Bromsgrove School has held a number of Remembrance activities in the lead up to Armistice Day. The School’s biggest project was the creation of an outdoor field of acrylic poppies, each one unique to the Old Bromsgrovian who lost their life.
Amongst those killed was Victoria Cross recipient, Eustace Jotham whose actual VC is kept at the School. This display provided the inspiration for a collection of smaller events for ‘Remembrance Week’. Keen to get the pupils involved, creative writing workshops with the School’s Archivist were held and inspired by the WW1 collections, pupils recorded extracts of personal accounts from the trenches. Pupils whose creative work was selected for the School’s exhibition got the chance to visit the war graves of France and Belgium – a poignant trip that will stay with them forever.
On 7th November, pupils from Bromsgrove School gave a fitting tribute to the young men who fought and lost their lives in the First World War. The pupils, dressed in army uniforms performed a flash mob, stopping at various School locations, in particular Wendron Gordon House, the previous home of many fallen Old Bromsgrovian soldiers, and the field of poppies near the Memorial Chapel, dedicated to the ninety-four former pupils and masters who lost their lives in the 1914-18 war.
Bromsgrove’s School archive contains many WW1 items; School achievement medals, photos of boys at School and in army uniform, telegrams, letters of condolence and war medals, Many of the boys kept in contact with the School during WW1 and families sent documents and artefacts relating to loved ones who had been killed in action back to the School, to be part of the archive to remember them.
Three Old Bromsgrovians were awarded the Victoria Cross. One, as he lay dying, said "Tell the Colonel I have done my best." The parents of another, requested that the School Motto be placed on their son's headstone. It is clear by the soldiers’ diary entries that the School had a huge impact on the person they became, and made them the dedicated soldiers they were.
The School’s Remembrance Services were moving tributes to the thousands of men who sacrificed their lives in World War 1, but most especially the Old Bromsgrovians who fell, whilst in the care of Routh, the Headmaster at the time. It was also an opportunity for the School to reflect on all our Armed Services both now and in the past, and remember the sacrifices they continue to make. Wreaths were laid in memory of the OBs below the Rolls of Honour in the Memorial Chapel.
Head of DT at the Prep School, Mr Sutherland created ‘there but not there’ shadowy silhouette figures which were particularly thought provoking as they sat amongst current staff and pupils - a poignant reminder of why the Memorial Chapel was built. They also made perspex blocks with the names of the fallen OBs engraved on them. The Senior DT department made a life size cut-out of a WW1 soldier for local church, St Michael's, in Stoke Prior. The church says that they have received many moving comments from their parishioners since the installation of the 'Tommy'.
On Friday 9th November, the School held a two minute silence at the flagpole near the Memorial Chapel and in the evening held an Evening of Music and Readings for Remembrance in Routh Hall.
On Armistice Day, as part of a very moving Remembrance Service, pupils from the Combined Cadet Force read out the names of each OB soldier killed, one by one, in the Memorial Chapel.
Also on the morning of 11th November, Mrs Deval-Reed, Headmistress of Bromsgrove Preparatory and Pre-Preparatory School attended the Service of Remembrance in London as part of the People’s Procession - a nation’s thank you. Mrs Deval-Reed joined ten thousand others in The Mall before they processed down Whitehall and past the Cenotaph, and laid a poppy wreath to honour the ninety-four Old Bromsgrovians who died. Mrs Deval-Reed said “It was extremely moving and a privilege to represent Bromsgrove School in this way”.
On the evening of Sunday 11th November at Bromsgrove’s Routh Hall, the digitally remastered film Battle of the Somme was screened, accompanied by a sixty piece orchestra. Prior to the screening, there was a talk by the composer Laura Rossi, who discussed the score and her approach to writing it and from Philip Bowen, former Deputy Head and author of Bromsgrove School at War 1914-19, who spoke about those pupils from Bromsgrove School who fought at the Somme and in other battles during World War One.
Peter Clague, Headmaster said “Each year, the School stands as one and gives the solemn utterance, ‘We will remember them’. Yet how hard it is to ask people to remember that of which they have had no personal experience. As we reach the centenary of the Armistice, an end to that most terrible of wars, no active participant remains alive to tell us of their trials. We are reliant on books, still photographs and oral histories to paint the pictures of that which we must not forget. Harder still, to ask young people to remember, when they live in a digital age in which books and the spoken word take a backseat to the all-engaging power of video”.
“From YouTube clips, to Blockbuster movies, today’s children expect stories to be multi-sensory, attention grabbing, a visual spectacle. We were incredibly lucky to have had access to the remarkable footage that was screened in Routh Hall on Sunday. To be able to speak to young people in a visual language they understand, albeit in black and white, with CGI effects or stunt men, makes the film all the more compelling. To add even more potency, the accompaniment of a live orchestra playing a score written specifically for the film, draws us into the action. Seventy-five minutes without a single spoken word may seem challenging, but the remarkable musical odyssey is a fitting narrative of its own.
The War Office kept a tight rein on coverage of the First War and only allowed a camera crew to film the Somme offensive because they were confident of a comprehensive victory. How wrong they were. Despite the smiles and cheery waves of many who are recorded going into battle, the harsh reality of their surroundings and the brutality of the fighting is inescapable. We should be thankful then that in this modern audio-visual age, such a film exists, to aid us in our responsibility to ensure that when we teach young people to recite the words ‘We will remember them’, they can picture who they are calling to mind, and why”.