This year again, I had the pleasure of accompanying the Form 3 Battlefields Trip to France. The Archives contributed to the Form 3 Inquiry skills in the winter term, producing booklets on Old Oakhamians who fell in the Great War. This trip is an opportunity for pupils to learn about the First World War, and the Battle of the Somme, and to remember and honour the OOs’ and soldiers’ sacrifice. You can read here some of the highlights of the tour.
The trip led by the History Department started with the visit of the British Cemetery and Memorial of Loos-en-Gohelle. There, pupils walked amongst the graves and read the names of 22,000 soldiers on the walls. Five Old Oakhamians died on the same day at the battle of Loos. Three of those names are carved on the Leicestershire Regiment panel: Basil Fullelove West Mogridge, Edward Cartwright Franks and Edward George Langdale (a Master at school). The other two are buried in different cemeteries: Gordon Sanderson and William Inglis Johnson.
On the second day, we visited the Lochnagar mine crater at La Boiselle.
Then, we walked to Hawthorn Ridge and its cemetery in the middle of a field. Then following the front line (now the road), we went to Sunken Lane. The British tunnels ended at Sunken Lane and from that position, the Lancashire Fusiliers went over to attack the Germans position. The Germans however, expected an attack from Sunken Lane and fired heavy artillery at the Regiment.
We then headed towards Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme. On the piers of the memorial, the names of six Old Oakhamians are carved and pupils were tasked to find their names using the memorial registry: John Paul Bromhead, Basil Vaughan Wood, George Holbrook Eric Vidler, John Norman Pickering-Clarke, Alfred Cecil English, William Horace Lantsbery Dewhirst. They fought and died at the Battle of the Somme and their bodies were never recovered.
One of the most poignant visit is the Ancre Cemetery. This cemetery is a special place for all Oakhamians. It is the resting place of Old Oakhamian Lancelot John Austen “Jack” Dewar. Jack came to Oakham School at 15 in 1911. He was an all-rounder: member of the Debating Society, a Prefect, Captain of the 1st Cricket XI in 1915, player in the Rugby 1st XV, winner of the Fives Senior Challenge Cup. Jack was killed within a year of leaving school at the Battle of Ancre.
On the last day, we went to a German cemetery at Neuville-St Vaas. The pupils were surprised to see that one cross marked the graves of four soldiers. They noticed that they were no flowers on the graves, they thought that the cemetery was not as well kempt as the Ancre cemetery for example.
The second visit of the day was the Vimy Ridge Memorial, erected in memory of the Canadian soldiers. OO Malcolm Arthur Neilson died at the battle of Vimy Ridge. Malcolm was a pupil at Oakham School from 1908 to 1912. He was in the choir, played in the Cricket 1st XI from 1910, won the Fives Senior Cup in 1912 and was a prefect in 1911. Malcolm went to the Ontario Agricultural College and joined the 2nd Canadian Infantry Battalion when the war broke out. He died on 9th April 1917 at Vimy Ridge. He was 22.
The pupils then had time to walk in the Canadian and German trenches, preserved in the park. They got a sense of the dangers and hard conditions in which soldiers fought during the war.
You can read a full account of the trip in the school news. If you have any queries on the Old Oakhamians who died in the First World War, please do get in touch and we will be happy to share information with you.