ONE of the oldest grammar schools in the country has opened its archives to the public to reveal stories of heroism and sacrifice from the First World War.

As the nation prepares to mark 100 years since the end of the conflict, local residents gathered at Ripon Grammar School library this week to discover more about the 287 young men and boys from the school who went off to fight at the Front – and the 49 who, sadly, never came back.

Relatives of Arthur Wells, who died in action in 1916, aged 22, came to find out more.
And one past pupil, Peter Benson, from Roecliffe, returned to his old school for the first time in 66 years, with a photograph of his uncle, Whitfield Benson, who was killed aged 28 in 1918.

A poignant display put together by the school’s Old Rips alumni society helped bring some of the names on the school’s Roll of Honour to life.

Researchers have unearthed faded black and white photographs of the young men, information about their activities at school and touching letters which they sent to old pals at RGS from the Front.

In December 1914, the school magazine announced: “Some of the senior boys failed to return in December, having joined the colours as soon as the war broke out.” It reported that the first former pupil had been killed in action at the Battle of Aisne in France. John I’Anson, who died on September 20, 1914, was 31.

Samuel Cartwright, 19, wrote to his old school from ‘somewhere in France’, explaining that his job is to take the wounded out of the firing line to one of the many casualty stations.

“I can tell you it is pretty warm up there when they artillery are going and the racket of the guns is tremendous,” he wrote, before asking to be sent a copy of the school magazine, no doubt a welcome and reassuring reminder of home.  He died in 1918, aged 22, after being severely wounded at the Front, just six days before the war ended.

Other stories include the tale of 28-year-old George Dixon, who died in the summer of 1918 when the submarine he was serving on – relatively modern warfare technology at the time – was sunk by a mine. There were no survivors.

Ripon Grammar School, the top performing state boarding school in the North of England, which has been educating students from North Yorkshire and beyond since the seventh century, will also be holding an Act of Remembrance at the school on November 9 as part of a series of events in Ripon to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War.

Headmaster Jonathan Webb said: “It is important to acknowledge and remember the sacrifice these heroic young men and boys made for all of us and we are grateful to the Old Rips alumni society for the research they have carried out into this vital part of our school’s rich history.”

Old Rips alumni chair Derek Crookes added: “We were pleased to see such interest from former students and the people of Ripon in these young lives so sadly and tragically lost, reflecting those of millions lost across Europe at that time.”