some souvenir of these snipers in the shape of a bullet hole through our coat, or kit which was on the bike. On the night of the attack I was given a message to take to some brigade whose position was not known. It was a moonlight night, though rain had fallen all day, and the roads, fields, and trenches were swimming with water. I set off about 11 p.m. I could not get further than our old line of trenches on the bike – there I had to leave it and go on foot in search of the lost brigade. The roads and trenches were being shelled to Hades, and the spare bullets were whistling all around. I got into what was the first line of German trenches, and then what a sight met my eyes. Dead and wounded lying everywhere. I wandered from trench to trench right up into the town of Loos and beyond. I could distinctly hear the crack of the rifle from some deserted cottage, and the ping of bullets. However, I was lucky and got through, and eventually found the missing brigade. I was at once sent back to Headquarters, where I arrived back at 6 a.m. the following morning. I had some bully and bread and a cup of hot tea, and being tired out with my night’s tramp fell asleep on the floor in all my clothes and dirt. I had about an hour’s sleep when they hauled me out again with another message – and this is how we have lived for well over a week, just getting an hour’s sleep where and when we could, and eating bully and bread when we got the chance. I can tell you we were all absolutely dead beat, and were mighty glad to get relieved – though I would not have missed that battle for worlds. The experience is absolutely unique. To have had a share in a battle like that, and to come out unscratched, is something to be thankful for, and something to have done for your country. I can tell you it tries your nerves and your courage to the utmost. I have never felt such a terrible feeling of loneliness and sickness as when I stood alone in the moonlight in the German trenches with all the dead and dying around me. The ghastliness of the sight was awful. The next day I was sent again, this time in the light. I got a good many souvenirs of various sorts from the dead Germans, and I had a good look round their trenches and dug-outs. They were wonderfully made, and quite comfortable. There was actually a clock ticking away on the wall of an officer’s dug-out. I collected a number of post cards which he had pinned up. I have been up since several times, and the place is beginning to smell horribly, as there are so many dead bodies of men and horses lying about that cannot yet be collected. Ah, well! “All’s well that ends well”. I have had a jolly good feed and a long night’s rest. I feel myself again now, and ready to face it again when the time comes. I have still a good appetite, and can sleep the clock round when I get the chance, which is not often; so I do not think there is much the matter with me.

Truro College Magazine, December 1915

He wrote again from France on 29 April 1916:

There are sixteen Motor Cyclists in this Division, so we always have plenty of company. I must say that I have never met a better set of fellows than we have in this section. I have had a number of rather exciting experiences whilst carrying out my duties, but nothing of any real consequence since that big affair last September. How is the old School? I hope still winning successes in it’s work and on it’s playing fields. What a number of ‘Old Boys’ are serving in H.M. Forces. I saw the list in the Magazine, which was forwarded to me here. There were the names of many Old Boys whom I knew I wish I could meet some of them out here, but I do not know their addresses.

Truro College Magazine, July 1916

Robert Gilpin (1890-1915)

Lieutenant, 83rd Siege Battery, Royal Field Artillery

Gilpin was the eldest of four brothers who attended Truro School between 1902 and 1915. His father was a Quartermaster Sergeant for the 1st Royal Sussex Regiment stationed in India, and after training at the Woolwich Academy was also stationed in India. When war broke out in 1914 he was restationed to Mesopotamia (Iraq), and sent several letters back to the school recounting his experiences.

