Commemorating the Centenary of the Somme
Friday, 01 July 2016
One hundred years to the day after the Battle of the Somme commenced, the Girls’ Division remembered this largest battle of the First World War and the huge loss of life that came both on the first day and in the months that followed.
Mrs Hone described that morning in France. The detonation of the Lochnagar and Y Sap mines: at the time the largest explosion ever seen, with a blast so loud that it was reportedly heard in London, 200 miles away. She explained that this was supposed to destroy the German defences. However, as the Pals Battalions stationed in the area prepared to go over the top into No Man’s Land, thinking that they would take Thiepval in less than two hours, they did not realise that this was not the case. As they advanced at walking pace towards the German front line, they found themselves facing brutally effective machine gun fire. Over 19,000 British troops died on the first day of the battle.
One of these men was Quintin Livingstone Smith, an Old Boy of Bolton School Boys’ Division who was a pupil from 1902 to 1904. He went on to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Diploma in Education at the University of Manchester and, after graduating, taught at the Latymer School in London. At university, he was a member of the Officers’ Training Corps for five years.
When the First World War began in 1914, Quintin tried to enlist but was rejected due to a slight deformity of his foot. Nonetheless, he tried eleven more times to join up, before he was finally accepted in November 1915. Mr Winrow read the poem ‘I Have a Rendezvous with Death’ by Alan Seegar to remind everyone that, at this point in the war, those who volunteered knew that there was a high likelihood that they would not come home.
On 16 June, Quintin was sent out to France. During the Battle of the Somme, he and his unit were expected to capture the ruins of the Thiepval Chateau. In spite of heavy machine gun fire and barbed wire that had not been destroyed by the explosions, Quintin was one of the men who made it to the Chateau. There, he fought hand-to-hand against the German defenders, and there he was killed. His body was identified when British troops finally took the Chateau, but sadly was later lost and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
On the morning of 1 June 1916, 675 men in Quintin’s unit had set out; by the evening roll-call, only 150 were left.
Mrs Thornborough read two extracts from Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes. The first illustrated the immediate horror of the unanswered names in the roll-call. The second addressed the grief of those back at home. Mrs Hone followed this by speaking monuments such as the Thiepval Memorial and the Cenotaph in each town and how these become a focus for the grief of the living and a reminder of the immensity of the sacrifices made.
Year 13 pupil Riya Kalhan gave a moving performance of ‘Broken Blossoms’. Particularly poignant were the lines: “How unimportant now it seems just who has lost and who has won when with them have died so many dreams.”
Miss Hincks, the Girls’ Division Headmistress, then offered a prayer in remembrance of the Battle of the Somme. This was followed by the Prefects reading out the names of all sixteen Old Boys who lost their lives in the Battle of the Somme.
The assembly concluded with an extract from the Ode to Remembrance, followed by the Last Post and a minute of silence. A final prayer was led by the Headmistress.
The assembly was an opportunity to remember those alumni who gave their lives alongside thousands of other soldiers. The story of Second Lieutenant Quintin Livingston Smith, who was once a pupil not unlike those filling the Great Hall today, also helped to personalise the facts and figures associated with the Battle of the Somme.
Riya’s performance of ‘Broken Blossoms’ can be viewed by clicking here or pressing the play button below: