This week marks the 100th anniversary of Henry ‘Harry’ Clissold’s death on the battlefields of Ypres. We look at the life of this popular Old Cliftonian.
Harry’s Early Days
Henry Clissold was born in Nailsworth near Stroud on 12th February 1871 to Julia Clissold (nee Watkins) and her husband William.
After six years of marriage, and three daughters, he was the couple’s first son. Four months later, his Mother expressed her delight at her “large, fat and bonny” son. “To think that I shall ever be the mother of a grown man…”, she said in her diaries.
Later diaries showed thebond between mother and child.
The text above reads:
“... my darling boy has brought me nearer I hope to our common Father. As I said God bless him, he clung round me with his dear long arms.Oh that every mother had a son like mine. God I believe will give him great and noble work in the future.”
William Clissold worked at the family business, The Nailsworth Brewery Company, which had operated in the local area since the early 1800s and grew to take over two other breweries in Stroud and Cheltenham. By 1889 it supplied to more than 60 pubs in the local area.
Records don’t show that Harry worked extensively at the brewery however, probably due to his academic promise. At an early age he showed talent at Wycliffe College in nearby Stonehouse before winning a scholarship to Clifton College.
After studying at Clifton for four years he won another scholarship to Trinity College Cambridge where graduated with a first-class degree in Natural Sciences.
Harry graduating he took a mastership at Marlborough College, but his heart was for his old school. In 1894 he returned to Clifton to become a school master, and it was during this period that he made a significant mark at Clifton.
Life at Clifton
Clissold was a passionate rugby player (back-left, above), and played a significant role at Clifton Rugby Football club during the next 15 years. He captained the side in 1900/01 and was treasurer for 6 years after that – with a report from the time praising him for “managing the financial affairs during many anxious seasons, and always (being) successful in finding some cheery point however badly things went.”
The report from 1906 also said that even at a much older age than many of his other team-mates, he still maintained impressive fitness levels:
“…so well does he keep himself in training that whenever he turns out now for the Westbury side he finishes as fresh as the best of the team.”
It also read:
“He has not been a heavy try scorer, but that is not from any want of following up, but rather for a want of opportunities. H. C. C. might feel inclined to take offence if I call him a veteran, and, after all, perhaps he is right, for there appears to be no reason why he should not go on for another ten years or so playing the game.”
Joining the War Effort
When the First World War broke, Clissold (by then a House Master) was granted a leave of absence so that he could join the war effort. The below picture is believed to have been taken at military training in 1911.
Clifton records show that Harry gave up all his school work in order to train territorial engineers and was staying with them alongside another housemaster, Mr Langley. By the spring of 1915 he was serving on the front line with 48th Division of The Royal Engineers, and was awarded a D.S.O for his duties – although he preferred to regard the award as given to his company rather than himself.
There were more than 118 pages of war diaries written by the 48th Division, and nearly all of those were written by Harry. In most he wrote his signature in the right margin, as he has done below:
In August 2017, The Royal Engineers were moved north to support troops at the Third Battles of Ypres, which would last three months. The company suffered heavy casualties during this time, and Clissold was hospitalised in August 2017. Just a few weeks later, after returning to his company, Harry was sheltering in a small dugout with his men when a shell came through the roof. He was 44.
After his death, the C.R.E. of Clissold’s division wrote:
“I have had the greatest admiration for his splendid character, his gallantry, and his unquenchable spirit. He will live in my memory as the ideal of what a soldier should be.”
Gladys Saunders Hirst Clissold, Harry’s youngest sister, wrote to her bereaved siblings from South Africa after hearing the news of his death. She said:
“Harry was about the only person I ever met who never lost his temper and never got worried. He seemed to carry happiness around with him”
In his obituary in The Times on October 5th 1917, a friend wrote:
"A brilliant man of science and mathematician, a most inspiring teacher, and devoted to his profession. Literature, music, flowers, travel, football – all were dear to him, and above all his charms might be placed his invincible good temper and optimism, and the wit and sparkle of his talk.”
Reginald Newman (son of Herbert and Emily Newman), visited Harry’s temporary war grave in December 1917 and sent a letter to Harry’s sister, Emma Hartley (nee Clissold), including a sketch of the temporary grave marker. 95 years later, Harry’s great-great Nephew visited his permanent grave at Duhallow A.D.S Cemetery, Ypres.
Harry Clissold’s legacy at Clifton remains today; after his death a small plot of land (“Clissold’s Plot”) was bought on the site, and was used as the setting for the Redgrave Theatre.
Extra information and imagery courtesy of The Rugby History Society, Clifton Rugby Football Club History and Gloucestershire Society for Industrial Archaeology Journal.