As part of the School observation of the World War I centenary, pupils gather in the Cloisters on the anniversary of the death of every Old Oundelian killed during the war. Over the last weekend the CCF continued the theme of Remembrance, taking the entire Fourth Form and the CCF Marching Band to the Somme battlefields.
The Battle of the Somme was fought from 1st July to 19th November 1916 at an almost unimaginable cost in human lives. Five Old Oundelians lost their lives on the first day, 1st July. Twenty-seven OOs are buried in cemeteries on the Somme, and another 17 are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial.
243 Cadets and 42 Staff left Oundle on Saturday morning in a convoy of 20 vehicles headed for the city of Ypres where the CCF Band would play in the daily Last Post Ceremony. As the sun set the Band formed up and marched under the arch of the Menin Gate, halting at the western entrance in front of a crowd of more than 3,000 people. After the Last Post was sounded Cadet Sergeant Thea Smith (N) marched to the centre of the Menin Gate, and in front of a silent crowd that included her parents, faultlessly recited the words of Lawrence Binyon’s poem, ‘They shall grow not old….’ As the wreath laying started the Band played ‘Nimrod’, ‘Abide with Me’, and ‘The Day thou Gavest’, transforming a somber ceremony into a moving and memorable occasion.
After an evening journey and a night in two hostels in Albert and Amiens, on Sunday the group set off to visit different battlefield sites, memorials and cemeteries across the Somme battlefields. Two ceremonies marked the most somber and moving moments of the trip.
The first occurred in 17 different cemeteries between Serre and Mametz, where each group laid a wreath on the grave of an Old Oundelian. A citation was read and during the silence many pondered the similarities between their time at Oundle and that of the OOs who died 100 years ago: games of rugby for the 1st XV, plays, choirs and a place at a good university.
At the end of the day we gathered together again at the Thiepval Memorial, the largest British war memorial anywhere in the world, with 72,000 names upon it. With the Cadets and the Band forming a hollow square between the memorial and the cemetery, and a drumhead altar built by the Corps of Drums at the centre, we gathered to remember all 256 OOs killed in WW1.
Once again it was the presence of the CCF Marching Band that transformed the experience for all. ‘Scipio’, ‘I vow to the my country’, ‘Nimrod’ and ‘Last Post’ all echoed beneath the memorial’s mighty arches. After light rain at lunchtime, the sky had cleared and under a clear evening sky, the sun sank in the west over the fields of the Ancre Valley at the conclusion of a moving ceremony.
The group returned to Calais via Vimy Ridge, the site of successful Canadian attack in 1917, during which many of the lessons of the Somme were employed. It was a positive but somber end to an emotional and memorable weekend.
Major AC Mansergh