9 November 2018

Abingdon and the Great War, presented by six senior drama students on the eve of the School's Remembrance Day ceremonies, told the story of the Abingdon School community during World War 1. Combining excerpts from The Abingdonian – the School's official record of events since 1892 – with photos from the school archive and music of the period, the students admirably brought to life the voices of those at Abingdon a hundred years ago.

We heard of Headmaster William Grundy's prescient call for the establishment of an Officers' Training Corps in the summer of 1913, and of the school's fine cricket XI of 1914, several members of which were to perish in the conflict that followed. We heard letters from Old Boys serving at the front, alongside reports of the effects of the war on school life – from scratched sports fixtures and rationing of food and gas to the cultivation of potatoes on Lower Field. Running through the presentation, like a grim scoreboard, were matter-of-fact captions recording the casualty figures – two or three killed each term, until the carnage of 1916 and the battle of the Somme, in which a dozen Abingdonians died and 15 were wounded. One could only guess at the impact of the news on a school numbering fewer than a hundred pupils and staff at that time.

Despite the losses, there were also moments of humour in the accounts of the Rag Week concerts and drama productions pioneered by Mr Ingham in the old gym (now the CMR), or the poems of questionable merit written by pupils on subjects ranging from tanks, guns and Zeppelin airships to potatoes. The account of the Armistice itself told of wild celebrations in the town square as effigies of the Kaiser and Little Willie were burnt on a huge bonfire. 

The presentation ended powerfully with a recording of Butterworth's “Is My Team Ploughing?”, as images of the school's 1919 roll of service, which records the names of 332 Abingdonians, were projected. This gave each us time and space in which to reflect for ourselves on the cost of war, not just on combatants, but on those who stay at home, and share in the collective fracturing of lives, hopes and dreams.

At the end, the audience expressed its appreciation for the work of the students – Ben Adams, Sam King, Tom Mills, Henry Muller, Yazan Odeh and Callum Ravden – and for Sarah Wearne, the School's incomparable archivist, who supplied the material from which the event was put together.

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