Born: 12 November, 1889 in Maseru, Basutoland
Died: KIA St Eloi, BelgiumMacedonia, on 3 March, 1915, aged 25.
School: Marlborough College
College: Oriel College, Oxford
Blues: 1909, 1910, 1911
Commemorated: Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium (Panel 51 and 53)
When it comes to brotherly one-upmanship there can hardly be anything better than bowling out your younger sibling at Lord’s, the home of cricket, in the Varsity Match. That’s exactly what Ron Lagden was able to do on 10 July, 1912, when he dismissed Robert, three-and-a-half years his junior, in what was to be his 10th and final Varsity Match in four different sports. However good the feeling, though, there was no fairy tale ending for Ron as Cambridge won the match by three wickets. The boys got their love of cricket from their father, Godfrey, who played for the Gentlemen of Dorset, the MCC and Orange Free State. In fact, Godfrey played for the MCC against Marlborough College in 1907 and caught his eldest son, Ron, when he was on 68 in his first innings. Both Ron and Reg were born in Maseru, the capital of what is now Lesotho. Their father, who became Sir Godfrey Yeatman Lagden, had entered the Civil Service after leaving Sherborne School in 1869 and was a clerk in the General Post Office for eight years before sailing to South Africa in June, 1877, with letters of introduction to the High Commissioner, Sir Bartle Frere. He became Chief Clerk to the State Secretary in the Transvaal, and acted as Secretary to the Administrator, Sir Owen Lanyon (1878-1881), and subsequently to Sir Evelyn Wood and Sir William Bellairs. During the Egyptian Campaign of 1882-1883 Lagden was war correspondent for the Daily Telegraph and an appointment as Assistant Colonial Secretary in Sierra Leone followed. In 1883 he took six months leave and made a journey on foot from Cape Coast Castle to Kumasi, where no white man had visited for 20 years. He was arrested, narrowly escaped with his life and subsequently struck off the Colonial Office List. A close friend, Colonel Marshal Clarke, eventually persuaded the Colonial Office to allow Lagden to accompany him to Basutoland, where he was to take up the appointment of Resident Commissioner. Lagden became Secretary and Accountant and then, in 1885, Assistant Commissioner. In 1887, Lagden married Frances Bousfield, eldest daughter of the first Bishop of Pretoria, and in 1892 he acted as British Commissioner in Swaziland. The following year he succeeded Clarke as Resident Commissioner in Basutoland, a post he held for eight years. It was largely due to Lagden’s resolve that Basutoland was kept out of the South African War of 1899. In 1901, Lagden joined Lord Milner’s administration in the Transvaal, as Commissioner for Native Affairs, and as a member of the Executive and Legislative Councils, before becoming chairman of the South African Native Affairs Commission. He retired in 1907 and returned to England, where he wrote the history of Basutoland. Both Ron and Reg were sent to Marlborough College after beginning their schooling at the rather Spartan Mr Pellatt’s School in Swanage. A multi-talented sportsman, Ron played Rugby, Hockey, Cricket, Racquets and Fives for the school team at Marlborough (1903-08). He was also a handy golfer, who used to play with his father in the Burhill GC team. He spent three years in the Cricket XI and two in the Rugby XV and shot to fame in his first season in the 1st XI when he helped the College beat Marlborough Blues in 1906 by scoring ‘a hard-hit 100’ to win the game after a stand of 140 for the last wicket. In 1908, he was selected to play for the Public Schools XI against the MCC at Lords. At Oxford, where he was an extra South African Rhodes Scholar elected in 1908, he studied for an honours degree in science and chemistry at Oriel College. He went on to wins Blues at Rugby (3 – 1909-11), Hockey (2 – 1910-11), Cricket (4 – 1909-12) and Racquets (1 – 1909). Of the 10 Varsity Matches played against Cambridge he won seven, drew one and lost two. He played across the sports with some notable players. He was a winner against Cambridge in rugby and hockey with Ronald Poulton and he joined forces with fellow England rugby international Henry Brougham to beat the auld enemy in cricket and racquets. Ron first appeared in the Dark Blues pack on Thursday, 5 November, 1908, three weeks before his 19th birthday, introduced with Reggie Hands to add extra weight to the second row