Review of three school histories (Oundle, Uppingham and Wakefield)

Joint review written by Chris Baker

Some other and wider destiny
Wakefield Grammar School Foundation and the Great War
by Elaine Merckx and Neal Rigby
published by Helion & Company in 2017
hardback ISBN 978 1 912174 01 0
367 pages plus extensive appendices (roll of honour, biographies etc)
glossy paper

A school in arms
Uppingham and the Great War
by Timothy Halstead
published by Helion & Company in 2017
hardback ISBN 978 1 911512 64 6
164 pages plus extensive appendices (roll of honour, reproduction of article on dedication of school memorial, etc)
matt paper

And when we were young
Oundle School and the Great War
by Colin Pendrill
published by Helion & Company in 2017
hardback ISBN 978 1 912174 19 5
341 pages plus extensive appendices (roll of honour, reproduction of article on dedication of school memorial, etc)
glossy paper

I recently had an online argument with someone on social media, who had placed a message against some Great War topic to the effect that the young officers of the British Army were all effete mummy’s boys who were donkeys leading lions into action. This kind of ignorant, ill-informed nonsense irritates me beyond measure. I have researched enough of the lives (and, too often, deaths) of junior officers from all walks of like to know that with few exceptions they were well educated, honest, motivated and bright individuals. Many, of course, had been commissioned after initial service in the ranks and had gained considerable practical experience of the hard life of the trenches. Others had entered the army and become officers in the pre-war period, while others gained their commissions on first application. With very few exceptions, mainly of those commissioned in the early months of the war when the expansion of the army created a sudden requirement for officers, they had to pass increasingly stringent selection and training regimes. Many of the young men who gained commissions came from a background of education at the likes of Oundle, Uppingham and other “public schools” and the best of our grammar schools such as Wakefield.

We have here three recent and in-depth studies of the Great War as viewed through the lens of these schools. In many ways they are directly comparable although each has taken a slightly different approach to the telling of the story. All three conclude with extensive and detailed lists of “old boys”: Oundle only of those who lost their lives; the others of all who served. Naturally we see the many who were commissioned, but we also quickly find that some boys served in the ranks (more so from Wakefield than the public schools). The lists in themselves make for sobering and inspiring reading.

But these books are not merely summaries of service and fates of the products of the school system, for to varying degrees they set the schools into the context of events and trends of the Great War period. Almost inevitably, all take us through the events of the war in chronological sequence, picking out what happened to the old boys and back at their old school. We can only imagine the thoughts of the school masters and governors as news dripped through of the loss of their recent pupils, or conversely their gallantry and achievements. It soon becomes clear that the contribution to the war effort of the schools and of their pupils was very considerable. Of all three books, Wakefield is the most detailed and the one I personally found of most interest due to the very varied nature of the service of the old boys. In truth, though, they are all good works both for future reference and for reading.

All of the books are produced to Helion’s usual high standard; are well illustrated; have good and useful appendices and are indexed.

Buy them

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