Abingdon School has invited its exchange school in Germany, the Ratsgymnasium in Bielefeld, to co-operate in a joint exhibition on the impact of the war on their two schools.
The friendship between the schools is nearly 50 years old, but as they both acknowledge, it wasn’t always like this. Casualty records show more than one occasion when the chances are that Abingdon and Bielefeld pupils were involved in the same battles but on opposite sides.
Records at the two schools vary with Abingdon having a continuous run of the school magazine and a collection of letters and photographs of the dead, now all online. Bielefeld has a collection of essays written by the German pupils in August 1914, which offer a fascinating insight into their thinking at the time, one that belies our popular opinion of Germany’s attitude.
The exhibition was the idea of Abingdon School’s archivist, Sarah Wearne, who said: “I felt that the friendship not only between our two schools but between our two countries should be acknowledged by showing a respect for our war experiences. If nothing else, these throw up our common humanity: love of country, sense of duty, grief, fear, love, and despair. The German A level essays from the time show everyone shared the same fears; there is a common humanity that binds the people of both countries.’
Dr Marli Schuetze, teacher of English and French at Ratsgymnasium Bielefeld, said: ‘As Germans we want to show that we want to live up to the responsibility to learn from history. It is something of a peace project for us; more about what we share than what separates us.’
Tjorven Woermann, age 14 from Bielefeld, said: ‘I think it is important to know about each other’s history and I am happy we get on so well today.’
Calum Steer, age 14 from Abingdon School, added: ‘The partnership with the German students is really interesting. It highlights cultural differences but also shows how much we have in common as well.’