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Remembering past pupils who perished in WW1

It was the first time the School had tried anything like this. No one was sure how a trip with pupils, parents, governors and Old Scholars would work. In fact the ‘Gatton Remembers’ trip to Flanders was a resounding success.

As part of the First World War commemorations, the Royal Alexandra and Albert School arranged for Year 8 pupils to visit cemeteries and battlefields in Flanders. Pupils will be studying the First World War in History next term so the trip to Flanders gave them an early insight into the events of the Great War and the many lives that were lost in the conflict.

The first stop on the trip was Essex Farm Cemetery where 1,200 servicemen are buried including a past pupil of the Royal Alexandra and Albert School, Howard Charles who died in 1915 aged 25. Howard had been admitted to the school (which was an orphanage at the time) when he was 10 years old, following the death of his father. The Headmaster led a short ceremony at the graveside and a wreath was laid by an Old Scholar. Like so many past pupils, Howard Charles was unlikely to have many surviving relatives after having died so young and having been an orphan. It was a very moving ceremony.

The next stop was Sanctuary Wood where some of the trenches of the Great War have been preserved. Even on a warm sunny day in June, the trenches were muddy and it brought home how hard life was for the soldiers who had to live knee-deep in mud in all weathers.

A visit to the Langemark cemetery was next and this was a cemetery for German soldiers. The setting was different from the white stoned, open cemeteries that we traditionally associate with the Great War. The German cemetery had horizontal grey memorials in a woodland setting. There were over 40,000 German soldiers buried there and many had been poorly trained students, apprentices or even school pupils so the cemetery has become known as the ‘student cemetery’.

The trip concluded with a visit to Ypres and the Menin Gate which is a memorial to 55,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers whose bodies were never found. Amongst their number were two Old Scholars from the Royal Alexandra and Albert School; William Wilson and Sydney Smith. Their names were found on the wall in the loggia in the first floor.

Headmaster Paul D Spencer Ellis explains “An important part of this trip has been to remember past pupils who perished in the Great War. In future years we plan to visit other cemeteries and remember more of our Old Scholars.”

He continues “We are holding various events to commemorate the hundred year anniversary of the First World War. We want to involve all members of the School community in these events so we opened the Flanders trip to parents, Old Scholars and governors. The mix of ages and backgrounds enhanced the experience for everyone and made it a truly memorable occasion.”

We made a video during the trip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkkSmi6FifI&list=UUai_m6uUO-i9EhF8DaUxYJA

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