Archive Discoveries: OG Friendship

We have recently discovered a great friendship between two OGs who died in WWI.

Thanks to our partnership with a local U3A, Downside Archives and Library have been digitalising the photographic archive. Scanning the images has enabled us to zoom in and inspect details we have previously been unable to see.

One of the most significant links so far has been the friendship between John Dame and Wilfrid Cary-Elwes, who appear together many times over in the extensive collection of images taken. 

Both boys were born in 1898 – John Dame in India and Wilfrid Cary-Elwes in London. Cary-Elwes joined Barlow in 1908 and Dame Roberts in 1909. Throughout their time at Downside, they were in the OTC (Officer Training Corps, forerunner of the CCF) together, joined the same sports teams and played the Downside Ball game.

Upon leaving the school in 1916 they both went to Sandhurst, joining the Irish Guards together before heading off to the Western Front. Cary-Elwes was given his marching orders on 19 October 1917 (the eve of his 19th birthday). The boys visited Downside together again before they left. 

They found themselves together at the Battle of Bourlon Wood in France on the 27th of November 1917 and both died on the same day. We know Cary-Elwes sustained an injury that meant he died instantly, but there is no record of what happened to Dame. The land they fell on was recaptured by German troops and fought over for many days, which meant their bodies were never recovered and neither boy has a known grave.

It took many months before news of their deaths reached home. In letters to Abbot Trafford, Dame’s mother wrote how sad she was to hear of Cary-Elwes’ death – further proof of the boys’ close friendship. Both boys are commemorated on the war memorial at Cambrai – their names are separated by just five others. At Downside, they are commemorated on both the memorial at the West end of the Nave in the Abbey Church and the memorial in the School grounds, as well as in the corridor of the science block, where a photograph of each of the OGs who died in both world wars. 

Now, thanks to Abbot Trafford  who was not only a prolific photographer who kept meticulous albums, but also had the foresight to notate them very thoroughly, we have found a great number of photographs of the two boys and many others enjoying every day life at Downside leading up to their leaving that make a very poignant memorial to their friendship. Some of the photographs we have found can be seen in a gallery below. 

In vita non disiuncti nec in morte separati sunt

Article written and researched by Simon Ball (C83)

We have also been working with Sixth Form pupils transcribing the letters of another OG who fought on the Western Front. You can find out more about that project here

Archive discoveries like this are possible thanks to the work of our dedicated team of volunteers. To volunteer, contact us here.