Dick Webb was, by Sherriff’s own account, one of his earliest and closest school friends. In fact, he was with Webb on a river camping trip the day war broke out in 1914. Sherriff quickly tried to obtain a commission in the East Surrey Regiment, but Webb first matriculated at London University (hoping to follow his father’s career as a solicitor), and joined its Officer Training Corps in January 1915. He eventually received his commission in July 1916, and was gazetted to the Royal Field Artillery, and sent to France at the end of the month. He was 19 years old.
Sherriff kept two press cuttings about Webb in his scrapbook, and they recount the details of his death. Wounded by being shot through the hips while acting as an observation officer on the 19/20 September, he was transferred to the base hospital at Étaples where he ‘succumbed to his wounds’ on 10 October, and where he was buried. One of the cuttings includes quotes from two of his commanding officers. The Commander of the Ammunition Column to which he had originally been attached wrote to Webb’d father (William Howard Webb) that:
‘I had formed a high opinion of him personally and of his promise as an officer. Personally also he was a great loss to our men, as he was always so fresh and cheery. In fact, all of us who knew him, from the Colonel onwards, heard of his wounds and death with great sorrow.’
The Commanding Officer of the London Brigade, to which he was later attached, wrote in similarly glowing terms: ‘I am deeply grieved at his death. He was a splendid boy and an excellent officer, and would have done well.’
Webb’s father later wrote to Sherriff directly, in a letter dated 23 December 1916:
‘It gives me great pain to tell you that dear Dick succumbed to his wounds on 10 October at the Base Hospital, Étaples. My wife and I went over to him and I was there some days, but Mrs Webb stayed till the last. The doctors and nurses gave us every hope of his recovery and he seemed to be improving, but eventually passed away very suddenly…You will understand the terrible blow it is to us. One which we shall never get over. He was in such splendid health when he went away. Many other old KGS boys have given their lives for their King and country: Basil Cruiser, K Restall, V P Knapp, F N Marsh and T G N Gardiner (Master). How dreadful that so many promising young lives should be lost…We are all very run down as you may imagine…’1
1 Letter from W Howard Webb to Sherriff, 23 December 1916. SHC 2332/1/1/8/17