Over 450 pupils, current and past parents, Dragon alumni and the wider community attended or took part in our two day commemorative event on Sunday 6th and Monday 7th September 2015. Sacrifices made by former Dragon pupils and staff were remembered while exhibits and activities explored the deep impact the war had made on individuals, the School community and society.
Children handled WW1 objects and dressed-up in period outfits with Vicki Wood from the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock. Corporal Parsons, a pre-war regular of the Essex Regiment, reinforced the Army of the Western front by drilling young raw recruits. Dragon pupils read classic WW1 poetry and stories and artefacts, linked to current staff, pupils or Old Dragon were on display. Visitors were able take a moment of quiet reflection by the School’s War Memorial, where ceramic Remembrance poppies, made by pupils last autumn, were displayed.
With military drills, a replica of a British Mark IV tank and a trench, complete with rats, the event had plenty to engage the whole family. Genealogists from Oxfordshire Family History Society traced ancestors involved in the Great War. Dragon Groundsman, Neil Pudney, who is also a member of the International Guild of Battlefield Guides and the Western Front Association, along with Charles Oldershaw, former Dragon Teacher, shared their collection of WW1 artefacts and discussed those brought in on the day, including WW1 medals, a bayonet and Prussian helmet from 1914.
Sir Anthony Seldon, former Headmaster of Wellington, leading political historian, author and now Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University, spoke at a lecture on Sunday evening, referencing his book ‘Public Schools and the Great War – the Generation Lost’. Sir Anthony challenged the myth of the incompetent officer class. Public school educated officers, he argued, were imbued with idealism and a sense of service. Their rate of death was nearly twice the national average. “They clearly weren’t far behind the lines, sipping claret,” Seldon concluded.
Visitors were also able to take a little respite with a good old fashioned cup of tea served in a china cup with a slice of cake from the Essence of Vintage Mobile Tearoom.
Our Registrar, Desmond Devitt, had been due to take the talk on Monday evening but was unaccountably unavailable. Instead, Headmaster ‘Skipper' Lynam (1886-1920), bearing an uncanny resemblance to Mr Devitt, travelled in time to tell us about his former pupils who had fought in WW1. His poignant recollections of those that had died visibly moved the audience of Old Dragons, staff and parents. Mr Devitt, has created a blog called Skipper’s War, which to date includes 74 stories about those brave young men who fought and died in the war.
“Getting the balance right between commemorating our war dead and acknowledging their sacrifice while engaging children about the horrors of the Great War is no easy task. Victoria Humble-White, Alumni Officer and Sam Claydon, Website Manager created a truly memorable and thought-provoking event that visitors will reflect upon for years to come,” said John Baugh, Headmaster. “In addition, the unexpected appearance of ‘Skipper Lynam’ Monday evening was so magical and so moving, I have persuaded ‘Skipper’ to time travel one more time for this Friday’s first Spectrum. I know the children will not only be deeply moved, but will gain an even deeper understanding of Skipper Lynam and the evolution of the Dragon ethos.”
Sam and Victoria finished the evening with a moments quiet reflection down by the war memorial, which is lit at night, to remember the men whom they feel they have got to know during their preparation for this event.