Poppies On Vc


Early November is always a poignant time at Sedbergh. Pupils return from their half term holiday and suddenly the weather and the scenery have changed. Instead of vibrant greens on the hills and fells, the landscape is more sombre with browning bracken and amber leaves.

Against this backdrop the School turns its attention en masse to commemorating the nearly 500 men and boys from Sedbergh who lost their lives in the two world wars. Throughout the week running up to Remembrance Sunday a series of commemorative events and informative talks are held, giving both pupils and staff the time and opportunity to consider the sacrifice made by Sedbergh’s fallen.

The Prep School hosts events each day of the week. In Cressbrook House war poems are read each day. This year the programme of readings included The Soldier, by Rupert Brooke, Margaret Postgate Cole’s, The Falling Leaves, Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen, Isaac Rosenberg’s, Break of Day in the Trenches, and a new poem, Michael written and read by Cressbrook’s Resident Poet, Adam. The full Cressbrook roll of honour was read within the house on the eve of Armistice Day.

Prep School Pupils Pinning Poppies On Tree
Prep School Pupils pinning poppies on the tree

Prep School teacher Charles Vereker visited boarders to share his experience as an Officer in the British Army. His personal account of the importance of Armistice Day was most moving. Earlier in the week visiting staff from the Senior School had spoken to the full Prep School. During the mid week assembly, School Archivist Katy de la Rivière discussed the youngest and oldest Sedberghian casualties from the First World War and described the early fundraising work of the Royal British Legion.

British Legion Lapel Pins
British Legion lapel pins

The archive is privileged to hold several fundraising lapel pins that that were used prior to the introduction the now ubiquitous poppy. One features an injured soldier with his arm in a sling and a patch over his eye, another takes the shape of a medal and ribbon with the text ‘In honour of our wounded 1915’. These artefacts and others including original propaganda magazines and posters were shared with pupils. Senior school Head of History and former Army Officer Rupert Follett, travelled down to the Prep School to share his personal experience in the field of battle and the importance of remembrance. After the Prep School Armistice Day service pupils placed their poppy in the bark of the tree outside the front door of School. This tradition was begun by the girls of Casterton School and reinstated by Prep School Headmaster, Will Newman.

At the Senior School a week of events culminated in a varied programme of events on Remembrance Sunday. Boarding houses marked the fallen from their houses, displaying biographies and photographs of the fallen, sharing obituaries of the casualties and reading the roll of honour for the house in particularly poignant evening services.

The Brantwood Society, the academic English society, met in the scholars’ room of the school library to share war poetry. This annual event is always moving and includes readings from poems of international renown, as well as Sedbergh’s own war poet, Robert Sterling.

Alex C Playing Bagpipes
Alex C Playing Bagpipes

Remembrance Sunday began with Hartonian Alex C. playing the bagpipes at 7.30am to mark the opening of this important day in the Sedbergh calendar. Shortly afterwards, the housemasters, prefects, senior staff and Old Sedberghian guests met at the Boer War memorial below chapel to remember the fallen of the African War in an intimate service. Over 1000 pupils, staff, Old Sedberghians and friends gathered on the Cloisters for the main Remembrance service on Sunday morning. This service led by the Headmaster and School Chaplain included a moving reading from the Head of School. The day of commemoration closed with a performance of Faure’s Requiem in the school chapel. The chapel choir numbers were swelled by invited OS singers who joined the performance.

Remembrance Sunday is a lynch pin of the Sedbergh calendar. The sacrifice made by both the Sedberghian men lost and their families will always be respected and remembered. Sedbergh master Second Lieutenant Frank Cooper of the Royal Fusiliers was killed in the Battle of Arras. He wrote to a friend 24 hours before he died.

‘The scene of devastation around us passes all description. Try to imagine shells being fired at the rate of dozens every minute … Big explosions shake my little hut as I write … About five big guns have gone off close by during the last sentence … One may be dirty but one does see life and death.’ 

It is difficult to fully comprehend the horrors of war from the safety of the Howgill fells. Many within our community have seen active service in the armed forces. Their role in Armistice Day events is vital to inform our understanding of the act of Remembrance. We are grateful for their contribution and hold them in our thoughts on this poignant day.

As for the 459 Sedberghians who are known to have given their lives in during the First and Second World Wars, we will never forget.