In 1927, CF Kernot published a survey of the War Memorials of 156 public schools in Great Britain and 17 in the colonies. Even then, nine years after the Armistice, some schools had not yet completed the construction of their War Memorials. Some of the most iconic national monuments were also not yet completed, such as the Menin Gate or the Thiépval Memorial, so great was the task of recording all the Fallen. Kernot’s book was written in response to a growing apathy, to counter ‘some who desire to forget the War.’ For the Public Schools, the toll of the Great War had been devastating. For every school the same stark statistic rings true: the average day’s attendance was practically the number of those who were killed. (There are no figures for the wounded.) For some year cohorts the statistics are even more shocking: at Radley, of c250 boys at the school in 1909-10, 84 were killed, or 1 in 3. How could parents, teachers, widows, orphans, friends, publicly acknowledge such universal grief? Often when there was no body to bury, no grave to visit. Many of the pre-War certainties about society or the nature of education had been swept away. Forgetting the War may well have been the only way forward.
The majority of the War Memorials recorded by Kernot were ‘visible’ memorials. Much of the debate at Radley concerned this ‘visible’ structure. The ‘invisible’ memorial was never in dispute; but a ‘visible’ memorial raised a set of almost unanswerable questions:
Firstly, what timescale is to be covered? Britain entered the War on 4th August 1914. But the first British casualty was probably an Old Cheltonian who was shot on a train travelling from Germany a few days earlier. Should he be considered one of the Fallen? And when did it end? Peace was declared at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 1918? Yet the army did not stand down immediately. Troops were still stationed in France in 1919. There were many deaths due to gas or septicaemia in the following years. Should a War Memorial have a cut-off point?
Secondly, who is a War Memorial for? Is it a commemoration of the past: the visible record of the names of those who died? Is it for the present: a place which can be visited by the grieving families? Or is it for those who will come in the future: a place where they, too, will be inspired to self-sacrifice on behalf of their country, or even to living a better life because others died for their future? The debate at Radley encompassed all three purposes, and agreed that all three are the function of a War Memorial. This led to considerable tension as the needs of past, present and future were not easy to reconcile.
Thirdly, who pays for a War Memorial? Who owns it? Who, therefore, is responsible for its upkeep? And does paying for it automatically allow someone to dictate what it should be?
|The idea of ‘a foreign field that is forever England’ was not new when Rupert Brooke wrote The soldier in 1914. During the colonial period it was generally accepted that should a family member die on service abroad, they would be buried abroad. There would probably be a memorial tablet in church or school. The earliest for a Radleian is a brass plaque in Chapel for Melvin Balfour killed in 1857 in India. Neither is the concept of a group War Memorial original to the Great War. A memorial to the nine Radleians killed in the Second South African (Boer) War in 1899-1902 was placed in the Chapel from funds raised by subscription. It was over-subscribed and the surplus went to fund the Old Radleian French Prize. Many of those named on the WW1 memorial had served in that war in South Africa. A key aspect of the Boer War memorial was that it was democratic. All the men were listed alphabetically by name, with regiment and honour, regardless of rank; a democratisation in death that was repeated on the Great War memorial.|
In the Great War, that belief in a democracy or equality in death is a later response to the scale of the slaughter. However, in the first two years of the War, this equality was not the case. Flanders and France may be foreign fields, but they were not very far away when compared to a death in service in the colonies. The families of young officers wanted their sons’ bodies to be repatriated and to be buried in the family plot. This is what happened, until the case of Prime Minister Gladstone’s grandson, the last to be repatriated in mid-1915, revealed that some of his platoon had risked their lives to disinter his body to send it home. At that point the government stepped in and forbade repatriation.
