Throughout November, Thorpe House School displays a vibrant reminder that Remembrance services are as relevant to today’s youngsters as to previous generations. A curtain of perspex poppies, made by staff and pupils, cascades down from the school entrance. On Monday, Armistice Day, pupils from Nursery to Year 11, gathered outside for a special service marking the solemn occasion, while the sunlight reflected optimistically on the beautifully-crafted poppies.
At a time when critics are calling for remembrance services to be ceased, that the time has come ‘to move on’, Thorpe House boys, proudly wearing poppies on their blazer lapels, demonstrated their gratitude to those brave soldiers who lost their lives serving King and Country.
In a moving address referencing the thousands of young boys who participated in the war effort, Mr Pietrek spoke about Private John Condon, “a pre-pubescent, twelve-year old, too young to shave, when he enlisted in his home town of Waterford, Ireland in October 1913.” Condon who joined the Third Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment, is recorded as the youngest soldier to die in the First World War. He was killed on May 24th 1915, in the Second Battle of Ypres. Today his grave is the most visited on the Western Front.
In an era before birth certificates were introduced, the boy soldier was able to claim, as did many others, that he was 18 years old. “Among those who joined up were 250,000 lads under the age of 19, the legal limit for armed service overseas,” Mr Pietrek went on to tell the astonished boys. “Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State on the famous recruitment posters, received letters from a boy aged nine, appealing to him put normal rules aside.”
Mr Pietrek asked the boys to imagine themselves being in those trenches, fighting on foreign land for their country. “Remember the sacrifices of so many boys, men in terms of the courage they displayed. The sacrifice they made was the ultimate one.”
Selected clarinet players in Years 7,8 and 9, played The Last Post before a two-minute silence on the eleventh hour. Even the youngest pre-prep boys stood quietly seeming to understand the sacrifices these courageous men made for them.
The mood lifted with the clarinetists playing a beautiful rendition of Reveille. At the end of the service, Mr Pietrek spoke those memorable words, attributed to classical scholar John Maxwell Edmonds, ‘When you go home, tell them of us and say, ‘For your tomorrow, we gave our today.
This year marks the Centenary of the Treaty of Versailles from which emerged the League of Nations. “Nations around the world came together to try and restore peace in what was a fragmented and broken world,” Mr Pietrek explains. “It seems all the more poignant that we should be remembering the sacrifices made by past generations for the liberties and freedoms that we enjoy today at a time when we are again facing challenges and a fragmented society”.
Brian Wood, a former Colour Sergeant awarded the Military Cross, this week branded David Starkey’s comments on ‘poppy fascism’, as disrespectful. He would have been heartened by the sight of Thorpe House boys united in respect for our great war heroes, never to be forgotten.
As Mr Pietrek says, “Perhaps our Poppy Appeal can do something to bring people’s focus back to what is really important, working for and with one another in a community that values everyone.”
The boys certainly excelled in their fund-raising efforts, raising over £1000, individually selling their perspex poppies to friends, family and in the local community. Year 7 boy, Henry Busse raised a staggering £320 after visiting local business owners to sell the poppies. This figure was on top of the school’s annual poppy appeal. The boys should be extremely proud of themselves. I’m sure that John Condon and all those boy soldiers who sacrificed so much, would be extremely proud of them too.