The archive of Wellington School, recently deposited at Somerset Heritage Centre, reveals the contribution made by Wellington School to the First World War.
A Roll of Honour lists 36 killed and 64 wounded. All were Old Boys of the School who served with regiments as diverse as the 1st Anzac Corps, the Gordon Highlanders, the Tank Corps, the Imperial Camel Corps and of course, Somerset’s Infantry and Yeomanry regiments.
The School Magazine, issued in Dec 1914, the first since the outbreak of war, opens with a list of Old Boys serving their country and extends to eight pages, this is followed by extracts from letters received from Old Boys.
Lance Corporal C G Gordon serving with the London Scottish writes: ‘You will be sorry to hear that I have been sent home to England with my poor old knee crocked up. It seems to do me in every thing. Well, this time it nearly did for me, for it went out as I was retiring from the Germans and had it not gone back almost at once, ten to one the dogs would have done me in’.
F Ludlow at Karachi writes ‘The only thing I can boast of is being a private in the Sind Volunteer Rifle Corps. I am afraid we cannot do much out here, only stand and wait.’
In July 1915 the death of the first Old Boy, J M Kidner, is reported, stating he died of wounds received fighting in the Dardanelles (James Merson Kidner died on 7 May 1915, whilst serving with the Australian Infantry A.I.F and is buried in the Alexandria Military and War Memorial Cemetery).
The School Magazines continue throughout the war, recording Old Boys who were serving and those to be remembered. Letters from Old Boys continue, as do details on pupils still at the school, such as the establishment of a Wellington Local Volunteer Corps.
In December 1916 it is noted that the School Magazine had been subject to censorship, due to the details in Old Boys letters which may have jeopardised the Somme offensive. A few months later, in April 1917, Food Control issues are discussed stating the pupils ‘tried as well as we could to be moderate’, to counteract the shortness of food.
The July issue reports that the tennis lawn and a 10 yard strip of field has been ploughed, harrowed and planted with potatoes. Each boy was given a strict bread allowance and supper was excluded on all days bar Sunday.
In July 1918 it is reported that tents had been erected on the athletic field to house woman agricultural workers, who had been sent to Somerset to pick flax.
It was in 1917 when the question of a memorial to the Old Boys who had fallen during the conflict was first raised. In a letter to Headmaster George Corner, Sec. Lieut. L V Hughes says ‘I like the idea of a nice little Chapel very much’.
In the School Magazine of January 1919 George Corner writes to the Old Boys: ‘I am sending this letter chiefly with one object – to ascertain what your wishes are with regard to the proposed Memorial to those gallant boys who have laid down their lives for freedom and their country’s honour. The many plans which we were trying to mature in 1917…included the provision of University Scholarships, a Hall, more classrooms, a Gymnasium, and a proper Library…there is added now this first and chiefest of duties, the setting up of a monument in which can be enshrined our reverence and love of the spirit of our race and our memory of the gallant boys that fell. Can we not build a commemoration School Chapel?’
The memorial chapel was paid for by subscription by Old Boys and parents. Pupils helped in the erection of the building and the interior decoration and on 25 May 1931, the Right Revd St John Basil Wynne-Willson, Bishop of Bath and Wells dedicated the Memorial Chapel.
The Somerset Remembers project team are working with pupils at Wellington School to more fully explore the contribution of the school.