Tatham, John Savill

John Savill Tatham was the son of Joseph Perceval Tatham (Com 1862) of 16 Lyndhurst Park Road, Hampstead and of the firm of solicitors, Tatham & Proctor of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. His mother was Florence Julia Tatham, daughter of John Savill, a barrister from Braintree.  His elder brother, Ralph Tatham, was also at Winchester (E 1898-1901). He came to Winchester from Windlesham House, Brighton and played in Commoner VI in 1906. Shortly after leaving school he entered the merchant banking firm of Messrs. F. Huth & Co., Tokenhouse Yard, London where he worked as a clerk.

In September 1914, with Patrick Gould (E 1902-1906, killed in action 24th August 1916 – see individual entry), he enlisted in the Public Schools Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers and in the following June was gazetted to the 15th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He was wounded near Ypres in February 1916. “We had had a very heavy three days in the front line – perfectly horrid time. However, we managed to get relieved after some delay and bother,  I took Pat’s and my own platoon off at about 0230. On Saturday morning we were all very tired, and I had awful difficulty in getting the men along, to say nothing of myself… Just getting out of the danger-zone, we got picked up by a stray machine-gun; just chance shots, of course. I heard phizz, phizz, phizz, phizz, and about the fifth one I didn’t hear copped me behind the knee, and sent me head over heels.” Tatham’s Platoon Sergeant cut off the wounded officer’s boots and breeches, dressed the wound, and took Tatham to cover. His family first heard of his injury by means of a War Office telegram dated February 13th: “Regret to inform you that 2nd Lt. J.S. Tatham, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, was admitted 14 General Hospital, Wimereux, 12th February, suffering from gunshot wound right leg, severe”.

He was repatriated and on sick leave, during which time his friend Patrick Gould was killed, so there are no letters home recording his feelings on hearing this news.

On his recovery he was sent to Mesopotamia to join a battalion of the Royal Lancaster Regiment where the Second-in-Command was Major Bevil Langton Birley (E 1898-1901). He wrote home: “It is rather funny: our Second-in-Command is Birley who was in Freddie’s with Ralph. I have been down to lunch at HQ today to talk Winchester. He is a good fellow, and was very pleased to find a Wykehamist joining his battalion. He is a regular, of course.” In the same letter he reports that Birley had brought him some copies of the Wykehamist to read. Four days later he was killed in action.

He fell on February 9th 1917, in Southern Iraq near “The Liquorice Factory” while defending a bomb-head in a trench captured just previously from the Turks. When a trench was captured, sand-bag blocks were usually established at each end of the sector to prevent the enemy from counter-attacking along it. The trenches being narrow, the struggle around these blocks would be vicious and personal, and usually centred around the throwing of hand-grenades (often called ‘bombs’) by the defenders, to drive the enemy back; or by the attackers, to clear the block so that it could be over-run. These blocks were referred to as ‘bomb-heads’.

His commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Balfour Macnaughton, wrote to Tatham’s brother a couple of days after Tatham’s death:  “He met his death on Friday in the most glorious way imaginable, fighting most desperately at one of our bomb-heads in the Turkish trenches we had captured…………. Your little brother gave his life most gallantly in defending this, and it’s quite impossible to say what the splendid behaviour of all ranks at this point may have meant to the whole operation………… The poor boy was killed at about midnight, February 9th-10th, having been hit in the head by a bomb.  He could have felt nothing and was quite unconscious, which is always a mercy”.

A fellow officer called Millward, who was wounded in the same action, gave a slightly different version:    “During the struggle Mr Tatham was struck by a hand-grenade and severely wounded.  He was placed upon an ambulance and taken to the rear but died before reaching the first aid post”.

Major F C Briggs, probably Tatham’s company commander, wrote on 14th February “Our bombing officer was killed leading his men [against a strong Turkish counter-attack].     Your brother was then sent to the right bomb head to take his place. He was killed by a Turkish bomb about midnight, being hit in the head…..”

Tatham has no known grave but is commemorated on the Basra Memorial.

This biography has been compiled largely from “Letters Home from John Savill Tatham” which was printed for private circulation after his death. Winchester College Archives hold a copy which can be consulted on application to the Archivist, Suzanne Foster on sf@wincoll.ac.uk

War: World War 1

  • Surname: Tatham
  • Forenames or initials: John Savill
  • House: E
  • Years in School: 1903-1907
  • Rank: 2nd Lieutenant
  • Regiment: Royal Lancashire Regiment
  • Date of Birth: 23rd March 1889
  • Date of Death: 9th February 1917
  • How Died: Killed in Action
  • Location in War Cloister: Outer C5
  • Decoration: NA
  • Burial Site: Unknown but commemorated on the BASRA MEMORIAL, Panel 7