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The 1903 Blues team who beat Cambridge by 18 points to 3 in the Varsity Match

Born: 16 May, 1881 in Hull
Died: 31 October, 1914, aged 33
School: Dulwich College
College: University College, Oxford
Blue: 1903
Commemorated: Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium (Panel 54)

The military ran thick through the veins of John Charles Lancelot Farquharson, one of four brothers to serve in WW1 and the first of two to lose their lives. His father, Matthew Henry Farquharson, had been a Colonel in the Royal Marines Light Infantry and earned the Egypt Medal and Khedive’s Star, 4th Class of the Osmanieh.
His eldest brother, Henry Douglas Farquharson, had followed in their father’s footsteps and been commissioned into the RMLI in 1888. He was a Major by 1907 and a Battalion Lieutenant Colonel by the start of 1914. He worked in Naval Intelligence 1914 before working for the General Staff Office, 1 Western Command 1915 – 1918. He was awarded the French Croix de Guerre in 1915 and became CMG in 1918 when he was made a member of The Order of St Michael and St George.
The nearest brother to him, Cecil Graham Farquharson, two years his junior, was also commissioned in the RMLI and rose to become Acting Lieutenant Colonel (Major) in WW1. He was Mentioned in Dispatches and awarded the Military Cross before he died of wounds at the 56th Casualty Clearing Station in France on 24 March,1918.
For his part, John was one of four commissioned officers among the 13 children (nine sons and four daughters) produced by his mother, Emma, to a very proud father, Matthew, between 1867-1891. John chose to go to Oxford University from Dulwich College, where five of the brothers had been schooled, and studied for a degree that eventually led him into management at a copper manufacturers’ in London. But he did hedge his bets slightly by signing up for the London Scottish Volunteers in 1908. Prior to the outbreak of war in 1914 it cost £10 to sign up to be a part of this Territorial Force, which was an enormous sum of money in those days. This was done to ensure that the men who joined the rank and file of the regiment were from middle class families and not the back streets of London.
The son of a retired Colonel, John Farquharson was born in Hull and went on to become a boarder at Dulwich College. At school he played in the 1st XI at cricket for two summers alongside PG Wodehouse and was in the 1st XV at rugby in 1898, 1899 and 1900. He left school in the summer of 1900 and followed his third brother, Arthur Spencer Farquharson, up to Oxford.
His rugby was of a significantly high standard for him to earn a Blue in the 1903 Varsity Match when he played as a forward in a pack led by the England international Vince Cartwright. He had had to bide his time before breaking into the Varsity Match side, although he had at least had the satisfaction of seeing the Dark Blues win in 1900, 1901 and then draw in 1902. But when he finally made the grade it was in one of the finest Oxford side’s of all-time.
Cartwright had won the first three of his 14 England caps at the start of 1903 and was an aide to the English selectors in the 1903/04 season while captain at Oxford. Another forward, Gerald Kyrke, would go on to play for the British & Irish Lions on their 1908 tour, while Maurice Dickson would play for Scotland in 1905. Behind the scrum the Dark Blues had one international centre in John Raphael, another in the making in Joe Sandford and a pair of Test half-backs in Pat Munro (Scotland from 1905) and Adrian Stoop (England from 1905). It was a side packed full of talent and their results backed up their potential.
They won their first six games of the season – London Scottish 11-9, Moseley 12-3, Old Merchant Taylor’s 32-8, Monkstown 17-0, Royal Indian Engineering College 32-14 and Harlequins 34-0 – before going down 15-0 to Edinburgh Academicals on Monday, 16 November.
They then won another three games in a row – Richmond 9-8, Marlborough Nomads 22-0 and Edinburgh Wanderers 41-0 – before being pipped at Bristol 6-5 on Saturday, 5 December. But they still went into the Varsity Match on the back of a solid victory when they beat Edinburgh University 21-8.