against United Services. Oxford won 34-3 and the pack changes “were attended with marked success”. He wasn’t able to make the Varsity Match team that year, but he played throughout the build-up to the 1909 fixture and impressed enough to earn a call for his first England trial. That was in the annual Oxford and Cambridge Past and Present XV to face the Royal Navy and Army at Twickenham on 24 November, 1909, three days after his 20th birthday. The Oxford and Cambridge side won comfortably, 29-0, and the selectors had obviously identified something in the young Oxford man. He won the first of his three rugby union Blues at Queen’s Club on 11 December, 1909, in the game that became known as ‘Poulton’s Match’. Ronnie Poulton scored five tries in a 35-3 rout of Cambridge, even though the Dark Blues were reduced to 14 men early on when Frank Tarr broke his collar bone and then, for a while, 13 when Frank Turner hobbled off for treatment. A week later the two Rons, Poulton and Lagden, were on duty at Twickenham in the second trial. Lagden was in the second row with fellow Dark Blue Reggie Hands for the South of England XV and Poulton on the wing for the England XV. Poulton’s team came out on top 28-6. Nevertheless, the English selectors kept faith with Lagden and on 10 January, 1910, he joined Poulton in the England XV against the Rest of England in the final trial at Twickenham. Lagden played against Hands this time, came off second best and was in the losing team, 19-10, despite kicking two conversions. There was no cap that year, but the 1910/11 season brought a second Varsity Match triumph. He started the season by leading the ‘Colours’ to victory in the Freshman’s match, 29-10, on 19 October and was once again selected for the Oxford and Cambridge Past and Present XV to face the Royal Navy and Army XV at Twickenham on 23 November, 1910. This time the military team triumphed, 16-13, but Lagden was said to have been among the forwards who “showed the best form”. The 1910 Varsity Match was a thriller, Oxford eventually coming out on top 23-18 by five tries to four, and Lagden was one of four forwards who would go on to win international honours in the upcoming 1911 Five Nations championship – Frank Turner for Scotland against France on 2 January; Bruno Brown for England against Wales on 21 January; Ron Lagden for England against Scotland on 18 March and David Bain for Scotland against England on the same date. The route to his cap in the final game of England’s championship campaign literally took a bad turn when he twisted his knee playing for the England XV against the North in a trial at Headingley the weekend after the Varsity Match. England won 23-13, but Lagden was out of action until he return to the Dark Blues’ side to face Harlequins on 18 February, 1911. The next week he underlined his return to full fitness by playing in the hockey Varsity Match. England lost their opening game to the Welsh Grand Slam side in Swansea, but recovered with a big win in France. They then lost in Ireland and opted for only their second change up front in the championship by picking Lagden ahead of William Mann for the Calcutta Cup match against Scotland at Twickenham on 18 March, 1911. He had Bruno Brown alongside him in the English pack, Poulton behind, and Turner and David Bain opposite him. Everything went to plan as England won 13-6 with Lagden converting two of the three English tries. England retained the Calcutta Cup, but could only finish in third in the table. The Scots picked up the Wooden Spoon with four defeats in four games. Lagden captained the ‘Whites’ in the Freshman’s trial at the start of the 1911 season and made it a hat-trick of Varsity Match victories over the Light Blues when he kicked two conversions in a comprehensive 19-0 defeat at Queen’s Club. He was one of five full internationals and four future caps in the Oxford line-up – one of the strongest they have ever had. He became President of Vincent’s Club in 1912 when, as well as playing for Oxford, he also turned out for Richmond. On 6 January, 1912 he appeared in the final of three trials at Twickenham in the Rest of England XV. He failed to make the team for the Five Nations and his rugby career more or less came to an end when he cruelly picked up another knee injury in a Richmond trial match at the start of the 1912/13 season after being made vice-captain. His 10th and final Varsity Match was at Lord’s in the summer of 1912 when his