In Memoriam: Oliver Bell

Photograph of Oliver Bell in uniform.
Oliver Bell

Oliver Bell, of Cheshire, was killed in action on 24th August, 1918, aged 20 years.

He attended Bootham School from 1913 to 1916.  He was a cricketer and a member of the school Natural History Society.

The school magazine, “Bootham”, of  March 1914 contains The Eightieth Annual Report of Bootham School Natural History, Literary & Polytechnic Society January, 1914.

In the report of Christmas Show, Botany Section, we read:

“Bell, however, secured the second prize for the Floral Calendar.”

 and in the same issue, “Pets” report:

“During the summer lizards were kept (and subsequently lost) by Shaw, Bell, Strange and others. Many of them have since been discovered in various parts of the premises.”

 and in the same issue, “Prizes”, Oliver got a prize for Presses in the Workshop section.

In the following year, Oliver won prize for “Bedtable,Tray” in the Workshop section.

“Bootham” of  December 1915 contains cricket report:


June 9, v. ARCHBISHOP HOLGATE’S, Home. Lost, 60 and 54—54 and 66. Although we won on the first innings, our opponents just pulled off the game in the second innings. Bell took seven wickets for 21 runs.

June 16, v. BRIDLINGTON G.S., Away. Won, 186 for 9—46. The first victory of the season. Lean made 39, Hamilton 31, and Strange 20. Bell took five wickets for 24.”

In 1916, Oliver became a Librarian of the school Natural History Society.

“Bootham”, of October 1916, lists cricket Matches:

“ARCHBISHOP HOLGATE’S, June 7, Away. Won, 57—44. On a “mountainous” wicket the bowlers on both sides did well. Bell’s rapidly-scored 13 saved us from defeat. Bell took two wickets for 1 run”

In the Royal Life Saving Society Awards: July, 1916, Oliver achieved a Bronze Medallion.

The same issue of “Bootham contains Oliver’s “Bene Decessit” entry:

“O. BELL was best known in the realms of sport. He obtained his 1st eleven colours at cricket and his 2nd eleven colours at football. He was a fives player and an able tennis player. He was a librarian, and leaves from the Lower Senior.”

In December 1917, “Bootham” reports, in “Across the Months”:

“OLIVER BELL (1913-16), Second Lieut., R.F.C., was recently at * * * * * training and met Geoffrey Newman and “Cuddy Scrim ” there. He hears fairly regularly from A. S. Hamilton.”

“Bootham” of May 1918, in “O.Y.S. War-time Service Lists.” contains:

“Old York Scholars serving in the Navy and Army.

Bell, O., Sec. Lieut., R.F.C.”

Then in “Bootham” December 1918, under “Deaths” we read:

“BELL.—On 24th August, 1918, killed in the air over France, Oliver Bell, of Disley, Cheshire (1913-16), aged 20.”

“Bootham of April 1919 has Oliver’s “In Memoriam” entry:

“OLIVER BELL (1913-16). It was with very deep regret that we heard of the death of Oliver Bell, killed whilst flying in France.

He will be remembered by his contemporaries as popular and easy-going, as a keen reader, and player of games.

On leaving Bootham he joined the Artists’ Rifles, but wishing to take a commission in the Air Force, he was transferred, in June, 1917, to the Flying School at Reading, and did his first flying at Bramham Moor. He went into an advanced training squadron at South Carlton, near Lincoln, where he had a small crash, through his engine failing when taking off. He then went to the School of Aerial Gunnery at Hythe, and on to the School of Aerial Navigation at Stonehenge. After a flight from there to Bristol, he and his pilot crashed from 200 feet, owing to engine trouble, the pilot being killed, but Bell escaping unhurt.

He joined the 99th Squadron (long distance bombing), and went to France at the end of April, 1918. The Independent Force was then being built up, and the work was arduous. On all their raids they were under fire from the “Archies” nearly all the way, and were constantly attacked by superior numbers of enemy scouts. Bell was a very good aerial shot, and he and his pilot more than held their own.