The Cambridge build-up to the big day at Queen’s Club was equally impressive and the side led by full back S Horsley was also full of talent. Up front, they had four returning Blues from the pack that had dominated the closing quarter the year before when the Light Blues hit back from eight points down to clinch a draw. Among them was the Scottish international John Bedell-Sivright and four other players who would go on to win Test honours – Joe Waters and Hugh Monteith for Scotland and William Cave and Charles Newbold for England. Behind their scrum they had Scottish three-quarters in the making in Lewis MacLeod and William Ritchie, as well as 1908 Lions scrum half Herbert Laxon.
On the big day a record crowd of more than 10,000 packed into the Queen’s Club to see the 33rd Varsity Match. Oxford hadn’t been beaten in the 20th century and the Cambridge expectations were high. The game was billed as a battle between the Light Blue forwards and the Dark Blue backs. If Bedell-Sivright and co could get their hands on the ball then it would be ‘goodnight’ to Oxford’s chances, but if it got into the hands of Stoop, Raphael and Sandford behind it would be ‘curtains’ for Cambridge.
In the end, a combination of Cartwright’s determined leadership, and the brilliance of Munro and Stoop at half-back, just about kept the Dark Blue noses in front in a titanic struggle that had the crowd on the edge of their seats throughout.
Oxford struck first when, playing into the wind, Sandford created an opening for Raphael to run through and to the posts for a try which Edmund Fearenside, an England reserve, converted. McNeil hit back with a breakaway try from half-way to which MacLeod added he extras. Sandford went from try maker to try scorer just before the interval as he ran through the middle from a scrum in the Cambridge 22 to bag a touchdown that was improved by Fearenside’s boot to give the Dark Blues a five point lead at half-time.
Ritchie cut the gap to two points with a corner try at the start of the second half before a Stoop cross-kick gave Gregson a clear run in for a try which Fearenside converted again. Was that the end for Cambridge? Certainly not!
Laxon died over for a try which MacLeod converted to make it 15-13 to Oxford. The Light Blues threw the kitchen-sink at the final few moments, but Cartwright kept his side composed and they ended the game on a high with a fourth try from Dickson to complete an 18-13 victory.
As if to underline just how good a side they were, Oxford maintained their winning ways on their post-Varsity Match tour. They won 6-0 at Leicester on 17 December, two days after winning at Queen’s Club, and then 22-0 at Northampton two days later. On Monday, 21 December they lost 17-3 against Dublin University in Ireland. John Farquharson became a key member of Cartwright’s side that season and went on to spread his own influence at the Old Alleynes club.
He joined the OA’s, set up to give Dulwich College old boys the chance to play rugby after they left school and Farquharson became a vital figure in the development of the club. Having played out a draw in its first fixture in September, 1898 against Croydon FC 3rd XV, the Old Alleynians. On leaving Oxford, Farquharson very soon became involved in the OA’s and was their captain between 1904 – 1907.
He played for Surrey against the 1906 South African tourists, a 33-0 mauling, and guided his club towards first-class status. By 1913, Old Alleynians were among the top Old Boys clubs in London and in that year Dulwich College provided five players to the Varsity Match, all of whom went on to become internationals – Jenny Greenwood and Cyril Lowe (both England), Eric Loudoun-Shand and David Doherty  (both Scotland) and Graham Donald (Ireland).
They were known at Dulwich as the ‘Famous Five’, and two of them, Greenwood and Loudoun-Shand captained Cambridge and Oxford in the first pot-WW1 Varsity Match in 1919. Farquharson was one of 76 members of the Old Alleynians RFC to fall in WW1.
Away from rugby, Farquharson captained and trained the London Scottish Volunteers to victory in the 1910, 1911, 1912 and 1914 National Territorial Army Marathon Team competition. The race was over 12 miles from Cheam to Crystal Palace and in 1910 the 16-man Scottish team, wearing full uniform, completed the course in 1 hours, 38 mins, 41 sec. That gave them a 12 minute cushion over the Edinburgh University Officers Training Corps. As a mark of respect for the effort Lt Farquharson had put in over the five years his team mates clubbed together to buy him a silver cigarette case that bore the following inscription:

