‘Bromsgrove School - the one place where I most want to be remembered, for my heart was in it’
Lieutenant R. Hartley (Former Pupil. Killed 26/10/1915 aged 24 years)
So much of uncovering stories in archive collections is about breathing life into the documents, imagining the personality in a photo, a family’s pride at a sporting achievement and the despair of a Headmaster who is writing his fifty-ninth letter of condolence to a family whose barely 20-year-old son has lost his life on a battlefield.
In our office based at Bromsgrove School, there is a complete set of Bromsgrovian magazines dating back to 1881. They are an incredible insight into life at Bromsgrove in times gone by.
This made us think about what was written in these School magazines during the Great War, exactly 100 years ago. What was School life like then? What did our young pupils really think about the ongoing conflict?
At the beginning of 1918, Europe was still in the midst of WW1. At Bromsgrove, there were no big celebrations for Commemoration Day (suspended during wartime), there were no female pupils on campus (we are now co-educational), no Routh Hall or Memorial Chapel built yet (two of our most prominent buildings on campus, the latter built to honour those who were killed in both world wars). 427 Old Bromsgrovians went to war and many never came back (94 to be exact); their obituaries pepper The Bromsgrovian magazines of that period like the constant shelling they experienced in the trenches.
Some things, however, never change - even through the echelons of time. Between 1914 and 1918, just as they do today, boys played against KES Birmingham in the annual rugby match, purported to be the oldest continuous rugby fixture between two schools in England. There was an increasingly popular debating society, staff reading prizes were handed out (albeit called ‘Masters prizes’ back then) and Field Days were relished by The Corps. All of these very same activities are enjoyed by Bromsgrove pupils in 2018.
As we approached the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1, our thoughts and prayers turned to the fallen. We will continue to remember the individuals who sacrificed their lives for the benefit of those in the present and future for evermore. But 2018 was different. This was 100 years – as our Headmaster has said to pupils on the subject of WW1 on many occasions, far enough back for events to be just out of reach of our time on Earth. Yet close enough to be within touching distance of our personal experiences and memories. This is especially true when many of those accounts are so close to home.
It is striking in our School archive collections how many WW1 items belonging to families we have; telegrams, letters of condolence, war medals, School achievement medals, photos of boys at School and in army uniform. Families of boys killed or who fought in the war, whether at the time or much later, felt a need to donate these items to the School where, in most cases, their son had spent the most recent part of their life, a community they knew their son felt part of and a source of strength for the families when they lost their child.
Bromsgrove School held a number of Remembrance activities in the lead up to Armistice Day. We were keen to get pupils involved too, within drama and music by recording extracts of personal accounts from the trenches and having ‘flash mob’ soldiers around the School in unexpected locations, as well as offering creative writing workshops with our Archivist; Pupils were very keen to look at our own WW1 collections for inspiration. At the end of the previous term, the pupils whose creative work was selected for our exhibition got the chance to visit the war graves of France and Belgium – a poignant trip that will stay with them forever. Without a doubt, our biggest project was creating an outdoor ‘field’ of acrylic poppies, each one unique to the Old Bromsgrovian who lost their life. Ninety-four former pupils and masters were killed, including Victoria Cross recipient, Eustace Jotham (whose actual VC we have in School). This display was then the stepping-stone to creating a cluster of smaller events around our idea of a ‘Remembrance Week’. On Armistice Day itself, CCF pupils read out the names of each OB soldier killed, one by one, in the Memorial Chapel, as part of a very moving Remembrance Service. In addition, on the evening of the 11th, the Imperial War Museum gave us permission to show the original 1916 silent film, The Battle of the Somme, set to a live orchestra, performed in our Concert Hall.
As you read some of the accounts of OB soldiers in our Archive – including actual diary entries - it is clear that School had an impact on the person they became, whether it be from the discipline taught on the rugby field or the skills learnt in the classroom - Bromsgrove made them the dedicated soldiers they were. Indeed, Headmaster Routh’s incredibly moving correspondence to Mrs Green, mother of Charles Arthur Green killed in 1917, which featured in our Remembrance exhibition, reveals the deep connections between family and School.
As we remember those lost, we also look to the future, ensuring that we continue to learn from the past, challenge our own views and enjoy every new experience that comes our way.
We will never forget. Deo, Regi, Vicino.
(‘For God, For King, For Neighbour’ – Bromsgrove School’s motto)