Letter from a Rhodes Scholar on the Western Front

The Cavalry grazing horses on the Western Front  (Creative Commons)  Photograph of the Western Front during the First World War. Official British war photographers took many for propaganda purposes.  From the papers of Field Marshal (Earl) Haig (1861-1928). The Haig Papers also contain Douglas Haig’s diaries.

The Cavalry grazing horses on the Western Front (Creative Commons)
Photograph of the Western Front during the First World War. Official British war photographers took many for propaganda purposes.
From the papers of Field Marshal (Earl) Haig (1861-1928). The Haig Papers also contain Douglas Haig’s diaries.

It must have been hard to know what to say to your little sister in Africa when you were waiting to be sent into action during the First World War.

Henry Dacres Wise, known as Harry, was a 23-year-old former Rhodes Scholar who served with the 18th Hussars in the First World War.  In the summer of 1915 he sent the letter and score card below to his teenage sister, Christabel, in Rhodesia.

Dearest Chris

I am writing this while sitting on the edge of a turnip field somewhere in France at about 8.30am.  I am taking the horses out to exercise and always let them graze for an hour or so.  Excuse the scrawl as it is so uncomfortable.  I have just been reading your letters telling me about the very cold weather you have had.  It must have been quite bitter.  Here it has been showery and coldish for a month but the last day or two glorious & grilling. Now I am grilling and love it.

We played a cricket match yest.  18th Hussars v. H. Battery, Royal Horse Artillery and got beaten by 2 wickets.  Great fun.  I enclose our score sheet as I thought it might amuse you.  I was capt. of 18th!  We went in and made 15 (rotten) then they made 25 then we made 95 then they made 86 for 9.  Quite exciting.  Very fast bowling & on awful pitch.  Fearfully dangerous!!

We are playing polo every afternoon while in billets.  We get 10 days down here then 10 days up digging which is more than exciting just now.  I go up either next Sat. or Wed.  I hope all being well to get away on three days leave to England about Sept. 23rd.  I heard from L. yest.  He is very fit and hopes to get leave about same time.  Has just done 10 days in trenches but they were he says luckily very quiet.

All your dogs sound great fun.  I miss a dog out here and wish I could get Jean.  

Shoeing horses in France (Creative Commons - details as in b/w photograph above)

Shoeing horses in France
(Creative Commons – details as in b/w photograph above)

I went down to the sea last week and had a glorious bathe!  Can’t tell you how I enjoyed it.  Reminded me of this time last year (nearly) at Thurlestone except there are no rocks on the coast near here.  All sand dunes.  I wish we were all at Thurlestone again.

Well I must stop now and get on my horse and take the horses in.  We get in at 9.30.  Then groom from 10.30 to 12.30 then feed. Then lunch & polo at 3 o’clock. Quite slack!

Best love to you, old girl & to the others

Yr loving brother
Harry
Thank Mad for photo of self on Pioneer.  Very smart & a jolly good seat on a horse too.”

Harry Wise served in and survived both World Wars.  He was awarded his Rhodes Scholarship in 1910.

History of the Rhodes Scholarship

Frontispiece of Rhodes A Life by J G McDonald first published in 1927 by Philip Allan & Co. Ltd. London

Frontispiece of Rhodes A Life by J G McDonald first published in 1927 by Philip Allan & Co. Ltd. London

Cecil John Rhodes died in 1902 aged 48.  In his will he laid out the conditions for the awarding of the Rhodes Scholarships.  He planned the scholarships to enable young Americans and other British colonials to go to university in England, most to Oxford.

In his book Rhodes: A Life published by Philip Allan & Co Ltd (1927) J G McDonald says that Rhodes believed that it would be good for the English to mix with men from the colonies so that they could understand “something of the wideness and the scope for enterprise afforded by the new” whilst the colonials would learn more about the old traditions.  Rhodes also hoped that the scholarships would create a pool of young men who would help develop his belief that: “The British Empire and America working amicably together can impose peace on the world.”  (pg 384)

Rhodes requested that those selected for scholarship should not be “merely bookworms” but that each individual should be chosen for:

(I) his literary and scholastic attainments; (II) his fondness of and success in manly outdoor sports such as cricket, football, and the like; (III) his qualities of manhood, truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for the protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness, and fellowship; and (IV) his exhibition during school days of moral force of character and of instincts to lead and to take an interest in his schoolmates, for those latter attributes will be likely in after life to guide him to esteem the performance of public duties as his highest aim” (pg 378)

He also intended that “no student should either be qualified or disqualified on account of his race or religious opinions” (pg 379).  

McDonald records the impact of the First World War on the fledgling scholarship programme:

The Great War produced an upheaval Rhodes could not foresee. Many of the first Rhodes scholars, who had some personal acquaintance with him and knew something of his views and were therefore strongly imbued with his spirit, were killed in action; others who, on the outbreak of war were ready to go to Oxford, went into the army instead, and, with the coming of peace, did not return to a University career.(pg 380)

(J G McDonald was both an employee and friend of Cecil Rhodes for the twelve years prior to Rhodes’ death).

I do not know whether Harry Wise knew Cecil Rhodes but I do know that Harry, as well as working in the brewing industry until the age of 80, devoted much of his life to public service – first in the Army for both the First and Second World Wars; then as a special constable (he received a long service medal); and finally as a parish councillor – he was on his way back from a council meeting when he died suddenly, aged 87.

My thanks to Larney Wise for supplying me with information on his family and their part in the First World War.

Space for comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s