In Memoriam: John Maclellan Mowat

Photograph of John Maclellan Mowat in uniform.

John Maclellan Mowat

John Maclellan Mowat was killed in a flying accident at Cramlington, Northumberland on 5th January 1917, aged 20 years.

He was born at Busby, near Glasgow, in 1896 and attended Bootham School from 1911 to 1913.  He was in the Cricket and Football XI’s at school.  In the 1913 school Athletics competition he won the 100 yards (11⅘ sec) and the Kick (53 yds 0 ft).

The November 1913 issue of “Bootham” magazine reports:

“J. M. MOWAT leaves from the Lower Senior after two years at Bootham. He served the School well in games, as goalkeeper, batsman, and bowler, and his kicking in the Sports was very good.”

The March 1916 issue of “Bootham” magazine lists, under Bootham School War Lists, Under Military Discipline:

MOWAT, J. M., Second Lieut., 3rd Bn. Prince of Wales’s North Staffordshire Regt.”

In March 1917, “Bootham”, in the Across the Months section reports that:

“WE have heard with great regret of the deaths of four more Old Boys. J. G. MOWAT (sic) was killed on January 5th in an aeroplane accident. His generation remembers him as a good goalkeeper.”

This was followed in the June 1917 issue by a letter from a schoolfellow who knew him well:

“It was with great regret that we heard of the death of another old scholar, John M. Mowat, whilst flying at Cramlington, Northumberland, on January 5th, 1917.

He joined the Glasgow University O.T.C. in September, 1914, and was gazetted to the North Staffords on April 29th, 1915.

He thought he would go on active service sooner if he was in the Royal Flying Corps, so he applied for a transfer, and it came through in September, 1916, just as he was starting for Mesopotamia. He finished his observer’s course at Oxford in the end of October, and then did the first part of the pilot’s course at Turnhouse, and was very nearly qualified for his “wings” when he met with his accident.

Very little is known about the accident. He was flying alone in a difficult machine, and a letter that reached home the day after he was killed speaks of “very bad flying weather.”

I quote the words of his CO. : ” His death is a loss to the R.F.C. Both his instructors and I felt sure he was going to become a good pilot. He was keen in all his work, and liked by all who knew him.”

All who were at school with him will remember him for his unselfish disposition and his willingness to help others.

The School has lost a gallant Old Boy, and those who knew him have lost a good and true friend.

He was buried at his home, Kilmacolm. His funeral took place on a most perfect day, and Mowat went to his long last rest with Nature’s blessing.

All that life contains of torture, toil and treason,

Shame, dishonour, death to h’m were but a name.

Here, a boy, he dwelt through all the singing season,

And ‘ere the day of sorrow departed as he came.”

Lieut, J. M. Mowatt, R.F.C. was buried at Kilmacolm Cemetery near Glasgow.



In Memoriam: Charles Frederick Burley

Photograph of Charles Frederick Burley

Charles Frederick Burley

Charles Frederick Burley was killed in action on the Somme on 18th November 1916, aged 18.

He was born in Luton and attended Bootham School from 1911 to 1914.

Charles Frederick was a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and served in France, receiving the 1914-1915 Star Medal.  He was reported missing, believed killed, and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.


In Memoriam: George Gillies

Photograph of George Gillies

George Gillies

George Gillies died on active service, aged 30, on 15 November 1916.

He was born in Selby in 1887 and attended Bootham School from 1903 to 1905.  George was a Reeve at Bootham (equivalent to a prefect).  His hobby at school was Natural History.  He was a very keen member of the Natural History Society at Bootham and went on to be its President.  There are many mentions of his natural history work in “Bootham” school magazine, including wins in the school Christmas Exhibitions.  He won the Inter-School Diary Competition for Natural History in 1904 and was awarded the Old Scholars Natural History Exhibition prize of £10.  He decided to use part of this working as a student at a marine biological station on the Clyde.