‘Presented to Lieut J.C.L Farquharson by the London Scottish Marathon Teams 1910-1914 as a token of their respectful appreciation of his sterling qualities as a leader & of all the hardwork & enthusiasm he has put into the organisation & training of the many teams that have run under his command. July 1914’.
The 14th Battalion London Regiment (London Scottish) was formed from the Volunteers in 1908 as part of the Territorial Force. It was a popular regiment and on the outbreak of war was almost a full establishment. It was also one of the best equipped, as the regimental funds enabled them to become the only battalion in the army with the latest Vickers Machine Guns.
Mobilised in August, 1914, the 1/14th (County of London) Battalion (London Scottish) had its headquarters at 59 Buckingham Gate, where the Titanic enquiry had been staged in 1912. Part of the 4th London Brigade, 2nd London Division, it moved on to Abbotts Langley for training.
Were they ready for the front line? It was debateable, although they were all keen to see action. But according to Lieutenant Colonel Collen, it may have been too soon for them. He made this observation in his diary the day before departure:

15th September: Accompanied GOC and staff to see the London Scottish entrained at Watford. They went in 2½ Battalion trains and were seen off by Sir Ian Hamilton. It was rather depressing seeing them go. It is, I think too, much too premature to send them even though they are all wanted perhaps to reinforce the Guards or take their place. They have practically all trained men and nearly all have done their musketry but still they are not ready yet and it is rather bad luck on the Battalion to send them too early. One can only hope that they will be given some chance on the lines of communication to shake down before they are really wanted.
On 16 September, 1914, Farquharson left the Division with his battalion and landed at Le Havre. For six weeks they carried out duties behind the lines, such as escorting prisoners to the coast, unloading supplies from ships and putting up huts. Then they finally got their chance to fight. They were brought to the Salient from St. Omer in 34 London buses, arriving in Ypres at 3.00 am on 30 October. The situation during this time was fluid and confused, and they were twice sent out as reinforcements before orders changed and they were recalled. They finally went into the line at dawn on Halloween, 31 October. A few hours later they were on the move again, sent as reinforcements to the 4th Cavalry Brigade on the Wytschaete-Messines ridge. At 10.00 am they moved up to the crest of the ridge on which stood a windmill.
They dug in and held the position during the day until at 9.00 pm the Germans attacked.
“We doubled back to hold the trench….the people we had fired on turned on us and started to advance, and a third lot was bearing down to enfilade us. The sergeant’s rifle jammed permanently. He took mine, but that jammed too! So had most of the rest – and we were almost surrounded. There was a ring of fire round the trench and just one solid sound of bullets,” recalled a contemporary source.
The Germans were initially driven back, but they attacked again and again during the night and eventually got close enough to get involved in hand to hand combat near the road. Due to their heavy losses the London Scottish were eventually ordered to withdraw. They had held up the German advance for hours in their first taste of action, but they had lost 345 of the 750 men either killed, wounded or missing who had been involved in the action by the next day.
The British Press praised the courage of the London Scottish, who had been determined to show the Regulars that the Territorials could fight, but they had badly misread the situation, forgot about their flanks and found themselves under heavy fire from three sides.
The London Scottish had became the first Territorial infantry battalion to see action in WW1 and their bravery has been commemorated with an annual regimental dinner on Halloween eve ever since. There has also been a special bagpipe tune and song written to recall the action, ‘The Burning Mill at Messines’ written by John Spoore. The lyrics to the tune give an indication of what Farquharson and his colleagues faced.
The Burning Mill at Messines
Nineteen fourteen, on Hallowe’en, the day dawned dark and still,
As seven hundred kilted soldiers, advanced on Wytschaete Hill.
They were not battle-hardened men; some were of tender years.
They were The London Scottish Volunteers.
When the battle raged hand to hand, it was a bloody scene,
As they fought that day to hold the ridge, by the village of Messines.
Their rifles jammed and they seemed damned but they fought with iron will,
By the fiery glow of a shell struck burning mill.
They’d left their homes and ones they loved, not many days before,
To fight the invading army, on a not too distant shore
Where the Belgian people were our friends and remain so even still.
They remember yet that battle on Wytschaete Hill.
At muster call at closing light, the men were filled with dread
At so many comrades wounded and so many lying dead.
They had no hero soldier’s grave, indeed they never will,
Their headstone – just the ghost of the burned out mill.
Nineteen fourteen, on Hallowe’en the night grew dark and chill,
So many kilted soldiers lying dead on Wytschaete Hill.
They’d been not battle-hardened men; some were of tender years.
God Bless those London Scottish Volunteers.
John Spoore RVM
12 – VII – 2006
John Charles Lancelot Farquharson was wounded and died between 31 October – 1 November, the second of the 55 Blues to fall in WW1. He is commemorated at the Menin Gate Memorial, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.

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