27 November 1914

After two or three false starts, the battery at last found itself on board the “Bamora”, and only then we discovered that our destination was the Persian Gulf. We steamed up the Shatt-el-Arab until we came to the camp of our main body, which was on the right bank at a place called Suniyeh, the Persian oilfields’ works being only a couple of miles below us and on the left bank. The banks are simply mud, for the river is tidal, like the Fal, and smells badly on a hot day at low tide. We landed November 15th, as the Sheik of Muhammarch, who is friendly, was afraid the Turks would raid his territory. On the 17th instant, at 6 a.m., our force of about 5,000 landed and marched up the river. Soon after 9 a.m. we came into touch with the enemy. The country is most peculiar, for there is a belt of date palm plantations from half a mile to one and a half miles deep along the edge of the river, behind which is the desert of Arabia – bare, treeless, without a single feature of any kind, and having a layer of clayey soil, six inches or so deep, over the sand, while there is an incrustation of salt all over the surface. The enemy were very strongly entrenched along the edge of the palms, and had an old mud fort, while our men had to advance straight across the open desert. At 10 a.m. a heavy rain storm came on, and lasted about half an hour, after which the ground was a bog. It was a very instructive fight, and I think we all learnt a lot. On our left we saw from the battery a long line of enemy, dressed in white, whom we judged were Arabs, standing up, offering us a beautiful target at 4,000 yards range. We had not fired a dozen rounds at them before they all vanished. An officer in the firing line told us afterwards that the enemy could not see our infantry, unless they stood up, and that the Arabs were in reality standing up shouting and throwing up their rifles, believing we were beaten. When our shrapnel came over them they immediately hid themselves in trenches, as, poor fellows, they hadn’t even heard of guns on motor cars, as they called them, and would not face them. Their idea of our guns being on motor cars seems extraordinary, but it is wonderful how the mirage affects everything. An object at any distance seems to be in water, and has a very indistinct outline; this naturally makes shooting difficult. As an example I will tell you how we were fooled – only two days ago, marching along, we all noticed what looked like a troop of cavalry about 2,500 yards away, but when we went close up to them they turned out to be only four camels with their loads and riders. So much for the illusions produced by this weird mirage of the desert. We were now told to advance, and we moved forward as best we could, under shell fire, which, however, was fortunately harmless. Our fastest pace was a crawl, not even a walk. I had to stop a wagon and hook its team in front of the gun team to get the gun up at all. Just think how awful the ground was when it was all that ten horses could do to move an 18pr. gun limber. It was laughable the way every one instinctively bobbed as a shell whistled overhead. We were all in a funk, but were most afraid of being thought afraid. At 3pm the enemy retired, and we marched into camp just behind their position, over ground strewn with rifles, clothes, equipment, which they had thrown away in their flight. The sad part was the sight of the dead and wounded lying about the ground. Our casualties were about 300, while those of the enemy were estimated at about 1,500 or more. The fight took place at a place called ‘Zam’, and we stayed in camp there until 22nd instant.

There was a large deserted village which interested me very much. Whole houses full of baskets of dates, and hundreds of pounds of barley. No wonder Mesopotamia was the Garden of Eden. The soil is wonderfully rich, and produces dates, barley, wheat, cotton, grapes, pomegranates etc., in abundance. With irrigation this will be one of the richest provinces in the whole world.

On November 22nd, hearing that the Turks had abandoned Busrah, the General ordered a night march. After a day of heavy fatigue work, we marched out of camp at 8.13 pm. The distance to Busrah is 22 miles. We marched on and on at the rate of about two miles an hour, with innumerable halts (just like a long train shunting in a railway station, each unit a carriage bumping on and stopping, and so onwards). We halted at 5am to wait for dawn. Dog tired, men fell asleep on their horses, and lay down and snored at every opportunity. The sun rose at 5.55am, and we found we had yet twelve miles to go, as our guide had taken us a long way out of our true course. On we went, and at 3.20pm reached Busrah, and in an hour were in camp. Nineteen hours solid marching without food, and through a bitterly cold night, over heavy ground, is something of which to be proud. After a mug of cocoa, two of us and some men went out and pulled lucerne grass for our horses, which had been on very short rations for two or three days. Busrah is a very quaint old place, unspeakably filthy, but really fascinating. One was reminded time after time of Biblical scenes. We cut down and spread palm branches to make a road over soft ground and marsh. I thought of what people did on Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Fancy how pleased I was when among all the strange and uncouth words of the Arabs I suddenly recognised the word ‘Abbas’ – a cloak. We are settling down into camp here, and we are waiting for orders. We have very little news of the outside world, and wonder how things are going in Belgium and elsewhere. I often puzzle myself wondering where father, Will and George are now. I should like very much to go on to Baghdad, 500 miles from here, and then on to Europe by rail after the Turks give in, but there are absolutely no roads here, and the country up the valley of the Euphrates and Tigris is very swampy, and most difficult for wheeled traffic.

