The Powerful Force for Remembrance 2022

Over my lifetime in Education, I have seen enormous benefits from taken the time to commemorate Armistice Day on 11 November and the period around for schools and their community to take time out of the working day to observe, reflect and recognise our duty to recall the amazing sacrifice of others in the armed forces and, more recently, the involvement of those in wider public service, whose work during periods of emergency and crisis have kept our country safe.

They say of course that ‘Data Never Lies’, though more generally the people that twist if for their own ends are often caught out in mistruths. The reality is that 1 in 25 of our UK adult citizens have served in the forces, that public service generally is the largest employer in the UK, so that when the history books reflect on our nation’s management of society during the Coronavirus epidemic, they’ll record just how much of that was due to the selfless sacrifice of the forces, emergency and public services more generally.

My school is proud of the burgeoning Combined Cadet Force we see at work every Monday in term time and leading the Remembrance services at school and college. The boys and girls who attend the CCF regularly all took a leap of faith into starting something completely new and come to life when in uniform.  Being part of a Corp central to that service ‘edge’ of school life has instilled a different sense of purpose and work within the CCF gives them the pride of being able to make progress solely by the dint of their own efforts. I’ve have fun recently pointing out to the Headboy that many in the CCF outrank him currently; his measured, smiling reply being of course “Not for long”.

One of my longest mantras in school has been to encourage children to move from the “What am I good at” (for which many including myself find self-congratulation hard) to “What am I good for”? Service, a central part to the Duke of Edinburgh award, where we are our own centre too, has amazing powerful ways of improving children and young people’s outcomes. Of course there is something that seems self indulgent about going off in to the developing world for a 6 month a year break from career development, but I cannot emphasise enough that young people with great vision for what is possible offer enormous strength to developing communities whose own life experiences simply don’t permit them to have the same potential vision for the future.

There’s a huge amount of noise currently coming from the Labour party about the unfair advantage that those educated in the private sector seem to have gained as a consequence of what they have been able to learn and develop whilst at school. In almost every sphere, our ‘products’ form a greater percentage of those at the top than ‘ability data’ alone might suggest. My advice to all is to tread carefully in this area, because for most of the independent schools I know including my own, nothing of what we do is based on maintaining privilege and one-upmanship. Education is so much more than just exams, levels and classroom success. The broader picture for schooling must include building resilience, emotional regulation, knowing how to cooperate and when, knowing how to fail and learn and perhaps above all, knowing how to listen and respond sensitively to the actions that might then need to follow.

The photograph below was taken in 1918, at 11am 11 November, and from the hordes seen present, the country could not have been more ready to celebrate peace. The amateur artist who has colourised this image is BabelColour, @StuartHumphryes who posted this on Twitter.

“Vast crowds in London observe the very first 2 minute silence for those killed in the Great War. The men have removed their hats out of respect for the fallen.” (I originally colourised this photo for the Evening Standard in 2019)

Now as then, it is so important that we pay our respects and recall the individual names of the fallen, not just out of a sense of duty, but for the more positive purpose of recognising that they gave their lives FOR SOMETHING, for the collective good of their children and children’s children and for all of us. In another blog posting recognising the centenary of Armistice in 2018, written by Major Graham Goodey MBE, The Royal Anglian Regiment, he concludes as follows:

“And therefore we have a duty to be worthy of the freedom we’ve been given, and if need be to defend it once more. So, ultimately, for me, Remembrance is inspiring. It inspires me to do the right thing for others, in our everyday lives, and sometimes even when you have to risk everything. And you’d be hard pushed to summarise this sentiment as effectively, eloquently and poignantly as the words inscribed on the Kohima memorial in North East India, commemorating the actions of the combined British and Indian 14th Army in the Second World War, defending India from invasion by the Japanese, which are:

When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today.”

The UK government faces some pretty impossible choices currently and for the next few years beyond. Those currently in military and public service have been under a combination of pressures that stretch back many years, exacerbated of course by their full emergency deployment through the recent public health emergency. Those in power keep talking about the ‘workforce’ planning for the future they are undertaking, yet so obviously from the refugee crisis we currently are witnessing, they have not the capacity to make appropriate decisions to resolve and reframe.

