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Public Schools and the Great War (Paperback)

The Generation Lost

WWI Social History Military

By Anthony Seldon, David Walsh
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 336
ISBN: 9781526739896
Published: 8th August 2018



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The book examines the impact which the Great War had on the Public Schools and the sacrificial contribution made to the victory which came in 1918. The war consumed about a fifth of all the public schoolboys who fought, while the survivors were scarred by the loss of so many friends. Based largely on source material from school archives and histories, it moves from the naive excitement of the summer of 1914 to the many moving stories that emerge from the carnage of the Western Front. It looks at school life in those war years, boys with their futures on hold and the prospect of death always very close, Headmasters and staff devastated by the loss of so many young lives. About one distinguished Headmaster, who died in January 1919, it was said that ”the War killed him as straightly and surely as if he had fallen at the front".

The book ranges across many topics including the selflessness and pride of Public Schools across the British Empire and in Ireland; the role of the Officers Training Corps in militarising a generation; the letters written from the Front to teachers; the pride taken by schools in the Victoria Crosses etc won by Old Boys; the statistical terms in which the Public Schools contribution can be measured; the ways in which schools commemorated the war, and still do so today. Finally the legacy of the war is examined, both the effect on the schools themselves but also the contribution made by writers and artists to the disillusionment of the inter-war years.

In this fascinating analysis of the impact that public schools had on the conduct of the Great War and vica versa the authors conclude that the values of idealism, stoicism and duty imparted to their pupils remain as relevant today as one hundred years ago. These public school educated young officers’ paid a very heavy price for the way in which they cared for the men under their command under circumstances of extreme danger and suffered a death rate almost twice the national average. This thought provoking book by authors who are eminently well qualified in their subject does much to overturn the popular “lions led by donkeys” misperception and should be mandatory reading for all students of the British officer corps through the ages.

Military Historical Society
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