Wellington School was transformed into a ‘theatre of war’ for a special First World War day. A full-scale trench was dug, which pupils were able to walk around, whilst historian Kevin Hicks regaled them with grisly details. A RAMC field hospital was set up, complete with ‘injured’ patients and a nurse, a signalling depot, helium experiments, sand bag filling, fierce rifle instructors, drills, sandbags and camo netting.
There were various hands-on communications exhibits for experiential learning, including Morse, signals flags and “carrier pigeon activities”, as well as a history of the Royal Engineers (Royal Signals did not form until 1920) and even some chocolate bars wrapped up in 1914 wrappers (they ate far more dark chocolate then so it was tricky finding a milk chocolate wrapper!).
All year 7, 8 and 9 pupils spent the morning enjoying the experience and in the afternoon, over 100 pupils visited from neighbouring primary schools to find out more about this period in history and the sacrifices made. Art displays impressed visitors and an exhibition detailing the many young men from the school who were killed in the war formed a sombre reminder of the reality of war.
“We wanted to commemorate the Great War 1914 to 1918, those that fought and those that died, and to reveal to the pupils the hardships of life in the trenches,” commented history teacher Will Garrett, whose idea it originally was. “The trench is an amazing feat of engineering and was dug over half term. It really brings home the reality of war when you walk around those cramped, damp corridors and imagine spending four year there. The science department were able to illustrate brilliantly how the Royal Engineers solved the problems of communications in the trenches and the grisly field hospital conveys the true horror of battle.”
Members of staff dressed the part for the occasion – there was a Captain in the Royal Engineers 1914 and Royal Engineers sapper, as well as a signaller and several authentically clad nurses. The dining room was decked out with Union Jacks and memorabilia and the whole school ate WW1 food to the background music of ‘Run Rabbit Run!’ The theme continued with a medley of music, drama, readings and history in the memorial chapel with a congregation including the Mayor and Mayoress of Wellington and the Mayor of Taunton. Choristers sang ‘Pack Up your Troubles’, and Jessica Handley sang ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ and ‘Goodbyee’. Extracts from Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen were read by pupils and there were obituaries and letters from three old boys of the school. The drama department performed ‘The Rush to Enlist’ and ‘A Fitting Memorial’ and The Last Post was sounded by bugler Anthony James. The chapel was bathed in red and white lights and the evening finished with the Edward Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’.
On Remembrance Sunday, the school CCF and Corps of Drums paraded though the town to lay a wreath on the war memorial in the park and a plaque was unveiled by the Old Wellingtonian Association to commemorate Sanctuary Wood, planted by a former headmaster in memory of his nephew who sought refuge in this wood in France where First World War troops awaited reattachment to their units.
“This has been an extraordinary few days of remembrance and reflection. The creation of a trench and the re-enactment of the agonies of warfare is something that will stay with our pupils for many years. The evening commemoration in our lovely chapel was an incredibly moving occasion and I was immensely glad to be associated with such a sensitively collated series of events,” remarked headmaster Henry Price. “As George Corner, the headmaster of the school during the war wrote to old boys serving in the forces, ‘your old school is very proud of you all’. I am equally proud to be headmaster of this splendid school and all its dedicated staff and pupils.”