brother’s Light Blues ended victorious. It was to be his last major sporting occasion despite the fact he was still only 24. He had played against three international cricket touring teams for Oxford, the 1909 Australians, the 1911 Indians and in 1912 the South Africans. But the knee injury he suffered at the beginning of the 1912/13 rugby season, allied to the fact he took up a teaching post at Harrow School, effectively ended his competitive career. He taught Maths at Harrow and once again took an interest in the Officer Training Corps. He had been an active member of the OTC at school and then at Oxford, where he attained the rank of Lieutenant. He joined the Supernumerary Army Reserve in 1912 and, at the outbreak of WWI, upon the nomination of General Sir Edward Hutton, he was appointed to the 6th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps, at Sheerness, where he did remarkable work and was reckoned to be ‘a first-rate officer’. An account in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps Chronicle 1915, says of Lagden: “Proceeding to France at the end of February, 1915, he was posted to the 4th Battalion, and a few days later was called upon to lead his Company in an assault on the German trenches at St. Eloi, south of Ypres.” By this time the fighting on the Western Front had descended into trench warfare and this ‘up and at them’, ‘over the top’ attack was nothing less than a suicide mission for Lagden, his fellow officers and troops. The story of the raid on the German trenches is told in ‘The Annals of the KRRC’: “On 1 March, 1915, the 4th Battalion was ordered to make an attack on a section of the German trench line. It was a most gallant affair, but never had any chance of succeeding; out of about 300 of all ranks engaged, the casualties amounted to 113. The officers killed were Captain C.V.L. Poe, who had been Adjutant of the Battalion, and was one of the best officers in the Regiment; Captain R.O. Lagden, a Harrow Master who had joined for the war, and was one of those of whom it might be said that it seemed impossible to find anything which he could not do, and do well; and Lieut. Hon. W. Eden; wounded, Major H.W. F Bircham, Captain Sir G.A. H. Beaumont, Lieut. E.A. Barker; other ranks, 108 killed, wounded and missing out of about 300 in action.” Of the only two survivors who were taken prisoners in that attack, one, a corporal, wrote from Germany: “Captain Lagden, who was well away in front, was the first man to fall. I went and offered help, but he told me to go on with my men: then I saw him get up and struggle forward, but he was again wounded, and fell.” His Colonel later wrote that “He behaved with the utmost gallantry – the task was an impossible one, and ‘D’ Company did all that was humanly possible to carry it out.” When last seen Captain Ronald Lagden was lying badly wounded on the parapet of the German trench and, although reported as “wounded and missing,” it was also noted that “there is little hope of his survival”. A fellow Assistant Master at Harrow, who was also a member of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, Lieutenant Charles Eyre, died six months later. Eyre had played for Cambridge University in the cricket Varsity Match, and also for Yorkshire, and the two men were good friends. In a tribute to the two men in a special Memorial Service at Harrow School on 3 October, 1915, the Headmaster, Rev. Lionel Ford, said: “Coming direct from Harrow, where as Assistant Masters their sympathies and interests were identical, the two friends, Charles Eyre and Ronald Lagden, are essentially types of British manhood, which the Public School and University life of England has produced in such numbers to fight for the Empire in the hour of her peril. . . . Athletes of superlative excellence, scholars of high degree, conscious of their own physical strength and mental culture, both had been habituated from boyhood to lead, and to train the confidence of their fellows. . . . Such heroic spirits are of their very nature ideal officers and leaders of men.”
Ronald Owen Lagden was Mentioned in Despatches for the way in which he led his men in the raid at St Eloi. His death was described by E.H.D Sewell in his great book, “The Rugby Football Internationals Roll of Honour” as “a fighting finish, game and true to the last breath, a glorious example to generations of Rugby men and Britons yet to come.” His date of death was given officially as 3 March, 1915.