Bedales 1897 – 1904 Captain, Bucks Battalion, Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry

John William Backhouse was only four years old when his mother and younger brother died in 1890.  His father, Henry Backhouse, was a Banker’s Clerk in 1871, (his father had been a substantial Landowner). In 1885 Henry married Georgina Mary Stanton, the second daughter of a local landowner in Teesdale; their first son, John William, was born the following year. The death of their second son, Rowland, at the age of three on 14 July 1890 was reported in a Quaker Magazine and his mother, who died a few days later on 25 July, was interred in the local Quaker Burial Ground.  It might have been this background that led to John being sent to Bedales.

On census day 1891 Henry, a Bank Inspector, and his five year old son John were living with Georgina’s parents in Barnard Castle. Two years later John acquired a step-mother, 28 year old Mary Lucas, the daughter of a solicitor, and in 1895 a half-sister Katherine Mary. John William was sent to Aysgarth preparatory school near York and then, in 1897, aged 11, he made the long journey from co. Durham to Bedales in Sussex.

Unlike many of the Bedalians I have researched, John Backhouse is a constant figure in The Bedales Record.  In his second year at school Oswald Powell commented “Of the younger players Backhouse … (has) shown keenness and promise.”  Cricket was to be a major interest throughout his years at school.  In his final year Stanley Wells, the master i/c cricket, wrote in The Bedales Record: “we all regret that Backhouse, our cricket captain, is leaving this Term.  We owe him much for the time and labour which he has so ungrudgingly given to the School upon the cricket field. It is fitting that the season under his captaincy should have been such a successful one.”

John was also a keen footballer – mostly in goal.  No captain of football is mentioned (but on at least one occasion he must have captained the side because he won the toss about choice of ends) and he played regularly in the first XI in his last years.  He even had a couple of Sports Day triumphs, winning the junior “throwing the cricket ball” in his first year and in his last year won the Senior High Jump.

Early in, and at the end of his school career, John was also active in the debates which played a major part in Bedales life. In February 1900 he proposed, and won, the motion that “Fox hunting is an undesirable sport.” He unsuccessfully opposed the motion that “The British Army is not strong enough”, advocating more volunteers rather than enlisted men. However, he also asserted everyone should learn to shoot and he put that into practice, becoming one of the most successful Bedalians in two competitions in 1903 - 04.

In 1899 John fell out with debating, arguing that “stuffing” (taxidermy) was a better use of time.  In The Show of 1900 the otter he had stuffed, placed in a case made by Geoffrey Lupton and then donated to the School, was much commended.  However, in his last years at school he was again prominent in debates, advocating the nationalisation of railways, stating that civilisation was a society in which “everyone uses his powers to help others”, but supporting physical force in order to retain law and order. In his final years he was a captain of his dormitory and one of the first Prefects, (introduced in 1902). From Bedales, John Backhouse went to train as a land agent in Salisbury and then (1909 - 10) acted as sub-Land Agent on the Duke of Buccleuch’s estate at Dunchurch near Rugby; from 1910 to 1914 he managed the lands of Capt. T. C. R. Higgins and others at Turvey in Bedfordshire.

Unfortunately there is little information in J W Backhouse’s service record in The National Archives. He must have been among the first to volunteer after the declaration of war as on 1st September 1914 he was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.  Initially he was involved in training and basic duties in Britain. Mr Badley stated that he became a full Lieutenant in December and went with his Battalion to France in March 1915, being promoted to the rank of Captain on 10 June.

The War Diary of the Bucks Battalion (WO 95’2763/2) places the battalion taking over from the Worcesters in the front line trenches near Hebuterne on 2nd February.  On the 3rd and 4th the c/o reported “Quiet day” and again on the 6th, though on the 5th there had been “rather more artillery action than usual”. Things changed on the 8th; “Between 10am and 12 noon shells were coming into trenches at rate of 1 per 45 seconds”, and the pattern was repeated on the 9th. The entry for the 10th reports, “Enemy artillery not as active as 2 previous days” The British response was “V. good shooting.”  “10 casualties, 7 killed 1 wounded 2 shell shock; CAPT. J W BACKHOUSE among killed.”  Mr Badley, in his obituary in The Bedales Record, said he had been killed in the trenches instantaneously by shell fire.  He lies in the military cemetery at Hebutene in Grave 1 A 9.

Six of John’s contemporaries in his first year at Bedales were killed between 1914 – 1918 and as Bedales was still a small school, although some were several years younger, I think John would have known well the other thirteen of his contemporaries who also lost their lives.

Bedales publications were a good source of information; The National Archives provided his service file and the War Diary of his Regiment and genealogical sites produced the information about his family