Lest we forget

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Lest we forget

Lower Fifth Battlefields trip

Lower Fifth pupils visited the First World War battlefields in France and Belgium last week and paid their respects at the grave of a former Head Boy.

Lieutenant Richard Stirling was killed by a sniper on 21 August 1915 near Sanctuary Wood in Belgium. Born in Guildford, he joined Exeter School as a boarder in 1902 and finished as Head Boy in 1911. A keen sportsman, he was a key player in both the 1st XI cricket and 1st XV rugby teams.

Exeter School’s magazine The Exonian records: “His bright, happy disposition made him a favourite with all who knew him, and there will be very many to whom his death will be a real loss”. A fellow officer wrote to the Headmaster: “Dick was killed this afternoon at 4.30pm. He was observing the enemy trenches through his field-glasses, and was sniped through the head. He died instantaneously, never knowing what hit him, without pain and without a sound.”

An army chaplain wrote to his parents: “I was able to take the burial service over your boy’s grave, a little way behind the trenches, two nights ago. There were many of his brother officers present, and several men of his platoon, and it has been very evident how much he has won the admiration and affection of those with whom he served. The grave is in an open space in what we call Sanctuary Wood. The service took place at 11pm in the moonlight, with the bullets from the German snipers whistling through the trees.”

After visiting some preserved trenches nearby, 102 Exeter School pupils gathered around the grave to hear Richard’s story, and Isabel Trelawny and Alex James laid poppies on behalf of the school.

Richard is remembered at school on the war memorial in the chapel, among 72 other Old Exonians killed in the 1st World War, and on a board listing Head Boys in Butterfield Hall.

Head of History, Giles Trelawny, led Lower Fifth pupils on the annual four-day trip to the Western Front battlefields, visiting trenches in Flanders, mine craters and battlefields on the Somme, tunnels at Arras and the Passchendaele Museum.

Several pupils were able to visit the graves or memorials of relatives, and the trip finished with a Service of Remembrance led by the school Chaplain, Reverend Tom Carson, at a cemetery on the Somme where Megan Rhodes was able to visit her great-great uncle, Private Richard Rodgers of the Devonshire Regiment, for the first time.

The pupils also got the opportunity to try on British First World War uniform, to handle rifles, grenades, shrapnel and shell splinters and to reflect on what it was like to experience this war.