Researched and written by Anne Wright
Lt A Ferguson
9th Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment
Died of wounds, 4.7.1916
Alan Ferguson came from a comfortable background; his father, George, was a stockbroker and his mother Mary Fanny Oakley, was from a banking family. His parents married at St. Mary’s Church, Oatlands, Weybridge on 3 October 1889. George was a resident of Oatlands and his bride lived in the heart of the City of London at 2, Lombard Street. They had five children, one of whom died and Alan was the third eldest of the surviving siblings. He was born in Weybridge on 3 February 1896 and was baptised at St. James’ Church in the town on 12 April in the same year. He had two older sisters and one brother. The family lived at 14, The Hollies in York Road, Weybridge for many years, certainly from 1901 to 1920 and later at Dunwood Manor, Romsey in Hampshire.
Alan was educated at Mr. Browne’s school in Eastbourne before moving to Winchester College in 1910. His boarding house was Culverlea, also known as G (now Sergeant’s, 2014). At Winchester he pursued both his sporting and academic interests with success; winning the Senior Steeplechase as well as playing for Commoner VI (Winchester College’s version of football) in 1913 and serving on the Committee of the Natural History Society to which, as an enthusiastic naturalist, he read several papers. Alan commanded the G house platoon in the Officer Training Corps (OTC), an experience which he would make use of later. He was joined at Winchester by his younger brother Ronald in 1911. Alan left the College in 1914.
On the first night of the war Alan met his friend and fellow Wykehamist Tom Weatherby in London; they resolved to join the same regiment and fight together. They achieved the first part of their resolution but not the second. Tom died of meningococcal meningitis just five months into their training. At 18 years old Alan had experienced a loss that would become all too familiar as time passed. The two friends had been soldiers since September 1914 when they, Maurice Savory and Fred Cullinan, all Wykehamists, were taken by Malcolm Robertson (a Winchester don, 1905-1946) to join the 9th Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment. Mr Robertson enlisted with them. It was at this stage that Alan was able to put his OTC skills to good use by playing a considerable part in the formation and training of the regiment. He would follow Malcolm Robertson in commanding D Company.
His regiment was part of the 52nd Brigade in the 17th (Northern) Division. Alan and his comrades landed at Boulogne on 15 July 1915 at 1.20am. They concentrated at St.Omer before moving to the southern part of the Ypres salient. Between 23-26 July they had their first experience of the trenches when platoons from each company spent time in them for instruction in trench warfare. Alan described his impressions in a letter to J.T.Bramston a master at Winchester College, ‘ We………had our first turn in the trenches but for only 24 hours and that day it was really safe as houses…..’ This, of course, would soon change. In September he wrote again, ‘ Well I really had no idea what mud was till I came out here………You spend most of your days with mud up to your knees, but still everyone seems to keep remarkably cheerful.’ He also laments the number of friends who have been killed. By October, after a visit to another Wykehamist in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and having had ‘a turnaround’ in the air he thought being an observer in the RFC would be preferable to the trenches, but his Adjutant was not of the same opinion! When he wrote again on 30 December he recounted in his understated way the ‘very unpleasant week’ he had experienced before Christmas when beginning on 19 December they were gassed and came under heavy bombardment at Ypres. The battalion’s War Diary describes the impact of the gas as ‘unbearable’. There was no attempt to fraternise with the enemy that Christmas as there had been in 1914.
In the spring of 1916 the battalion saw action SE of Ypres on the Comines Canal and then moved south to the Somme. Here they were to be involved in the first phase of the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Albert (1-13 July). On 30 June they arrived at the Brigade concentration area in Bois des Tailles at 11.30pm. The next day, which was bright and clear they waited for orders. On the 2 July they moved to billets in Morlancourt ready to move into the line. The following day five officers including Alan Ferguson were members of a reconnaissance party sent to a Sunken Road via Fricourt; when crossing the Tambour (area of mine craters west of Fricourt) on their return the War Diary relates that, ‘Capt. (Fred) Cullinan and Lt Ferguson were wounded, the latter very badly’. Alan died of his wounds the next day, 4 July 1916. He was 20 years old. His friend, Fred Cullinan survived the war only to be killed in the Yokohama earthquake of 1923.
Malcolm Robertson described Alan and Maurice Savory, who also served in and commanded D Company, as being ‘…..among the most gallant and popular officers in the Brigade…….’. He arranged for his grave to be looked after by an elderly French lady at Mericourt. She was visited later by Alan’s mother. His final resting place is Mericourt-L’Abbe Communal Cemetery Extension (II.B.13) which is 6 km SE of Albert. Ronald Ferguson followed in his brother’s footsteps by joining the same regiment and arrived in France on 20 June 1917. He, however, lived to see what Alan had hoped for in a letter to JT Bramston written on 7 September 1915, ‘……there is a good time coming when peace returns to us.’ The inscription on his headstone reads as follows:
GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations) 1858-1966, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
9th Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment, www.wartimememoriesproject.com
Alan Ferguson’s Correspondence, Winchester College Archives