Major Justin Charles Willis came from Birmingham. Born in February 1895, he was in New House from 1909-1913. He went to Woolwich after Oundle and then joined the Royal Engineers when War broke out. He was mortally wounded by a shell, on the Somme, on 6th August 1918 and buried at Vignacourt, near Amiens.
Back in 1912, Justin Willis penned an enthusiastic letter to his mother, forecasting with great accuracy how the War would start. Then, just six years later, he wrote what was to be his last letter to his mother, just a few days before his death. After a bout of illness, he was now on the mend and in need of further supplies. Though he had risen to the rank of Major, he still wrote, as he always did, with the language and tone of an excitable schoolboy:
“Thanks most awfully for the tomatoes and peas, they were top hole. I am feeling fit, and have had no more boils yet, and I have also succeeded in avoiding this so-called Spanish flu. Could you go to Beresford’s in town the next time you happen to be there, and tell them to send me out six small electric lamps (bayonet socket) sixteen candle power, eight volts. So sorry to trouble you. Please give my love to Daddy. Goodbye my dearest Mothie. Much love from Justin.”
A few days later, Justin’s mother received another letter. It was from Major-General Sir Richard Lee: “I cannot tell you how deeply we, the officers of the staff of the 18th Division deplore the loss of your son. He was a great signaller and a most gallant officer with a keen sense of duty. He was mortally wounded on the 6th inst. (August), the day the Germans made a strong counter-attack on our position…The wound was a gunshot wound in the stomach and, to our great grief it ended fatally.”
He died on the operating table. The local chaplain wrote “It may comfort you to know that I buried him in a quiet little graveyard well away from the front…marked with a cross. May God grant you comfort in your sorrow, and to him eternal rest and peace.”
Later, there was also a letter from his uncle, his mother’s brother:
“I am glad I read his letters and felt what a dear simple-hearted boy he was. You have (though you cannot count it now) a wonderful treasure in the future of a beloved son who will never grow old or commonplace – who will always be your own, and has bequeathed to you the honour of his unstained, loyal life, and will welcome you – yes he will- on the other side.”
Sanderson wrote to Justin’s father in these terms: “Both Mrs Sanderson and I can sympathise with you as we lost our eldest son in April. Only, I think, those who experience it can fully know what it all means. The School has lost very heavily. No fewer than 300 out of 1038 – a great sacrifice. It is hard to think we shall see the boys no more.”
Justin Willis was 23 years old at the time of his death.