Charterhouse at War

Aerial view of Charterhouse, March 1916

Title: Aerial view of Charterhouse, March 1916
Description: Copyright: Charterhouse Archives by-nc

Research and text by Catherine Smith, Charterhouse Archivist

Charterhouse Chapel stands as a lasting memorial to all those Old Carthusians (OC) and members of staff who perished in the Great War. Some 3,500 OCs served in the armed forces and nearly 700 made the ultimate sacrifice. The Memorial Chapel was the inspiration of Frank Fletcher (Headmaster 1911-1935), who began fundraising for a new Chapel in August 1917 when OC losses had already overtaken the number of boys in the School. It was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and funded by private donations from parents, OCs and staff. The foundation stone was laid on 17 June 1922 by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the completed Chapel was consecrated on 18 June 1927.

687 of those who died in the First World War are named on commemorative panels at the west end of the School’s Memorial Chapel, on the west-facing half wall of the antechapel. Names are listed by year of leaving school and then alphabetically; two school servants have been added at the end of the final panel. Opposite, on the east-facing wall, are panels bearing the names of 340 Old Carthusians who fell in the Second World War. For the three masters (one of whom is also listed as a pupil) there are inscriptions within the Chapel itself, alongside the transverse pews immediately to the east of the half-wall.

Some OC casualties are not named on the Chapel panels: the School’s final War List was completed in December 1919 and those who died later of injuries sustained during the conflict were not included. Given the scale of the conflict it is not surprising that further omissions have emerged since and, although a few have been squeezed in out of sequence, others remain unlisted. A wall tablet installed in Chapel’s north-west porch in 2014 acknowledges collectively these others who also lost their lives.

Front cover of The Greyfriar magazine, July 1927, depicting the consecration of Charterhouse Memorial Chapel

Title: Front cover of The Greyfriar magazine, July 1927, depicting the consecration of Charterhouse Memorial Chapel
Description: Copyright: Charterhouse by-nc

For those pupils and staff who were resident at Charterhouse during the war, life continued as normal in many respects. The most profound effect was the frequent roll-call in Chapel of those who had fallen. The Headmaster, Frank Fletcher (Headmaster 1911-1935), kept a wartime scrapbook of press cuttings, correspondence and obituaries about his former pupils, a poignant piece of memorabilia. As the war progressed national rationing was introduced and food at Charterhouse became much more limited: Kerrison Davey wrote home to his parents in 1916 “I know Bridge [Housemaster of Girdlestoneites] is doing his best about cutting down our food supplies, but at the same time I do not think he is giving the lower part of the house quite sufficient. It must be very difficult for him to follow the advice of the food controller and at the same time give enough for a number of healthy boys to eat.” Whereas before the war membership of the Officers’ Training Corps had been voluntary, from September 1914 all boys were required to undertake military training, receiving up to 12 hours of instruction in rifle, bayonet and field-work each week.   The only direct sighting of the enemy at Charterhouse was in October 1915 when a German Zeppelin appeared, hovering directly overhead for nearly an hour before moving off to bomb the Chilworth gunpowder mills. An Old Carthusian serving with the Royal Flying Corps also flew over whilst on leave in 1916 and took the earliest aerial photographs of Charterhouse.

Charterhouse Officer Training Corps marching past Founder’s Court (published in The Greyfriar magazine, 1912)

Title: Charterhouse Officer Training Corps marching past Founder’s Court (published in The Greyfriar magazine, 1912)
Description: Copyright: Charte by-nc

The Headmaster’s address on Armistice Day 1918 had a profound impact on his audience:

‘I can still hear in recollection the School clock striking eleven that morning and announcing the actual end of hostilities. But Fletcher’s liberal humanism, a certain nobility of soul, shone through his address, delivered in his fine, though slightly superior, voice. Its text was the forgiveness of our enemies. I remember coming out afterwards and walking round Green with a friend. I said nothing for some moments and then my thoughts crystallized: “It must be awful”, I said, “to be a German today.”‘

(W.W.S. Adams in The Charterhouse We Knew. ed. W.H. Holden, British Tech & General Press, 1950).

To find out more, visit the school’s website


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