World War One
Every year at St George’s Weybridge, the pupils and students of the Junior School and College gather to honour and remember lives lost in military service, especially focussing on the Old Georgians who gave their lives during the two World Wars.
With a hundred years passing since the declaration of the First World War in August 2014, we have investigated what life was like at the time for Old Georgians fighting in the trenches and for students at the School through their own words in the archived editions of ‘The Georgian’ – the School’s official publication.
By 1912 the threat of a war involving Britain in Europe and the changing face of international relations was readily apparent to students at the College. The subject was explored in detail by John Thompson, under the pseudonym Bellicosus, in the January 1912 edition of The Georgian, in his essay ‘Modern Warfare’. Through his essay Thompson asserted that one of the key reasons for there already not being a major European war was that: “Modern warfare is so terrible that its very terror prevents great nations from going to war”. Unfortunately this proved not to be case and the great European powers were not “restrained by the knowledge of the terrible consequences of such a conflict” as Thompson eloquently contested.
Before the declaration of war, little more was said of the diplomatic developments in Europe. The first issue of The Georgian written after the war was declared, January 1915, made very clear the attitude the School held towards the war as the editor stated:
“Although the War will pervade our own pages, and some of the articles written by our friends will treat about the War, we have no intention of editing a War number: we have little time to waste upon the Kaiser, and our main object, as in the past, is to set faithfully before our readers the story of our little school world.”
This edition was also the first to report on the Old Georgians at war, including those who were wounded and killed. The first Old Georgian to give his life was Paul Frachon (OG 1912) on 4 September 1914. As the War progressed The Georgian continued in this duty of documenting the involvement of Old Georgians in the war. Each issue provided a list of who was in active service, who was in military training, who was wounded, and an honours list for those who had given their lives in service.
Aside from the record keeping, the ongoing contact between the College and Old Georgians in the trenches resulted in various accounts of life at war being published in The Georgian. These accounts helped provide an insight into life at the front for the rest of the Georgian Family. One such account entitled ‘Trench life’ gave a detailed account of hearing an impending attack from the Germans:
“Imagine yourself, one of a couple of hundred on the canal bank, and shells are heard coming. No one knows where; all know somewhere nearby. Everybody dives for his dugout like a rabbit burrowing for his hole.”
Another account from C. Mullin entitled ‘My Story as a Soldier’ begins with a tribute to The Georgian:
“My last parcel contained the May number of The Georgian, and I was highly pleased to receive it. Sitting in my dug out in the trenches I read it from cover to cover and then turned back and read it all over again, so you can guess I thoroughly appreciated it.”
Another feature of the editorial of The Georgian during the War was the provision of updates on the larger European Josephite community. The importance of the ongoing health of the Belgian Josephites was of great concern to all of the Georgian Family at the time, as the editor recorded in 1915: “Our first duty is to thank our readers for their many inquiries about our Continental brethren”. This concern for the health of the Josephite community in Europe is testament to the strength of the Georgian Spirit, which teaches students that they are part of one family which encompasses the wider world, in the toughest of times.
Despite the initial claims that the War would not take over The Georgian, by the end of 1915 the life of both the College and society at large had sufficiently become dominated by the War that The Georgian had to follow suit. One of the most notable changes in College life reflected through The Georgian was the founding of the Cadet Corps. The founding of a Cadet Corps was not an entirely new concept for the College to discuss as: “there had been question of it for some time past, but even the outbreak of the Great War did not bring it spontaneously into being”. Despite the hesitation and debate around the forming of the Corps, by March 1915 agreements had been reached with the Surrey Territorial Association and by mid April the first parade had taken place and official recognition from the War Office was received.
The foundation of the Cadet Corps was announced in the September 1915 edition of The Georgian. The Cadet Corps was promoted to students in The Georgian by telling them that the training would: “bring out the qualities of manliness, perfect the faculties of endurance and instil a spirit of duty, order and discipline.” Every issue from September 1915 featured extensive accounts of the performance of the cadets including details of rifle competitions, promotions, drills, parades, in addition to photos from various activities the cadets took part in.
As the War progressed, The Georgian continued in its duty of documenting life of the students at School and the Old Georgians in the trenches.
By the end of the war 367 Old Georgians saw service, with 57 making the supreme sacrifice for their country.
The first issue of The Georgian published after the end of the War came in January 1919, the College announced its elation at the end of the war as:
“Thank God, the end has come, and victory the most complete is in our hands. We approach our readers this evening – the first of many Christmases free from the horrors of world slaughter, with an intense feeling of gratitude and relief. Thank God, the war is won, and our present pupils, even those in their last year of school life will be free to carve out their careers in the honourable paths of peace.”
Whilst this article cannot be an exhaustive documentary of the lives of all of the Georgian Family during the times of the War it does provide intriguing insights. We can see through The Georgian that the Georgian Family Spirit kept the Georgian Family closely linked with each other. The concern for the wellbeing of all connected to the School was central to how the War was experienced by all at St George’s and is witness to the strength of the Georgian Family Spirit and the Josephite ethos.