Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A personal tribute to a Wartime Headmaster and those Berkhamstedianswho died in WW1

Any Headteacher who has been in a school at the time of the death of a pupil or of a recent leaver will know the sense of loss and helplessness that grips a community.  Every headteacher dreads the time when they have to stand up and announce to the school that a pupil or former pupil has died. Death is an alien concept to young people, who on the whole still think that they are immortal. The young are not equipped to cope with death - and rightly so. It is different for the Common Room - death in a community hits them hard.  Teachers, with the distance that comes both the age and role, know how to mourn and grieve, but grapple with the 'why?'s and 'what might have been's more than most.  Schools are no place for the dead.
So when I reflect on the impact of World War One on Berkhamsted School, my mind turns to what it must have been like for Charles Greene, who was Headmaster at that time . . .
Charles Greene (Headmaster 1911-27) had the unenviable task of reading out to the school in chapel the names of those former pupils who had died throughout the course of the war - and indeed beyond. Some 232 Old Berkhamstedians died in those years. He almost certainly knew personally the majority of the boys who died, as had been at Berkhamsted since 1889 as a teacher, Housemaster of St John’s Boarding House and Deputy Head, prior to becoming Headmaster. 
Charles Greene annotated the Prefects’ Book, which each prefect signed on taking office, in red ink recording the military career and when each boy fell. No one can read those words without feeling his pain and that of the community that he led.  
Those of us who have had on occasion to lead a school through the death of a pupil can only imagine the pain that Charles Greene felt as week after week he walked to the lectern to deliver more tragic news. Furthermore, there is little doubt that this will have had a significant impact on Charles Greene's home life and thus on the formative years of his youngest son, Graham (b. 1910), Berkhamsted's most famous Old Boy, growing up as he did in the Headmaster's accommodation in School House.
It is perhaps no surprise that Greene's is the darkest gloomiest portrait that hangs in Old Hall.  The shadow of WW1 falls over 
This week I started a personal tribute to the Old Berkhamstedians who died in WW1. A hundred years on, like Charles Greene before me, I shall be announcing the deaths of OBs in the assembly following the day they fell. 
We have set up a Berkhamsted School WW1 Twitter feed @BerkhamstedWW1 to commemorate individually those who fell on the anniversary of their death in the instances where the details are known.
And so "we shall remember them."

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