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Second Visit to WWI Memorials

As part of the commemorations of the centenary of the First World War, pupils, staff, governors and Old Scholars from the Royal Alexandra and Albert School went on a trip to visit the graves and memorials of Old Scholars who perished during the War.

This was the School’s second trip to France as part of its four year commemoration project, Gatton Remembers. This year, the School went to Arras where there is the highest concentration of known graves and memorials of the School’s Old Scholars.

The first stop was the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. Pupils, governors and Old Scholars were struck by how the impact of the war was still visible on the landscape: the paths leading to the Memorial are lined with large craters and dips where shells had exploded, and signs still warn of undetonated bombs. Pupils then had the opportunity to get even closer to history by experiencing first-hand what it felt like to be in a cramped trench.

One of the School’s Old Scholars, William Alfred Rutland, was buried alongside 2,232 British soldiers at the Canadian Cemetery at Vimy. The Headmaster, Mr Spencer Ellis, and a group of Old Scholars laid a wreath at his grave.

Like many of the pupils who joined the School when it was an orphanage, William Alfred Rutland lost his father at a young age and was unlikely to have many relatives. The visit from the School was, perhaps, the first time his grave had been seen by anyone with a connection to him.

The children then visited Arras city centre, which was faithfully reconstructed after being completely destroyed in the War. From there, the next stop was Faubourg D’Amiens Cemetery and the Arras Memorial.

At Faubourg D’Amiens, the School’s Chaplain performed a simple but touching service to Hurbert Arthur Belcham, an Old Scholar who died of wounds in October 1917. A wreath from the School was laid on his grave in remembrance.

Two Old Scholars, William James Kew and Robert Charles Henry Thompson, are remembered on the Arras Memorial, located at the entrance of the Faubourg D’Amiens Cemetery. Both men were admitted to the Alexandra Orphanage within months of each other, left the Orphanage soon after one another, and died aged 19 in May 1917 on the battlefields of France. Although they joined different battalions when they enlisted, both men are now remembered on the same panel on the Arras Memorial.

Mr Spencer Ellis explained the importance of the trip, “For the second year, pupils, staff, governors and Old Scholars have come together to remember our fallen Old Scholars who fought and died in the First World War. Visiting the graves and memorials of our Old Scholars in France is not only an important act of remembrance but also gives our pupils the understanding that we all have a personal connection to the War, be it through family history or through a less direct link. I am very happy that the School will continue to have trips to France until 2018, and we aim to visit all the graves and memorials of our Old Scholars.”

03 Jul 2015

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