Lichfield's New Edwardians

Anyone who thought that we were in for a cosy chat with amusing anecdotes of schoolboy fun and games at King Edwards Grammar School pre-1914, might have had to adjust their expectations as Bill Jackson sent us on a very unexpected journey indeed.

We started at the educational 'coal face' and reviewed the exam marks and class lists for Easter 1903; with poor little Patrick Welchman, aged 7 1/2, gaining but three marks in French [could he read?] while the older Herbert Bayley got 128 marks. Lawrence Deller did well with 27 marks while Fred Key achieved only 17 marks. This list was really the taster for four individual journeys; the boys were at a very critical age and would be ripe young men by 1914, when their journey was to take them to France.

This was to be the real story, for Bill Jackson's choice of these boys was not random but represented the four routes towards a definition of "the meaning of courage". No four boys could be more different in their journey through life and war.

Little Patrick had a brief career in a bank, but by 1915 was assaulting the Hollenzolleren Redoubt, transferred to the excitements of the Royal Flying Corps and De Havilland bombers, was shot down, taken prisoner and poignantly died of wounds and privation in December 1918.

Lawrence Deller's career was very different. As a talented artist from an early age he went to the Birmingham School of Art, taught, then entered the heady world of the Edwardian art scene in London, illustrating a notable guide to St. Pauls Cathedral. This life was interrupted by the war, more cruelly for Lawrence as his Christian beliefs forbade his active participation. Imprisonment followed in Dartmoor Prison and his release in 1918 led to only a brief marriage as he died of Spanish 'flu soon afterwards.

Bright boy Herbert Bayley, a chemist's son, was arguably the most distinguished, becoming a doctor and spending his entire career in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He gained an MC and bar, later serving in India, then after 1939 at Dunkirk, in North Africa and in Italy, reaching the rank of Brigadier. He was awarded a CBE and died in 1949.

Finally, in contrast, gas worker's son Fred Key's best achievements were on the cricket field. Quick to enlist in 1914, doing duty on the Somme, but in his sad final valedictory letter home he expressed his leaving of this world in cricketing terms - "he was 'bowled out, but 'batted well'".

Bill Jackson's masterly presentation was remarkable in its warmth, organisation and discipline, replete with photographs, original letters and diaries, and profound in its detail; all this weight of previously unknown research illuminated rather than confused, as at the heart of his narrative was a strong communication of what these men were like as humans, caught up in an unwanted war. Equally remarkable was that this was the first time that Bill had presented this talk.

Alan Thompson
May 2016