May 9th 1918

Lieut. Hunter Herbertson (KRRC)

Having been on the missing list since May 1917, Hunter’s death has finally been confirmed –  after a very trying period of uncertainty for family and friends.

On the night of May 16th 1917 Hunter had gone out on a patrol with two others near Cherisy (at the southern end of the Arras battlefield). None of them returned.

It was nearly a year ago that, on May 20th1917, his grandfather received a telegram stating that Hunter was missing, but noting that “this does not necessarily mean that he is either wounded or killed.”

Having heard nothing further, Mr Herbertson wrote on July 12th for news. Three days later a reply informed him that Hunter was on the list of missing officers sent to the Netherland Legation for circulation throughout German POW camps and hospitals.

There followed a further period of waiting. Then the Red Cross forwarded (on January 29th1918) a statement from a POW, Rifleman Woods, saying that Hunter had been “Killed, on patrol duty, near Reincourt.”  The Red Cross added that “this statement is unofficial and cannot in any way be considered as an absolute certainty.”

Finally, on April 12th 1918, the War Office wrote to Hunter’s grandfather to say that they had come to the conclusion that Hunter had been killed, and agreed to add his name to the official casualty lists. This duly appeared in the newspaper yesterday:

With this letter was Rifleman Woods’ full statement:

“Whilst on patrol Lieut. Herbertson attempted to return, but was caught in the barbed wire entanglement where he was killed. I was accompanying this officer. I am quite positive that this officer was killed.”

The strange thing is that this statement is dated August 30th 1917, so either the authorities had overlooked this information, or it had taken seven and a half months to reach them. Either way, an agony of waiting for the family.

The ‘Oxford Magazine’, in their tribute to Hunter, has described him as “a quiet, studious, rather reserved man, though kindly and high-minded, he was the last person one would have expected to make the keen and effective soldier he did…”

We have vivid recollections of his complete indifference to the chance of punishment, his aptitude for getting into and out of scrapes, his quick brain and obvious gift of commanding a following, and we have not been at all surprised at his successful career as a soldier.

It was what we would have expected.

 

May 24th 1917

Every day I open the morning newspaper to read on the ‘Roll of Honour’ of large numbers of officers killed and wounded, always in fear that I shall see the name of one of our Old Boys.

I am also confronted by an increasing number of those who are pronounced as ‘Missing’. This gives hope, but the families of these men are condemned to months of uncertainty as to whether their loved ones are dead, wounded or captured. In the case of the family of Capt. Edmund Gay (Norfolk Regiment) it has been nearly two years; he has been missing since August 1915.

Now two more of our Old Dragons have joined this list.

On May 20th, Mr Herbertson received a telegram stating that his grandson, Lieut. Hunter Herbertson (King’s Royal Rifle Corps) was reported as missing, but he understands that this does not necessarily mean that he is either wounded or killed.

On the night of May 16th he went out on a patrol with two others near Cherisy (at the southern end of the Arras battlefield). None of them returned. Enquiries will be made in the hope that he was captured and is a prisoner of war.

Hunter had done two years at Balliol (reading History) when war was declared. He joined up, but whilst training he suffered a double tragedy. His father (Oxford’s first Professor of Geography) died in July 1915, followed two weeks later by his mother. Both are buried in the Holywell Cemetery.

 

Mr & Mrs Dowson have also been informed that their son, Captain John Dowson (Royal Berkshire Regiment) has been notified as “missing.”

Like Morice Thompson, he was involved in the attacks that took place on May 3rd in the Arras district, but as yet we have no further information as to the circumstances of his disappearance.

John has been a regular visitor to the school in recent times. When home on leave he was always about, ready to take a form or a game.

It is at times like this that you are glad to have a photograph that captures happier times and places to have in front of you. This is John, as the boys will remember him, and hopefully he will return to us in the fullness of time.

 

Better news was to be found on a list headed ‘Previously reported missing, now reported prisoners of war in German hands.’ Included on it was the name of 2nd Lieut. Peter Warren, whose fate has been unknown these past seven weeks.

His squadron was returning to their base on April 2nd when they were set upon by German squadron. It seems that Peter’s plane was singled one and forced to ditch behind enemy lines.