WWI Faces: From Hockey Players to WWI Heroes (Part 1)

The E Hockey Team at Sandhurst, 1915
The E Hockey Team at Sandhurst, 1915

These young men looked dazzling in their hockey uniforms and even looked older than their actual years. They were cadets and were among the first wave of volunteers who signed up after World War I broke out.

This is a photograph of a hockey team taken in the middle of their training as army officers. Shortly after this fateful sit-down, ten of these men, young cadets at that (eight still in their teen years) finished training and were sent to the front lines. At the end of the Great War, half lost their lives in the battle.

In connection with next year’s commemoration of WWI’s 100th year, the lives of the men in this picture – those who died in the war and those who lived to tell the tale – are being pieced together.

The said image was taken at the Royal Military College located in Sandhurst, Surrey and fell into the hands of Dr. Francis Hurd, a historian neophyte, who bought it from an auction earlier this year. Dr. Hurd from then on had researched about the whereabouts of every single individual in this picture hoping to shed light about their various experiences during the Great War and what happened with them throughout and after the conflict.

Dr. Hurd’s project is also one of the many which surfaced after The Sunday Telegraph appealed to the public to share their stories about the First World War as the newspaper line makes its own series of supplements ahead of the WWI centenary set to debut next year.

Dr. Hurd found out that the cadets along with two of their instructors who were also in the picture came from various backgrounds – some coming from military clans while others  hailed from trade, clergy, banking, manufacturing, medicine and colonial administration. This just shows that World War I had drawn a wide breath of influence from where WWI army officers were drawn.

The team along with two referees who are also shown in the picture, included two Welshmen, one Irish, two Scots with strong ties to the empire. Two were born in India, one in Singapore and another one hailed from Ceylon, currently known as Sri Lanka. Three of the young men had a parent or other close relatives who served alongside the Indian Army.

The men in the picture all signed up in 1914, the year WWI broke out. They started training in Sandhurst in 1915. They have applied to the college for regular commissions instead of just enlisting for the whole period of war which meant all of them had hopes of making the army their life-long career. They simply could have applied for commissions but through their enrollment in the Royal Military College, they are assured of better chances in the military field.

However, as they entered at a crucial point in WWI, instead of undergoing the usual 18-month training course, their war preparations were cut off to just three months.

The training they got was more intense focusing on developing the men’s physical prowess and making sure they re capable of giving orders to their subordinates. Thus, they were subjected to team sports following tradition of public schools at that time.

Douglas Wimberley was one of the members in that hockey team. In his memoirs, he wrote that they played sport for one hour daily as well as did additional physical exercises.

“We changed our clothes and uniforms at least six times a day, always at top speed,” he stated in his writings.

The men’s E Company hockey team photograph which Dr. Hurd had taken possession was taken early in 1915; the men were then sent to war in March that same year. They were assigned in active units.

That half of the team succumbed to death within the duration of the Great War is a reflection of the wider experiences of the second lieutenants in the First World War. It is believed that this rank had suffered the highest casualty rate during the said conflict. It was even further believed that the average of a second lieutenant’s  life during WWI was just six weeks though all who were in the E Company hockey team lived longer than that.

“These men are a microcosm of those who went through Sandhurst and the hundreds of graduates who fought and often died. What is interesting about this team is that it allows you to tell the story of those who lived as well as died,” Dr. Hurd said.

In connection with the picture, the amateur historian has already contacted both Sandhurst and the National Hockey Museum in the hopes of finding more about the individuals in it. Both institutions are keen on helping her and featuring her work as part of their centenary plans.

to be continued…

– The Telegraph Reports