St John's School in Wartime

A blog about the history of St John's School Leatherhead in wartime and those Old Johnians who served in the First and Second World Wars.

Early History of St John's School OTC

The Officer Training Corps (OTC) at St John’s was started in 1912, under the guidance and leadership of its first Commanding Officer, school master and former pupil, Captain Lancelot Townshend Driffield. The newly formed OTC had an eventful first year coping with poor weather, epidemics of mumps and measles and the serious fire of June 1913 in which all their kit was lost. This extract from the Johnian magazine for 1913 describes their misfortunes:

"The Corps has now been in existence for a year, and having survived such a year it ought to be capable of surviving anything. Misfortune has patiently dogged its footsteps. The weather began it, of course - last Christmas term; measles devastated the Company in the Easter term; mumps followed in the summer, and the great fire added the finishing touch. The fire destroyed almost everything except the arms and ammunition - and the mumps! When all other defects had been remedied and every preparation made for camp, that miserable disease out-lasted the term and - well, we hope to go to camp next year."

The first Annual Inspection was made on July 23rd by Captain F. H. Moore, General Staff and his report was encouraging:


"Drill: Considering the short time this contingent has been formed and the difficulties met with owing to the fire, etc., I consider the drill quite good. As is only to be expected the non-commissioned officers require to pay more attention to words of command. Signals were not always given or understood."

Manoeuvre: Elementary.The Cadets however appear keen and I have no doubt that at the next inspection there will be a great improvement. There is no suitable ground for manoeuvre near the School, but a great deal can be done in the way of fire-discipline and control on the playing fields.

Discipline: Good. The Cadets were particularly steady on parade.

Turn Out: The Cadets were not in uniform, the fire at the School in June last having destroyed everything they possessed. They are of good physique and should turn out a smart corps.

Arms and Equipment: In good order.

Buildings, Stores, etc: Good. The armoury is a particularly good one, and the School possesses two miniature ranges.

General remarks: Considering the fact that the contingent has had to contend with great difficulties during the first year of its existence, I consider that the result is very creditable. Captain Driffield appears to take a great interest in the Corps and is helped in every way by the Headmaster and the Governors of the School."

The following year the Corps supplied a guard of honour for the Duchess of Albany when she opened the newly buildings on Speech Day 1914 and were able to report


‘The contingent has now an establishment of two platoons. A contingent of three officers and 53 cadets is going into camp at Tidworth for eight days' training.


The Johnian, April 1915 told a different story:

"Mr Bourne has joined the Corps and is taking over the duties of Mr Alderson who is with the Special Reserve Battalion of the Queen's. Since the Corps was established in 1912, 152 cadets have been entered. Of these, 66 have left and 32 of the 66 have gone into the Navy and Army, (48%) — 4 into the Navy, (one of whom, B. St. M. Cardew went down in the Monmouth, off Coronel), 19 hold commissions in the Army and 9 are serving in ranks.


Of those in the Army, 16 joined directly from the Corps. The present strength of the corps is 86. Only about 12 of these will be old enough after midsummer to get commissions. They are receiving special instruction from Captain Driffield and are getting, by means of skeleton companies, a considerable amount of practice in platoon and company drill."

  • Cyprian Bourne died of wounds in April 1917,
  • Lancelot Townshend Driffield died of a heart condition at the School in October 1917
  • Albert Evelyn Alderson accidentally drowned while on active service in 1918

The annual inspection in July 1915 drew praise from the inspecting officer in his report to the War Office:

“The cadets were very steady on parade and handled their arms well. The company drill was very well executed. The boys are well set and shew great keenness in every branch of their drill. Platoon and section commanders were exceptionally good. The ground for manoeuvre was somewhat limited. An attack was carried out and executed with much spirit. The Officer Commanding gave very definite instructions which were properly passed on to the subordinates. The fire control and discipline were above the average and the extensions and reinforcements were first-rate. The parade discipline is very good. The cadets were very well turned out and the clothing and equipment well fitting. Hair is kept short. Boots were not of a uniform pattern but were well blacked. I was much pleased with the state of this corps, and it was easy to see that there is an excellent spirit pervading the ranks. Great credit is due to Captain Driffield, the Commanding Officer, whose interest in his work is obvious. The Corps is fortunate in having the services of a very efficient Serjeant Instructor.”