There’s nothing new in this story of government trying to their best but being incapable. The returning soldiers from WW1 faced newspaper headlines proclaiming that the country was to embark upon the mass building of “Homes fit for Heroes”, only to find that the building industry was paralyzed by the lack of skilled workers, a chronic shortage of building materials and damage strikes across industry and in the docks. The resolution of the crisis commenced with the public purse finding sufficient funds for new house building whilst keeping rental costs down to affordable levels. Much more importantly, the country saw the remodelling of government at national and county council level, so that the national ‘will’ could be picked up in practice at the local level, and the creation in 1919 by the Government of a Ministry of Health to exercise powers with respect to public health in England and Wales and to promote the health of the people was a vital new tool in its armoury.

The conclusion of WW2 saw much the same need, and added the creation of universal education and a national health service into the mix. Clearly the major cities needed rebuilding following the blitz bombings suffered, but much more importantly, the creation of the suburbs allowed for even more rapid expansion of housing stock for the rapidly growing population in the fifties and sixties.

The decades after both World Wars saw economic challenges facing government of course, and ‘growth’ in any one year was never guaranteed. But that ‘promise’ that has been so firmly established in our psyche that we must not let those who serve our needs and those of our children is one worth calling the forefront of our consciousness today. Of course nurses must be able to afford to work and live, as must those more broadly working as public servants. It’s interesting to note that the ‘threshold’ above which adults can then choose what work they wish to do is quite low in relative terms – in essence once people are safe, secure, warm and well feed their further demands (for the majority) are never extortionate. Where unions have their place to play is not to demand excessively for those whose income is well above that threshold; it’s quite clear that the country cannot afford a pay hike for every one in equal measure, again one of the wider ‘Remembrance’ skills is to recall that rampant inflation destroys lives and whole communities.

At 11 am, on the 11th November 2022, Claires Court School recalled the names of those former pupils (*and teacher) of Maidenhead College, whose buildings we now occupy as a school, who lost their lives in the Great War.

“We remember Private Herbert Ashford Walford, Private Leslie Francis Walford, Rifleman Errington Brewis, ,Sergeant Percy Naylar, 2nd Lieutenant Cyril Edward Cook, Lieutenant Sidney Edwin Bailey Thomas, Acting Bombardier Victor Israel Heilbron, Corporal Robert Collier Brodie, Lieutenant Malcolm Shanks Carswell*, Temporary 2nd Lieutenant Charles William Homer, Private Ernest Peto, 2nd Lieutenant Henry Douglas Osborne.”

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

  • Malcolm Shanks Carswell (1890-1917)

From 1891 to 1947 our SL6 6AW College Avenue site was home to a boys school, Maidenhead College. Many of its pupils went on to serve their country in the two World Wars but there is no memorial to them here. Among those known to have been killed in the Great War were Errington Brewis, Robert Brodie, Malcolm Carswell, Victor Heilbron, Charles Horner, Percy Naylar, Henry Osborne, Ernest Peto, and brothers Herbert and Leslie Walford. Most were former pupils but one, Malcolm Shanks Carswell, joined the College staff in September 1912 as the Mathematics teacher.

At the end of the Autumn Term 1914, Malcolm joined one of the “pals” battalions and shortly after was commissioned into the Royal Berkshire Regiment where he served as the Musketry Officer, training recruits in the use of their rifles. However, he retained an interest in Maidenhead College where someone had clearly fallen under what was later described as “the spell of his charming and attractive personality.” On 30 October 1915 (two Saturdays and 100 years ago) at St Mary’s Church in the centre of town, he married May Lillias Millar Inglis, younger daughter of the College’s founding Principal and owner, Andrew Millar Inglis.

His last leave with May would have been during the summer of 1917 for on 27 July 1917 he landed in France en route to 2 Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regt, then stationed near Ypres in Flanders. His arrival coincided with the start of the Battle of Passchendaele. On 17 September he was killed in action as he prepared to lead a raiding party out on patrol. His body was buried in Prowse Point Military Cemetery, about 8 miles south of Ypres, not far from Messines and Ploegsteert, “Plugstreet” to the British Tommy. At the time of his death, Malcolm was 27 and had been on the Western Front for just 52 days.

There is a postscript.  On 3 April 1918, May bore Malcolm a posthumous son, whom she also named Malcolm. According to the press announcement, the birth took place here at the College. I do not know if Malcolm junior was later a pupil at Maidenhead College but he subsequently became an officer in the Royal Artillery, served in World War 2 and died as recently as 2006.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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