Bedales1897-1904, Lieutenant Royal Engineers

Herbert came to “old” Bedales in Sussex in September 1897 at the age of nine and a half and spent seven years at the school.  His elder brother Eric Theodor joined him in the Summer Term of 1898.  Their parents, Theodor and Ida, had been born in Germany but their three sons were all born in Dulwich: Theodor and his family gained British citizenship in 1892.  Theodor is described in the 1891 census as “East Indian and China Merchant”. 

From Mr Badley’s comment in his obituary (see below) Herbert must have made his mark in the school but he does not feature prominently in the reports in The Bedales Record.  After leaving school in the Summer of 1904 Herbert Schneider went to the Crystal Palace Engineering School, studying Civil and Electrical Engineering, and emerged in April 1907 with an Honours Certificate.  Immediately he joined the staff of Barry, Leslie and Egerton as a Junior Assistant at their offices at 7 The Sanctuary, Westminster.  He worked on designs and specifications for two railways in China (Shanghai to Nanking and Kowloon to Canton) and on steel bridges and spans, Dock Gates and Floating Caissons for the Bombay Port Trust.

On 26th August 1909, already a Private in the Artists’ Rifles, Herbert Schneider applied for a Commission in the Officers’ Special Reserve.  His referees were the Principal of the Crystal Palace Engineering School, who declared him to be “of good moral character”, and his local Vicar who agreed and testified to having known him for all his life.  The application was approved on 16th November and on 8th January 1910 he was gazetted a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, Special Reserves; for that year he was based at Chatham..  At the end of that time he took up employment in West Africa.

As a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers since 1909 Herbert’s career is recorded in their Directory.  For his first year (1911 – 1912) he was employed in the northern extension of the Lagos Railway in Northern Nigeria, working on the substructure and superstructure of the Igkerri Bridge (6 spans of 100 feet each), smaller bridges, locomotive machine shops, turntables and other essential railway buildings.  In 1912, after leave back in England, he moved to Sierra Leone as an Assistant Engineer on the Government Railway, erecting machine shops, a foundry and brass furnaces, cranes and overhead gantries, steam pumps and laying water pipes. 

After another leave (I have found him listed as sailing from Liverpool to Lagos in May 1914) he was posted as a Surveyor to the Survey of the Northern Nigeria.  Soon after war was declared, in September 1914 as a Lieutenant in the Survey Department of the Royal Engineers, he was appointed to the West African Frontier Force engaged in conflict on the border of the Germany colony of Kamerun.  There he met his death three months later, on 5th December, over the border at Loum near the Molis Bridge.  His Commanding Officer wrote “His loss is much felt as, in addition to his attractive personality, he was a most capable young officer and had done previously particularly meritorious work with the Royal Engineers.”

In the 1914 – 1915 Bedales Record, reporting Herbert Schneider’s death, Mr Badley wrote “None who knew him at Bedales will forget his abounding energy, fearlessness and high spirits which got him into many a scrape, or that unceasing good humour and generous temper that made him through all his pranks, a universal favourite.” 

Mr Badley also quoted from letters written by his brother officers. “He was one of the nicest chaps I ever met, and (he and) I did a lot of dynamite work together, blowing up rails and (when the Colonel was out of hearing) letting off sticks of dynamite in the river to get fish.  We called him the Anarchist.  He never grumbled, even under heavy fire, or when there was no water ... ."  Another wrote “....  his keenness and energy for his work was inexhaustible, and with this were combined technical skill and absolute thoroughness and reliability and complete fearlessness." And a third  – in the attitude of the times – contributed “An awfully nice youngster, keen as anything, a great pal of mine.  If you see his people tell them that he was one of the best.  If he was of German descent, he was a d----d good Englishman".  One who was with him at the end wrote: “Next day when we took the bridge we found him lying just where he fell ... We buried him just outside Nhole Station on a little hill overlooking the river.  His grave is piled high with stones ... with a cross at the head ......and under all ‘He was a very gallant gentleman’ – and so he was.”  After the war his body was moved to Douala Cemetery.

Eric Schneider wrote to The Record from the Shanghai International Settlement where he was working as an engineer.  “... it was a great shock to me when the news came that Herbert had been killed in Africa.  I don’t suppose he is the only Bedalian whose life has been cut short in the service of his country.  Bedalians will always think with pride of those who gave their lives for the principles which Bedales represents and what better finish could any man wish for!  Let us hope that, after all this terrible business is finished, out of evil good will come, and that a better world will be the result.”

Herbert's death should remind us of the international nature of WWI; he was the first Bedalian to die outside Western Europe.