An entry in “Bootham” magazine of July 1916 reports that G. Gillies has joined General Smuts’s force in East Africa.  Later, in March 1917, “Bootham” magazine writes:

“G. GILLIES was serving in German East Africa, and died of dysentery on November 15th. On November 1st he wrote a letter to his grandmother at home. The following sentences reveal the same observant Gillies that we knew at School :—

” However, you will have some idea of the kind of land we are in when I say that hippo, crocodiles, and lions have all been seen or shot not far away. Elephants do come here, too, as I have seen their spoor in a swamp near here; but now, of course, I expect the coming of the troops and noise of the guns have frightened them away. The natives here wear kilts made of grass, and the better class dress more like Arabs— usually in white with a red fez as headgear. Each village seems to have one or more huts built rather better than the usual mud-and-grass affair, and these, I suppose, are the headmen’s dwellings. Some of the doorposts and lintels are of wood and are carved roughly, the same kind of carving being found on wooden utensils. I do not know whether this is due to Arab influence, but at one time, I believe, this was a great slave-trading country, and doubtless they owe much of their religion and habits to them …..Letters come along at intervals, and newspapers; we get tobacco as a ration and matches, and few could think us far removed from civilisation, although I’ve not seen a white woman for over five months, and that one a hospital nurse…… I am in hospital in a large grass hut (Bandar) just recovering from dysentery, and the Bobajee (Indian cook) has just brought in lunch. This, for light diets, consists of a chapattie (flour scone) and soup, with rice as dessert. The Indian Medical Service look well after us; in fact, we have a Battery doctor of our own as well, and I know from my own experience that a lot of the thing’s in the African papers about blunders re quinine, etc., were all rubbish as far as we were concerned. We have always had plenty, and I am thankful to say I have never required much.” “

 The Royal British Legion “Every Man Remembered” website, , tells us that Gunner G Gillies of the South African Field Artillery is buried in the Morogoro Cemetery in Tanzania.



In Memoriam: Denys Armstrong

Denys Armstrong

Denys Armstrong

Denys Armstrong died on active service, aged 20, on 3rd October 1916.

He was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1895 and attended Bootham School from 1909 to 1912. He played 2nd XI cricket and as goal on the 1st XI football team.  He was awarded the bronze Life-saving medal.  After Bootham, he studied at Armstrong College.  At the outbreak of war he was serving an apprenticeship with Messrs. Swan, Hunter and Co. as a naval architect.

In June 1915, Denys joined the 5th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and fought in France.  He was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal.

Denys died on the third day of the Battle of Le Transloy on the advance to Le Sars as part of the final British offensive of the Battle of the Somme.

“Bootham” magazine on October 2016 records:

“DENYS ARMSTRONG, second lieutenant, fell in action on October 3rd. The day before he had been hit in the hand, but refused to go back, and led his men successfully across No Man’s Land. On the 3rd he was wounded by a shell, and a man was dressing his wound when a second shell came and killed both of them. Officers and men had grown very fond of “Snowball.” ” We could trust him absolutely, and he was so frank and warm-hearted that one could not but love him. He was just as greatly liked and admired by the cadets, and he wielded a remarkable influence for good amongst them.” ”

Denys is buried at the Warlencourt British Cemetery in France.

First World War: Some thoughts from Meetings of the Old York Scholars’ Association

Each Whitsuntide saw the annual meeting in York of the Old York Scholars’ Association, and these meetings are reported in the school magazine “Bootham”.

In 1915 however, the meeting could not be held in York. Instead the Old Scholars met in London.  In “Bootham”, Robert O. Mennell (B. 1897-1900) wrote:

“Whitsuntide 1915. KEW, Richmond-on-Thames, Westminster Bridge, and Croydon are strange place names to associate with the Old York Scholars’ Whitsuntide Gathering. Yet so it was; and the memory of the coloured loveliness of Kew and the silent beauty of the Thames in twilight will long be treasured by those who were there. But the London gathering will be remembered not so much for these or any other outward impressions as for the spirit that pervaded the meeting at Richmond—the sense of appalling need and the imperative call to render peace service in the midst of war.

T. Edmund Harvey and Philip J. Baker had come straight from the battle zones of France and Flanders, one from the devastated villages of the Marne, the other from the shattered city of Ypres, and their outline sketches of the relief work going forward under their direction seemed to bring the tragedy home as nothing less personal could have done. Other aspects of war’s cruel battering of humanity were portrayed by Ivy Weston in her picture of Folkestone Harbour invaded daily by crowds of ravenous refugees, and by Florence Barrow in her descriptions of the plight of “enemy-aliens” in this country.

