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News > Events > OSA Centenary Bell Dedication

OSA Centenary Bell Dedication

On 9th November 2018, the whole School and some distinguished OS guests came together to witness the inauguration and dedication of the OSA Centenary Bell.
9 Nov 2018
In November 1918, the end of The Great War was celebrated by the School in a big way. At 12.30pm on the 11th, the flag was hoisted amidst loud cheering and in the dining room several glasses were smashed, the vessels having been used as joy-bells. The whole School was let off lessons in the afternoon and in the evening a thanksgiving ceremony was held in St Mary’s Church. This was followed by a hastily-organised concert, after which all of the School blinds were lifted up and the brightly-illuminated buildings were visible from all over the Weald. Before bed, the rejoicing took a noisy turn. Bells, whistles, rattles and other cacophonous instruments sounded out into the still night.

This year, 2018, saw the centenary of the end of the First World War remembered in an entirely different, more sombre, mood. Despite the films we have seen, the war poems we have read, the reminiscences of those who fought we have heard, it is certain that no-one living today has any real notion of just how horrific it must have been to have endured the period of 1914 to 1918. We certainly have no reason to celebrate something we have not experienced; far better then for us to reflect on the horrors that have been mentioned and to resolve that such a thing should never again be allowed to occur. They that fought did indeed give their today for our tomorrow.

By the end of the war, the School had grown from about 50 boys in 1911 to nearly 200 strong. But even amongst that increased number, it is a sombering thought that 52 Old Suttonians and three former members of staff lost their lives during the conflict. Periodically, throughout the war the headmaster had the awful task of remembering those who had fallen and telling their story to the pupils. 

The School magazines of that time, and there were three per year, were full of letters written by Old Suttonians from the front, outlining their adventures. Over the last four years, the present headmaster has also reported on the anniversary of the deaths of our lads as and when they occurred. 

Periodically, and frequently, our 21st century adventure has been interrupted by our hearing of the terrible events. We learned, via a letter written to the School by Robert Edmund Denny (1907 L), of the German gas attack in Ypres in 1915. He described how he and his Canadian colleagues were thrust into the breach opened by the retreating French, and how they managed to stop the enemy attack. Pride in his achievement was short-lived – his death was announced just a couple of weeks later. Then, the news prompted Denny’s younger brother (too young to fight) to abscond from School, twice, to enlist and avenge his sibling’s death. After a night in the cells he returned to School, leaving as soon as he could. Fortunately, he managed to survive the war.

Sutton Valence School built its chapel to commemorate those who died in the Great War. It was not finished until well into the 1920s, so long did it take to obtain permission from the clerical authorities. Once we commenced its occupation, we installed a commemorative plaque to honour the fallen. There were 41 names on it. In recent years, we have been able to research much more accurately and discovered 11 names that had previously been missed. At the beginning of this year, the plaque received an additional panel and is now complete. No chapel is ever complete without a bell to call the congregation to worship. Just as the School honoured its First World War dead by building a chapel, so in this, the hundredth year after the war ended, the School and the OSA decided to commemorate all those who have fallen in conflict by the installation of a bell on the west wall.

On 9th November this year, the whole School and some distinguished guests witnessed the inauguration and dedication of the bell and the commemoration of the extra names on the plaque in chapel.  At the bell ceremony, the names of the dead were read out by our oldest ‘active’ Old Suttonian, Ian Kay (1941 M), himself some 93 years young. Once the names had been read, the bell tolled 55 times, once for each of those brave lads. Chairman of Governors Lady Vallance unveiled the plaque informing us that the bell’s purchase and installation was a joint effort by the OSA and the School. Alex Bartleet (2019 C) played The Last Post and the choir sang a beautiful anthem. By the time the dedication ceremony had concluded, it was a sombre group of guests who entered the chapel for the School’s annual service of remembrance immediately afterwards. 

That ceremony commemorated the additional names on the World War 1 plaque and was centred on the Chaplain talking to us on the theme of loss.  At Sutton Valence, we were deemed lucky that we had only one set of brothers killed in the war. The Chaplain told the story of families that had lost four, or even five sons. That said, our fallen boys represented something like 19 per cent of those who had left the School between 1875 and 1918. If that percentage were to be applied to today’s generation of Suttonians across a similar period, our death toll may well have been in the order of 380 - a startlingly reflective statistic.

Joy, gladness, relief and remembrance dominated our thoughts 100 years ago. This year joy and gladness take a back seat.

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