Keble and The Great War
Letters from the trenches
Letters home provided those serving with the Military and Naval Forces with an invaluable connection with their family and loved ones at home. The following pages provide extracts from letters sent by Keble members giving a unique insight into life on the front.
John Cazenove Poole (1909)
John Cazenove Poole entered College in Michaelmas Term, 1909. He was a Classical Exhibitioner. A keen sportsman, he was a member of the Athletics Team (President, 1911 – 1912); 1st Hockey XI, 1911 – 12; 1st Torpid, 1913 – 1914 and the 1st VIII in Eights Week, 1914. A Squire Scholar in 1910, he achieved 2nd Class. Mods. in 1911; 3rd Literae Humaniores, 1913; 2nd Theology and B.A., 1914 and M.A., 1916.
Poole commenced service on 15 August 1914. Lieutenant of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment (attached to the 1st Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers), he served in France in 1915. Poole was injured in 1915 and, after recuperation, joined the 4th Officer Cadet Battalion stationed at Keble College for the remainder of the war. He was promoted to Captain in 1917. After the war Poole resumed his studies at Bishop’s College, Cheshunt from 1919 – 1920 and subsequently took Holy Orders (d. 1920; p. 1921) and went on to have a successful career in the Church. Poole married in 1918 and again, following the death of his first wife in 1918, in 1924.
Many of Poole’s personal papers have been kindly donated to the Keble College Archives, including a letter to his sisters from his billets near the village of Bois Grenier on 18 January 1915 in which he describes his experiences:
We came out last night and again had a quiet time where I was though the German artillery has got into a bad habit of shelling all round us. They don’t do much damage but it’s annoying and makes a nasty noise, and I’m glad they haven’t devoted their attention to my part of the line yet. Last time’s four days in the trenches was heaven itself compared to the time before. The worst part has been abandoned and none of the part I had was more than six inches deep in water. Also I had a fairly decent dugout to live in and there was a good grass field behind which I could walk round and round at night getting warm.
Bed is first of all about six inches of mud. I rather believe there’s a spring of sorts under my dug out as one night I woke to find my side lying in a pond but it’s not a very serious leakage. On top of the mud is a layer of straw – unthreashed – and then a waterproof sheet, then me with a blanket on top and my Burberry, half an inch deep in mud, rolled up for a pillow.
I reckon I do well if I get my shirt off once a week and in the trenches of course you never take your coat even off. I thought I’d lost my hat the other night. I was posting some sentries about 100 yards in front of our trenches when a particularly violent gust just carried it straight off towards the German lines but luckily they’re a good way off. It was pitch dark and raining and of course on couldn’t use an electric torch out in the open so I had to give it up and went out again to look just as it began to get light, when I found one of the sentries had trodden on it and preserved it, but its rather muddy.
AD 143/8, pp 1 and 4
Kenneth Macnaughten Mylne (1908)
Kenneth Macnaughten Mylne, younger brother of Edward Graham Mylne (1902), entered College in Michaelmas Term 1908 and was awarded his B.A. in 1913; M.A., 1921. Keble clearly had a fond place in Mylne’s memory. In 1951 he wrote to College in response to a request in The Record for recollections of College. In his letter Mylne described the relations between the SCR and the Junior College as ‘almost wholly cordial’, and wrote of his fond memories of his tutors, in particular his ‘beloved Fred Matheson’, ‘poor old yellow Gosper’ and Dr Jackson or ‘Jackie’.
Mylne commenced service in September 1914 in the 8th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment: Second Lieutenant, 1914; Lieutenant, 1915; Adjutant, 1916 and Captain in 1917.
Mylne was a prolific letter writer, writing 561 letters from France and military hospitals between April 1915 and November 1918. During front line fighting at Ypres, whilst commanding ‘A’ Company as part of an offensive near Poelcapelle, Mylne became lost whilst trying to reach his Company and was missing for 12 hours. Whilst trying to return to his Company Mylne ‘passed through several barrages and was subjected to intensive and prolonged exposure’. Mylne’s letters indicate the damaging effect that such an event and the weight of such great responsibility had on him:
We went into the line & my company (‘D’) had a perfectly beastly bit to hold. Things were quiet enough – just intermittent shelling of a pretty heavy sort & a good deal of machine gun work at night. But the line was in a rotten state & the mud awful, & I had too few men to make any proper improvements. I was up & down it a lot the first night doing what I could, & again at ‘stand-to’ next morning. Then things began to get on my nerves pretty badly…
The C.O. wanted me to go sick, but I said I would carry on for the 4 days, & would only see the doctor if I felt the state of my nerves was making me a danger to the company. When Clarke got back to Headquarters, he decided not to risk it & sent up Reynolds from ‘B’ Company to relieve me. I was in the front line at the time & found him at my H. Q. when I got back 3 hours later. Meanwhile 2 of my subalterns had been wounded, which didn’t greatly help me to control my nerves. One (Whitstone) was hit by a chance M.G. bullet, through the leg & not very bad. The other (Stevens) was out on patrol… he was hit on his way back by a rifle bullet & badly bowled over. The rest of the patrol got him in.
It isn’t the shelling or the rifle or M.G. fire. It is that combined with the great responsibility. Of course, Responsibility is what an officer exists for, but everyone has limits, & if I have reached mine, well there it is. It remains to be seen what they do with me.
Mylne survived the war and married Dorothy Susan Constance Parry Okeden in 1918. He went on to have a successful career as a headmaster, forming Dalhousie School Ltd in 1960. Mylne is the author (as ‘Fra Ascensione’) of ‘Liturgia Scotica’ (1962) and ‘Liturgica Anglicana’ (1963). He died in Edinburgh, 14 December 1968.
The above extracts are reproduced with the kind permission of Christopher K. Mylne from the complete transcription of Capt. Kenneth Mylne’s letters written to his mother during The Great War, My Dearest Mother: Letters from The Great War (Trojan Press, London, 2013).
KC/MEM 2 D4/1, the first page of Mylne’s second letter in response to an article in ‘The Record’, 1951
AD 35 – Main Line, Arras – Albert (L. Rice-Oxley)
These pages were prepared by the previous College Archivist & Records Manager, Eleanor Ward, as part of the College’s commemoration of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.