But for repatriation, you have to have a body. To allow mourning, you have to have confirmation of death. An example of a lost Radleian is Lt Ralph Fane-Gladwin of the 2nd Bn, Scots Guards, who was last seen alive during the First Battle of Ypres on 26th October 1914. His death was confirmed by an eyewitness, then a prisoner of war in Germany, in a letter received in 1915:
|‘after daylight and throughout the morning we were subjected to the most severe shelling, and the Germans attacked several times, but were beaten off, merely owing to the magnificent way Ralph handled his machine gun. It was not until he was killed and his gun put out of action that the enemy succeeded in turning the position and enfilading our trenches…’ The battle then rolled over his position and he, his men and his gun were obliterated in the shelling. He has no grave.|
Ralph’s family at least received confirmation within six months. The family of Alexander Lewer, a private in the London Regiment, listed as ‘missing, presumed killed’ on 1st November 1914 in the Battle of Messines did not receive confirmation of his death until 18th June 1919 when he was finally deemed ‘killed in action.’
The fact that there wasn’t a grave to visit which someone, somewhere, might tend even if the family themselves could not, must have made the grief of families so much greater. We cannot begin to imagine how the men themselves thought about it, particularly those with a strong religious belief in the resurrection of the body. 22% of the earliest donors to Radley’s appeal for subscriptions for a War Memorial were serving soldiers, one (Utterson) appears on the memorial itself. In effect, they paid for their own Memorial and that of their friends and schoolmates. This pattern was repeated at the Doiran Memorial on the border between Macedonia and Greece, which was largely paid for by subscriptions from those who had served there.
When did the grieving start to plan the War Memorials? They knew from 1915 that there would be no burials at home, but they did not know how long the War would last, nor how many men would be listed on them, or even whether there would be memorials at all, if they lost the War. Their immediate concern was not with the past commemorating the dead, but with the present, the survivors, both those injured and the families left behind. The age of the majority of the Fallen was an issue. Rupert Brooke summed this up in his sonnet III: The Dead
|These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been,
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.
The Radleian Fallen had few heirs. The majority of them were too young. Of the 223 names on the Radley College War Memorial only thirty were married, and of those only ten had sons (daughters were not considered since it is a boys’ school). So what was their immortality? For boys brought up on Homer, as these were, it is the name that survives, the choice of Achilles, a short life but a glorious one, rather than falling into old age. But in practical terms, a long life and a family were probably more desirable than a carved name that they would never see.
At Radley the War Memorial Committee first met in 1917. The committee included Arthur Adams, who son Geoffrey fell on the Somme in 1916, aged 20, and Cresswell Augustus Cresswell, whose nephew, Francis, was the first Radleian to fall in the Retreat from Mons in 1914, speaking both as Old Radleians and as parents; there were also Dons who had known these boys and who may well have considered their life’s work wasted, and the Warden whose concern was with the welfare of the current school. There were two items on the agenda. The first was all about the living: the wounded now needing constant nursing and medication in a world before the NHS, the widows, unable to work and bringing up children, and the children themselves.
|What would the lost father want for his infant son? The bulk of the subscriptions to the War Memorial Fund was immediately assigned to scholarships for education for the next generation. This need was urgent: one boy already at the school had just lost his father, Frederick Raikes, in the Mesopotamia campaign. However, the majority of the children were still toddlers, some not yet born, so would not be going to the school until the later 1920s, some indeed, not until the 1930s. This called for long-term planning and wise investment of the funds to ensure the promise of the scholarships could be kept. The committee, and when put to them, the wider community, were unanimous in agreeing to this decision about the care of the living: the invisible memorial.|
However, the visible memorial was a much more contentious matter. An exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1919 gave examples of suitable art for local and community War Memorials to help focus the national debate. Many families were disappointed in the restrictions imposed by the War Graves Commission which severely limited personal inscriptions or decoration in the cemeteries. Local communities were urged:
‘that these should be corporate memorials, in which the names of all the fallen should be included in a common inscription to give expression to the equality of sacrifice, and to the unity of purpose and the ideals which have been engendered by the war.’ (Herbert Baker, letter to The Times, 1919, copy pasted into the Radley College War Memorial Committee Minutes)
The first thing everybody agreed was that a War Memorial should be beautiful. So far so good. Secondly, given that it was being paid for by subscription, that money should not be wasted. There was already a sense that the War itself and the loss of so many young men was itself a very great waste. A memorial should not reinforce that loss by being itself wasteful. This was the sticking point. The argument raged over whether a visible memorial should have no other function than itself as a memorial, or should be useful and have an additional purpose. If non-utilitarian, should it be a religious object to symbolise the Christian hope and comfort of eternal life? Or should it symbolise how ‘the glorious dead’ had fulfilled all the hopes of their youth by dying as heroes for the land they loved, without a religious reference? The non-utilitarian memorial was favoured by the grieving parents as a place which they could easily visit and venerate, a substitute for the non-existent or unreachable grave. They were divided about the place of religion in the War Memorial: one of the uncertainties to come out of the War was a great questioning of faith.
