First World War: spotlight on Ralph Neild

A relative of a Brasenose student has recently discovered a box of his grandfather’s First World War letters in his aunt’s attic. This fantastic discovery has unearthed another Brasenose student’s experiences in the Great War. Many thanks to Ben Neild for kindly agreeing to let us post a transcript of one of these letters on the blog, which appears below.

Ralph Neild matriculated from Brasenose in 1908, aged 18. He was awarded a degree in history in 1911, and a few years after this was to commence service in the British Indian Army. Between 1915 and 1919 he served as a captain in the Indian Army Reserve of Officers, in both India and Mesopotamia. The letter which appears here was written home to his mother in England and gives a wonderful insight into his experiences in Subhan Khwar Camp, India (now Pakistan), as well as mentioning some of his contemporaries at Brasenose.

Subhan Khwar Camp.

19th October, 1915

My dear Mother.

Nothing to tell you by this mail. The enemy have all gone away and I do not think there is much chance of any further excitement among the Mohmands for a considerable time. we shall probably leave this camp very shortly though nothing definite has been ordered so far. When we go it seems probably that instead of going right back into Peshawar we will stop for a while at a place called Nagoman half way in. It is a good camping grounds, more or less green & shadey, on the banks of the Kabul River, about 10 miles out of Peshawar.

With regard to the rumoured move of the regiment from Peshawar, it is all fixed up now by the Divisional staff and is awaiting the sanction of Simla. It is quite probably that simla will not allow any transfer to be made during these times of war. Should the sanction be given the regiment will be split into 2 parts of which one will go to Dargai and the other to Chakdara. They are two forts, one on each side of the Malakand Pass. I should like to go there very much, but am afraid it won’t come off.

Most of the work there has been field firing. On Friday a paper chase. Sunday had quite a good evening ride. great scamper home to get in before dark as we suddenly remembered our intended road ran through a cholera infected place and we had to go round. There is just a little cholera in the villages round about here.

This morning I set off at 6.30 & had a splendid early morning ride into Adazai, the other camp behind us. It is very pleasant riding these mornings – it is so splendidly cool and misty, & then gradually the mists pass off and the mountains begin to stand out most wonderfully clearly. Adazai is not chiefly a cavalry camp & full of camel transport.

So you can see from this that life here is not very full of incident just at the moment – by the way, I have kept a term here now – eight weeks on Sunday.

Awful lot of conversation coming on!

On Saturday I am going into Peshawar for 3 days leave – that is allowed now. My chief object is to shift my abode. I have long been confronted with a housing problem like your own. Mrs. Cox was expected 1st November and I had to be out of his bungalow by then. I had a place in view, temporally occupied by another I.A.R. newcomer who is at the base in Peshawar. When I outed him, he would have been homeless.

Now my double company commander, Captain Wilson, has been recalled to his political employ, and I am going to slip into his good room. It is in the bungalow I originally had in mind. It will now give quarters to three I.A.R. – two besides myself. I am sorry Wilson is going – he was a very nice man, knew a tremendous lot about the frontier where he has spent all his life & was a good man to train under on first joining the regiment. He has been Provost Marshall in this camp, & his double company has been left to my tender mercies for the last 5 or 6 weeks. He is bequeathing me his camp bath, which will be a very sound acquisition. Hitherto I have been sharing it with him while in camp.

Now I shall have some other boss. I do not mind much which – whether Brock or Brown, the latter the Burma Commission man who will shortly be back from his 4 months of sick leave up in Kashmir.

To-day is the “ID”, the second of great Mahomedan holidays, like our Christmas. It is a great holiday for them & they are all strolling around in their best white mufti, which they have made a noble effort to get clean for the occasion. This evening they will feast upon goat…

All the frontier forts we occupy had their sites chosen by the Sikhs & the Peshawar fort is a great monument to their military knowledge & building skill. to distinguish themselves from the Mahomedan the Sikh has always been at great pains. For instance, the Mahomedan shaves his head, therefore the Sikhs head must never by touched by a cutting instrument. The Mahomedan smokes, the Sikh does not. The Mahomedan never touches wine, therefore the Sikh drinks rum & so on indefinitely. Yet they seem to get on pretty well in the regiment. They live in a state of mutual toleration, occasionally tempered by friendship.

In this company there is both Sikh and an Afridi Subadar, both splendid specimens of the respective races & great gentlemen. They are always chaffing each other on the religious topic, in a strangely un-Western manner.

Yours of September 27th just came in for which many thanks. Describing your “how gate” vicissitudes & how you finally landed up at 9 Sandwell Crescent. I hope something may turn up & that you will not both find it too hopelessly dull. If ever a Zeppelin raid comes over your way – do tell me all about it – you know so little of these excitements from the newspapers. I am afraid I cannot possibly deny that this frontier scrapping was the most interesting of experiences and I do not think there are very many people who would not say the same. Of course, I understand your point entirely. (I suspect a quakerly comment in the letter – BN)

I am sorry Canon Wilson’s son has been killed. BNC (Brasenose College) has lost several of its best men during the last few months, ending up with L. A Vidal. He was a particularly excellent man, the personification of “keenness” who did more than any individual undergraduate in my time to keep up the college’s reputation for that great virtue. He as a Radley master before the war. Then there was John Burrell, the V.P.’s newphew & master at “Teddy” school, who had been through the South African war in very tender years & was a very great football player. Also D. R. Brandt who was a don at B.N.C. for some 2 or 3 terms & then left for social & journalistic work in London.

I do not think there is anything else to add at all.

So with much love


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