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Culham at War - World War One

The purpose of these pages is to remind us of those who studied at Culham and died or suffered during wars and conflict. We would like additional contributions to these pages because we recognise that there are many more stories that we have not yet uncovered. If you would like to contribute additional material please send details to
Culham men who died in World War One
Ernest William Brooks attended Culham and during this time he was also still working as an assistant teacher.
Ernest joined the army in September 1914 and was  promoted to a Captain with the 6th Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.
He was killed in action on 20 September 1917 whilst taking part in the first day of the Menin Road Battle - an action in the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele. Ernest was wounded in the shoulder as he lead his company in the attack. There was a break in the fighting and Ernest rallied his men. He was wounded again but this time it was fatal.
It is reported that a senior officer wrote that Ernest's men were devoted to him; another said that even though wounded he was 'quite calm, cheerful and in no pain'

A Culham College Company

There was a Culham College Company in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Men who had studied together side by side went to war together side by side. What bound them together was the spirit of Culham and that stayed with as they went to the front.

They took the Culham evening hymn with them for reflection at the end of each day.  That evening hymn brought them together and drew in other warring participants including the Germans.

The camaraderie of college life gave them the comfort and support that was needed to endure life in the trenches.
But the Culham spirit did not provide protection from the horrors of war and the sniper’s bullet.

Thomas William Yates (left) was studying at Culham when he enlisted with fellow students and quickly saw action.  He was wounded twice.
On the evening of 19 April 1917, Thomas was involved in the attack on Gillemont Farm — an area strongly held by the enemy. Against heavy machine gun fire the lines advanced but suffered badly until the men were eventually ordered to withdraw.
Thomas Yates was killed that day—he was 28 years old. He has no known grave but is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial and on the Culham College memorial; in the Chapel. He was awarded the 15 Star, Victory and British War medals.

Albert Carsewell Payne was studying at Culham in1911 and went on to be a Senior Assistant Master at Sheringham Council School for three years. In 1915 he was appointed as head master at Mileham School, in mid-Norfolk, before enlisting in the 7th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment. He served in France and Flanders and died of wounds sustained in the battle for Glencourse Wood near Ypres on 8th August 1917, age 31.

Badge of Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry

© IWM (INS 5785)

It used to be compulsory for all students at Culham to attend Chapel every day. In the evening the service included the college’s evening hymn.

In his book ‘The Church of England and the First World War’, Alan Wilkinson records that men from Culham, many of whom had joined the 5th Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, sang Culham’s Evening Hymn as they sat in the silence in the trenches during a lull in fighting.  Their voices filled the still evening air. 

      Holiest, breathe an evening blessing,

      Ere repose our spirits seal

      Though destruction walk around us,

      Though the arrow past us fly,

      Angel-guards from thee surround us.

      We are safe if thou art nigh

After the rendition the Germans called for an encore.

Alan Wilkinson quotes Frederick Grisewood’s recollection of what happened:

‘The effect of these men’s voices rising up out of the ground in the still night air was startling. The Saxons evidently appreciated it, as they would shout across and demand our evening hymn every night. The hymn turned out to be an old German one which must have been familiar to our enemy opposite’                     

After the Amen the English called on ‘Fritz’ to sing and the German soldier then stood on top of the trench and delivered several arias.

When the German had finished he shouted 'Guten Abend Englisch', climbed back into his trench and gradually the war would start again.

After the war there was a ‘Culham Restored’ service and a specially written hymn included the verse

We thank Thee for our soldiers,

Whose glory death hath sealed,

Who sang the songs of Culham

In trench and battlefield.

In those bleak times, Culham provided succour and comfort to Culhamites and those around them - both English and German.