9th November 2018
If any of you have visited Harrow School, you may have come across a most moving Memorial Hall dedicated to old Harrovians who lost their lives in war. Some of you might have had the privilege of visiting the ‘Alex Fitch’ room. This room was gifted to the school by Sir Cecil and Lady Fitch in memory of their only son, killed at the Battle of Jeancourt on the 18th September 1918. Second Lieutenant Alex Fitch was 19 years old. In the room stands a 600-year-old fireplace, above which Second Lieutenant Fitch’s portrait hangs. There is a quiet light at the top of this portrait, which, at the request of Sir Cecil and Lady Fitch, remains illuminated 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I talked of this room to the school because it has an atmosphere that one cannot fail to be moved by, and as we commemorate Armistice of 100 years ago, a gentle focus of stories such as that of Second Lieutenant Alex Fitch seems appropriate.
Pupils, staff and parents alike are wearing the wonderful felt poppies that Ms Wood’s imaginative and community spirited initiative has inspired. As the business of school both on and off campus has unfolded during the week, many members of the wider public have asked about the St. Mary’s poppies and Ms Birdsall has been inundated with requests for them in the office. Meanwhile, assessments for the Middle School have been completed throughout the week, and ahead of the senior assessments starting today, Mrs Maclay called in to offer her expert input on how to keep exam nerves at bay, and to maintain a sense of perspective surrounding these necessary processes. We are very grateful to Mrs Maclay for volunteering her services.
We have had parent evenings for the Pre-Prep which have all concluded smoothly and collaboratively, and a busy fixture programme, which included a comprehensive Dandylions rugby XV victory, involving our Head Boy Thomas, selected as Captain and Archie M in the 16 man squad. Match reports are available on the website, but the boys gave an excellent account of themselves.
On Thursday, we were visited by a busy team of fabulous nurses who administered flu vaccines to many of our number, and Forms 3 and 4 headed off to Hawick Museum to enhance their knowledge of the First World War during this significant week of remembrance.
At the same time, Mr Rawson embarked upon the Memorial Tree Planting process inside the hedges that align Annay Road. The school has planted these trees as an Avenue of Remembrance with support from the Borders Forest Trust, Tweed Forum and local landowners. Staff and pupils along with Nicola Hume and Anna Craigen from the Borders Forest Trust, set about planting these trees throughout the day and though there were only a few members of the public who attended, the Border Telegraph turned up to ensure this contribution was recorded in the local press. At the base of 34 of these trees we aim to place a stone with a poppy emblem and the name of one of the 34 St. Mary’s Former Pupils who lost their lives in the First World War.
As today has unfolded, we have managed to provide a session for our Form 7 pupils to help them maintain a sense of perspective ahead of next week’s exams. Again, we are grateful to Mrs Maclay for her expert guidance.
In preparing our own Remembrance Service with fine tuning to the usual format, we welcomed Reverend Blackledge and Reverend Frew who brought with them two perspex figures, representing in this case, their two grandfathers whom they both spoke of, during our service in the Morrison Hall. This set the platform for our service to bring people from the past into our current thoughts, and it tallied appropriately with my address about Second Lieutenant Douglas Constable, a St. Mary’s Former Pupil, who first came to our notice when Miss Simpson provided a most moving assembly in November 2016. He became someone with whom we feel more familiar, as a result of her wonderful assembly.
Form 8 and Form 7 led the pupils’ contributions and 34 of them stood on the stage to represent the 34 St. Mary’s Former Pupils killed in World War 1, a visual display of the sacrifice made from the Former Pupil body. Lara and Thomas recited ‘Please Wear a Poppy’ and Miss McRae led hymns on the piano, Mr Bell played the ‘The Lament’ on the bagpipes and Mrs Syme played ‘The Last Post’ on the trumpet. It was a most moving service, impeccably observed by our pupils.
Returning to the theme of poppies, and Ms Wood’s endeavours to raise £1,918 for Poppy Scotland, with the aid of a number of pupils, she created a poppy band, lit up with red lights that can be seen around the trunk of our 300-year-old sycamore tree. When viewed in the dark this really is something quite special. Ms Wood’s poppy initiative has raised a grand total of £1,956.70 and she is to be congratulated for achieving this considerable sum.
I concluded my address with a mention of all the fallen, not just the Allied Forces, and reminded our pupils that those who the Armed Forces had fought against also went to school, and whose descendants should be grateful for their sacrifice. As any wise historian should, we will remember them all, and consider the reasons why they lost their lives.
Town Parade: Mrs Harvey, the Head Boy, the Head Girl and I will lead the St. Mary’s representation in the Town Parade on Sunday. We will meet at 10:15am at the Corn Exchange, and it would be lovely to see as many parents and pupils of St. Mary’s as can manage this commitment. We would ask that if at all possible, pupils attend in their No.1 uniform. We play an important part in this community and a good number on Sunday will help us reiterate how important the community is to the school. If you can come along, it would be very much appreciated.