Boys Remember Passchendaele
Friday, 10 November 2017
Dr Holland presided over a powerful whole school Remembrance Assembly, which paid particular tribute to the ten former Bolton School pupils who lost their lives in the Third Battle of Ypres or, as it is commonly known, Passchendaele, which came to an end 100 years ago today. He explained that at the time it was regarded as an ambitious but necessary action as the British Commander Haig was determined to neutralise the German submarine bases on the north-east Belgian coast and the U-boats that threatened the British supply lines. The 105 day battle, synonymous with the First World War, saw 500,000 casualties on both sides and the sheer scale of artillery deployed far eclipsed that of the Somme. Virtually no family in Britain was left untouched by the conflict. The boys learnt that apart from the Germans, the Allies battled atrocious wet weather and trench foot became endemic. They were directed to the photographs of Frank Hurley and Paul Nash paintings, which depict the horror and brutality of the battle.
Mr Hughes, Sports Teacher and proud Welshman, read Hedd Wyn’s Rhyfel (War) poem in Welsh and English as a mark of tribute to the 38th (Welsh) Division who suffered heavy losses in the struggle. Hedd Wyn himself was killed on the first day of Passchendaele.
Dr Eric McPherson’s book Remembered With Honour traces the lives and deaths of all Bolton School Old Boys who made the ultimate sacrifice in War. As a special guest at the assembly, Dr McPherson listened to Year 10 boys who read out tributes from his book to the ten Old Boys who lost their lives in the battle.
Dr Holland reminded the assembly that there were many tales of heroism at Passchendaele and special mention was made of two poets, Ellis Evans and Francis Lewidge, who both lost their lives on the first day of the battle. More Victoria Crosses were handed out for actions on the first day of Passchendaele than any other day in the War and a remarkable 61 Victoria Crosses were handed out to combatants over the course of the campaign. One particular inspiring story was that of Captain Noel Chavasse, a medical officer, who became the only man to win two Victoria Crosses in the First World War, the first in 1916, the second posthumously in 1917. On the first evening of Passchendaele, Chavasse was wounded, but under heavy fire and in appalling weather, he continued to search no man’s land to attend to the wounded. On 2 August, while taking a rest at his first-aid post, it was struck by a shell, although he had at least six injuries he managed to crawl away and was picked up and taken to the 32nd Casualty Clearing Station at Brandhoek where he died on 4 August 1917. His words in a letter he wrote just days before his death summed up the sacrifice made by so many, “Duty called and duty must be obeyed.”
After a reflective and well-observed moment of silence, a piper from the Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa Pipe Band played whilst boys processed out of the Great Hall and laid wreaths on the Memorial Staircase.
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