Cyril John Fairweather

Second Lieutenant Cyril John Fairweather, aged 24, of the Hampshire Regiment, 4th Battalion, attached to 14th Battalion, was killed in action on the 22nd March 1918 and is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial (Panel 48), France.

Family Life

Cyril was born in Manorowen, Pembrokeshire, on the 28th September 1893, the firstborn child  of John and Emma Fairweather (neé Bullamore). John was originally from Stowmarket in Suffolk, and Emma was from Whittlesea, Cambridgeshire. By the time Cyril was born, John was the teacher at Tredafydd School, Manorowen. It is possible that his mother was also teaching at the same school. By 1901 the family had moved to Exbury, Hampshire, in the New Forest. John and Emma, both described as schoolteachers, were living at the School House. The National School at Exbury was where Cyril received his early education. By 1901, there was a second son, Stanley (2), who had been born in Exbury. Living with them was Maud Mumford, a 14 year old servant from Ireland.

By 1911 Cyril, aged 17, was living away from home as a boarder at Peter Symonds’1 School in Winchester. His address was given as Peter Symonds’ School House, Hatherley Road. The head of the household was the headmaster Telford Varley (45),  along with his wife Annie (47) and their five children, and Fleetwood Ireton Varley (45) who was Telford’s brother and also a schoolmaster. There were also eleven boarders, a cook, a matron and two housemaids.

Exbury Church photograph courtesy of Alwyn Ladell

Peter Symonds’ School was founded as a secondary school for Winchester boys. It opened in May 1887 at 39 Southgate Street, Winchester with Rev Telford Varley as the first Headmaster. As well as day pupils the school had a number of boarders. The Rev Telford Varley was by all accounts a formidable character. The boys were in awe of him and he was known for his fearsome temper and quirky punishments. His response to finding a boy climbing through a classroom window was to make him do it 50 times after school while he sat and marked his books.  In December 1899 the school moved to its present site in Cranford Road. At that time there were 87 boys on the register for which the Headmaster was paid £4 each in addition to his £100 salary. After Peter Symonds and before he started at College, Cyril spent some time working as a pupil teacher at Hythe Council School in Southampton.

Winchester Training College

The year after Cyril was recorded in the census at Peter Symonds’ School, he began a two year course at the Diocesan Training College in Winchester. He had taken the Senior Cambridge Entrance Examination in July 1911, achieving a 2nd Class pass. In his first college exams taken at Christmas 1912, Cyril was 17th in the order of merit with an average mark of 62.2%. By Christmas of his second year he was 22nd with an average of 58.3%.

There are few references to Cyril in the College magazines of the period, probably as he was involved in publishing it. In his first year he became the Sub-Editor, then taking on the job of Editor in his final year.

In 1922 a list of rules was published . It is unlikely that these were more lenient in 1912 when Cyril began his training than in 1922.

Winchester Training College courtesy of Alwyn Ladell

Dormitories

  1. Sunday open all day : Weekdays 7-9am and 1-7pm
  2. Students must go to their Dormitories immediately after Evening Chapel. No student may leave his Dormitory or visit another without the permission of the Dormitory Prefects. Every student must be in his own room by lights out.
  3. Strict silence must be observed for the first few minutes when students go to their Dormitories after Evening Chapel, during which time each student must be in his own room.
  4. All students must be quiet and orderly in the Dormitories at all times.
  5. Students are expected to respond cheerfully to the control of their Prefects and to support them in the performance of their duty.
  6. Students must not walk in the Dormitories in dirty football boots, and every care must be taken to save labour, and to avoid damage to walls and partitions.
  7. Nothing must be fixed to the walls or partitions except by permission of the Principal.
  8. All students will co-operate in having windows and ventilators open at night. Before leaving his room, each student must see that his window is left open and the tap fully turned off.
  9. No lights of any kind are allowed other than those provided by the College.

When he first arrived at college Cyril enlisted in the college company, B Company of the 4th Hampshires. At the age of 18 his height was recorded as 5ft 5in, his chest measurement was 34½ in. He was short sighted and used spectacles.

