The army history of author Clive Staples Lewis (C. S. Lewis)

I wrote this as long ago as 2003! If I remember correctly it was for someone who was writing a biography of the author, C. S. Lewis. It is very easy to find references to Lewis’s time in the British Army in the Great War, but much of what you can find is either wrong or rather summarised. Here is his story, built from information in original documents.

Clive Staples Lewis joined the Officer Training Corps[1] whilst attending Malvern College in September 1913 and left it on leaving that school in August 1914.

He joined the Malvern Contingent of the Oxford University OTC in March 1917. During one of these periods with an OTC he qualified in miniature and 200 yards range musketry.

On 25 April 1917, it was adjudged time for him to move on to join an Officers Cadet Unit[2]. Lewis himself completed the application form, noting his preference to serve in the infantry, preferably with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers or Royal Fusiliers, or with a horse transport unit of the Army Service Corps. As he was still under the age of 21, the application had to be counter-signed by his father. Character references were gained from his former Schoolmaster at Malvern, Arthur C.Allen, and his tutor, William Kirkpatrick of Great Bookham in Surrey. This action was a voluntary act, for Lewis would not have been compelled to join the army. Conscription had been in force in Great Britain since the introduction of the Military Service Act in January 1916, but was specifically not applied to Ireland.

On 30 April 1917, the Officer Commanding Oxford University Officers Training Corps completed a recommendation that Lewis attend an Officers Cadet Unit. It was noted that he was “likely to make an useful officer but will not have had sufficient training for admission to an OCU before the end of June”. A short medical was undertaken, which reported Lewis as being 5 feet 10 and three-quarter inches tall, weighing 13 Stone. His chest was 34.5 inches fully expanded and 32 at rest. His vision was good.

Lewis was accepted to admission to No.4 Officer Cadet Battalion, on 1 June 1917. This was announced publicly in the London Gazette edition of 12th October 1917. The normal minimum period with an OTU was 4.5 months.

26 September 1917 saw Lewis appointed from the Oxford University OTC to a temporary commission with the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Special Reserve of Officers in the regular army[3]. He was posted to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, a depot unit headquartered at Crownhill in South Devon. After only a few days, Lewis was then posted to join the 1st Battalion of his regiment on 16 October 1917, crossing to join them in France on 17th November of that year.

The 1st Somerset Light Infantry was under command of of 11th Infantry Brigade, in the 4th Division. This was among the most highly regarded of Divisions in the army, having been among the original British Expeditionary Force that had been in action on the Western Front in France and Flanders since August 1914. When Lewis joined them they were undergoing a period of reorganisation while losses incurred at the recent battle of Passchendaele were being made good.

Lewis was wounded on 15 April 1918. He was struck by shell fragments that caused three wounds: to the left chest, which also broke a rib; a superficial wound to the left wrist; and to the left leg.

Although the records of his evacuation as a casualty no longer exist, it is possible to guess that after receiving first aid at his regimental aid post and at the 11th Field Ambulance, he would have been moved to No. 58 Casualty Clearing Station in Lillers. We know he was moved on to Etaples, to one of the base hospitals there. This would have been one of No. 6 British Red Cross Hospital, No. 23 General Hospital, No. 28 General Hospital, No. 46 Stationary Hospital or No. 56 General Hospital.

On 22 May 1918 after almost a week of treatment, Lewis was embarked at Calais, arriving at Dover on the same day. There is no record of the hospital that he attended, although a medical report after examination at Millbank on 11th June 1918 showed that the two lesser wounds were healing well, but the chest wound was continuing to give cause for concern.

Lewis remained in hospital until 24 December 1918 and was demobilised on this day too.

Lewis wrote to War Office on 18 January 1919, enquiring about his pension or gratuity. Shortly after this, on 4th February 1919 a letter arrived from the War Office stating that he was due nothing. His father wrote indignantly on 5th March 1919 that they should reconsider. Unfortunately there is no record of the official reply.

[1] Formed in 1908 at Universities and Public Schools to attract young men into the Army and to carry out training sufficient to allow the recruit to be commissioned as an officer. There were 23 OTC contingents of the ‘Senior Division’ at Universities, and 166 of the ‘Junior Division’ at the larger public schools. The Inns of Court, part of the legal establishment in the United Kingdom, also had an OTC.

[2] In February 1916, a new system of training for officers was introduced, after which temporary commissions could only be granted if a man had been through an Officer Cadet unit. Entrants would have to be aged over 18 and a half, and to have served as a ranker or to have been with an OTC. The training course lasted 4.5 months. The Officer Cadet Battalion had an establishment of 400 cadets at any time (although this was raised to 600 – if the unit could accommodate them – in May 1917.) More than 73,000 men gained infantry commissions after being trained in an OTB, with increasing numbers coming from ‘the ranks’ as the war went on.

[3] This was completely normal procedure for all new officers.


Documents that were found with reference to Clive Staples Lewis, in his arm service record held at the National Archives in London:

  • Army Form 393A. Application for admission to an Officer Cadet Unit dated 25 April 1917.
  • Note from the Housemaster of School House, Malvern College, given as a reference in support of Lewis’s application for a commission, dated 28 April 1917.
  • Certificate of recommendation for admission to an Officer Cadet Unit, dated 30 April 1917.
  • Army Form B2076. Record of Service and Qualifications of a Cadet on leaving the Infantry Unit of the Oxford University contingent of the Officers Training Corps. Signed 30 April 1917.
  • Register entry showing Lewis’ acceptance into Oxford OTU, dated 1 June 1917.
  • Letter from War Office to OC, 3rd Bn, Somerset Light Infantry, informing of Lewis’ appointment to the battalion, dated 10 XXX 1917 (probably October).
  • Arrival report, 22 May 1918.
  • Army Form A45A. Proceedings of a Medical Board dated 11 June 1918.
  • Letter from War Office to Lewis, confirming date of discharge of 24 December 1919, and giving instructions.
  • Letter from C.S.Lewis to the War Office, dated 18 January 1919.
  • Letter from father A.J.Lewis to the War Office dated 5 March 1919.