The Great War in Portraits

Alec and Family

Photograph Copyright Reader/Goodman/Collins: Alec Reader and family January 1916.

Old Emanuel Alec Reader was 18 years old when he was killed at High Wood on 15 September 1916, a fateful day for the Civil Service Rifles and the 15th London Regiment.

Alec currently features in the National Portrait Gallery’s new exhibition, ‘The Great War in Portraits’, http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/firstworldwarcentenary/exhibition.php

Alec’s story features in the History of Emanuel School at War in November 2014. My thanks to Doug Goodman, Alec’s nephew for providing a wealth of information on Alec and Doug’s brother, the late Roger Goodman who did so much to uncover Alec’s story.

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We will remember them: Emanuel School’s “Missing”

Thiepval memorial to the missing of the Somme

Allen L J M

Lawrence J M Allen

Kimber F W

Frederick W Kimber

Nichols W D L

Douglas William Lane Nichols

Reader B A

Bertram Alec Reader

Roberts J H

John H Roberts

Ryley H B

H Bay Ryley

Sach C B

Charles B Sach

While I A

Ivor A While

Each walked up the Emanuel School drive, out into the world of the unknown. Most young people have this feeling when they leave school; it is part of the transition from childhood to adulthood. Many young Emanuel students lie under the fields of the French countryside with no cross or stone marking where they fell. Eleven of them were united in life by their place of education and now they are united in death by being remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the missing which towers above the Somme.

Rising from their desks after a lesson they would soon be rising from the trenches. A scrum on the rugger field would soon be a scrum to capture an enemy objective through thick mud and pools of water. A history lesson on Wellington’s men at Waterloo would soon become a reality. At one moment their homework was learning the geography of the British Empire, the next it was defending it. They were transformed from schoolboys to soldiers within a few months.

They witnessed a life that few generations share before the engraver carved their names into the memory of European History?

On Sunday 15 September 2013 spare a thought for Bertram Alec Reader who was killed on that day in 1916 at High Wood during the Battle of the Somme. In one letter this young man wrote, “I have undergone the various emotions caused by war, have seen most things that happen in war and don’t think much of it…War is a rotten game”.

Ivor Austin While wrote, “The great thing that strikes me here is the cheerfulness of the Tommies. They march all day, are on fatigue, and in the night go on working parties to dig trenches and yet they are cheerful. None like the war, but we have never had a single case of discontent”.

After Bay Ryley was killed at Delville Wood on 5 September 1916 leading his men in an attack, his father, who had been Headmaster at Emanuel between 1906-1913, returned from America where he left a few years previously and in a letter wrote, “Perhaps you would like to add my name to the ‘Portcullis’ Pro Patria List…if so I am now a Lieutenant of the above regiment (Suffolks). I wish my name could go next to my dear old ‘Bay’s’…I was over at Emanuel yesterday to…look at the place for what, I doubt not, will be the last time…I have been ordered to hold myself in readiness to go to the Front at short notice. There I shall be at first on ‘lines of communication,’ but I mean to wriggle up into the trenches somehow, somewhere…Bay’s sword was recovered and my mother has it now, thank goodness.” Harold Buchanan Ryley was killed in Palestine on 15 December 1917.

A School party from England broke the silence when I stood on the steps of the Thiepval Memorial in January and at that moment I wondered what they made of the long lists of names of young people not much older than themselves when they fell, but who shall remain forever young not having known old age.

A name is a vacuum without a face and a story, which brings colour to the white memorial tablets. That is why I want to end the eleven Emanuel boys’ anonymity and let them be the young men they once were so future generations can visit the Memorial and see Alec, Bay, Charles, Douglas, Frederick, Gilbert, Ivor, the two Johns, Lawrence, Louis and William as they were; young men full of life, dreams and hopes, cruelly cut down in youth by a savage war.

They were Emanuel boys; they were sons; brothers; uncles; cousins. Their bodies remain missing but their memory is secure in the Emanuel family.

Emanuel School Students on the Thiepval Memorial