A poignant tribute to the 37 old boys from Wellington School who died in World War 1 has been researched and written by the school’s Head of English, Kate Hodson. Appropriately, it will be published in time for the commemorative services on Remembrance Day, 11 November 2018 which mark the centenary of the Armistice and the end of a conflict which cost the lives of an estimated 886,000 men from the UK alone. Some of them, like those from Wellington School, were little more than schoolboys.
The book was initially inspired by the names of those who died inscribed on the panels in the school’s beautiful chapel, a building dedicated to their memory. The chapel was built as a result of the determination of George Corner, Headmaster of the school from 1899 to 1938, to build a memorial to mark his former pupils’ sacrifice.
Kate said, “I first noticed the names on the panels on the chapel walls, then those in the book in which the names of former pupils who have died in wars (including WW1) are recorded. I took the names to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Site for confirmation of regiments and dates of death – and from there I went to ancestry. I had access to both military and family records – not just what happened to them in the war but who they were and where they came from.”
This detailed research over the last four years has led Kate not only to explore records going back to 1861 but also to find those in the men’s families still living. “I’ve made contact with nine different families, one a relative of George Corner, and the key question I wanted to pursue was ‘Who were these men?”
Her intensely moving book contains letters, newspaper reports, photographs – including some of their graves in War Cemeteries close to the WW1 battlefields in France – and other records of their lives. “I felt that each man had a story and that I owed it to him to have his story known,” she added. “They weren’t just names on the chapel wall; they were people connected to the school and who had a great affection for it.”
Of George Corner Kate said, “I gained so much knowledge about him through his letters to his old boys to whom he wrote throughout the war to motivate them, bring them news of the school and express his pride. He acted almost like a newspaper in the war years – gathering and collecting information from everybody. What was it about George Corner that so many wrote back to him so often? And his letters back fascinated me for their warmth and sincerity, together with his determination to build the chapel, how ambitious the project was, the thought that went into the words and the local craftsmen he used to built it.”
The book is entitled ‘My Dear Old Boys’, a greeting which George Corner used in his letters to his former pupils. More details and extracts of the book can be found on https://mydearoldboys.com. It is a work which will fascinate anyone with an interest in Wellington, its oldest secondary school and the very human and personal stories of the young former pupils who lost their lives in WW1.