Running to War: An historical perspective, 1914

Running to war: Lionel de Jersey Harvard & H.R. Deighton Simpson

World War I saw attrition rates from from Harvard not seen since King Philips’ war (1675-1678). Two real-life stories stand out: H.R. Deighton Simpson and Lionel de Jersey Harvard (the only Harvard to attend Harvard). Both were British. Both men briefly appeared in my novel HARVARD 1914 (reissued as THE END OF INNOCENCE, Sourcebooks, 2014).

This page provides a brief description of each young man.

H.R. Deighton Simpson (a sonnet honoring him was published 3 April 2017 here.) 

A Harvard archivist informed me of the following case of a student who had graduated from Eton College (England), H. R. Deighton Simpson. Simpson left Harvard for war without telling his parents. Here is Harvard’s perspective from letters between college officials and  young Simpson’s father who was an attorney in New York City.

1. Young Simpson withdraws from Harvard suddenly (undated)

Deighton Simpson withdraws courtesy of Harvard archives

Dear Mr. Smyth:

I’m honestly sorry to put you to the inconvenience my sudden absence must necessarily have entailed – but i had to go to war and am going on the Campania (ed. note: Campania is a boat).

You are a man. You will understand.

Yours sincerely

(signed) H. Deighton Simpson.

2. Harvard investigates, Oct. 15, 1914

Harvard investigates

Dear Mr. Smyth:

I have just learned from Mr. Cram of young Simpson’s difficulties. Will you be good enough to let me know the circumstances in which the boy left Cambridge? If I can help straighten matters out, I want to do so. Sincerely yours, HAY

(HAY = Henry A. Yeomans, Esq. Assistant Dean, University Hall, Harvard University)

Oct. 15, 1914

Harvard investigates with Simpson family.

Dear Mr. Simpson:

Upon my return to Cambridge Tuesday I was informed that your son had left College in some distress of mind.  I need not say to you that I am very sorry indeed and that I shall welcome any opportunity to assist in straightening matters out.  Will you be kind enough to let me have full information as to what occurred? If we are any of us at fault, we wish to know it and without delay.  I should greatly appreciate a frank statement.

Sincerely yours,  HAY

3.  Simpson’s father responds, Oct. 16, 1914

Fathers note p1photo-15Henry W. Simpson, Counselor at Law, 160 Broadway, New York

Henry A. Yeomans, Esq., Assistant Dean, University Hall, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Dear Mr. Yeomans: –

I have your kind letter of yesterday.  I have not yet learned the exact facts about Deighton’s departure from Harvard and can only surmise that it was due to an unwarranted inference upon his part. He is an exceedingly sensitive young man and wrote to his mother that the German professor had pilloried him before the class in refusing to allow him to alter the hour of his German section and had immediately after granted several members of the class the privilege for which he had asked. Deighton’s long residence at Eton College has made him quite the Englishman with all the bitter prejudice against Germans, of whom he doubtless assumed the professor to be one although I understand the fact is otherwise.  However that may be, the next communication from the boy was a letter from theCampania, advising us that he was sailing in the steerage to join the British army and his mother is hot on his trail to bring him back.  This, I fancy, she will be able to do, so that I look forward to having him back in Harvard within two or three weeks.  The whole thing is really laughable, a tempest in a tea-pot.

Professor White and Mr. Cram were good enough to assure me that there would be no obstacle placed in the way of Deighton’s return to Cambridge, after consulting some of the powers other than themselves.  It is therefore quite probably that I shall have the pleasure of a personal conference with you shortly.

I trust that it will not be necessary to mention the matter to the German instructor; it is quite too childish.

Very sincerely yours,

H. W. Simpson

4. Mr. Smyth informs Dean Yeomans, Oct. 18, 1914

Mr Smyths reply

Dear Mr. Yeomans:-

In reply to your letter of October 15th in regard to Deighton Simpson I may say that I think he left Cambridge because he was convinced that he ought to go back to England to join the army.  Also I am inclined to think that loneliness had a good deal to do with bringing his feeling to the point of action.  He had been at Eton for some years and undoubtedly felt rather out of it here.

There are some features connected with the case about which I should be glad to talk with you but do not care to put down in writing.

I enclose a copy of a letter which I received from Simpson the day after he sailed. This gave me the first clue to his situation.

Yours very truly,

H. L. Smyth

5. A father accepts his son’s decision

Mr Simpson accepts his son's choice.

October 21, 1914

Dear Mr. Yeomans:-

As the affair of my son resolves itself, it dawns upon me that it is going to call for considerable arrangement between the University officials and myself.  The boy refuses to return and has obtained an officer’s commission in the British Army.  I shall therefore visit you at Cambridge on the first day when I can conveniently leave New York.

Very sincerely yours,

H. W. Simpson

6. Harvard awards young Simpson an honorary degree after he is killed in war

Honorary degree for the late young Simpson

June 26, 1919

My dear Mr. Simpson,

I take great satisfaction in informing you that the Corporation has awarded the degree of A.B. for honorable serve in the war to your son, Henry Richard Deighton Simpson, who, though he did not complete a year’s work in Harvard College, seems to the college deserving of whatever recognition the College has the power to confer.  The diploma will be forwarded to you shortly.

With congratulations on the quality of your son’s service and deep sympathy with you in your sorrow that he cannot know of the honor and regard in which we all hold him, I am

Very truly yours,

(signature cannot be deciphered – C. M Greenough possibly)

Henry W. Simpson, Esq. 321 Boston Post Road Rochester, New York


Simpson was killed while working with planes in England. His story appears in the novel (his father’s letter is printed verbatim though addressed to President Lowell). His story also informs the novel’s Jackson Marion Vaughn, a hotheaded Southerner who wishes to fly planes for England, as the U.S. was not active in the conflict.

More about H.R. Deighton Simpson:

Harvard Memorial Society:

Lionel de Jersey Harvard

Lionel Harvard was the only Harvard to attend Harvard. He was modest and well-liked young man according to copious contemporary records. He left Harvard to serve in WWI and at the time was married. Though he died in war, he left behind a 19 month old son. Records show his son became a prisoner of war in Japan but survived. Two generations of service in two world wars – a sacrifice from a modest family that has done much for the world.

Letter in Harvard Archives from Harvard’s commanding officer to Harvard’s widow:

17 Battn. Grenadier Guards

B.E. Force.

1st April. 1918.

Dear Mrs. Harvard,

It is with feelings of very deepest regret that I write to offer you my sincerest condolences in your great and irreparable loss.

Although I had only been commanding the Battalion three weeks, I had already formed the highest opinion of your husband as a soldier, and had given him command of a Company.

His quiet manner, competence, and gallantry in action were beyond all praise, and I feel I have lost a friend, and also one of the very best Officers in my battalion.

We have buried him in the French Civilian Cemetery in Boisleux-au-Mont, and I have had a white enamel wooden Cross erected so that his last resting place may remain sacred until such time as a more lasting memorial can be put up.

He was killed during the morning of 30th March by a German minderwefer, and died instantaneously.  The Battalion was in front line, and was very heavily attacked by the Germans, and his whole Company suffered very heavy casualties.

His personal belongings and kit are now on their way home, but I am afraid they may take some time in transit.

I hope you will allow me again to express to you my own personal sorrow at his death, and my grief for you.

Yours sincerely,


For more about Lionel de Jersey Harvard’s commanding officer, GORT, click here.

Harvard Graduate Magazine tribute to Harvard: