Friday, 9th November 2018
This week has been a week of Remembrance, everything building up to our service in the Cathedral this morning, to commemorate the pupils of the School who were lost in the two World Wars.
On Tuesday, Form 8, during their assembly, set the scene by talking through the scale of the horrors of the First World War, some of the statistics that they were able to quote being truly horrifying. The whole talk was accompanied by moving pictures, and towards the end we saw an extraordinary film entitled “The Somme Then and Now”. The early part of the film focussed on some of the roads running through a couple of the northern French villages today. We first saw, for those who know that part of the world, the slightly severe functional agricultural buildings sitting contentedly in technicoloured security and then we saw them again but this time in 1916, this time looking shell-shocked, black and white with troops moving through the street. But most moving for me was a film on the front line. The camera panned slowly across a gently rising hill, green and wooded as it looks today. As it moved the hill transformed itself into how it looked during the war, with shattered tree stumps and naked mud covering the scene - not a lovely slope in a quiet agricultural backwater but a deadly prominence in a warzone upon which the attentions of the world’s leading military powers were focussed.
On Wednesday our Chaplain reminded us so importantly of the way in which war affects so many, the young men who volunteer, ardent for desperate glory, the conscripts who often went against their wills, the people left at home and the victims of modern wars. She reminded us that wars were still occurring and that it was just as important today to remember the victims of war, given its continuing existence.
On Thursday Mr Dickinson spoke about the Remembrance ceremonies which he encountered at his South African School as a boy. The school to which Mr Dickinson went was one where there had been many victims. The most touching one for Mr Dickinson was a boy who had been a senior pupil when Mr Dickinson was a junior whom Mr Dickinson remembered vividly. He had been killed on the Angolan border, a victim known to him personally. The victims of war are more than just names.
And it is names which were the focus of our Cathedral Commemoration this morning. Mr Cotterill, whose historical research informed the whole occasion, explained to us all:
“What’s in a name…
Apparently very little if you are a rose, a great deal if you are a Montague or a Capulet…
Along with life, the second greatest gift that our parents give us is a name, a Christian name, a given name, a first name.
It stays with us throughout our lives.
We become that name and it becomes us…We listen for it and guard it jealously.
A couple of years ago I became painfully aware that we had in our care 22 young men for whom we had no first names.
The colour of their brief lives had become the monotone of initials and surnames on a memorial board. In February this year I asked our three Form 8 scholarship boys, Joe, Will and David to find out as much as they could about these ‘Lost Boys’; eight young men who fell in the Great War.
We have discovered much……
Today we bring them back to our school.
These are their stories.”
Short biographies of each boy were then read out by our senior pupils. The research done by Mr Cotterill, David, Will and Joe, enabled them to discover those soldiers’ full names and so, we were able, for the first time, to read out their full names on Remembrance Day something which was done today by the Head Boy and his Deputy during the course of the service. This was a profoundly moving experience. Our Two Minute Silence was ended by the playing of The Last Post by three trumpeters, Alex W, Archie and Rudolph, and as we left the Cathedral to cross back to the School, all the boys were handed a copy of the book which had been written about our named fallen boys following the research. For me the boys had been brought back to life by being remembered by their School. As the Sub Dean so eloquently put it, they were both remembered and re–membered, brought back.
The School then crossed back over St Aldates but unlike our normal practice of returning through the Keyhole, we walked slowly up Brewer St and came into School through the front garden where every single pupil had laid a poppy that they had made. Pictures of the eight boys who had died had been pinned to the railings and so the boys filed silently past, a final act of Remembrance in front of the School building. We will never be able to properly pay our debt to these fine young men but I hope, 100 years after the First World War ended, that we have done as good a job as we can do to salute their extraordinary sacrifice on our behalf.