In all the work of succour described—work undertaken in the spirit of a common humanity and with the single aim of healing and of reconciliation— the challenge of fine example lent point to the call made to us to render “special service in this time of supreme needs.”

Another form of service, less looked for perhaps from the Old Scholars of a Friends’ School, but undertaken in response to the stern call of duty and with entire disregard of personal interest or personal risk, was brought vividly before us by the khaki uniforms of some of our members, by a letter read from an Old Scholar in the trenches, and with peculiar force by the Head Master’s mention of those whose offer of the supreme sacrifice had already been accepted.

For every reason this annual meeting of the Associations must remain one of historic significance. The run down the river to Westminster Bridge, in the fading light, made a fitting close to the day.”

Photograph of Robert O. Mennell in Senior Class at Bootham in 1900

Robert O. Mennell in Senior Class at Bootham, 1900.

In 1916, the Whitsuntide meeting returned to York. In “Bootham”, Robert O. Mennell wrote again:

“Whitsuntide, 1916. To be back at York again for Old Scholars was to realise how much we all had lost by meeting- away from the Schools last year. But familiar surroundings were not sufficient to dispel a feeling of unfamiliarity, if not unreality, in all the proceedings. It must have seemed to many that we had come back to York only to find that the heart of things was not there, but in the ends of the earth—anywhere but at York. The explanation was simple. Where your comrades are, there will your heart be also. Our men were out in all parts of the world “on service,” and our thoughts inevitably were much more with them than in the business before us. Throughout the week-end each occasion and each fresh face encountered seemed to send our minds bounding off in search of an absentee, and wondering what particular duty was holding him fast, and what his particular “somewhere” was meaning for him.

In no previous year probably have Old Yorkists been so widely separated geographically or in thought; and yet never, perhaps, has the sense of our school motto, “Membra sumus corporis magni,” been so consciously or so fully realised. We know now that neither distances nor differences can injure our abiding sense of unity in the Bootham fellowship and in our common Bootham heritage—the tradition of cleanness of life and conduct, of honesty and of unostentatious obedience to duty.

It has been given to our generation by a tragic fate to know what war really is. Though borne down by a sense of its immeasurable tragedy, we may allow ourselves some gratification in the thought that the great tradition has been upheld. The call of duty has made a different demand of every individual of us and taken us into widely different spheres of service. When it is all over we shall come back welded by our ordeals and experiences into a closer fellowship than ever, with a still greater duty before us, to take our part in helping to mould the future, inspired, as our Headmaster put it, by a staunch faith in spiritual forces, in the power of loving kindness and courageous endurance. Work performed in that spirit in the interest of civilisation will not fail to bear fruit.”

At the 1916 meeting, Helen Baynes, President of the Mount Old Scholars’ Association, spoke about how valuable and helpful the Schools’ mottoes were, especially in the current times:

“” I have been thinking,” the speaker continued, ” how extremely valuable and helpful just now the School’s mottoes are—’ Membra sumus corporis magni ‘ and ‘ Ad omnia paratus.’ They seem to have been made specially for this year, for these times in which we are living-. We are all members of a great body, whether we regard ourselves as members of schools or members of a religious society, of the nation or of the Empire, and we may even go so far as to think of ourselves as members of a common humanity. As such we have, of course, great privileges, but as such also we have great responsibilities. I think it must be a matter of great happiness to all of us who are older members of this Association to see how finely prepared for everything many of our younger Old Scholars have been: those who are now working maybe with the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, possibly with the refugees in Corsica, Holland, France, or in England, alleviating the distress of aliens and others, or upholding the freedom that has been our priceless possession for so long, by their sufferings for conscience’ sake. It seems that into whatever service our members have entered they have, in most cases, been prepared for almost everything.

” We all hope and believe—do we not?—that a new and beautiful future is going to be born from this terrible turmoil —that a new heaven and a new earth will be built on the ruins of the old. But this will only come about if each one is prepared for whatever may come, if we are making ourselves prepared for this future that we hope is to be so much happier for humanity. Those who are now at school have a glorious future before them, I believe; and now is the very opportunity for choosing what they will do and for preparing themselves thoroughly for that future. There are opportunities of training now that have never been open in the past; there are opportunities for work that have never been open before.””

