Since 1st September 2014 Oundle School staff and pupils have gathered in the Cloisters on the 100th Anniversary of the death of every Old Oundelian (former pupil) killed during WW1, to remember the sacrifice they made on our behalf. Over the weekend of 24th-26th September, the School’s Combined Cadet Force (CCF) continued the theme of Remembrance, taking the whole Fourth Form (Year 10) and the CCF Marching Band to the Somme battlefields.
The Battle of the Somme was fought from 1st July to 19th November 1916 at an almost unimaginable cost in human lives. Five Old Oundelians lost their lives on 1st July and a further twenty-seven made the ultimate sacrifice during the Battle. Many are buried in Cemeteries on the Somme and seventeen are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. Overall more than 420,000 British soldiers were casualties of the Battle.
243 cadets and forty-two members of staff left Oundle on Saturday morning, in twenty different vehicles, aiming for the lunchtime ferry from Dover.
Commander of the School’s Combined Cadet Force, Major Andrew Mansergh, Royal Marines commented,
“Separated from their phones and the internet for the weekend the sound of cheerful voices and card games quickly rose in the minibuses as children discovered how much fun it was to be children just ten years ago.”
After a smooth crossing the convoy headed north east into Belgium aiming for the city of Ypres where the CCF Band would play in the daily Last Post Ceremony. As the sun set the Band formed up and marched under the arch of the Menin Gate, halting at the western entrance in front of a crowd of more than 3,000 people. After the Last Post was sounded, Cadet Sergeant Thea Smith (17) marched to the centre of the Menin Gate, and in front of a silent crowd that included her parents, faultlessly recited the words of Lawrence Binyon's poem,
‘They shall grow not old....'
Andrew added, “
It was a performance of calm assurance that will stay with Thea for years to come. As the wreath laying started the Band played ‘Nimrod’, ‘Abide with Me’, and ‘The Day thou Gavest’, transforming a sombre ceremony into a moving and memorable occasion.”
After an evening journey and a night in two hostels in Albert and Amiens, the group set off in different directions, visiting battlefield sites, memorials and cemeteries across the Somme Battlefields. Two ceremonies marked the most sombre and moving moments of the trip. The first occurred in seventeen different cemeteries between Serre and Mametz, where each group laid a wreath on the grave of an OO. Their citation was read and during the silence many pondered the similarities between their time at Oundle and that of the OOs': games of rugby for the 1st XV, plays, choirs and a place at a good university. But for 100 years it could have been them lying beneath the headstones.
At the end of the day the group gathered again at the Thiepval Memorial, the largest British War Memorial anywhere in the world, with 72,000 names upon it. With the cadets and the band forming a hollow square between the memorial and the cemetery, and a Drumhead altar built by the Corps of Drums at the centre, cadets gathered to remember all 256 OOs killed in WW1.
“Once again it was the presence of the CCF Marching Band that transformed the experience for all. ‘Scipio’, ‘I vow to thee my country’, ‘Nimrod’ and ‘Last Post’ all echoed beneath the memorial's mighty arches. After light rain at lunchtime, the sky had cleared and under a clear evening sky the sun sank in the west over the fields of the Ancre Valley, where 100 years earlier so many had laid down their lives for others. It was a moving ceremony and a scene of tranquil beauty which none who were there will forget.”
The pupils were accompanied by Oundle Head, Sarah Kerr-Dineen, who found the trip
“unforgettable”:”Sorrow and gratitude for all those former pupils who died was mixed with pride in the pupils of today who behaved with such maturity in registering the sacrifice of their predecessors, many not much older than them.”
The group returned to Calais via Vimy Ridge, the site of successful Canadian attack in 1917, during which many of the lessons of the Somme were employed. It was a positive but sombre end to an emotional and memorable weekend.
Oundle’s Combined Cadet Force (CCF)
Contingent Commander: Major A.C. Mansergh Royal Marines
The Cadet Force is the largest single organisation in the School; numbering 460 cadets out of an eligible pool of 820 pupils. Eighteen members of staff provide a varied and exciting training programme every Wednesday afternoon during the term. Additional staff assist during the field weekends and holiday periods. Success and recognition is achieved at national levels; in both 2010 and 2011 a senior cadet was the runner up in The Duke of Westminster Award. Drawn from the country’s best 200 cadets this annual competition is run to find the top cadets. Oundle has produced three finalists in the last four years.
The CCF comprises of three sections: the Army Section, the Royal Navy Section and the RAF section, and is compulsory for all pupils for one year only (in the Fourth Form or Year 10). All three sections have a common core of Drill, Turnout and Skill at Arms. The RN Section then specialises in rowing, sailing and power boating, the Army Section in infantry skills and tactics, and the RAF Section in flight training. At the end of their Fourth Form year cadets may leave or decide to stay in the CCF. For those who wish to continue their cadet careers the options include remaining in the Single Service Sections, undertaking NCO Cadre training, or joining one of the specialist training sections: Fire and Rescue (the unit trains on its own fire engine), Adventure Training, and Diving.
Training takes place every Wednesday afternoon with two field weekends, one in September and one in April. In addition, every cadet will undertake at least one camp during School holidays. These camps include skiing in the Alps, diving in the Red Sea, climbing in the Alps and Scottish Highlands, as well as military camps organised by the RAF and Army.
The Oundle School Corps dates back to 1902, as the 'Rifle Corps' 1st (Volunteer) Battalion the Northamptonshire Regiment. Since 1958, the Cadet Corps at Oundle has continuously maintained all three Service sections (Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force). Cadets are able to attend the many national camps and courses available to them, some of which are aimed towards gaining qualifications (e.g. power-boating and first aid) whilst others are aimed at developing leadership and teamwork skills.
Background Information on Oundle School
Oundle School is situated in the quintessentially English market town of Oundle, about 90 miles north of London. The School’s buildings, dating from the 17th to the 21st centuries, are dispersed throughout the town, which is, to a large extent, its campus.
The School’s history dates back to 1556, when Sir William Laxton, Master of the Worshipful Company of Grocers and Lord Mayor of London, endowed and re-founded the original Oundle Grammar School, of which he was a former pupil. In 1876, the Grocer’s Company divided the School into two parts; Laxton Grammar School, primarily for the inhabitants of the town, and Oundle School, primarily for pupils from further afield. In 2000, the Grocers’ Company reunited the two schools under the common name of Oundle School and retained the name of Laxton for the day House.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Oundle was put firmly on the map of leading English public schools by its most famous headmaster, F W Sanderson, who established Oundle’s reputation as one of the great science and engineering schools, a reputation still renowned today. In 2007, SciTec - a major and ground-breaking new science complex - opened, housing sixteen state-of-the-art laboratories. The School has now completed the development project which sees a new Mathematics department constructed adjacent to the original SciTec building as well as a significant upgrade to and refurbishment of the Design and Technology department within the Patrick Engineering Centre. The development will unite Science, Mathematics, Design, Technology and Engineering both physically and philosophically, enabling pupils to move seamlessly from theory to practice and from pure science to the achievement of a workable technology. An ongoing Sports MasterPlan will upgrade sporting facilities across the School over the next few years, incorporating the building of a new Sports Centre housing a fifty metre swimming pool and an eight court sports hall.
There are currently 1110 pupils on roll at Oundle School, with 860 boarders and 250 day pupils. Also within the Corporation of Oundle School is Laxton Junior School, a day school for children aged 4 to 11.