Since 1st September 2014 Oundle School staff and pupils have gathered in the Cloisters on the 100th Anniversary of the death of every Old Oundelian (former pupil) killed during WW1, to remember the sacrifice they made. This year, the school’s CCF continued the theme of Remembrance, with 243 cadets, including the CCF Marching Band travelling to the Somme battlefields.
The Battle of the Somme was fought from 1st July to 19th November 1916 at an almost unimaginable cost in human lives. Five Old Oundelians lost their lives on 1st July and a further twenty-seven made the ultimate sacrifice during the Battle. Many are buried in Cemeteries on the Somme and seventeen are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. Overall more than 420,000 British soldiers were casualties of the Battle.
After arriving in Dover, the group headed north east into Belgium. As the sun set over Ypres the Band formed up and marched under the arch of the Menin Gate, halting at the western entrance in front of a crowd of more than 3,000 people. After the Last Post was sounded, Cadet Sergeant Thea Smith marched to the centre of the Menin Gate, and in front of a silent crowd that included her parents, recited the words of Lawrence Binyon's poem, ‘They shall grow not old....'
During the rest of the trip, the group visited battlefield sites, memorials and cemeteries across the Somme Battlefields. Two ceremonies marked the most sombre and moving moments of the trip. The first occurred in seventeen different cemeteries between Serre and Mametz, where each group laid a wreath on the grave of a former Oundle pupil.
At the end of the day the group gathered again at the Thiepval Memorial, the largest British War Memorial anywhere in the world, with 72,000 names upon it. With the cadets and the band forming a hollow square between the memorial and the cemetery, and a Drumhead altar built by the Corps of Drums at the centre, cadets gathered to remember all 256 Old Oundelians killed in WW1.
Contingent Commander Major Andrew Mansergh (Royal Marines) concluded, “Once again it was the presence of the CCF Marching Band that transformed the experience for all. ‘Scipio’, ‘I vow to thee my country’, ‘Nimrod’ and ‘Last Post’ all echoed beneath the memorial's mighty arches. After light rain at lunchtime, the sky had cleared and under a clear evening sky the sun sank in the west over the fields of the Ancre Valley, where 100 years earlier so many had laid down their lives for others. It was a moving ceremony and a scene of tranquil beauty which none who were there will forget.”