Truro College Magazine, April 1915


His next letter was dated 17 April 1915:

Last Saturday, 10th inst., news came that the Turks were on the move, and we expected a night attack. Large numbers of their Cavalry appeared on Sunday, 11th inst., and great masses were reported to be gathering at Shewarbda, nine miles off. On Monday, at 4.30 a.m., they attacked our picquets. From the north swarms of Arabs were coming, while the main attack was from the south and south-west, directly towards the Kiln, and here they were all Turkish Regulars. About 6.30 a.m. they opened fire from a six-gun battery, 6,500 yards off. We spotted them at once, and in 10 minutes their guns were abandoned; from prisoners we afterwards heard that all their best gunners had been killed or wounded; they remained silent and abandoned until about 1 p.m., when we spotted them trying to get them away singly. At about 7.30 a.m. next day a heavy gun or howitzer opened on us, this we have found since was a “4.5” howitzer, we nick-named him “Little George”, and found him by his flashes and chased him right away. At about 8.30 a.m. “Bang! Bang!” from our right front. After they had fired a few rounds we found them, two mountain guns, like those we took at Zain, after firing a few rounds their detachments fled, and they were silent for the rest of the day. The Turks came to within 1,000 yards in the morning and were driven back easily; ditto in their second attack in the afternoon. They made two feeble attacks in the night, when we fired a few star shells with excellent effect.

On Thursday morning at 5.0 the enemy again attacked, their two mountain guns, which had been deeply entrenched during the night, again opened fire. We silenced them after they had fired four rounds, and kept them abandoned, despite many efforts of the Turks to move them during the day.

Our General Officer commanding is one of the best.

A squadron of the 7th Hariana Lancers made a brilliant charge on the Arabs to the North, later a big attack caused the enemy to flee in the wildest disorder, and our guns did splendid work.

At about 3.0 p.m. “Little George” started again, and also the field guns of the day before. They fired from under cover, and we could just see their flashes. Our gunners soon found the range, and no sooner had our gunners dropped a couple of shells near than they changed positions. How they must have hated our Artillery. A big attack in the evening captured the enemy’s two mountain guns and also a large number of Turks. The enemy retired about 5 p.m.

On Wednesday at 9.0 a.m. we marched out and attacked the enemy, who were holding Birjieh Wood in great numbers. We pushed on and on until the 63rd Battalion RFA., advanced close up behind the Norfolk Regiment; we soon charged and took the trenches. I spent the next hour in assisting the wounded and getting water for them. It was terrible on that hot desert with a burning sun, our lips were cracked for want of water. We then returned to our camp. The troops were in high spirits, due to a grand and complete victory.

The next afternoon I visited the Wood, and found the Turks had fled in the utmost disorder; our cavalry were all over the country, but no enemy were in sight. Thousands of rounds of both gun and rifle ammunition were abandoned, and immense quantities of arms and equipment. Two, if not more, brand new latest pattern German machine guns were captured. The enemy’s trenches were full of dead, for they offered a very stubborn resistance. The enemy’s Divisional Commander, Riza Bey, is reported to have been killed, and a large number of officers and men have been captured.

The Indian troops fought splendidly. In one case a double company, after its British officers were hit, went on gallantly under their native officers.

 A 19th April report says that the Turks are still running, and in their camp a motor car, a motor lorry, and a motor bike were found abandoned and broken. Their casualties are estimated at 6,500. On Tuesday, 20th inst., we left Shaiba at 8.0 a.m., and were glad to see the last of it with its horrible sand storms and brackish water, we reached here at 3.0 p.m. much elated with the work of the week, but found the march through the water and mud a bit trying to horse and man.

(It will be seen that this was written a short time before Lieut. Gilpin was wounded).

Truro College Magazine, July 1915

H. Cecil Rickard (1897-1918)

Corporal 1st/5th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders

A scholarship student, Rickard left Truro School in July 1914.

The Chaplain wrote to say: “He was a good soldier in bed and bore his sufferings like a hero and met his last enemy in the spirit of a conqueror. His warfare is over now and he has passed on to join that Army in Heaven who served God day and night in His Temple. He was buried at Ligny St Flochel British Cemetery, 4 ½ miles ESE of St Pol”. His brother Rene said: “I could hardly make myself believe that I was looking at the grave of my beloved brother whom I last saw marching so bravely over the cobbled street of a village in France, on his first trip to the line, when he smiled at me and marched bravely on”. One of his chums wrote saying: “I cannot forget that I have lost one of the straightest and best friends it is possible for a man to have. The whole time I have been with him he never allowed the conditions of Army life to distract him from the customs and ways he had learnt at home, and in all my acquaintance with him he would never have a hand in anything that was not honourable”. The testimony from one at Cromarty, where [he] was trained, was that “he was such a good boy, so gentle, so upright, and his face was always set sunwards seeking the greatest things. I have two boys and if they grow up to show so plainly to the world what their home influence has been I shall be content”. ‘Cecil’ came to Truro College in September, 1909, and left in July, 1914. He did well in his work and passed the Cambridge Junior and Senior in Honours and obtained the London Matriculation Certificate. He was equally keen in games and many groups show that he well represented the School. After leaving school he continued to do well in the various subjects at the Redruth Mining School. I well remember how eager he was to join the Army and to take his part in this great struggle. On his way from Scotland to Newquay he would look in at Truro College, which he loved so well. In almost his last letter he said “Thanks for the Truro College Magazine. I have read it through twice”. On one occasion the three brothers – Tom (Russia), Rene (Korea) and Cecil (Scotland) met here and it was evident how close was their attachment to each other. Love of home and school and country were always uppermost in his mind.

