In July, on our second ‘Denham Johnson Battlefields Exploration’ of 2018, we visited three of the War Graves Commission Cemeteries where Stamford Boys were buried. We discussed the feasibility of our being able to go to all of the Great War Stamfordians and over a beer or two (or maybe three), a plan began to form.
A noticeboard, a big map of Europe and a box of red drawing pins later, we had marked the positions of all of the burials and memorials in Europe and, as the vast majority were buried or commemorated in either Belgium or Northern France, we concentrated on this group: 22 cemeteries and eight memorials.
Would it be possible to plan a trip which took in as many of the Stamford Boys as possible? Over the next three weeks, routes were plotted, accommodation and transport were arranged and Leave Passes from our understanding spouses were obtained. Objective: to visit 37 out of the 53 boys in a single weekend.
We left Stamford at lunchtime on the Friday of the August Bank Holiday weekend; a drive to Kent and a channel crossing through the Tunnel saw us in Calais before 10pm that night. After a good breakfast on Saturday morning, we set off towards Ypres in Belgium. A full Saturday included some impromptu stops to other interesting CWGC cemeteries along the way and took us to eight of the Stamford Boys including Barnard Beechey, one of the soldiers commemorated at the Ploegsteert Memorial; Barnard was one of the five Beechey brothers killed in WW1, three of whom had a direct connection with Stamford School.
Arras was our base for the remainder of the trip and, on the Sunday, our itinerary included the Stamford Boys buried or commemorated south of Arras. It was a much longer driving route, but it allowed us to pay our respects to 16 of the boys including some of the youngest Stamfordians to have died in World War 1: George Clark, Thomas Senescall and Arthur Taverner, all of whom were just 19 years old when they were killed. Our Sunday objective was achieved in 12 hours and was celebrated with a pint of very tasty Belgian beer when we got back to the hotel.
Monday’s plan was to take in the Stamford Boys north of Arras but south of Armentières. The day started cold and dry and our first call was to Duisans British Cemetery where Seaforth St John Clark of the Seaforth Highlanders was buried. By the end of the day we had paid our tribute to nine more of the Stamford Boys, including one of the oldest Stamfordians to lose his life - Charles Lowe who had emigrated to Canada but returned to fight with the Canadian Light Infantry, and flying ace Arthur Claydon of the RFC at Cabaret Rouge Cemetery.
The proposal for Tuesday was a much more straightforward one – the Arras Memorial and Arras Flying Services Memorial to remember the three Stamfordians commemorated there; and thence to Charles Branwhite at Etaples before returning to the UK. The huge size of the Etaples Military Cemetery took us both by surprise; to look down on a site containing over 11 400 burials was an overwhelming experience, words just cannot express our feelings adequately.
We returned home late on Tuesday, tired after a drive of 1001 miles, but feeling really privileged to have been able to honour the memory of so many of the Stamford Boys. Was there more that we could do? Two more of the boys were buried within striking distance of the School: John Gray, in Stamford Cemetery, and Cyril Leary, buried at Bourne, and during the same week, we were able to compliment this duo also. After some further research we were able to obtain photographs of the headstones of a few more of the further flung Stamford Boys from the War Graves Photographic Project and a photograph of William Wass’ grave in Gaza by contacting the British Consulate there. In the end, there were only two boys for whom we were not able to get a photograph of their grave or memorial.
Since the August Bank Holiday weekend, we have been working to expand what we know about the ‘Stamford 53’. Military research on-line and in the National Archives at Kew has added significantly to what we know about the military experiences of many of these soldiers and airmen. There are still further research tasks to be completed at Kew, but our thoughts are now focussed on what we would like to do next so that we can add to what we know of the military experiences of the Stamford School Soldiers.
A book is currently being planned in which we would like to include more pupils and staff of Stamford School who played their part during the Great War; those volunteered to serve in the forces as well as those who were conscripted. Where possible, we would like to try to trace what happened to them afterwards.
The new book will use material from the Stamford School archives as well as material from the National Archives, and we would be delighted to receive any information or stories directly from the families of the 1914-1918 sailors, soldiers and airmen of Stamford School.
If you would like to share something of your Stamfordian’s family WW1 history, please do email firstname.lastname@example.org, we would love to hear from you.