Bell came home for 14 days’ leave in July, and on his return to his squadron found his usual pilot (who had never been over the line without him) in hospital. He then flew with his Flight Commander, and they were killed together on August 24th, 1918. He is buried at Charmes, on the Moselle.

Bell was mentioned for distinguished services in General Trenchard’s dispatch on the work of the Independent Force* His Squadron Commander writes:

“I cannot tell you how I sympathise with you in your loss. Your son was a most excellent officer in every way, and very popular in the squadron. He had done some particularly good work over the lines, and always showed himself keen and energetic,” An old scholar who was with him during part of his training writes:

“I was terribly distressed when I heard about ‘ Sammy ‘ Bell, because I was with him at two training squadrons, and his characteristic ‘ don’t-care-a-damn’ spirit was just the stimulant that most of us required at that period. Although I was with him for only a short time, we had many a pleasant talk together, and I always came away greatly refreshed and with a light heart.”

Another wrote who had only known him for a short period, thus showing the sort of impression he made on those who met him. He had just received a photograph of Bell.

“I think it a good likeness of the lad—as good, in fact, as you will get in a photograph. The one thing that distinguished him from all others needed a painter, not a photographer; and the painter should have painted him as St. Michael, going forth to right the wrong. I always fancied him so—he had exactly that expression in his countenance and that light in his eyes; and I once said to somebody at the club table that if he got into enemy hands they couldn’t but treat fairly a lad with a face like his.” J. C. M.”

Second Lieutenant Oliver Bell is buried at Charmes Military Cemetery in France.


In Memoriam: Harwood Woodwark Barton

Photograph of Harwood Woodwark Barton in uniform
Harwood Woodwark Barton

Harwood Woodwark Barton, of Whitby was killed in a flying accident on 2nd July, 1918, aged 17 years.

He attended Bootham School from 1915 to 1916. Harwood played football for the school second XI. He was a member of the school Natural History Society, joining the Microscopy section.  The Eighty-Second Annual Report of Bootham School Natural History, Literary & Polytechnic Society January, 1916, (reported in the school magazine, “Bootham”, of March 1916) tells us that:

“Barton shows 30 micro-slides accompanied by a diary.”

He received a school prize for microscopy.

In the Bedroom Athletics Trophy tournament 1916 at school, Harwood did well, being the highest scorer in the Junior (under 15) section.   Harwood nearly took the individual Athletics Junior Cup:

“The Junior Cup was won by Gillett ii, though the first places were equally shared by him with Nickalls and Barton.”

Harwood won the 880 Yards, and Hurdles, was second in High Jump and Gymnastics and third in 220 Yards.

In the summer of 1916, Harwood was playing cricket for the school.  The October 1916 edition of “Bootham” reports on one of the matches:

“THE F.A.U., June 6, Home. Won, 105—82. With the exception of Moulsdale the first wickets fell for disappointingly small scores, but. Massingham and Barton saved the side, making 20 and 32 respectively.”

The notes on the team by the Captain include:

“BARTON, H. W.—A useful and capable bat, with a good forward reach, some power of scoring, and alertness never to miss a run. An extremely promising wicket-keep.”

The same issue of “Bootham” report the results of the Aquatics tournament.  Harwood did well in this, coming second in many of the events (Open: 220 Yards, Plunge; Senior: 100 Yards, 25 Yards, and 25 Yards on Back).  Overall he took second place in the Championship, as was awarded the Clayton Bronze Medal.

Harwood left Bootham School in 1916.  He played cricket for the Old Scholars in the match against the school in May 1917.

The June 1917 issue of “Bootham”, in “Across the Months” reports that:

“H. W. BARTON is hoping to join the R.F.C.”

However the July 1918 issue of “Bootham” reports, under “Deaths”:

“BARTON.—On the 2nd July, 1918, killed whilst flying in England, Harwood W. Barton (1915-16), aged 18.”