Truro College Magazine, December 1918

Francis A. Walkey (1895-1918)

2nd Lieutenant, A Company, 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

Walkey left Truro School in 1910 and joined the Rugby Volunteer Corps soon after war broke out in August 1914, before enlisting in the 7th Royal Dublin Fusiliers in March 1915. He served in Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine and Salonika before going to France.

I was in hospital in Sliema; they only kept us there for a couple of weeks, and since then I’ve been in the Convalescent camp at Ghain Tufficha, Malta. This place is close to the sea, and about ten miles from Valetta. We came in ASC lorries, and saw the country. There is very little else but rock on the island, and agriculture seems to be limited to the production of pumpkins and potatoes.

Truro College Magazine, December 1915

It was later reported that Walkey had contracted dysentery at Sulva Bay and was taken to a hospital in Malta; ‘He says that everyone is most kind and attentive, and it is Paradise after Sulva Bay. It was a relief to get a bath and clean things after being in one suit for seven weeks, with the exception of a bathe occasionally’ [TCM December 1915]. On 26 May 1916 he wrote from Alexandria where, having fully recovered, he was waiting for a new posting. Walkey continued to keep in touch with his old school friends; ‘Sergt. C.E. Pearce was in Dublin during the riots, and found his way to ‘Trevose’, where Walkey lives. We hear that Walkey has recently joined the Salonika Force’ [TCM, July 1916]. By October 1916 he was situated between Seres and Dedagacht, in front of the Bulgarian Hills and ‘was reported to be quite well and in good spirits’ [TCM, December 1918].

In December 1916 the school magazine included a letter from Walkey, writing from Salonika

I am in hospital with a slight dose of malaria, but I expect to return soon. I came up here in the beginning of July, so my knowledge of the country is limited to what can be seen from one main road up-country. One can see always a jumble of hills and gullies, with one or two huge plains. The hills are not so bare as I expected them to be: miniature forests of young oak trees are very common, and they furnish good material for making and shading our bivouacs. Shade is very welcome, as the heat during the daytime is very trying, in spite of frequent thunderstorms and heavy showers. Nobody seems to pick up much of the language. Listening to an Egyptian it is quite easy to pick up words, but the Greek seems to speak with such a smooth and uninterrupted flow of words that it is impossible to learn anything in that way.

Truro College Magazine, December 1916

By April 1917 Walkey had returned from Salonika to England and was training to be an officer, attached to ‘E’ Company, No.2 Officers’ Cadet Battalion, at Peterhouse, Cambridge. After four and a half months he obtained a commission as 2nd Lieutenant and was then attached to the 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers [TCM, April 1917]. In December 1917 it was reported that his right hand had been damaged and he was in a hospital in Liverpool. By the summer of 1918 he had spent a month in Palestine before returning to France. On the journey to France ‘at midnight on May 26th, soon after leaving Alexandria, the ship was torpedoed, and he only just had time to get out of his berth. After being in a lifeboat for 10 hours he was picked up by a destroyer’ [TCM, July 1918]. The final report in the school magazine appeared in December 1918: 2nd Lieutenant Walkey

was killed whilst gallantly leading his platoon in an attack just south of Le Cateau on October 17th, 1918 at the age of 23. His Colonel said that “He was a most promising officer, devoted to his duty, always taking the keenest interest in his men, and was cool and absolutely fearless”. A very large number of letters of sympathy were received and all bear testimony to his splendid character and leadership. Before going to France he was in Gallipoli and Macedonia, and his letters, whether from the front or from hospital, clearly showed that he faced all difficulties and sufferings with calm cheerfulness. As a lad at School he lived for the highest and the best. He loved his home and was ever thoughtful for others, and was never known to say an unkind word of another or do a mean action. During his time at Truro College (1909-10) he passed the Cambridge Junior and Senior Examinations in Honours, and after leaving held an important position in the Chief Accountant’s Office, GPO, Dublin. Over and over again from different war points he has mentioned “The School on the Hill”, and in his bedroom might be found the Truro College arms and motto painted by himself in oil colours. On the memorial card appears “Esse quam videri”, and truly no boy lived more closely to his school motto.

