City of Norwich School opening its doors to remember pupils who died in world wars
06:30 12 September 2014
The heart-rending stories of former pupils and teachers caught up in the First World War will be told when a Norwich high school opens its doors to the public this weekend.
The art master who survived and the sports star who did not
Among the stories to be told at the exhibition are those of the school’s art master and a star sports student.
The art master at the school was Walter Watling, who designed the First World War memorial which is in the school’s hall.
Former CNS pupil Alan Harrison said: “When I was at school he used to have bouts of coughing and we always assumed he had been gassed during the war.
“It wasn’t until much later, about 30 years later, I found out he had been in a trench when a shell exploded and he came to in a whitewashed barn stacked high with dead bodies.
“Some medical orderly noticed his fingers twitching or something and rescued him.
“He had a long convalescence and eventually he was able to come back to the City of Norwich School.”
It was under his tutelage that the school produced several well-known artists, including Bernard Meadows and Michael Andrews, and he also helped to found the contemporary arts body the Norwich Twenty Group.
Mr Harrison also remembers being told by his uncle, Harry Cushing, about the death of a former pupil who won the school’s sports “victor ludorum” prize - latin for “the winner of the games”.
George Leckenby was a pilot and had only been in France three weeks when he was killed on November 9, 1918, two days before the Armistice.
When the headmaster at the time announced to the pupils that the war had finished, it was met with cheers from the boys. A little later the devastating news came through that second lieutenant Leckenby, whose parents George and Annie lived at 220 College Road, had been killed.
The school had only just received a letter from the popular former pupil on the day that he lost his life.
The City of Norwich School was still a relatively new grammar school when war broke out in 1914, having only been formed in 1910.
But the conflict was to have a devastating impact on the Eaton Road school, with 600 staff and former pupils being sent off to fight by the end of the war - 84 of whom would never return.
This weekend, as part of the Heritage Open Days event, current pupils will be giving guided tours around an exhibition at the school which charts the stories and losses during both the world wars.
From regiments using the school as a base during the summer holidays, to its Boy Scouts (2nd Norwich) taking part in training camps and getting involved in duties with the coastguard and fire service, the school was very much involved in the First World War effort.
As male staff were called up, female teachers were brought in to take their place, and in 1917 the playing fields were dug up in order to grow vegetables.
Alan Harrison, chairman of the CNS Union for former pupils of the school, said his organisation had encouraged the school to hold the exhibition to mark the centenary of the First World War.
Mr Harrison, 84, of Essex Street, Norwich, was at the school during the second world war and said another 110 staff and former pupils were killed in the second world war.
He said: “I remember us having a barrage balloon on the school field and whenever there were air raids we would still go to school the next day. I only remember one day, having walked all the way from Thorpe after one of the very heavy raids in Norwich, to be told we didn’t have any school that day due to an unexploded bomb laying around.”
Members of the school’s history department have also been researching the stories of those who fought in the wars.
Roz Hart, head of history, said: “The remarkable stories of former CNS staff and pupils really help our current students to see beyond the statistics of casualties and the lingering image of muddy trenches, in order to appreciate the diverse experiences of war.”
The school will be open from 11.30am to 4pm on Saturday, September 13.
Do you have a story about heritage? Contact reporter Kim Briscoe on 01603 772474 or email firstname.lastname@example.org