A fife and drum band was started in 1916:

Two drums and eight fifes have been bought and two drummers and eight fifers are making themselves disliked by the rest of the school.”


But once again the weather and sickness took their toll:

“The work of the Corps has suffered this term, first from the weather and then from the influenza epidemic. Both the officers succumbed to the disease, and most of the cadets followed suit. This enforced idleness will entail a large amount of extra work next term if the annual inspection is to be satisfactory. As the War Office requested O.T.C. officers to undertake a preliminary training of men attested under Lord Derby's scheme, Sergeant Lindsell has been instructing recruits three or four evenings a week in the gymnasium” 

On Thursday, the 1st June 1916, OJ Captain G H Woolley, VC, paid the School a visit:

“On Friday he went out with the Corps and worked out an Outpost scheme with them. There are several cadets who will not forget his visit in a hurry, and will know better in the future how to appreciate the responsibility of their position as cadets in an OTC.


In the evening Captain Woolley gave the School a very clear and interesting account of the second Battle of Ypres, in which he won his VC.”

Field Day with Reigate School against Epsom College

The first recorded Field Day was held on 6 July 1916. These extracts are from the detailed report which appeared in the Johnian:

“On July 6th, the School OTC, in conjunction with Reigate School, took part in a field day against Epsom College. Parade for issue of rations was at 11.30. At 12.10 we marched off, reaching our destination, Ashtead Station, at 12.45. There we partook of our meal and had just finished when Reigate arrived by train. The whole force moved off to the scene of operations on Epsom Common.

We were told to hold a line extending from the railway on our right to a road leading to Greenman's Farm on our left. Epsom were to attack this front and then we were to retire and hold new positions in rear…On the whole, the operations went off very successfully, everyone understanding what was going on and the reasons for the various moves, more clearly than they have done in past events of the kind. We marched off to the Star Inn on the Kingston Road where we were met by the band. After much revelling at the said inn the band played us home, where we arrived at 6.45.”


Death of Captain L T Driffield

Sad news was received in October 1917 with the sudden death of L T Driffield: 


“The Corps has suffered an incalculable loss by the death of Captain Driffield. It was his coming back to the School in 1911, with military experience gained at Cambridge and at Derby School and St. Edmund's, Canterbury, that made it possible for the Head Master to obtain the consent of the Army Council to provide a contingent of the OTC. The Corps was made by Captain Driffield, and in its early days it was chiefly his patience and good humour that overcame the difficulties that had to be encountered: the intractability of a hundred inexperienced recruits, measles, mumps, and the great Fire. Since the first inspection in 1913, no Inspecting Officer has ever failed to remark the keen interest that Captain Driffield took in his command. Those cadets who have been trained by him know how well the praise was deserved, for the efficiency of the Corps was obviously his first interest and no trouble was too much to increase it. The Corps paraded at 8.45 a.m. on Saturday the 13th October, to give its last salute as the funeral procession crossed the Senior field.


Captain the Revd C W Ingram succeeded Driffield as Commanding Officer, and held the post until 1922.   Following the armistice in 1918, the demands on the OTC were eased:


“The War Office has at last relaxed the ten hours a week limit in Public Schools, and we are looking forward to a return to peace time programmes. Physical Training and Musketry will occupy a more prominent position than they did in pre-war days, and as a branch of the former Boxing has been introduced by Captain Ingram. Practices have already been started under Col Sergt Lindsell, and it is intended to hold an experimental inter-house competition at the end of the term. We welcome Mr Reed as a member of the Corps. As a recognition of the services of the officers, N.C.O.'s, and cadets of the St John's contingent, in providing material for commissions and service in the ranks of our armies in the field, the War Trophy Committee has offered the Corps a German machine-gun, which offer, needless to say, has been accepted.”


The following list of former OTC members who died in the First World War was published in the Johnian in December 1921.