Truro College Magazine, December 1918

H.C. Whitworth (1894-1918)

Lieutenant, 7th Somerset Light Infantry

Like S.H. Whitford, Whitworth played for the school cricket XI, captaining the team in in 1911.

After leaving school in July 1911 Whitworth studied at the Camborne School of Mines. In September 1914 he joined the University Public Schools Corps, and in 1916 when it was reported that he had been ‘severely wounded and was taken to a hospital in France, and then to 4th London General Hospital’ but later recovered. During the summer term he visited Truro College in 1917. By July 1918 the school magazine reported that he had ‘been missing since March 23rd, when he was in command of a company in heavy fighting. The school magazine later reported that

Lieut. HC Whitworth, 7th Somerset Light Infantry, was reported missing in March last, and we deeply regret to state now that he has been officially reported killed. He was the youngest son of Alderman and Mrs R Whitworth, of Elmsleigh, Truro. During the five years (1906-11) he was at Truro College he upheld the honour of the School, was a keen sportsman, and rendered splendid help in football and cricket. He was popular with the boys and the masters. After leaving school he entered upon a Mining Course, and delighted from time to play for the Old Boys.

When war broke out he joined the Universities and Public School Corps, and after a course of training at Epsom, received his commission in the Somersets early in 1915. He was severely wounded at Le Bouf in September, 1916, and subsequently spent more than six months in a London hospital. On returning to duty he took courses in gunnery at Hayling, becoming Machine Gun Instructor to his battalion. In December, 1917, he returned to France and was in numerous actions. During the critical advance of the German Army in March, he commanded a company in the terribly heavy fighting around St Quentin, and was reported in the Casualty List as missing from March 22nd-24th. Recently news was received from officers who were prisoners of war in Germany that he was killed in action on March 24th, and buried on the field between St Simon and Flavy le Martel, near St Quentin Canal. His name appeared in the Casualty List on December 9th as killed.

Lieut. Whitworth was very keen in his military duties, took an active part in all regimental sports, and was held in high esteem in his Battalion. The Adjutant wrote: “He was with his Company in a severe action, and only very few returned. His Company fought a gallant action and was instrumental in saving a serious situation. He was a personal friend of mine and was a very gallant fellow, and his loss is a great blow to us”. Writing before the sad news had been received the Chaplain stated “I knew Lieut. Whitworth well and liked him. He bore a splendid character and we all hope, officers and men, that good news will be heard of him”.

Truro College Magazine, December 1918


S.H. Whitford (1893-1918)

2nd Lieutenant, 3rd South African Infantry

After leaving Truro School in July 1910, Whitford travelled to South Africa, to take up a career in mining, by 1913 he held an appointment with Crown Mines Ltd, Johannesburg. He enlisted with the Witwatersrand Rifles in 1914 before joining the South African Infantry.

The school magazine reported that S.H. Whitford

died of wounds in France on March 21st, 1918 – the first day of the German offensive, at the age of 24. He joined the SA forces as a private in August 1914 and served in German West Africa during the whole of that campaign. Upon the return of the troops to Johannesburg he enlisted for overseas and reached England in the beginning of 1916. Soon after he was sent to France, where he was on active service until July 1917. Having been recommended for a commission he went to Cambridge for training and returned to France again in January 1918. Just previously he called at TC, and one was struck with his splendid physical development, standing at least 6ft. 2in. He was at TC for over six years, and frequently spent his holidays with us, and he was indeed a loveable boy. He was interested in his school and a keen cricketer, as shown by the school groups. He had a strong desire after the war to settle in England, so as to be near his father and mother, and we deeply regret that so useful and promising a life should be cut short. He was buried in the Cemetery at Marchelpot, near Peronne.

Truro College Magazine, July 1918


The Truro School Identity

Our school motto, Esse Quam Videri (to be, rather than to seem to be), captures the essence of our identity and is defined by the 5 C's below. Underpinned by strong Christian principles, we are a caring and inclusive community which values, nurtures and develops each individual.

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