|This approach was repeated in the nation’s two great War Memorials: the Cenotaph, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, represents an empty grave – as a structure is has no function except to be a memorial; the other, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, is an actual grave containing the exhumed body of one unknown son, brother, husband, friend – focal point among the greatest of the land, in a church.|
The Warden and the boys of the school favoured a utilitarian memorial, something which the school needed, such as a concert hall, or gymnasium, something about education. They believed deeply that a symbolic memorial without a function was ‘waste.’ The Senior Prefect, George Mallaby, spoke for the boys:
‘Nearly all the boys want a Memorial that will be a useful acquisition to the school buildings: they feel that there are many improvements needed and they know that for them any one improvement would contain for them far more memories of their fathers, brothers or friends, than would an expensive cross or monument … and they feel Radleians who went before them would have welcomed such a chance of repairing these defects… But to spend four or five thousand pounds on a monument designed to be useless, is to go directly in the teeth of all true sentiment.’ (George Mallaby, letter to The Radleian, April 3,1920)
Conversely, the grieving parents were determined that the money raised should not be wasted on something that might have been built anyway, and which could prove impermanent in the long run: buildings change their function, playing fields are built-on, the connection with the War Dead could very easily be lost.
The debate raged over buildings, statues, crosses, cloisters for several years, during which inflation whittled away at the money raised. Two Old Radleians who had guaranteed to underwrite the project faced bankruptcy as funds to support them were not forthcoming. Eventually a sub-committee of four ORs was elected: Evelyn Hubbard (representing the oldest Radleian families), Hugh Money-Coutts (financier and banker, later 6th Lord Latymer), Francis Nugee, MC (newly returned from serving in France, a former Senior Prefect who was then teaching at the school) and Sir Theodore Cook (who had served since 1916 on the Royal Academy’s National Committee on War Memorials). By 1921 they had appointed Sir Thomas Jackson as architect. Jackson had already worked with Radley on the Chapel, Hall, H Social and designed the Boer War Memorial in 1902.
The design finally chosen was an archway ‘or rather a gatehouse upon double arches.’ The design was published in The Radleian on June 13 1921, and featured in The Architect’s Journal in the same month:
‘We publish with some diffidence a full account of the War Memorial Arch; we cannot help being amused at the confidence with which we announced the impending erection of a piece of statuary by Hall as the ‘visible’ memorial, just six months ago. We hope this scheme will be more permanent.’ (The Radleian, June 13 1921)
|Radley had no formal entrance other than a wooden gate at the end of the drive by the Lodge. The War Memorial Arch was intended to create a focal point, bounded on one side by the cricket pitch and on the other by ‘the fine mass of trees between the racquet court and the present drive.’ It would be visible from nearly everywhere in the school. The Archway itself was to be useful: ‘visible to every boy every day of his life here. Through it will pass every visitor on his way to the main buildings of the school. … a true gateway in every sense, not an isolated monument which people can go round as well as through.’ (The Radleian, June 13 1921)|
|– and to have a symbolic, non-utilitarian, religious and heroic function: ‘a cross and crown are an integral part of the façade, with the fine inscription Invictis Pax. … not one of all who read the names… will forget that these were men who learned to do their duty here; who laid down for their country’s sake their lives … and who passed through an Archway that was not made by hands …’ (The Radleian, June 13 1921)|
The War Memorial Arch was unveiled in 1922. The event was filmed – the first record of any filming at Radley. Sadly there is now no trace of the film.
