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King Edward's School BATH

Remembrance Assembly

Remembrance Assembly

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9 November 2018

Headmaster's address to the Senior School during the Remembrance Assembly

As I am sure you are all aware, this Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, the Great War, the ‘war to end all wars’ – alas, that was not the case. The significance of this day should not be understated, and you may recall that I have already spoken twice in assemblies during this calendar year about this impending poignant moment when the guns of war fell silent as the clock struck the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month one hundred years ago.  This very moment was captured in a quite remarkable recording made on the Western Front, which we can listen to now (see clip below). 

 

Commemorations across the country will be grand but also sober, uplifting in many ways but also a cue for reflection and remembrance, an honouring of those who died and a thanksgiving for their sacrifice. Outside Canterbury Cathedral, a carpet of poppies has been laid at the base of a 20 foot high wooden horse, marking the contribution of these magnificent creatures to the war effort. At the Tower of London, in a torch ceremony called ‘Beyond the Deepening Shadow’, 10,000 flames are being lit every night until Armistice Day, accompanied by specially commissioned choral music and words from ‘Sonnet To A Soldier’ by Mary Borden, who worked as a nurse very close to the front line. As the Governor of the Tower of London has explained, “the message is not focused so much on those that were lost, but those that were left behind – the bereaved and others who were affected by war.” The words in Borden’s poem make this clear when she writes:

   If you this very night should ride to death

   Straight from the piteous passion of my arms;

   If you still breathing in the sobbing breath

   Of my desire, still faint with my alarms

   Should come upon the vast immensity

   Of nothingness, my last poor trembling kiss

   Upon your lips, should face eternity

   And gaze full conscious into the abyss;

   You would not falter at the last my friend

   Nor put to shame your clear courageous mind

   Under the menace of the desolate end;

   But with one lighted look for me, behind,

   You'd take the leap, with a last challenge, cry

   That there is no beyond, and thus superbly, die—

A remarkable memorial at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich features messages from soldiers of the First World War woven into a large central flower by red threads which then lead out and extend, ribbon-like, in the direction of 14 other ‘partner’ memorials across the country. The aim of this, according to the Royal British Legion, is to highlight how “the legacy of the First World War is woven through the fabric of the nation, often in unexpected places.” These include the Big Pit National Coal Museum in Blaenavon, Wales, both highlighting the role that coal mining played in fuelling a nation engaged in war on an unprecedented industrial scale and also commemorating a workforce, which, like many others was decimated by that war. Another is at Ballyclare Football Club in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, formed in 1919 as the ‘Ballymare Comrades’ by returning soldiers who missed the sense of camaraderie that trench warfare had created among them.

The memorial at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire commemorates the Women’s Land Army who worked on farms to plant and harvest crops and ensure the continued supply of dairy produce to support the war effort at home, whilst the messages at the African and Caribbean War Memorial in Brixton, at the Neasden Hindu Temple, also in London, and at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, where Indian soldiers serving in support of the British Army were hospitalised, serve as a reminder that this truly was a World War. “Do not be anxious my dear friend,” wrote one of those soldiers. “Every man whom God created is bound to die some day.”

The contribution of children to the war effort – yes, children – is highlighted in a display at the Jack Cornwell Memorial Park in London, named after a former boy scout who joined the Royal Navy aged just 16 and who served at the Battle of Jutland within a year. Jack’s gun crew were killed and he was severely wounded by shrapnel, but remained at his post and refused to abandon the position until his ship safely withdrew from battle. He died in hospital a few days later and was awarded the Victoria Cross. The message comes from a letter from the Captain of Jack’s ship to his mother, in which he wrote. “He stayed there, standing and waiting under heavy fire with just his own brave heart and God’s help to support him.” As these memorials and messages make clear, the impact of the war was felt by all sections of society, in battle and at home, across the Commonwealth and by men, women and children. The final ‘unexpected place’ I want to mention is Napier Unversity in Edinburgh, the site of what was Craiglockhart Hospital, where the soldiers and poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen were hospitalised and where Owen started to write some of his most iconic works, including ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’, in which he asks:

"What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?" answering:

 "Only the monstrous anger of the guns,

 Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle."

Continuing ...

"What candles may be held to speed them all?

 Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds."

Owen was killed during the final offensive of the war in what became known as the ‘Last 100 Days’. As you may recall, this was also the context for the Centenas that I read out earlier in the term. Wilfrid Owen shared this fate with 8 Old Edwardians out of the 74 who were killed in total during the Great War: 2nd Lieutenant Geoffrey Andrews, Private Gerald Studley, Lieutenant George Annaheim, Sergeant Ronald Hext, Lt Corporal Thomas Batten, Lt Corporal Gilbert Dare, Private Richard Cook and Captain Arthur Simpkin. Arthur’s brother, Captain Harry Simpkin, had also been killed in battle in March of that year. Arthur was 22, Harry just 21.

For the final act of commemoration that I am going to talk about, I will stay close to home. On Remembrance Day this Sunday in Bath, a Hurricane Lamp, similar to those used in the trenches of WW1, will be lit at the War Memorial in the morning whilst prayers for peace are read. In the afternoon, the lamp will form part of the procession that gathers in Milsom Street and makes its way down to the Abbey for the 3 o’clock service. At the beginning of the service, the lamp will be carried slowly down the aisle of the Abbey whilst the rest of the Abbey’s lights will be turned off. Once at the central dias in the Abbey, a light will be taken from the lamp, other candles will be lit and the main lights of the Abbey will come on, symbolising that moment 100 years ago to the day in which the world emerged from 4 years of darkness into the light and into hope. At the invitation of Reverend Driver, who will be leading the service and who gave our Founder’s Day sermon last summer, the honour of carrying the hurricane lamp on its journey has been given to the cadets of King Edward’s School, members of one of the oldest School CCFs in the country, a corps, which, as we have heard, was very much active at the time of the Great War, over a century ago. It is a great honour indeed, and one which you will carry out impeccably, I am sure.

The lighting of the lamp will also mark one of many moments for reflection on the legacy, 100 years on, of a World War that had such a devastating impact on a global, but also a local scale. As a School, we now remember together all those affected by this and other wars and pay tribute and thanks for the sacrifices made by so many, in particular the 74 Old Edwardians who gave their lives for their country between 1914 and 1918. Please stand to observe two minutes of silence.

Following the Assembly a wreath was laid to commemorate the lives of the 119 OEs who were killed in World War 1 and World War 11.

 

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