At the end of his course in Winchester, Cyril was awarded B grades in Music, Drawing  and Science, and a C grade in teaching.

When Cyril left College in the summer of 1914 he had secured himself a job at the Church of England (Mixed) School in Bitterne, Southampton. It is unlikely that he ever took up that post as records suggest that he enlisted in August 1914.

Dormitory room at Winchester Training College courtesy of Alwyn Ladell

The War in France

Cyril enlisted in the 4th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. In his two years at college  the paperwork shows that he had grown two inches taller and his chest measurement had increased to 35 inches. Cyril’s military record tells us of his promotions and postings:

June 1914 – (still part of the College Company) promoted to Corporal

September 1914 – Promoted to Sergeant

December 1914 – India (Quetta)

May 1915 – Promoted to Company Quartermaster sergeant

May 1916 – Returned home for officer training and commissioning. Cyril was granted a month’s furlough prior to his officer training. His referees for commissioning were his former headmaster Telford Varley and his former College Principal Captain Wainwright.

January 1917 – commissioned as Second Lieutenant.

The Western Gazette from Friday 26th February 1915 carried an article written just after his promotion to Colour Sergeant, which interestingly is not documented in his records held at the National Archives:

With the 4th Hants in India – Mr Cyril Fairweather of Exbury, has written home to say that the Winchester Training College Company of Territorials of which he is a member is now quite settled in its new quarters at Kitchenor Barracks, Quetta, India, N.W.  Mr Cyril Fairweather’s  friends will be pleased to hear that he has just been promoted to the rank of Colour-Sergeant, and as he is only 21 years of age, he is probably one of the youngest colour-sergeants in the British Army.

In March 1917, Cyril was able to secure some leave to marry Muriel Evelyn Abraham in Warminster, Wiltshire. By March the following year Cyril was in France with the 2/4th Hants, attached to the 14th Battalion, part of the 39th Division.

German High Command had decided to make a decisive attack in the west to attempt to destroy the British Army. This was given the code-name Operation Michael and is referred to as the Battle of St. Quentin.  The Germans were transferring troops from the Eastern Front to the Somme area of France in preparation for a series of large scale offensives. They believed that the British troops were exhausted by the four major efforts of 1917, Arras, Messines, Passchendaele and Cambrai.  Operation Michael was to strike at the British Third and Fifth Armies along the full extent of the line from the River Oise to the River Sensée. The aim was to cut through British defences on the Somme, sever lines of communication and surround them, leaving no option but to surrender. British troops had taken over the French lines and much work was needed to improve their defensive capability. The manpower to do the necessary work was not available. There were no second or third lines of defence. As the German strength was increasing the British Army was severely depleted and having to deal with low morale, a manpower crisis and reorganisation.  As the Germans had previously laid waste to the entire area there were no significant geographical barriers apart from the River Somme south of Peronne and the Canal du Nord to the north.

Sketch map by John Westwood

German tactics involved laying down an intense barrage concentrated on the artillery and machine gun positions, Headquarters, telephone exchanges, railway lines and other lines of communication. The artillery bombardment began at 04.35 on 21st March 1918. At 04.40 trench mortars, mustard gas, chlorine gas, tear gas and smoke canisters were concentrated on the forward trenches.  At 09.40, the infantry, trained to operate in small independent groups, advanced. They did not persist in areas where they met resistance but rather exploited gaps that they had managed to punch through the forward lines. This was an unfamiliar tactic to the British troops and very nearly succeeded. With most lines of communication disrupted and without a continuous line of advance, it was difficult to get a clear picture of what was happening.

When the attack began, Winston Churchill, Minister of Munitions, was inspecting the 9th (Scottish) Division, and was witness to the initial barrage;

And then, exactly as a pianist runs his hands across the keyboard from treble to bass, there rose in less than one minute the most tremendous cannonade I shall ever hear…It swept round us in a wide curve of red flame stretching to the north far along the front of the Third Army, as well as of the Fifth Army on the south and quite unending in either direction…the enormous explosions of the shells upon our trenches seemed almost to touch each other, with hardly an interval in space or time…The weight and intensity of the bombardment surpassed anything which anyone had ever known before.

