Harrow County School for Boys

Mr. R. M.  Wheeler (1883-1916)

Russell Mervyn Wheeler taught English and History at Harrow County from 1911 to 1916.  He was killed in the First World War.

(The photograph and other information was contributed by Mr. Wheeler's cousin's granddaughter, Lesley Owen-Jones.  The obituary was printed in The Gaytonian, January 1917.)

Russell was the eldest child of Alfred and Harriett Wheeler, born at 3 Long Furlong (The Schoolmaster's House), Over, Cambridgeshire in 1883. He was described as a brilliant student and followed his father into the teaching profession. He worked as a pupil-teacher, and subsequently as assistant schoolmaster following a spell at Peterborough Training College, before enrolling at Fitzwilliam Hall, Cambridge in October 1907. He gained a B.A. in history in 1910 (followed by a M.A. in 1914) and resumed his teaching career as senior master in English and History at Harrow County School for Boys in 1911. His time at the school also saw his involvement in the early
Scout Movement.

At the outbreak of war, Russell joined the Middlesex Territorials and, after four and a half months' training at the Cambridge University OTC, gained his commission as a second lieutenant on 27th January 1915. He was promoted to lieutenant, but killed in action on 30th November 1916, leading his men "over the top". He was regarded as highly strung, but commended for his actions and clear-headedness in the moments before his death. The last orders that he gave are said to have saved many lives. He is buried in Pont du Hem military cemetery, La Gorgue (near Dunkerque) in France.

Russell Wheeler's obituary was printed in The Gaytonian under the symbol of a circle with a small circle within it.  "This sign is the Scouts' sign for 'Gone Home'.  The Scout who has laid the trail and done his duty signifies, in this way, that his task is ended.  We have used it, in this magazine, to mark the notices of those who have laid their last trail on earth and gone to their eternal homes.

In this issue it heads a notice of the death of Lieut. R. M. Wheeler, B.A., one of the earliest members of the staff and one of the best loved, who was killed in France early in December last."

Russell M. Wheeler

by W. H. King

We had not thought of tragedy for Russell Wheeler.  Somehow that had never entered into our thoughts of him, lit as they were by memories of his bright smile.  He was brimming with life and spirit.  There was about him a lightness, a freshness, and a buoyancy that told of happiness.  He delighted in the frolic of life, he was so radiant and so alert, he ttok things gaily as they came along and was ready for them all.  He enjoyed the daily business of life, and revelled in its activities.

In school, when he was presenting a period of history or interpreting a work of literature, there was an intensity and vividness about his teaching that made the period of history live and the book or poem speak; out of school, on the tennis court, he was the very embodiment of life and spirit.

Then he would talk things over; he was ready for any debate that was going; the play of wits was his pleasure; he loved argument and chaff; he delighted in the good fellowship of all.

Whether in speech or writing he had a gift of wonderfully ready and effective expression, as witness many of his sayings that we now recall and shall not forget.

To him, tingling with the rapture of being alive, there came the call of that awful August; there was the gallantry of the ready response; and now, alas, the swift silence of death, on the field of honour.

The yielding up of a young and vigorous life to death is always a tragedy; the life that has not its full tale of years is always incomplete, but "Life is measured by intensity, not by dial, dropping sand or watch."  No measure can be put to the intensity of all he did, and, now, at a stroke, in one breathless and unsullied moment he has overtopped it all.

With a smile he has "gone over the top" never to return; with a gay heart he has given his greatest gift.  What more can any man do?  What do a few years more or less of life in this world matter compared with the achievement of duty done and the great sacrifice accepted?  His life, completed in early sacrifice, is crowned with a peculiar glory.

He has joined that grand and glorious company of the Fallen, of whom Lawrence Binyon has said:

"They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn;
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them."

Major T. S. Emery writes:

I am afraid the contents of this letter will come as a very great blow to you.  I regret to inform you that Lieut. Wheeler was killed in action last night during an unsuccessful German attack.  It will, I know, be some slight comfort to you to know that his death was absolutely instantaneous and painless.

He is a very great loss to the Battalion; although out here only a short time, he had done some splendid work, and had received the special thanks of the Brifage; it was indeed his fearless and accurate reconnaissance which enabled us to defeat the German attack last night, and in fact the last decision he made, in giving certain orders, undoubtedly saved many lives.

Everyone is terribly upset at his untimely end, and the whole Battalion, from the Colonel downwards, feels that we have lost a fine officer, and a gallant comrade.  I have had some slight experience out here as I came out the first time in Jan. 1915, and I have never seen any officer show more coolness and keenness than did Wheeler.  This was the more remarkable as I judged him to be of a highly strung temperament.



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