Captain, Black Watch
Born: December 1st 1894
Died: December 20th 1916
Age at Death: 22
Died of Wounds, France, December 20th 1916
Christs' College Cambridge, Natural Science. Enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers (Public School Battalion 18th September 1914) at the outbreak of the Great European War, 1914. Black Watch (Sec. Lieut.1915, Lieut. 1916) In August 1916 was sent to the front where he took part in various engagements. Died on Dec. 20th 1916 of wounds received in action.
Grave reference Habarqc Communal Cemetery, Pas De Calais.
Son of Rev. R.W. Odell, Vicar of St Matthew's Brighton. Brother to Noel E. Odell (BC reg.3140).
A donation to the memorial statue has been made in honour of this soldier by Robert and Pauline Weir.
"In 1924 your brother helped Mallory and Irvine to so nearly conquer Everest. You never had that chance."
Obituary Brightonian XV April, 1917
Robert Eric Odell was the second son of Rev. R.W.Odell, Vicar of St. Matthew's, Brighton. He entered the Junior House September, 1905, and Hampden House in September, 1908. Though not very prominent in School athletics, he was in the 2nd Fives VIII. in 1913, and a Corporal in the O.T.C. He was made a School Prefect in 1913, and left in July of that year for Christ's College, Cambridge. Soon after war was declared Odell enlisted in the Public School and University Brigade, and was afterwards granted a commission in the Black Watch. He only went to the front in August, 1916, but saw a good deal of fighting in the strenuous months of September and October. Many of the present generation of Brighton boys still remember him affectionately. The character he bore at School was equally appreciated in the Army, as witnessed by the many letters of sympathy received by his father from officers with whom and under whom he served. The following extract is chosen, from many will surely recognise the boy they knew at the College: "How I miss his humour and his quiet (but un-malicious) sarcasm. He used to ridicule his own efforts at soldiering, but underneath he took his duties very seriously, and would surely have made a fine leader of men."
Lieutenant Robert Eric Odell
Robert Odell was born on December 1st 1894 on the Isle of Wight. His father, The Revd. Robert William Odell was a clergyman of some means and his mother Mary Odell, whose maiden name is unknown, was of Canadian origin. Soon after his birth they evidently moved to South Hampstead in London where the household comprised Robert, his parents, his brother Noel, three sisters, two maids and a governess. Later, following the peripatetic career characteristic of clergymen, they oved to 1 College Terrace, Brighton because Revd. Odell became the Rector of St. Matthew’s Church, which sat on the corner of Sutherland Road and College Terrace until its demolition in 1967.
Robert was therefore enrolled in the Junior House at Brighton College in 1905 before progressing to Hampden House in September 1908 and leaving aged 18 in 1913. During his time at the school he participated but, judging by his membership of the 2nd Fives team and the description of him as “not very prominent” in athletics, did not excel in sport. However he did rise to be a Corporal in the OTC and was appointed a School Prefect in 1913. It appears, to judge by his subsequent academic performance that he was at the scholarly end of the spectrum which existed in Brighton College before 1914.
In 1913 Odell went up to Christ’s College Cambridge to read Natural Sciences and apparently expressed an ambition to eventually go into the Indian Civil Service. While at Cambridge he captained the Christ’s College 2nd rowing VIII, although clearly the standard was not exceptional because it appears that in the Freshers’ races his Cox ran the boat into the bank. The Letters from Cambridge recorded in the Brightonian Magazine also record that he had developed an adventurous spirit and developed a strong interest in Natural History, one letter recording that ‘Odell, having developed an unconquerable passion for mountain-climbing, was seen one evening climbing the roof of his college, he spends his spare time fossil-hunting.’
In common with many other Cambridge Undergraduates he enlisted in the Public Schools Brigade soon after war was declared. Originally intended to be an elite unit whose officers and ranks would be composed of public school boys this unit was eventually used simply as a training and depot unit from which officers could be recruited for the vastly growing number or regular battalions of pre-existing regiments. As such on 4th January 1915 Odell was granted a commission in the Black Watch Highland Regiment. The reason behind his surprising choice of regiment is unclear as the family history does not reveal an obvious Scottish connection. Nonetheless, the “devils in skirts” as the Germans named them were certainly a prestigious regiment with a fearsome reputation.
After fighting his way through the Battle of The Somme Odell was wounded near Arras on December 18 1916 and died of his wounds two days later. A number of tributes were written of him after his death which suggest that he was an officer and a man of considerable quality who combined a respect for the importance of his role as an officer with a disdain for some of the pomposity and ridiculousness which characterised life in the trenches on the Western Front. One, by a fellow officer reads:
‘I simply cannot express my sorrow at his death. Not only have I lost a friend, the country and the empire have lost one of the best men I ever knew. He carried with him, I always felt, a sense of freshness and sanity that came from the lakes and moors and hills that he loved so well. And there was a hidden strength in his personality which scorned the meaner things of life… How I miss his humour and quiet but malicious sarcasm. He had a keener sense of the ridiculous than any man I know… But he took his duties seriously and was a fine leader of men.’
Source: LEST WE FORGET PROJECT, Brighton College 2014/15