Fallen First World War heroes remembered by Headmaster

September 13, 2014

The Headmaster of an historic school has spoken of the great pride and sadness he feels for the 76 former students who died in the First World War.

To mark the centenary of the Great War, Dr Steven Connors, Headmaster of Monmouth School, has paid tribute to the brave Old Monmothian soldiers who lost their lives in battle.

He said: “The schoolboys of Monmouth played a great part in the First World War.

“Seventy-six of them lost their lives and it must have been a very difficult time.

“When I think back to those days now, obviously you feel a great sense of pride in the sacrifice the boys made but also it’s very sad to think of so many young boys leaving school and going straight off to war.

“Things became quite difficult in the School – supplies began to run short and the inkwells dried up and so people had to go back to using pencil and slate which is a very old fashioned method of teaching.

“A lot of the masters themselves were enlisted, or they enlisted voluntarily or they were called up eventually and although one or two came back, at one time the seniors had to teach the juniors which is a remarkable thing to think of these days.”

Monmouth School, which is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year, was also heavily involved in the national effort at home.

Dr Connors added: “The School fields were ploughed up to grow lots of potatoes and boys were sent out to do haymaking and of course potato hoeing in neighbouring farms because the whole nation was engaged in the war effort.”

One of the myths surrounding the First World War is that the upper classes and highly educated got off lightly.

However, it could be said that the more exclusive your education, the more likely you were to die, as the chances of young public school officers surviving during the First World War were scant.

It was the job of Junior Officers to lead the way over the top and expose themselves to the greatest danger as an example to their men.

Some 12% of the British army’s ordinary soldiers were killed during the war, compared with 17% of its officers.

One of these officers was Wales International rugby player, Horace Wyndham Thomas. He entered Monmouth School on a scholarship from Bridgend County School and was killed in The Somme.

Dr Connors continued: “One famous Old Monmothian, Angus Buchanan, survived the war though he was blinded by a sniper’s bullet.

“He won the Victoria Cross for his bravery in action which inspired me to name our new form six boarding house after him and I think the boys are very proud of that.

“There’s a commemoration to Angus Buchanan there and they adopted the Victoria Cross as the emblem for the house tie.

“Angus Buchanan was a remarkable man in many ways. He came back from the war, went to Oxford eventually and rowed when he was blind for his college then set up in Coleford as a solicitor.”

In total, there were seven Distinguished Service Orders, 25 Military Crosses, one Distinguished Conduct Medal, two Military Medals and 36 Mentions in Dispatches awarded to Old Monmothians.

“But the saddest statistic is that 76 Old Monmothians never came back,” added Dr Connors.

Related Links

Listen to the stirring BBC radio documentary about Monmouth School’s contribution to WW1, narrated by Dr Steven Connors, Headmaster of Monmouth School

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