On Friday 19 September, a small party from Oundle School departed for Ypres. The group was led by Old Oundelian, Air Commodore Nigel Sudborough, the Headmaster, Mr Charles Bush and his wife, Mrs Mary Bush, the School Chaplain, Reverend Brian Cunningham, the President of the Old Oundelian Club, Mr Richard Matthews, Mr Robert Ringrose from The Worshipful Company of Grocers and the Heads of School, 17 year olds, Lily Spicer and Chris Titcomb.
Lily commented: “The trip began with an informative visit to the In Flanders Fields Museum in central Ypres, where we learnt about the invasion of Belgium and the four subsequent years of trench war in West Flanders. On Friday evening, we attended the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate, where Chris and I had the honour (thanks to arrangements made by Nigel Sudborough and the Last Post Association) of saying the Ode of Remembrance. The Headmaster then laid a wreath on behalf of the School.”
On Saturday morning the party visited Essex Farm cemetery and laid crosses – accompanied by prayers and poem – for Old Oundelians Eric Yarrow, Robert Leonard Mann and Douglas William McMichael, all of whom lost their lives during WW1. Reverend Cunningham read prayers and poetry.
Lily added: “This was a particularly moving experience for us all. Later that day, Reverend Cunningham led an intimate service of dedication service at St Georges Memorial Church, Ypres, where a plaque dedicated to the fallen old boys and staff of Oundle and Laxton Schools has recently been unveiled, alongside those of other British Public Schools.”
We then took the opportunity to visit more cemeteries including those at Hooge Crater and Tyne Cot, and were astounded by the sight of row upon row of graves dedicated to unidentified British soldiers, “Known Unto God”. We were especially moved to see the grave of the youngest soldier to be killed in the Great War (V. J. Strudwick, aged only 15) and single gravestones commemorating as many as eight soldiers.”
On their journey back to Calais the group stopped off at the village of Langemark where they visited the Canadian St. Julian Memorial (Frederick Chapman Clemensha’s striking sculpture: The Brooding Soldier) anda German War cemetery, the style and atmosphere of which provided a stark contrast to those of the Allied Powers they had already seen.
Headmaster, Charles Bush, commented: “It was very moving to stand at the graves of former pupils and to read the names of others on the walls of the Menin Gate and to appreciate the sacrifice of a School generation in the service of their country.”
This trip to Ypres was the first of many First World War commemorations planned by the School, including a newly installed screen in its Cloisters which will mark the individual centenaries of the 222 Oundelians who lost their lives. In addition to the School’s annual service on Remembrance Sunday, a special Drumhead Remembrance Service will be conducted on the Chapel Lawns on Armistice Day. The School will also mark the centenary of Eric Yarrow’s death on 8 May 2015, when a life-size sculpture of Yarrow by Alexander Johnson, a former pupil, will be permanently installed.