Thomas Lovell Warner 27 December 1917

Thomas Lovell Warner, was an elder son from Leicester, where he was born in January 1894. His father Charles ran a horticultural business and his tulips were renowned across the county, but he died when Tom was just 10. He joined New House in January 1908, aged 14 and stayed the full five years. He became Head of House and a school prefect and was prominent in the XV in his last two years.

The haunting photograph of the team at the end of the Michaelmas Term 1911, shows young Warner sitting on the captain’s left-hand side. Six of the XV in the picture would die in the war. He played in the backs and was officially described thus in his final year at school: “He has played a vigorous game all through the term. Although individualism has been his stronghold, he has combined much better than last year.”

Tom Warner also captained the New House team which famously had to replay the final against Dryden which was drawn. New House eventually lost the replay by six points. Tom Warner also played for the OOs in the last major game in peace-time alongside Eric Yarrow and Roy Sanderson, two more notable casualties of the conflict. During the war, he took a rugger ball with him as he was always ready, as he said, “for a little rugger if the opportunity arises”.

On leaving Oundle he went up to Caius College, Cambridge for a year, reading theology with the intention of becoming ordained. The Laxtonian’s Cambridge correspondent noted that he had taken to wearing “a homburg” and that “a bishopric in the Hindoo Konks is said to be kept vacant for Warner”.  His clerical aspirations were noted during his time at school. In a mock trial held at Oundle, he appeared as a witness in the guise of the Rev T L Warner D D.

When the War started, he obtained a commission in the Leicestershire Regiment. He arrived in France in July 1915, was twice wounded and three times mentioned in despatches. He fought in the Battle of Bazentin Ridge on the Somme in July 1916 and in 1917, at the age of just 23, he was promoted to Major and won the DSO. He later served at Polygon Wood at Passchendaele.

In a letter home he called it “not normal but consolidated hell up here and I shall be glad to go to more human and healthy parts”. When writing about his DSO, he claimed that he didn’t know what it was for but concluded that it would be “a souvenir of umpteen journeys through hell”. During all the time at the Front, he remembered his school days at Oundle, especially as he wrote regularly to his younger brother Ted, who was in New House throughout the war. In one letter, he writes that he has “just come safely through a most hellish ten days” but immediately wishes his brother well in a forthcoming rugger match. “I wish,” he says “that I were going to play a game of rugger or have my school days again.”

By the end of 1917, Tom Warner was clearly badly affected by the conflict. In his last letter to Ted, he said: “If I come through the war I shall help you be a farmer, as I shall be a broken down old crock.” He also asked his brother to send him a copy the School Roll of Honour.

He would join the list of the School’s fallen thirteen days later. Aged 23, he died on 27th December 1917. Having just recovered from flu, weakened by dysentery and by two years in the trenches, he did not survive an emergency operation for appendicitis. He was buried at Tincourt near Péronne on the Somme.  His headstone states simply – He loved others. Had he lived two weeks longer, he would have returned to England for a three month staff course and promotion to Lieutenant Colonel.

The tributes to Tom Warner were many. Perhaps the most noteworthy was from his servant and batman, Private B Hewitt, who was with him when he died. “He was the bravest of the brave, fearless of danger, cool and resourceful, he combined good leadership with a kindliness and understanding of his fellow men. He was a man that seemed to us to be alone in his beautiful character insomuch as he lived the life of a Christian amidst surroundings that make it a terrible difficulty.”

Two months after his death, tragedy struck the Warner family again when Tom’s sister Rachel died aged 26.

C Pendrill
Yarrow Fellow