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Oakham School Archives

Explore the history of the school through the documents and objects that have been left behind...

Introduction

The Hindenburg Line

The Hindenburg Line was a defensive line built in late 1916 by the Germans. Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff decided to install an extended defensive barrier on the Western Front, up to 8 miles deep and armed with machine guns and concrete pillboxes. It was located several miles behind the active front, and ran from the north coast of France to Verdun, close to the border of France and Belgium. The British named it for the German Commander in Chief Paul von Hindenburg, while it was known to the Germans as the Siegfried Line. The line resisted several Allies’ attacks in 1917.

By September 1918, it was a heavily fortified zone of 6,000 yards deep and consisted of six defensive lines. It was protected by barbed wire and the Germans had built concrete emplacements and firing positions along the line. However, the most vulnerable place was the southern end of the line. This particular location was targeted by the Allies during the Hundred Days Offensive, started in August 1918. On 29th September 1918, after a 56-hour-long bombardment, the Australian, American, British and French troops captured the St Quentin canal and breached through the Hindenburg Line, forcing the German army to retreat after four days of fighting.

An aerial photography of the Hindenburg Line at Bullecourt.

Old Oakhamians who Fell On the Hindenburg Line

Francis Underwood

13th May 1890 - 18th April 1917

 

Francis was born to Francis and Elisabeth M. Underwood, of 26 Westland Road, Watford.

 

Life at Oakham School

Francis attended Oakham School between 1902 and 1908. His school achievements are listed below:

  • Debating Society: Spring 1905; Spring 1907.

 

  • Captain of the Wasps XI: Spring 1906.
  • Cricket 1st XI: Summer 1907; Summer 1908.

Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1907 – Francis is standing second from right.

Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1908 – Francis is standing in the centre.

  • Rugby 1st XV: Winter 1907.
  • Fives Competition: Senior final – Spring 1908.

 

  • Form 2 Latin prize: Summer 1903.
  • Trustees’ Form 4 Overall prize for Christmas term: Winter 1904.
  • Form 4 Classics prize: Summer 1905.
  • Form 5 French prize: Summer 1907.
  • Form 6 Maths prize: Summer 1908.
  • Royal Drawing Society Examination: Honours – Summer 1905.

 

  • Prefect: Summer 1908.
  • Games’ Committee: Winter 1907 - Summer 1908.

Oakham School Magazine Reviews

In his sporting career, the Oakhamian Magazine made comments upon both his cricket and rugby prowess.

Summer 1908 Cricket review: ‘Did quite well as a wicket-keeper, on the whole, though he certainly had one or two off days. He played two good innings, but otherwise was not a great success as a batsman.’

Winter 1907 Rugby review: ‘Has done good service at full-back; he is not fast and his kicking lacks length but he fields the ball well as a rule and generally brings down his man.’

 

After Oakham and the War

After school, Francis went to Birmingham University and became a Civil Engineer. He enlisted in the 18th Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment (Queen's Own) as a Private on 15th September 1914. He was promoted as Second Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion, Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment, attached to 2nd Battalion, The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 92 Brigade, 32nd Division on 8th July 1916.

Royal West Kent Regiment badge.

His battalion was involved in pushing the Germans back to the Hindenburg Line. Francis was wounded during the attack.

Francis died of wounds at 36th Casualty Clearing Station on 18th April 1917. He was 27.

Roll of honour in the Oakhamian Magazine, Summer term 1917, Vol.33, no.2

Francis is buried in grave I.D.3 at Cayeux Military Cemetery. He is remembered in Oakham School chapel.

Francis Underwood's grave at Cayeux.

 
Bibliography

https://www.rutlandremembers.org/fallen/652/underwood-second-lieutenant-francis-

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Royal_West_Kent_Regiment_helmet_plate.jpg

Hindenburg Line Images

The Battle of the Hindenburg Line, 1918.

Wire entanglements in front of the Hindenburg Line, 1918.

A view of a scarred landscape, with a concrete pill-box in the centre of the composition amongst undulating ground. © IWM ART 1334