The April 1919 issue of “Bootham” has his “In Memoriam” entry:

“HARWOOD WOODWARK BARTON (1915-16), Flight Cadet, R.A.F., was killed whilst flying on duty, July 2nd, 1918.

He came to Bootham after being five years at Ackworth, and early showed considerable independence of character, which seemed destined to make whatever career he embarked on a successful one ; and above all his personality was marked by a buoyancy of spirits and brightness of demeanour which won him friends on all sides.

Well might his CO. write: “His great characteristic of cheerfulness was a great asset in these days.”

Fired with ambition to take his part in the war, he entered the Flying Service very young. At school he had entered with zest into everything that took place, especially outdoor life, and when a cadet he was one of the prime movers in a large sports meeting, which, alas was fated to be held on the day when, with full military honours, his body was laid to rest at his home town.

It was not only on the playground that his interests were centred, for his keenness in learning every detail of his profession was noted, and at the aerodrome his instructors were agreed that he had in him the making of a first-class pilot.

Although devoid of fear, he did not take unnecessary risks, and it was all the more regrettable, therefore, that he should meet his death, soon after starting to fly alone, in one of those mishaps which are inseparably connected with an aviator’s career.  R. K. S”

Flight Cadet Harwood Woodwark Barton is buried in his family vault at Whitby Cemetery.

In Memoriam: Geoffrey Birdsall

Photograph of Geoffrey Birdsall
Geoffrey Birdsall

Geoffrey Birdsall, of Scarborough, was injured on 16th June 1918 during enemy artillery bombardment and died, in France, on the 17th June, 1918, aged 19 years.

He was born in 1899 and attended Bootham School from 1913 to 1917. He was a Reeve *.              (* equivalent of Prefect)

In his first term at Bootham, Geoffrey won prizes for his Archaeology Diary and a Workshop prize for Bookshelves.

The school magazine, “Bootham”, of December 1915 reports external examination results.  Geoffrey achieved passes in Latin and Greek in the University of London, Senior School (Matriculation Standard) examinations.

In the Autumn term of 1915, Geoffrey was a member of the school Senior Reading  and Discussion Society.

The July 1916 issue of “Bootham “ reports on the school’s Bedroom Football Tournament.

“Birdsall played a fine plucky game in goal for XIII.”

The October 1916 issue of “Bootham” reports external examination results:

“Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board,

Higher Certificate Examination.

(Latin, Greek, Elementary Mathematics, and History.)

G. Birdsall.”

 “Bootham”, issue of March 1917, contains the Eighty-Third Annual Report of Bootham School, York Natural History, Literary & Polytechnic Society January, 1917. The report of the Senior Essay Society includes the following:

“During the Session 1915-16 the Committee awarded the first prize to G. Birdsall for a very clearly written essay entitled “The Fall of Jerusalem.””


“G. Birdsall’s essay on Modern Education was quite a feature of one meeting, and gave rise to considerable discussion.”

Phootograph of title page of Geoffrey Birdsall's essay on modern education in Bootham's "Observer" volume XXXII.
Title page of Geoffrey Birdsall’s essay on modern education in Bootham’s “Observer” volume XXXII.

The same issue contains a report on the Senior Reading and Discussion Society:

“A debate on the “House System” was held some time later, G. Birdsall moving the resolution that ” The House System as at present obtaining at Bootham School ought to be abolished. ” O. B. Lean moved an opposing motion. The resolution won by 18 votes to 9.”

“Bootham” of June 1917 tells us that Geoffrey came third in the 440 Yards race in the school Athletics Tournament.

The report on the school Summer Term of 1917, in “Bootham” issue of December 1917, contains the following:

“Some weeks later the Society met at the Master’s table for breakfast, this taking the place of the strawberry tea in the garden in days of peace, though the strawberries themselves were as good as ever. Mr. Rowntree announced that G. Birdsall’s Essay, entitled ” More Wailing, ” had taken first prize for the year.”

This issue also includes external examination results for midsummer 1917:

“North Riding County Council Major Scholarship.