Even this did not solve all the arguments. A formal entrance requires a lodge or reception area which is most definitely a utilitarian function. The subscribers to the War Memorial Fund insisted that the school must pay for this itself. In addition, the ground the Archway stood on belonged to the school, not to the Fund, and the road needed to be re-aligned. This was also considered utilitarian and outside the scope of the money given for the Memorial. A disgruntled, cash-strapped Warden and Bursar had to find the money to pay for these elements out of the school’s own reserves. The greatest bone of contention, however, was that Jackson’s design contains a room above the Archway but no one had any clear idea of its purpose. The original plan was that the room should contain memorabilia of the men who had died. It still contains the photograph albums compiled as part of the War Memorial. There was also a suggestion that there should be an honours board with the names of all those who benefitted from the War Memorial scholarships. There was a clear indication that the room should never be used for any mundane school activity. A school that was very short of classrooms was, therefore, presented with a large room which it was forbidden to use for education and forced to pay for a porter’s lodge which it didn’t necessarily want.
The row about the room above the Archway was exacerbated in 1926 when the Warden, Adam Fox, temporarily turned it into a classroom for the Upper Sixth. He had just evicted them from their existing classroom in order to create a more accessible study for himself. The Upper Sixth were removed when new classrooms were finally completed in the late 1920s. At this point the room was commandeered by the school’s Toc H Group. Toc H had been founded in Poperinge during War World 1 as a place of quiet contemplation and prayer open to all ranks. Toc H Groups in schools continued the tradition in the 1920s and 1930s, a forerunner (at Radley) of the present Christian Forum. Radley’s Toc H Group organised the first school trips to the Battlefields in 1933 and 1934. It was only the addition of the names of the Fallen of WW2 on the War Memorial Arch (itself not an immediate or obvious decision) which eventually led to the room becoming the Chapel of the Resurrection in 1947.
|An area which was never in dispute from the earliest discussions was that the names on the memorial would be in alphabetical order, with regiment and honours, without ranks, or any judgements about the men or their role in the War. However, defining who had died for his country, how he died and when death occurred was much more difficult to determine. First there was the question of conscientious objectors. At Radley, it is possible that one who served as a stretcher-bearer with the French Red Cross was an objector, and there may be others. If so, his name was included. Secondly, some schools had to decide whether to include those who died for another country: the enemy. Such men were still ‘Sons of the School’ and some schools include them on the War Memorial as a separate entry.|
Thirdly, throughout the War cause of death was recorded very carefully. Men were listed as ‘killed in action’ or ‘died of wounds’ which seems indisputable, but others died of illness, such as Francis Storrs, a spy working for British Intelligence, who died in the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918, yet was still accorded a place on the War Memorial. Not so Oswald Austin Reid, Radley’s only winner of the Victoria Cross, who died of pneumonia back home in South Africa in 1920. His illness and early death may well have been related to his War service in Mesopotamia, yet, despite having been lauded at Radley only the year before in 1919, his name was omitted from the War Memorial. An oversight?
|Some parents were deeply grieved by the omission of their son’s name from the Memorial. The father of Harold Willcocks lobbied the Committee after the Memorial had been unveiled to include the name of his son who, having served from 1914 until 1917 and been decorated by the French as a Chévalier de la Légion d’Honneur, died from septicaemia as a result of being gassed, in 1919. His name, along with that of Godfrey Tuite-Dalton (died 1923) and Ralph Bell (whose death in 1918 was not discovered by Radley until the 1990s), was added out of sequence at the end after the Memorial was dedicated.|
Compiling the list of the Fallen was a task undertaken by the Radleian Society from the very beginning of the War, aided by a meticulously kept ‘Military Roll’ first published in 1915. Information came from families and friends and from scouring the London Gazette for names which they recognised. Much of this work was done by Richard Colborne, himself killed on the Western Front in 1918 whilst serving as an Army Chaplain. The task was enormous. The Second Edition of the Radley Register was published in 1912. It listed all those who had attended the school since 1847. In those 65 years, only 449 men had died. In the five years of the War and its immediate aftermath, 223 names were listed on the War Memorial; 1 in 3 of those who came to the School in 1909-10 had died. A new Register was published in 1923, shortly after the unveiling of the War Memorial, a chance to take stock of who had survived and who they had lost. In the years since, six more names of the Fallen have come to light, and one error: one name on Radley’s War Memorial was actually a boy from Tonbridge School; the Radleian of the same name died in Chile in 1916 and did not serve in the War.