Photograph of Haymaking in 1916

Haymaking, 1916

James Edmund Clark recalled the meeting at Richmond last year, when the desire to render service during this war time had materialised in the suggestion to raise a fund in the hope that it would reach £2,000 or £2,500 in aid of the various causes in which Friends were specially engaged.

“In the appeal which was sent out it was suggested that Old Scholars who wished to do so should indicate to what special activity they would like their money applied. The five objects were: The training of women and men; equipment and maintenance; the War Victims’ Relief Committee work; the Friends’ Ambulance Unit; and the Emergency Committee for the assistance of distressed Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians in this country.

It was pleasing to be able to report that the original purpose had been more than accomplished, a little over £2,800 having been promised or subscribed. Grants amounting to £1,755 had been made as under:

Training       … … … … …£225

Equipment … … … … … £100

F.W.V.R        … … … … …£650

F.A.U             … … … … …£550

Emergency Committee … £230

Bootham stood behind the Mount in the matter of the number of contributors, with only 160 against 230. Contributions to correct this state of affairs, and to bring the total to £3,000, would still be cordially welcomed.

There had been one or two donations of particular interest: £7 as the result of the work that some of the boys at Bootham had done in the harvest fields last summer (with a prospect of a further contribution from harvesting and fruit picking in the coming season)*.”

(* August 8. Cheque for over £25 has already come for work done during last term.)”


In Memoriam: Kenneth Mallorie Priestman

K. M. Priestman

K. M. Priestman

Kenneth Mallorie Priestman (B. 1904-08) of Ilkley, Second-Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, was killed in action on the Somme, near Ancre, in France on 31st August 1916 whilst on reconnaissance work.  He was 25 years old.  He had been home on short leave less than a fortnight before his death.

Before receiving his commission in the Royal Engineers, in the summer of 1915, he served for some months as a voluntary motor driver in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit at the front in Flanders.

The following are extracts from letters, received from fellow officers:

“August 31st, 1916.  I have to tell you very sad news.  This morning your son was killed instantaneously in action whilst on reconnaissance work with his Major.  A large fragment of shell must have hit and broken his spine, and he died immediately.  Major ____ was very badly hit at the time, also another Officer of the Pioneers.  We are only three left to carry on . . . .  Your son was a particular friend of mine, and has always shewed a good grasp of the situation in very awkward corners . . . .  We have lost a well beloved comrade and one of the best Officers we ever had.”

“September 2nd, 1916.  Your son was killed in the advanced front line, and we had great difficulty in bringing his body in.  He had to be carried over a shell swept zone, over the top, in full view of the enemy.  He was buried in the cemetery just near where we are now.  All the Officers of our Company attended – now reduced to three.  Our parson conducted the service and men from his section acted as bearers.  I am having a cross made and a frame to mark out his grave.”

The June 1917 issue of “Bootham” magazine quotes a letter from another Bootham Old Scholar. Captain J. C. Procter writes:—

“Lieutenant Priestman’s grave is well kept and has a large white cross of wood painted with his name in black letters. It is the largest cross of its sort in the cemetery, which is perhaps why I saw it. . . . The cemetery is in a little valley, ” Blighty Valley,” and will be very pretty one day. . . . It has steep wooded sides and at present is full of batteries and a little tramway runs up past the graveyard.”

Maternity leave

I’m heading off on maternity leave after today!

We will still be providing a limited enquiry service. Please contact or 01904 623261 in the first instance if you have an enquiry or would like to donate an item to the archive.

We will continue to add posts to the blog and twitter, and Lynne, the Honorary Assistant Archivist will be continuing the First World War project while I’m away, so there will still be new posts to look out for.

Jenny (Bootham School Archivist)

Stories from the Archive – Leisure Activities (Part 4 – Swimming)

In February 2016 I gave a talk about the archives as part of the Thursday lunchtime Recital Room series. I’ll put the talk on the blog in a series of posts. Click here for the previous installment.

PH.03.003.002a 1900s scrapbook page 2 Going to Marygate Baths

In terms of swimming, until the school swimming pool was opened in 1914, the school swam at the open air pool in Marygate. Sidney Kemp Brown remembered the opening of the new pool. “The school of course did not wait for the official opening before starting to use the bath, and No. 12 bedroom claimed the first bathe, decidedly ‘unofficial’ and taken at dead of night while the ‘tank’ was being tested, before even the glazed lining tiles had been laid. There was of course no filtering plant; the water got steadily dirtier and biologically more interesting until it was impossible to see the bottom, and then the whole lot had to be emptied and the bath filled afresh with cold, which took several days to warm up.”

