WWI Centenary Remembrance November 2018
Tuesday 05 May 2020
WWI Centenary - Nov 18 Remembrance

On 1st July 1916 in northern France British soldiers were waiting in their trenches, nervous but excited, for the moment when it would finally be time to go over the top and attack the Germans. But first, the largest bombardment ever in the history of warfare had to nish as over a million shells from 1,500 guns pounded the German trenches. This was the first day of the infamous Battle of the Somme that the British generals believed would be the decisive battle in ending the war. However, when the shelling ceased at precisely 7.30am, the German soldiers raced up from their deep bunkers and quickly set up their machine guns in the wreckage of their trenches, firing so much that, as Corporal Junger recalled, ‘The skin on our fingers hung down in ribbons as the gun became so hot from our ceaseless firing.’

Also throwing himself into this hell on 1st July was a young British 2nd Lieutenant of the Royal Fusiliers, first name John. John was desperate to do his best and set an example to his men but in his bloodbath, he too was hit in the head by a burst of machine-gun re and died instantly. John was just 20 years old, one of the 20,000 young men who would die on the first day of the Somme, the greatest disaster in British military history.

Nearly two years later the war was still raging and another 2nd Lieutenant of the Royal Fusiliers, first name Walter, was killed by a German sniper while he was leading an attack on the same part of the trench system where John had lost his life. Walter was just 19 years old.

You might ask what was so significant about John and Walter. There is sadly nothing particularly unusual about their fate or how they died in the First World War.

Well, John’s surname was PARR-DUDLEY Walter’s surname was PARR-DUDLEY.

They were brothers, killed at just 19 and 20 years old. But the brothers shared something else too – they had both attended the same school – our school, Cranbrook School.

Every year at Speech Day the school awards the Parr-Dudley prize for science and this was established by the heartbroken parents of the two brothers after John’s death in 1916. The school magazine of the time commended the prize, ‘Indeed we may venture to say that as long as Cranbrook School continues to exist, so long will the name of Parr-Dudley come up for a memorial before generations of students yet unborn.’

The Parr-Dudley brothers were just two of the 55 Old Cranbrookians to die in the war. Shockingly, nor were they the only brothers to die from the school. Basil and Stewart Clarke were killed in 1915, as were the Torkington brothers, Charles and John. Thomas and Benjamin Buss perished in the final year of the war and Sidney and Victor Connell both fell in battle too.

The oldest OC to lose his life in World War One was Sir Victor Horsley who was 59 years old when he died. He was a pupil at the school in the 1870’s and later became a very famous neuroscientist. He volunteered in 1914 for field surgery duty in Iraq where he died from severe heatstroke in 1916. For those pupils and staff who belong to Horsley, who have ever wondered whom your House is named after, you now have your answer.

The youngest OC to lose his life? William Douglas Wells, just 16 years old, killed fighting at the Somme in October 1916. He had left school in 1915 and, like so many youngsters, had clearly lied about his age to enlist.

As so often happened, the Army recruiters turned a blind eye as they were desperate for troops. William Wells now lies in Grove Town cemetery in France, so very far away from Cranbrook where he lived and the school he went to that remembers him still.

We also have an England rugby international among the OCs who never came home from the war. Many of the OCs who died were clearly fine sportsmen, but Douglas Lambert was perhaps the most distinguished of them all as he made the first of a number of appearances for his country in 1907 against France, scoring an incredible five tries on his debut.

Another OC, Major Hubert Dunsterville Harvey-Kelly, is famous among historians of the war in the air as the first British pilot to land in France after the declaration of war in August 1914 (cheekily disobeying orders and landing ahead of his commanding officer who was due to claim this honour!) and he was also the first allied pilot to down an enemy aircraft in the war. Harvey-Kelly’s luck finally ran out in April 1917 when he was badly wounded in combat and died a few days later.

It was not only ex-pupils who paid the ultimate price – two teachers from the school also died in the war. The magnificently titled Baron H J de Reuter (grandson of the founder of the Reuters news agency) was killed at the Somme in 1916 as he tried to rescue wounded men from no man’s land at Y Ravine, a place where our pupils visit today on the Year 10 battle fields trip. Douglas Shepherd, Assistant Master at the school before the war, also lost his life at the Somme.

It is clear the losses had a profound impact on the school as a fine memorial board was put up displaying the names of the fallen and in 1921 the school purchased Rammell Field ‘for the use of the school in perpetuity’. Every year, as part of our school remembrance service, the whole school gathers to hear the names of the fallen OCs from both world wars. Their names are also commemorated on two boards in the library.

To conclude, this article can only brush the surface of the many stories of those who never came home from the battle fields of the Great War. Of course, we cannot change the past and there is naturally a sense of great sadness at the loss of so many lives, including those as young as 19, 20 and even one 16 year old. They never had a chance to fulfil their potential. But I would suggest we can honour their memory by trying to fulfil the potential in our own lives and that today’s generation of students make the most of those wonderful academic and extracurricular opportunities that are available to you, to make new friends, to travel, to go to university – to be the best you can be so that as we are proud of the fallen, they would recognise themselves in you and be proud of us too.

The First World War soldier and poet Siegfried Sassoon died in 1967. He could not forget the war but he feared the rest of us would. In his poem ‘The Aftermath’, he concludes with the lines ‘Have you forgotten yet? Look up, and swear by the green of the Spring, that you’ll never forget.’

On the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1, at Cranbrook School, we have not forgotten.

We will remember them.

MR D W O’BRIEN, HISTORY TEACHER, CRANBROOK
InTouch-Online (v 2.9.1.5) supplied by InTouch Software