• Peter Barton, Scott Knowles , the IWM team and Taff Gillighan
  • Trench food!
Events & Speakers | Posted 20.05.2016

Stonyhurst’s Somme Conference is an important lesson in history  

Children from Lancashire’s schools marked the centenary of the Battle of the Somme by attending a conference at Stonyhurst College, on May 18th.  Peter Barton, military historian and broadcaster, gave a vivid account of the battle, the first day of which was the worst in the history of British warfare. The British army suffered 57, 470 casualties that day; 19,240 of them were killed or died of wounds.

A team of historians from the Imperial War Museum introduced the ‘Lives of the First World War’, an innovative digital platform which brings together the life stories of those who died. To illustrate how the IWM pieces together fragments of evidence from many different sources, they traced the life of Kenneth Callan-Macardle, a former Stonyhurst pupil, from his birth in Ireland in 1890 to his experience as a Second Lieutenant in the 17th Manchester Regiment. In his diary, Callan-Macardle wrote on the eve of the first day: ‘Tonight in the dark we assemble – brigades and brigades and brigades and more and more brigades. Tomorrow in the pale dawn we go over the lid.’ On July 6th, a few days before his death, he wrote: ‘The trench became littered with the dead and wounded. We are about 400 strong today – we who went in 800.’ His name is engraved on the Thiepval Memorial and on the Stonyhurst War Memorial.

Children were then given the opportunity to handle a variety of artefacts from the First World War: these included military uniforms, equipment and weapons, brought along by the IWM team and Taff Gillingham, who regularly assists with historical accuracy in films, television and theatre productions.

There was also a ‘medical chemistry’ workshop, in which the children made a salve ointment which was regularly used in treating the wounded of the First World War, using calendula, turmeric, coconut oil and lavender. A creative-writing class encouraged the children to imagine what it was like to be in the midst of warfare, and a municians factory was set up in the Ambulacrum.

Conference organiser, and Stonyhurst History teacher, Paul Garlington, said: ‘Although this was a national commemoration, those who attended walked the corridors and sat in the places of former Stonyhurst pupils who volunteered for the British armed forces a century ago.’