Opening of Swimming Bath 1914

Opening of Swimming Bath 1914

In Memoriam: Frank Nichols

Frank Nichols

Frank Nichols


Frank Nichols (B. 1908-10), Private in the 12th Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment, fell in action in France on 1st July 1916.

He was born in Sheffield in 1893. The 12th Batallion was a Pals Battalion from Sheffield which suffered particularly heavily during the Battle of the Somme.

He is remembered at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.

An account of Frank Nichols death is given in Bootham Magazine, Vol. 8  No. 2 Oct 1916:

“NICHOLS and NORTON. No one can think of these two apart: they came to School together, they moved up the School together, they enlisted together, they were in Egypt together, and on the French front together. Now comes the news that F. NICHOLS is killed and J. W. NORTON wounded. On Saturday, July 8th (sic), they found the front trench, said to be empty, full of the Prussian Guard. The two looked at each other, shook hands, said good-bye, and fixed their machinegun. They shot several Germans, and expected to be riddled with bullets; but a German shell burst a few yards ahead of them, sent their gun flying, and smothered them with debris. NORTON rolled himself into the hole made by the shell, but NICHOLS was a second too late. A bullet pierced his steel helmet and passed through his head, killing him instantaneously. The two friends lay side by side from 8 in the morning till 10 at night, the Germans not suspecting that any living person was within thirty yards. NORTON is in the Red Cross Hospital at Horton (Gloucester), wounded below the knee, and heartbroken at the loss of his chum.”



Stories from the Archive – Leisure Activities (Part 3 – football)

In February 2016 I gave a talk about the archives as part of the Thursday lunchtime Recital Room series. I’ll put the talk on the blog in a series of posts. The third installment is below. Click here for the first installment (about Arthur Rowntree’s views about leisure activities) and here for the second installment (about cricket).

John Ford

John Ford (Headmaster 1829-65)

According to the 1923 School History, Football was introduced to the school by John Ford on 13th October 1862. According to James Edmund Clark, “John Ford had been on pilgrimage to Rugby, to behold the scenes familiar through the life of his great favourite, Dr. Arnold. Finding how rarely serious harm resulted there, he decided to remove the embargo at Bootham. So one day, soon after twelve o’clock, the bell summoned us to “collect.” The lines were unusually straight and wondering, for at the head stood John Ford, with the “forbidden thing” in his hand. Had anyone smuggled it in? No! he told us all about it, gave us our first ball and himself the first kick, straight as an arrow between the lines.” H.M Wallis does point out though in his chapter in the 1923 School History that the rules were somewhat vague, although this is unsurprising at a time when the rules of the game were still being codified, and there would have been many versions around. He says “we knew not whether to put the ball over or under the bar, or if handling was allowed.” It is however possible that a version of football had been played at some earlier point – George Scarr Watson, who was at the school between 1853 and 1858 mentioned that a broken rib or arm had put an end to football before his time – he saw it later as a “merciful dispensation of Providence. How many journeys to witness cup finals I have escaped; also colds and chills and pneumonias caught in watching that astonishing game.”

Arthur Rowntree, who was a student at the school in the 1870s and went on to become Headmaster, remembered the first football match with an outside team—”we played in ordinary clothes and counted the enemy snobs for changing.” He also remembered how there were 60 boys in the school when he started, and they all played football together in ordinary weekday clothes—North v. South, Senior v. Schoolroom—and thankful we youngsters were if we touched the ball once during the hour.”

PH.03.003.026a 1900s scrapbook page 26 Football


Gradually the game became established, and when the magazine started in 1902, football team reports appeared. The team notes were written by the captain, and were notable for their honesty. An extract from 1903 gives an example:

“We began the season with an unusually young and inexperienced line of forwards. They improved as the season went on. But as three of them are to be with us next season we may be excused mentioning a few of their faults, in hopes of still further improvement—-

  1. Standing in an impossible position to receive a pass and staying there.
  2. Receiving a ball facing wrong way, so that the opposing half easily forces them towards their own goal or into touch.
  3. Slowness in taking advantage of openings in front of goal.
  4. Lack of strenuousness.
  5. Want of pace.”