(£6o a year for three years.)

G. Birdsall (Classics).”

and his “Bene Decessit” entry:

“G. BIRDSALL was a prominent member of the committees of the Senior Essay and Debating Societies. He was a keen debater and brilliant essayist. He obtained the Senior School Certificate two years ago and the Oxford and Cambridge Higher Certificate the following year. During his last year he was a reeve and won a Major Scholarship of the North Riding County Council in Classics. He leaves us to join the Artists’ Rifles O.T.C.”

Photograph of Bootham School Reeves, 1917, including G. Birdsall
Bootham School Reeves 1917, G. Birdsall seated, second from right.

His scholarship was celebrated in school by a half-holiday in the Autumn term.

The May 1918 issue of “Bootham” contains Old York Scholars War-time Service Lists. Under  “Old York Scholars serving in the Navy and Army” we see:

“Birdsall, G., London Regt.”

Then in the July 1918 issue we read, under “Deaths”:

“BIRDSALL.—On the 17th June, 1918, killed in action in France, Geoffrey Birdsall (1913-17), aged 19.”

and his “In Memoriam” entry:

“GEOFFREY BIRDSALL (1913-17) fell on June 17th. ” His loss is felt as a heavy blow in the School; he is the second Old Boy to fall within a year of leaving School. Two letters lie before me; one looking forward to Whitsuntide, the other written after he had received the postcard. He writes in customary vein. He has no news to give, he sits in a shallow chalk depression, he writes in the front line with nothing between himself and Fritz. He would give anything to be with us on Whit-Monday: ‘ anyhow, I shall be thinking of the old School.’ The postmark of the second letter is June 13th; he speaks of heartfelt pleasure and gratitude on receiving the postcard with its load of well-known signatures. ‘ The only thing that could ever assure me that I really used to wander in the Academic groves of the Senior Essay Society is the characteristically bold, large signature of R. B. Braithwaite, though I am quite sure that I should no longer be able to engage in debate with a member of the Leighton Park Staff. I should very much like personally to thank everyone who signed my postcard, but I am afraid that it is impossible. I hope that we shall soon have the war well over, and that better times are in store for us.’ So this fine-natured boy departed, leaving us the memory of his strong soul, his intellectual force, his loyal spirit.””

Private Geoffrey Birdsall is buried in Pernois British Cemetery, Somme, France. The inscription reads: “OF SCARBORO’ AGED 19 MEMBRA SUMUS CORPORIS MAGNI”.

In Memoriam: Norman Edward Gripper

Photograph of Norman Edward Gripper in uniform.
Norman Edward Gripper

Norman Edward Gripper, of Blackburn, was killed in France on the 27th May, 1918, aged 21 years.

He was born in Plymouth in 1896 and attended Bootham School from 1912 to 1913. He collected butterflies and months at school.

The Seventy-ninth Annual Report of Bootham School Natural History, Literary & Polytechnic Society. January, 1913, tells us in the Entomology report that:

“N. E. Gripper has the next largest collection. He has only collected for two terms, and has got together a very well set collection, of which, perhaps, the best are Erebia aethiops and Colias edusa.”


“Speaking of this subject, the judges report as follows: “Five collections of butterflies are sent in for competition. Of these N. Gripper’s calls for special commendation on account of the particularly neat setting.”

The school magazine, “Bootham” of November 1913 contains Norman’s “Bene Decessit”:

“N. E. GRIPPER, after four terms at Bootham, leaves from the Upper Schoolroom. He was a keen and successful entomologist.”

After school, Norman became an electrical engineer.

Norman joined the Friends Ambulance Unit and went to France in 1915.   The March 1916 issue of “Bootham” of March 1916 contains a section “Bootham School War Lists.”

“The following are, or have been, working with the Friends’ Ambulance Unit :—

Gripper, N. E., Chauffeur.”

