On the evening of Tuesday 4th August 1914 the War Office in London sent telegrams to regiments of the British Army’s Territorial Force [TF] requiring them to ‘Mobilise’.
The following day from across the land, part-time soldiers, or ‘week-end warriors’ as they were often known, including many an Old Wrekinian  [OW], packed their bags and proceeded to join their battalions. For those not in a TF Battalion, they too were soon to be given the opportunity to join the ‘New Army’ as recruiting posters went up in village, town and city alike. Field Marshall Lord Kitchener proclaimed the need for thousands of young men to join up, thus creating the largest volunteer army Britain and the world had thus seen. Many deemed this to be the great adventure of their young lives; a brief trip across the channel, give the Hun a bloody nose and after a few short weeks return home and carry on with their lives much as before.
In reality things did not turn out that way; the war, which had been building for some time lasted for over four long years. In that time across the killing fields of Europe and beyond huge swathes of land were completely devastated above anything previously known to man, hundreds of thousands of men were sucked in from across the British Empire to live and die in the most appalling conditions imaginable. Families were torn apart and for those ‘fortunates’ who returned, many with life changing injuries both physical and mental; their experiences were often locked away deep in the recesses of the mind never to resurface until decades later. Some went to their graves refusing to relive the horrors they had witnessed and never spoke to their families about what they had seen and experienced. It is really only in the recent past that their descendants have begun to ask questions and to learn more about what happened to their grandfathers, great-uncles and other relatives a century ago in the fullness of their optimistic youth.
In many an attic lie collections of old letters, dusty medals, perhaps a belt buckle, or a faded sepia photograph of a young man or woman in uniform. These items, together with eye witness accounts of the events and official documents of the period, allow one to bring to life the stories and, in some cases, the heroic deeds of those who served and who so often died. Whilst large quantities of the official records were destroyed in a German air raid over London in 1940, for many of the officers a number of their records from the period did survive: among them War Office telegrams, service histories, letters from grieving parents and siblings, and other documentation associated with a death in war. In a number of instances this War Office bureaucracy and the tone of their correspondence with next of kin does not portray them in a sympathetic light: almost a century on, and with the recent conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan to the fore, it resonates down the years to this day.
In excess of three hundred and thirty former pupils of Wellington College, Shropshire served King & Empire during the First World War. Many had joined the Officers Training Corps [OTC] either whilst at the school or university, or both, and if they so desired this experience and training put them on the fast track to a commission. Others however were content to serve in the ranks.
Wellington College formally adopted the new name of 'Wrekin College' in January 1921 following a change of ownership and the appointment of a new Headmaster.
What follows is not a detailed account of civilian and military life from leaving school to subsequent and untimely death. It is however an attempt to shine a light on the all too brief lives of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, either at home or abroad: the youngest was eighteen years of age and the oldest forty-four. Some were married, some were fathers; others were single or engaged to be married. They served in all of the services, British Army, Royal Navy, Royal Naval Air Service, Royal Marines, the fledgling Royal Flying Corps, the newly formed Royal Air Force, and the Merchant Marine. Included in their number are two sets of brothers; Edward and Henry Colver, John and James Jarvis. For those who had not long ago left these shores for lives anew in the Dominions, they too returned willingly in the armies of Canada and New Zealand.
A publication reflecting the exam success of present boys of Wellington College for the period June 1912 – May 1914 lists the names of one hundred and two pupils: by the armistice in November 1918 eleven of those listed lay forever in a foreign field. Many of the deceased are at eternal rest amongst their comrades within the immaculately maintained Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries in France, Belgium and Italy, or indeed a quiet English churchyard. Other OW’s have no known grave and are therefore remembered on the War Memorials that lie amongst the battlefields.
The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, is the largest British war memorial in the world bearing the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20th March 1918 and whose whereabouts remain unknown.
The Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, lists the names of more than 54,000 officers and men whose graves are not known.
The Helles Memorial near Sedd el Bahr, Turkey, is the place of commemoration for 20,885 Commonwealth servicemen who died in the Gallipoli campaign and who also have no known grave.
Former pupils who served and perished on the high seas and whose bodies lie in the deep are remembered on the naval memorials at Tower Hill in London and at Chatham, Kent. Others who served with the RFC/RAF and the Army are remembered on the smaller memorials in France, Belgium and modern day Iraq.
Alongside the official war cemeteries and memorials, OW’s are also remembered on the memorials at their school[s] and universities, and the many small war memorials erected in towns and villages with which they had a connection in life. For those who had emigrated before the war their adopted homelands also honour them on memorials in Canterbury, New Zealand and Ottawa, Canada.
Grateful thanks are accorded to the families of those OW’s remembered here who have provided me with letters, photographs and other valuable information. Geographical references and place names are as they existed in 1918. No changes have been made to any spelling, punctuation and grammar contained in quoted extracts from official records, letters etc.
1. Old Wellingtonians became known as Old Wrekinians in 1908.