The Great War: the continuing remembrance




In March 2015 we planted 81 Tower of London poppies in the Headmasters’ garden at Bolton School, recognising the sacrifice of the 81 Old Boys who fell in the First World War.


We had chosen March 12th as that was the day that the first Old Boy, Albert Wilson, fell in the war. Since then we have been adding the poppies, one at a time, to a display in the reception area at school, every time the anniversary of an Old Boy giving their life comes around.


As we broke for the summer holiday 17 poppies were in the display after nearly 20 months of conflict. By the end of  September there will be 15 more added in just three months.  There could be no more telling indication of the impact of the campaigns of summer 1916. Quinton Smith fell on the first day of the Somme, Fred Foy in the first week. The Blackburn brothers died on the same day, August 9th 1916, in the attack on Guillemont.  Charles Roberts, aged 19 and the former School Captain, died on Thiepval Ridge on September 26th.


In commemorating the Great War and acknowledging the sacrifice it is important that schools use history to inform the present and shape the future. We can do this in three ways.


First, we can take the time to remember, to think of the lives lost, people like us, fighting for the way of life we enjoy. The concept of sacrifice is the essence of the strong and meaningful community we have so much need of in our present times. Thinking of others, doing for others and doing so because that will make the world with attitudes we wish to live in.


Second, we can emphasise the relevance of the conflict to all of our community. Albert Wilson was leading the Indian Expeditionary force when he died at Neuve Chapelle. The force was drawn from an area on the now border between India and Pakistan, from which many Bolton families can trace their origin. All religions recognise evil and, now as in the Great War, can join together to defeat it.


Finally, we can understand and properly recognise the importance of those fundamental values that the fallen were fighting for: democracy, freedom of speech, the rule of law. The school children of today and their parents have grown up with these values obvious and unquestioned. That is good, but they must not therefore be taken for granted or assumed as something that doesn’t require effort to defend.


I do hope I will never, like Headmaster Lipscomb, be sending pupils off to war. But I can be sure we send pupils into society ready to understand, appreciate and uphold its values.

This blog first appeared in The Post. a free newspaper published by The Bolton News

About Philip Britton

Philip Britton is Headmaster of Bolton School Boys’ Division. He was brought up on Tyneside, took a first in physics at Oxford and did teacher training at Cambridge. He worked as physics teacher, Head of Physics and Deputy Head at Leeds Grammar School before moving to Bolton in 2008. In 2010 he was awarded an MBE for services to physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics where he has been much involved in physics education, encouraging teachers to encourage the next generation of physicists.