It is 100 years since the foundation stone of the Clock Tower was laid – that most recognisable landmark associated with College. It was built from funds given in tribute to the 1000 OAs who volunteered for the First World War in 1914 and to commemorate the 125 who, by 1918, had died in that terrible conflict. But because of the war and the pledge to educate the sons of the fallen, the money for the Clock Tower itself was very slow in being accumulated. And yet, each gift – large of small – has a special significance. Each grey stone has its secret, each hand on the clock or tongue in the bell is connected to family or friends – a communal giving and grieving.
In 1921 Admiral Sir William Goodenough of the Royal Navy laid the foundation stone at St Andrew’s Tide. He was a veteran of the famous naval Battle of Jutland in the First World War. You may wonder why an Admiral was invited when Grahamstown was not a port. The reason was because, during the war, every week, the College boys had donated their precious pocket money for treats for the sailors of HMS Oak, a sturdy small destroyer of the Royal Navy which was
used to transport dignitaries from port to the ships of the Grand Fleet. It was distinctive in that it was the only ship in the fleet that was painted white and it carried many famous people.
It must have caused great excitement at College when it was made known that ‘their ship’, HMS Oak, transported the German Admiral instructed, at the end of the war, to surrender the German Fleet to Admiral Sir David Beatty on the flag ship of the Royal Navy. It was on the morning of the 20th November – exactly 103 years ago today – that HMS Oak , the royal standard flying from the mast, proudly sailed with England’s King George V and Queen Mary into Scapa Flow in Scotland, to inspect the place where the German fleet was interred.
On laying the foundation stone of the Clock Tower, Admiral Goodenough said of the 125 Old Andreans whose names were engraved there:
‘The strongest of all ties bind you and them together: the common school which nourished you. You are bound, too, by the closest ties to those who have fallen – well-remembered, well-beloved. We may leave them calm and triumphant, their bodies at rest, their souls with God.
If it was a great Admiral who laid the foundation stone, it was a great General who unveiled the Clock Tower when it was finally built. General Henry Timson Lukin had commanded the South African Brigade during the terrible battle of the Somme and at Delville Wood where a number of OAs had been killed. You College boys sitting here today think of those soldiers from a hundred years ago as old men, long gone; that the names in the Clock Tower mean little because you cannot begin to imagine the personalities of those who are recorded there.
Some have memorials in the Chapel too. If you look up at the window high above the pulpit you will see it is dedicated to those who ‘love and honour this school’. That ‘ordinary boy’ is represented by Charlie Fraser who, with his friend Arthur Green, both died in German East Africa in 1916. They had been at Prep together, they were in Upper at College, they were both members of the First XV- Charlie as fullback and Arthur as left wing. They went to war together and marched
into battle side by side. When Charlie was hit by a shell, Arthur stayed with him until he died. His last words to Arthur were, ‘Damned rotten luck’ as if Arthur had just scored a try and Charlie had missed the kick at posts.
On the side wall near the back is a window to John Greathead. He saved his commanding officer’s life by staunching a neck- wound with the heel of his hand for hour after hour in the freezing cold until help came only to be killed, himself, a few hours later.
Look at the plaque on the pillar with the head of the young airman in profile. That’s Bobby Graham, head of Espin and captain of the XI in 1914. He was shot down in his plane over France. He had left behind him, at the air base where he was stationed, his beloved dog, Flossie. His mother brought Flossie back to Grahamstown. She and Flossie used to walk down Worcester Street to watch the cricket matches on Lower. They both did it to honour and remember Bobby.
The first window, as you come into the chapel, at the end is dedicated to St John Matthews. ‘Little Jack’, ‘Sparrow’, the ‘scrummie’ in the second XV – an ankle-biter of note and adored by the girls at DSG! It is said that he looked so young that the men in his regiment called him ‘The Boy’. But when he was wounded and carried from his trench waving and shouting, ‘I’ll be back!’ there wasn’t a dry eye. He died and his commanding officer wrote to Sparrow’s parents:
‘If ever I have a son, I hope he will be like your boy. Brave, courteous and altogether delightful.’
No, these were not old men – they were boys not much older than you who are sitting here in Chapel today. They played and learned together, they laughed together like you do. I believe they are with us still. As General Lukin said in his address when the Clock Tower was completed. ‘Tradition is the life blood of a school or a regiment. In many distinguished regiments of the Army, it is believed that the souls of the departed always march with the regimental colours. It is a fine belief which has inspired many a brave act.’
When we go now to the Clock Tower, remember that every name inscribed there as well as the names of every Old Andrean which will be read out today and who has died in the last year, was also – once – just ‘a boy like you’.
Dr Marguerite Poland, OA President 2021