The December 1917 issue of “Bootham”, in the “Bootham Oversea” sections has a mention of Norman:

“”R. S. CARR (1909-15), with the “Section Sanitaire ” in France, sends names of O.S. on his convoy: ” R. M. BARROW, O.C., H. LIDBETTER, R. L. SPENCE, N. E. GRIPPER, R. W. SCRIMGEOUR, H. G. CLARK, A. S. HAMILTON, E. O. RANSOME, O. B. LEAN.

They seem to have been “roughing it” in the winter. ” Many a time the bread and bully beef became blocks of ice. . . . We have worked on six different parts of the line, so we have seen quite a lot of France. “He says they are all looking’ forward to the time when they can attend the O.S. Gathering at the “best School of all.” “

The May 1918 issue of “Bootham” again mentions Norman.  The section “Old York Scholars serving with the Friends’ Ambulance Unit” lists him as “Gripper, N. E., Con. 14. “

The next we hear of Norman in “Bootham” is in the July 1918 issue, which records his death. He was killed by a German shell whilst driving an ambulance in Picardy.  The “In Memoriam” section includes:

“NORMAN EDWARD GRIPPER (1912-13). We have heard with sorrow of the loss of Gripper, killed by a shell on the morning of May 27th whilst working on his convoy, F.A.U. An Old Bootham Boy writes:—” Grips and I had become very close pals since we came out together …. He did not suffer any pain fortunately, being- killed outright … . He and Hugo Jackson were buried the same day, the service being conducted by a Scotch Chaplain. He was in a convoy of seven cars at the time, I was leading and he was about fifth, his brother driving in front of him. We were on the way to get casualties, and had to pass through a town that was being heavily shelled. Naturally we did not move through slowly, but apparently not quickly enough, and his car was the only one hit, and they were the only men hit. The four cars in front of him knew nothing of it until we pulled up at our destination, and we experienced a heavy shock on hearing the news. ”  ”

and under “Deaths”:

“GRIPPER.—On the 27th May, 1918, killed in France while with the F.A.U., Norman Edward Gripper, of Blackburn (1912- 13), in his 22nd year.”

The “In Memoriam” section of the December 1918 issue of “Bootham” has a letter from a number of Bootham boys about Norman:


S.S. Anglaise 14,

Convois Autos,

par B.C.M.,


June 28th, 1918.

Dear V. W.,—We , the old Bootham boys on S.S.A. 14, felt we would like to write to BOOTHAM to let others know how Norman E. Gripper met his death. BOOTHAM has just reached the convoy, and we all congratulate you on yet another good number.

Yours sincerely,






p.p. ROGER S. CARR (in hospital).

R. W. S.

Norman E. Gripper came out to France with the F.A.U. on January 1st, 1916, and after working- in the Poperinghe district for some months he joined the Ambulance Convoy S.S.A. 14.

Before getting his own car in November he was working as mechanic and extra driver. It was while he was in the workshop that many of us realised his great skill and enthusiasm for all things mechanical. When he got his own ‘bus it almost became a part of himself; it was always in the most perfect condition, and, like him, ready at all times for whatever occurred.

The convoy had just made a fairly long move to a little village some 20 kilometres behind the lines, and was expecting a few days’ rest, when the German offensive of May 27th took us entirely by surprise. Almost immediately calls for ambulances came pouring in from the neighbouring villages, and N. E. Gripper was the last of a small convoy of six to go through B—• , which was being heavily shelled. The shell which killed him and fatally wounded Hugo H. Jackson (master at Sidcot, 1913-14) must have burst immediately in front of his car, and death was instantaneous. H. H. Jackson lived to reach the CCS. at M.N.D., in the cemetery of which both were buried that afternoon; four hours later the hospital fell into the hands of the enemy. Both have been posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Gripper will always be remembered by those who knew him as an enthusiast in flying and the Air Service, but at the same time he was perfectly sure of the value and necessity of the Red Cross work he was doing. Retiring and unobstrusive though he was, we now realise how heavy is our loss.“

Norman Edward Gripper is buried in Vailly British Cemetery, Aisne, France.