Events & Speakers | Posted 20.04.2016

The Stonyhurst Somme Conference

On 18th May, in the magnificent Academy Room at Stonyhurst College, there will be a national  conference for schools to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.  All are welcome.

There is no doubt that the Battle of the Somme has become etched into this country’s national consciousness. The fighting would last for four and a half months, from the heat of July to the wintry chill of a bitterly cold November. During that time, the British army, which was made up entirely of volunteers, advanced over seven miles for the loss of 420,000 men killed, wounded or missing.

The battle’s first day was the worst in the history of British warfare and the concept of Pals Battalions, friends sticking together through thick and thin, evaporated in a single day in the rolling down lands of Picardy. There were successes, however and some of them spectacular, but the battle became attritional, with both sides gaining increasing prowess in their quest to fight and dominate their determined opponents.

Although this is a national conference, those who attend will walk the galleries and sit in the places of former Stonyhurst pupils who volunteered for the armed forces a century ago, of whom were 394 were killed or wounded and 168 died.  Guests will pass by the Stonyhurst War Memorial where their names are recorded on their way to the conference in the Academy Room.

By the opening of the battle Stonyhurst had lost over 70 old boys in action and twenty-one would then fall on the Somme in the space of four months, leaving the College to grieve more of its lost sons.  They included Cyril Unsworth, a radio enthusiast who had written to his mother telling her not to worry about him and Wilfred Tempest, who, after reading ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ ran away from Hodder Place, the Stonyhurst preparatory school, to travel to America; he was 8 years old and was eventually scooped up by the Waddington village bobby.  Charles Griffin wrote often to his mother and once told her he had seen ‘two generations of officers’ pass through his company, while he had only had a scratch from the German wire; and then there was Kenneth Callan-Macardle, who would come back from a sunny San Francisco to join the 17th Manchester Regt; his diary recounts the emotions and horrors of the battle’s terrible first day.

And so Stonyhurst is a fitting place for a national conference, because it shared the tensions and emotions of the whole country and was not immune to loss and grief.  When any of its former pupils fell in action, a framed photograph of him was placed in the Lower Gallery.

We are honoured to have guest speakers who are at the top of their field and will give us a deep insight into the course of the Battle of the Somme, its importance and its impact.  We are delighted to welcome our guest speakers.

Lewis Moody MBE, the former England Rugby Captain and veteran of 71 internationals, is also the Ambassador for the Rugby Football Union Commemorations Committee.  He has been heavily involved in a film which has recently been made about rugby players during the Great War and  the construction of a memorial to rugby players of all nations who fell, which will be opened at Twickenham Stadium in April.

Taff Gillingham of Khaki Devil will be with us on both days. Khaki Devil was formed in 2001 with a mission to improve historical accuracy in military uniforms, equipment, weapons and props for film, television and theatre productions and Taff has been involved with many famous TV and film dramas, including The Trench, All the King’s Men and Downton Abbey.

Charlotte Czyzyk is the Public Engagement and Project Manager of Lives of the First World War and she is based at the Imperial War Museum North.  Charlotte will be providing workshops for the children with her team and will also give a talk about her particular work at the Imperial War Museum.

We are also delighted to welcome Peter Barton, Military Historian and Broadcaster, who is one of the foremost authorities of the Battle of the Somme.  He is an established First World War historian, writer, filmmaker and consultant well-known for devising and leading archaeological excavations on the Western Front, especially those connected to tunnel warfare. Peter’s films include the highly acclaimed The Somme’s Secret Weapon, which followed the excavation of a Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector and his books about the Somme, Fromelles and tunnelers in the Great War are best sellers.

We are also delighted to welcome Roger Smither, the former Keeper of the Imperial War Museum’s Film and Photograph Archives.  He will talk to us about the film, The Battle of the Somme and its impact on audiences then and now.  Roger says, ‘The film also has significance as a landmark in the development of propaganda technique, as a focus for discussion of many aspects of the ethics of news or documentary filming, and as one of the impulses behind the Imperial War Museum’s own development as one of the world’s first film archives.’

Brian Davidson of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has kindly agreed to give a lecture about the restoration of the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, which he has been closely supervising over the past year.  He will also talk about the work of the CWGC on the Somme in general.  Brian joined the Commission 33 years ago as a Works Supervisor in Belgium and has worked in the Middle East, Asia, Far East, Africa and Central and South America.  He then became the Commission’s Director of Technical Services and in May 2014 became Director General for a period of 6 months, while remaining the leader on the Thiepval project until December 2014 when he retired. Since then he has acted in a consultancy role.

There will be workshops for school children, which will cover a range of relevant topics, including Science, History, English and Music.  The Stonyhurst College CCF have also promised to be involved.

Places can be booked by contacting  Stonyhurst College.

Please come along and join us for what promises to be a magnificent event.

Paul Garlington (History teacher)