St Crispin’s Day, which this year fell during the half term break, had us again reflecting on how Shakespeare has managed to take over English history.
Long before its ‘Hollywoodisation’, the story of our past had been redrawn and reimagined. Henry V’s speech before the battle of Agincourt was performed last week by his tomb at Westminster Abbey and, in its 600th year, Agincourt is still remembered by the English through Shakespeare’s prose.
Henry’s search for honour that ‘we would not die in that man’s company that fears his fellowship to die with us’ was possibly a sentiment not shared in the trenches. The Tommy of Flanders or the Dardanelles was unlikely to think himself ‘accurs’d they were not here’. The soldiers of the Second World War were reluctant heroes. The men and women of the modern British Army continue to put themselves in harm’s way in order to win the peace.
We remember at School this Sunday morning those boys who wore the blue jackets of our community and who did not return home after the war. Old Foleyans’ President, Maurice Evans, reminded us on Wednesday that we are discussing the very recent past. He recalled a time in October 1939 when Captain Stone, Headmaster of OSH between 1928 and 1951, broke down in the Great Hall whilst telling the boys the terrible news that Roland James had died. His ship, the HMS Royal Oak, was torpedoed three times by the German submarine U47 as it was anchored at Scapa Flow. Maurice knew Roland and looked up to him: Roland was School Captain, captain of rugby, soccer and cricket. He was a scout troop leader and went to physics, badminton and billiards clubs after lessons. He was nineteen years old when he died.
Each name on our memorial in the Great Hall, at the memorial in Mary Stevens Park or on the cold stone in almost every village green in England has its own story. Old Swinford Hospital continues to tell the stories of its own and on Wednesday of next week we will stop for two minutes to reflect, remember and give thanks to previous generations. The Kohima Epitaph puts it best:
When you go home, tell them of us and say
For their tomorrow, we gave our today.