The school exhibition commemorating the anniversary of WW1 has been a great success. There are a wide range of items in the glass cabinets and on the display boards in the cloisters. Objects, photographs, moving personal letters, diaries, military records, medals, records of bravery and many other aspects of war and how it affected those at the front and also those left behind.
Many of the displayed artefacts were from the school archive collection. However, a particular aim of the exercise was to involve current students. The response was good, with many bringing in items relating to their great-grandparents and other relatives.
Of particular interest were those memorabilia from backgrounds other than British. An Italian relative who had fought against the Austrians [Italy was on the side of the British in the First World War], provided medals and citations. A student with a German relative, who obviously fought against the British, also had gained medals for bravery.
From the school archive, which records that nearly 200 Olavians, students and teachers lost their lives, two memories stand out. Grantley Le Chavetois who was an outstanding student at the school, then a teacher, lost his life as a Captain in Palestine. The Le Chavetois society at school is named after this admirable man, who was renowned for his care for others. If you go into reception at school, you will see the clock donated by his mother in his memory.
“He was the whole heart of the trench when we were in action, and always bucked us all up and when we left the line he was always getting up some sports for us and giving us a good time. He was ever a true comrade, a perfect sportsman, a gentleman through and through.”
[Olavian magazine, volume 23]
The other very moving example, is the book published by his mother of the letters, poems and other writings of Leslie Yorath Sanders. Reading this book is an extraordinary insight into the life of someone experiencing the horrors of war and his realisation that his life would be short.
Extract from a letter received the night before he went to the front, February 1915
“I estimate my chance of getting wounded as one in four; of getting killed or totally disabled at one in ten. These are pretty heavy averages and I should be foolish not to be prepared for the worst. In a sense, therefore, I count myself already dead. Wear no mourning for me if I am killed; if I die, I die gladly. I have lived longer than many; and life has been very good.”
Extract from the last letter he wrote. It was written to his fiancée, but never posted, 9th March 1917
“Yet you know, I’ve never regretted coming out here. There at home, in comfort and safety – well I suppose I was doing useful work enough. But here I am doing a man’s work.”
Letter from the Colonel to his Father, 11th March, 1917
Your son was killed yesterday, and died as fine a death as any could here. During a heavy bombardment of the headquarters where his work lay, he worked on cheerily and quietly till a shell exploded in the room itself, and killed him instantly. Such men can never be replaced and leave behind them a gap in the affections of all who knew and admired him. I saw him buried today in a quiet spot some way from the line – a photograph of it is enclosed. I wish it were possible to add any comfort of any use in your bereavement.”
[Extracts from ‘A Soldier of England’, which is the book published by his mother after his death, of Leslie Yorath Sanders.]