3,500,000 shells were fired in 5 hours.

The following day, March 22nd, was foggy. The fog was slow to dissipate which allowed the German infantry to infiltrate behind the British front positions undetected. The Germans broke through in many areas and with HQ cut off there was no co-ordinated response.

It was a day of stubborn and often heroic actions by platoons, sections and even individuals isolated from their comrades by the fragmented nature of the battle and lack of visibility.2

 

It was on this day that Cyril was reported as missing. His wife had given her contact address as Abbotts Barton Farm, Worthy Rd, Winchester.  In February of the following year Muriel Fairweather asked for a death certificate to enable her to conclude her husband’s affairs. In March she was issued with a letter of presumption which stated that:

No further information has been received and in view of the lapse of time since he was reported missing his death has now been accepted for official purposes as having occurred on or since the 22nd March 1918.

Letters of presumption were generally accepted in lieu of death certificates and Muriel was then able to receive the money left to her in Cyril’s will.

His body was either never found or not identified, and he is commemorated at Pozieres, France and on the War Memorial at Exbury village church.

The panel at Pozieres showing the name of Second Lieutenant Fairweather photograph by Peter Lidgitt and Pat Naylor

His Soldiers Effects record gives a sum of £77 0s 7d to be passed to his wife, who at this point was living at 70 Parchment Street, Winchester.

 

 

 

Photo to the Right;

70, Parchment St, Winchester photograph by Dee Sayers

Researcher and Author: Dee Sayers

 

Footnotes
  1. Around the year 2000 the school dropped the apostrophe from its name, it has been claimed because too many people were unsure where the apostrophe should go. I am unable to confirm if that is true!
  2. The 54th Infantry Brigade 1914-1918; Some Records of Battle and Laughter in France EWJ Rowan 1919 quoted Wikipedia

 

Sources

Alwyn Ladell photography. (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: www.flickr.com/photos/alwyn_ladell/ [Accessed 2018].

Ancestry (2018). Home page. [online] Available at: www.ancestry.co.uk [Accessed 2018].

British Newspaper Archive (1915). Western Gazette – Friday 26 February 1915. [online] Available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/search/results/1915-02-26/1915-02-26?basicsearch=fairweather&somesearch=fairweather&retrievecountrycounts=false&sortorder=2&newspapertitle=western%2bgazette [Accessed 2018].

Lidgitt, P. and Naylor, P. (2018) Photographs of Pozieres Cemetery.

The Long Long Trail, (2018). Welcome to the long long trail. [online] Available at: http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/ [Accessed 2018].

Peter Symonds School (2018) Home page. [online] Available at www.psc.ac.uk [Accessed 2018].

Vickers, J. The University of Winchester Chapel Memorial Rail image.

Wikipedia (2018). Operation Michael. [online] Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Michael#St_Quentin[Accessed 2018].

 

University of Winchester Archive – Hampshire Record Office
Reference code Record
47M91W/ P2/4 The Wintonian 1899-1900
47M91W/ P2/5 The Wintonian 1901-1902
47M91W/ P2/6 The Wintonian 1903-1904
47M91W/ P2/7 The Wintonian 1904-1906
47M91W/ P2/8 The Wintonian 1905-1907
47M91W/ P2/10 The Wintonian 1908-1910
47M91W/ P2/11 The Wintonian 1910-1914
47M91W/ P2/12 The Wintonian 1920-1925
47M91W/ D1/2 The Student Register
47M91W/ S5//5/10 Photograph of 5 alumni in Mesopotamia
47M91W/ Q3/6 A Khaki Diary
47M91W/ B1/2 Reports of Training College 1913-1914
47M91W/ Q1/5 Report and Balance Sheets 1904- 1949
47M91W/ R2/5 History of the Volunteers Company 1910
47M91W/ L1/2 College Rules 1920
Hampshire Record Office archive
71M88W/6 List of Prisoners at Kut
55M81W/PJ1 Managers’ Minute Book 1876-1903
All material referenced as 47M91W/ is the copyright of The University of Winchester. Permission to reproduce photographs and other material for this narrative has been agreed by the University and Hampshire Record Office.