Remembrance Day 2019

John Amos Comenius was a 17th century educational pioneer, theologian and Bishop of the Moravian Church. Known as the father of modern education, Comenius argued for equality in school provision: that both boys and girls should be educated – not a common position to hold in his lifetime – as well as poor children.

At a time when our country is deeply divided, and when politicians are accentuating those divisions for their own political gain, it is worth remembering some of Comenius’ most famous words:

“We are all citizens of one world. We are all of one blood. To hate a man because he was born in another country, because he speaks a different language, or because he takes a different view, is great folly. Desist, I implore you, for we are all equally human.”

Bullets, gas and bombs did not carefully select their victims by race, religion or class. The fact that the war put pressure on the government to extend the vote in 1918 to all men over the age of 21, whether or not they owned property, is a sad reminder that war does not discriminate on the basis of class or wealth.

The fact that the names of 30 private school boys will be read out shortly is another reminder. Their privilege provided no shield.

Of course, our Music and Drama centre is named after Comenius. If you have ever wondered who he was, you now know. If you are still wondering why the link to performing arts, perhaps it is because of this part of his philosophy:

“Much can be learned in play that will afterwards be of use when the circumstances demand it.”

The ways in which music, drama, sport and all those other extra-curricular clubs and societies develop your personality explain why schools like ours are famous for character growth.

Of course, things were very different back in 1916 as this passage from our Fulneck School magazine demonstrates:

“This is, alas, our third Christmas war number. We wish our readers as happy a Christmas as possible at such a time, wherever they may be – at home, in camp or hospital, at sea or abroad in Belgium or France, and we wish them a happier New Year than this and the last have been.

With undue optimism we prophesised that the war would be over by now. Well on its third year, the war drags on with varying fortunes exacting grievously heavy toll of the manhood of the nation and of our Old Boys among the rest. With saddened heart we strike out two more names from our Active Service List and proudly add them to our Roll of Honour.

In our last number we reported that the Summer Term had been the quietest and least eventful that we had ever experienced. The same is true of this Winter Term, only much more so. There is nothing for our chronicler to chronicle.”

Little more than a girls’ concert seemed to take place this term in 1916.

No doubt, those 30 boys who once sat in your seats here today also played and performed on our fields or on our stages before those quiet times.

Perhaps most famous of these names is Major William Booth. Major, his name not a military rank, was born in Lowtown, Pudsey, in December 1886. His father’s success as a grocer who imported goods from across the Empire allowed him to send Major to Fulneck School.

Cricket was Booth’s passion. Success here at School was followed by more at Pudsey St Lawrence Cricket Club. Such was his ability, he began to play for Yorkshire in 1907. Booth reached the pinnacle of any cricketer’s career when he was selected to play for England on the 1913-14 tour of South Africa. He was as good a bowler as was around at the time. Indeed, he was made Cricketer of the Year in 1914. Aged 27, like most sportsmen and women at this stage, he was reaching his peak.

Last year, I told you the story of the Leeds Pals, the friends who joined the army together as volunteers at the start of World War One. Booth’s local fame, image and personality were used to good effect to recruit young men to join the West Yorkshire Regiment.

On the 1st July 1916, the Battle of the Somme began, the largest battle that the Western Front would witness. The Leeds Pals went “over the top”, just like most of you will have seen at the end of Blackadder Goes Forth. It became the worst day in the history of the British Army, with 19,240 men killed in action. Of the 650 Leeds Pals, just 47 survived. It was the classic “lions led by donkeys” moment.

Major Booth was wounded in the shoulder and chest, and found sheltering in a shell hole by fellow Yorkshire cricketer Abe Waddington. Booth didn’t survive the German offensive and died in his friend’s arms.

Waddington was rescued but had to leave Booth’s body in the mud. His remains, famously, were identifiable only by the cigarette case that he had been awarded for playing cricket for England. Struck down at the peak of his powers.

One of Booth’s descendants wanted a lasting memorial to the life of this courageous man here at Fulneck. As you make use of the Major William Booth pavilion or indeed sit in front of the Roll of Honour in the West Hall, it is my hope that, from time to time, you will forget the ordinary tests of daily life that we face and instead think of, and thank, the brave men and women who have given, or risk, their lives to protect ours.

These 30 men never did get to use their musical, dramatic or sporting skills again, but, because of them, you can.

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