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Flanders 2014

Cheltenham College Battlefields Trip and Old Cheltonian Centenary Project 2014

140 of our 675 fallen now visited and honoured by current pupils

Back in January 2014 keen History researchers, now in the Fourth Form, worked every Monday after school to locate the graves of all our 675 old boys who lost their lives in what was called at the time the ‘Great War for Civilisation’. The current Third Form have, this academic year, continued the project. C.W.G.C., the Victoria Cross Trust and the Khaki Chums, to name just a few, all followed and ‘favourited’ our tweets as the pupils then rolled the project out across Flanders.

Technically assisted with frames made by for us in D.T. by Mr Lait, the pupils took the fruits of their research to the battlefields, in some cases carrying out an act of remembrance that relatives at the time simply could not afford. Felix found his own great-great-Uncle, Captain Teddy Watson-Smyth, at Mory Street in St. Leger. So did Oscar, at Loos, with his great-great-Grandfather Private Aloysius Edward Henry who died in the same 1915 battle as 17 of our old boys.

Putting faces and personal details to the names of our Old Cheltonians led almost immediately to others sharing in the project. Felix, Nick, Will and Angus were told by one gentleman, “Well done, indeed,” for remembering eight Cheltonians at Tyne Cot. Another lady can be seen amongst the images to the right, inspecting one of our plaques left just minutes before, for Captain Kenneth Forbes-Robertson, the brother of James, one of our six First World War Victoria Cross winners.

At Cabaret Rouge, a beautiful cemetery in France, Ing-Tarn remembered O.C. Isaac Newton Woodiwiss, of Boyne House, who was named, as were all the eldest Woodiwiss sons, after his ancestor. He died aged just 18, flying behind enemy lines. He is buried next to an Old Etonian, Lieutenant D. Corbett Wilson, who we think must have been with Isaac on the same mission, as they were shot down the same day. Wilson’s headstone says ‘Floreat Etona’: we have yet to come across ‘Labor Omnia Vincit’ but we’re still looking! Isaac’s parents instead paid to have inscribed on his headstone “Underneath Are The Everlasting Arms” – just what a pilot wants and certainly needed in 1917. Four other O.C.s are buried at Cabaret Rouge, one of whom is Corporal Walter North, of Hazelwell and Caius College, Cambridge. He lies next to his friend Private Green; both died aged 34 and, unusually for an O.C. at least, neither are officers. Their service numbers are sequential: they must have signed up for the same regiment together, fought alongside each other and died on the same day – and now they're buried together.

Some of the memorials are famously vast. We have one O.C., Lieutenant Thomas Worsey, whose name is carved at the base of the towering pylons of the Canadian Memorial on Vimy Ridge. Fighting in the same area and buried at Ecoivres, near the beautiful though blasted abbey of Mont. St. Eloi, was Dudley Aldin, of Southwood and the Royal Engineers. He was the only son of Cecil Aldin, the much loved painter of humorous Edwardian country life scenes, who was deeply affected by his son's death, it being reflected in the nature of his subsequent work. Cecil Aldin worked in the Army Remount Depot supplying war horses, as did the famous equestrian portraitists, Lionel Edwards and Sir Alfred Munnings. Sir William Orpen, another war artist and contemporary of theirs, has produced beautiful line drawings of soldiers resting near the abbey that still looks down on Dudley.

Will found another William, Second Lieutenant Grieve, at the Menin Gate, where Georgie and Tommy also laid a wreath for our 44 O.C.s missing somewhere in the Ypres salient, in front of a crowd approaching 1,000 people. At Thiepval, the massive Memorial to the missing of the Somme, Zac (see if you can spot him!) couldn’t quite reach the Reverend Francis Tuke, who was an O.C. chaplain who died carrying water to wounded men in Bernafay Wood. Francis is remembered here along with 27 other Cheltonians. There are also many smaller concentrations of OCs, in really special spots. Tommy can be seen out in No Man’s Land with Edward Matthey, of Christowe, who died in the big push on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916. From here one can look both south towards Beaumont-Hamel, past the Hawthorn Ridge mine crater, and north up the line to Serre and the Sheffield Park memorial, tracing a line of crosses which stand as lonely sentinels across the bitterly contested muddy fields.

Finally we came to Captain Edward Urquhart, 37 years old, of the Black Watch regiment and Southwood. When I first visited Edward in the summer I was struck by how alone he looked, tucked away right at the back, under a lime tree, in Boezinghe’s communal churchyard – the other commonwealth graves to the right are actually from the rearguard action fought at Dunkirk in 1940. The two types of cemetery, C.W.G.C. and communal, stand in stark contrast to each other. We ended our trip here as it brought us back to the start of the war, to October 1914, when Edward was killed, and the authorities still thought that local parish graveyards could somehow absorb the dead. The pupils can be seen at Boezinghe in the photograph above, still putting their hands up and engaging with their past right to the very end: we were so proud of them. Edward Urquhart might be alone, but Southwood have placed a wreath upon his grave, marking him most definitely  ‘not forgotten’, and as they did so, our superb guide Tony said these words:

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old
“Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
“At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
“We will remember them.”

Jo Doidge-Harrison, October 2014

What did you most enjoy about our recent Battlefields Trip?

"It was really worthwhile to go as I learnt a lot about the history of World War I that I may not have learned in the classroom. The part I enjoyed most was going to the Loos Memorial: in my opinion it was my favourite of them all, as it was the most beautiful out of all the ones we visited, and it also had the best insight into views of what the battlefield would have looked like at the time of World War I." Basi Lee, NH

"I really enjoyed ghost hunting in the German cemetery and placing my work in Arras." [Our guide Tony had with him a copy of an image reputed to be of a wraith-like Seaforth Highlander, spotted at Neuville-St. Vaast.] Nick Hill, BH

"Our guide [Tony of Rifleman Tours] was extremely knowledgeable and took us to all the sites around. He helped the pupils to relate to the 675 boys from College who died out there. He made World War I more vivid for the school and us. We also went to some really nice restaurants with nice food." [Miss Doidge-Harrison: "Which was your favourite?"] "Oh, Hooge Crater." [Miss D-H: "The one with the pate? But what about the chicken and chips in Zonnebeke, you know... next to Tyne Cot?"] "Oh yes, that one was amazing!" Oli Baker, NH