Book honours school's fallen

SUE SKINNER To the onlooker they are just fading entries on a memorial, barely noticed by the tide of human traffic flowing through one of Norfolk's most historic schools.

SUE SKINNER

To the onlooker they are just fading entries on a memorial, barely noticed by the tide of human traffic flowing through one of Norfolk's most historic schools.

But behind each name is a poignant story of the ultimate sacrifice, which Chris Dixon was determined to bring back to life, nine decades on.

And now, after 10 years of painstaking research, his findings have been charted in a new book detailing the lives - and deaths - of the 56 old boys from King Edward VII School in King's Lynn who perished in the first world war.

The publication of “This Saddening List” coincides with the end of events to mark the centenary of the former boys' grammar, now a mixed high school, moving to its current site in Gaywood Road.

“I was just interested in the Great War and there was this memorial on the wall which was a list of names which meant nothing to anybody, so it was intriguing to try and find out something about them,” explained Mr Dixon, who is head of music at KES. “Hundreds of people walk past every day and don't take any notice, really.

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“They gradually come to life as you uncover more and more information and when you find out the details, a lot of the stories are quite tragic.”

Information from the Public Record Office and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission helped fill in some pieces of each jigsaw but one of the most valuable sources of information was the archive of school magazines, which dates back to the opening in November, 1906.

“During the first world war, the magazine kept a list of who was serving in the forces and those who were killed, and obituaries, so we were lucky to have that resource,” said Mr Dixon.

The ancient back issues also provided him with the inspiration for the title of his book.

“When the head would report to the school in assembly, he would say 'this saddening list now includes', to announce the casualties, one of whom was his own nephew.

“It was a very closed community, as well. In those days, there were less than 200 boys here. Fifty-six former pupils killed is quite a high number.

“Some of them would have been relations of pupils who were at the school at the time and a number of them were still at the school at the beginning of the war.

“They would have been here and heard lists of casualties, before they joined up and became casualties.”

The dead recorded on the memorial in the lofty school hall were predominantly soldiers, with only one airman and one sailor. Most died at the Western Front, although several fell during the notorious campaign at Gallipoli.

Particularly tragic is the tale of Edwin Marriott of Ouse Avenue, South Lynn, who joined up in August, 1914.

He served all the way through the war, returning to battle three times after recovering from being wounded, only to be killed 17 days before the end of the fighting when his friend's rifle accidentally went off. He had just turned 21.

Arthur Stephenson died the day before his 18th birthday and has spent the ensuing decades at rest in a grave near Tournai, France.

Despite their different experiences and backgrounds, the KES fallen were united in a common aim.

“Whatever they thought of it, they were very keen to be there and to take part,” said Mr Dixon. “There are several of them that were clearly the calibre of officers, who joined as ordinary rising soldiers and knew they would be at the front much quicker.

“All entered into it as if they had a duty to do their bit - and fully intended to carry it out.

“No-one doubted that England was right - and was going to win.”

t “This Saddening List” costs £10 and is available by contacting the school on 01553 773606.