By Miss Jo Doidge-Harrison
Photographs by Ollie Schallamach (3rd, BH)
The Cheltenham College Battlefields Trips and Old Cheltonian (OC) project have now featured 95 pupils, 8 members of staff, 5 countries… and 431 of our 675 fallen have been visited and honoured… just Rawalpindi, Delhi, Taukkyan, Basra, Gaza, Banjul and Bakundi amongst others still to go!
After extremely memorable trips with the current Fifth, Lower and Upper Sixth Form as well as the outgoing Upper Sixth, this October it was the Third Form who picked up the baton once again, following on from Gallipoli 2015, by taking poppies and their independent research out to specific OC graves and memorials.
This is a continuation of the project begun by the current Lower Sixth four years ago. Last year as we stood knee deep in the Aegean we noted of our Gallipoli OCs that it beggared belief that they could ever have anticipated victory at sites like lofty Chunuck Bair or the Nek, and yet some survived… only to face the Somme in 1916.
The Somme responded this year in misty and atmospheric form. At Beaumont Hamel we could just about see through the fog, the caribou looming above us, to get to the Danger Tree, feeling our way across the open terrain rather more safely than either the Canadian or British troops managed on the 1 July 1916. Also exposed out in No Man’s Land on 1 July, just a field or two up the line to the north and past the massive Hawthorn Ridge mine crater, lies Captain Edward Matthey of Christowe. A brother officer wrote: "After the charge was over, I saw Matthey collect the men together and charge again. They followed him splendidly. It was a magnificent thing to do; but he never came back." Edward was just 23 when he died and Redan Ridge is a classic battlefield cemetery where he is surrounded by the men of his company, all the headstones close together, with many, including his, being shared graves, and all bearing the exact same date. We had six Boyceites (members of Christowe) with us to honour Matthey, and Joe Murphy (3rd, L) and Archie Faskin (3rd, H) also found their own (illustrious) relatives on the contrastingly massive Thiepval memorial down the road - in amongst the 72,246 others listed there.
Many other memorials and cemeteries were visited, with wreaths and the pupils’ plaques left behind; German barbed wire and shell casings were pocketed with scavenging glee; plus bowling and Belgian chocolate featured prominently, with the full series of Blackadder Goes Forth being met with howls of laughter all the whole way home… A fantastic bunch of pupils and an important job very well done.