Defining ‘Sons of the School’ was relatively easy as a concept, and has its visible expression in the long list of names which comprise one side of the War Memorial. Simply arriving at the school as a pupil, for however long or short a time, established a boy as the ‘Son of the School.’ This is why there are three lists of names on Radley War Memorial. All the dead of the school are included, but not all were ‘sons.’ The families and friends of pupils who fell were approached to subscribe to the War Memorials, both visible and invisible. The list of teachers was included in that subscription, but not being ‘sons’ was kept as a separate list. These two lists were all that were inscribed on the War Memorial on the day it was dedicated.
|But equality was absolutely crucial to the British War Graves. The War Memorial was dedicated in May 1922. In December of that year, the War Memorial Committee Minutes record:
‘Dr Houblon asked that the names of the Radley servants should be put on the Archway and the Warden said he had already tried to get a list but had not succeeded. He would try again.’ (Minutes of Radley College War Memorial (1917) Committee, p80)
This list was very difficult to compile. It was created after the War by going through all the lists of the Fallen from the War Office. The boys of the school had mostly been junior officers, listed by rank in the London Gazette, in comparison much easier to trace. The privates and NCOs of the Oxford & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry did not all come from Radley village. One or two were from Abingdon or Oxford, others came from families who had left the area by the time the Memorial was compiled in 1923-4. Some of the men had served in other regiments. But they were honoured. On 11 July 1924 the Committee
‘resolved to put up a tablet to commemorate the names of the employees of the College … at a price not more than £10, to be paid by the Trust.’
Radley Village History Society has now produced a book commemorating all those on the Radley village war memorial, including the school’s Servants Memorial. Gone for a soldier: Radley service men, 1885-1920, by MBJ Mawhinney (1910)
So how did the immediately following generation of schoolboys respond to the War Memorial? Its main intent was to inspire them to similar acts of glory. By the time it was dedicated in 1922 very few boys were still at the school who had known the named individuals as school fellows, but many were younger brothers, nephews, cousins. By the later 1920s sons who had never known their fathers would read their names, and see the photos in the Memorial albums kept in the room above. We cannot imagine their response but nationally there was a general turning away from the concept of ‘The Glorious Dead.’ Memoirs stripping away the myth were being published, Robert Graves’ Goodbye to all that, Erich Remarque’s All quiet on the Western Front, Frederic Manning’s expurgated (almost banned) The better parts of fortune – (not published in its entirety under its original title Her privates we until much later). Kernot’s book on school war memorials, published in 1927 directly tackled this issue in the preface: ‘There are some who desire to forget the War. Let not the horror and devastation of war overwhelm you … This book would be a stimulant against post-war apathy, … a grateful and sincere tribute to the memory of those who, at the call, answered ‘we are ready.’’ What makes a War Memorial? – a fund, an inscription, a tribute, a memory.
Minutes of Radley College War Memorial (1917) Committee (unpublished)
The Radleian magazine, Radley Registers and the complete records of Radley College WW1 database available online at Radley College Archives
CF Kernot, 1927. British Public Schools War Memorials.
MJB Mawhinney, 2010. Gone for a soldier: Radley service men, 1885-1920
The name of each man recorded on Radley College War Memorial who fell in WW1 is remembered on the 100th anniversary of his death here
© Clare Sargent 2016