By Clare Jarmy, Head of Able, Gifted & Talented, Oxbridge and Academic Scholars & Philosophy, Religious Studies & Ethics
On Remembrance Day, students and staff gathered outside the Memorial Library – which was built in 1921 in tribute to the students who were killed in World War I – to reflect. In Remembrance Jaw, a few days before, we heard about three Old Bedalians – Lance Newman, Ferenc Bekassy and Sadie Bonnell – who had in one way or another been overlooked. I am immensely grateful to the Librarians Ian Douglas and Matilda McMorrow, who undertook hours of research, both within our own Archive and in national archives.
The first of the OBs we heard about, Lance Newman was decorated in both World War I (Military Cross) and World War II (George Cross). It is unusual to find someone decorated in both conflicts Whereas other OBs’ honours are mentioned, Lance’s were left out, and we heard the extraordinary tale of his time as a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp in Hong Kong. We hope to share his incredible story of bravery and sacrifice in a future bulletin or OB newsletter.
Secondly, we hear about Ferenc Bekassy, who was Hungarian and attended Bedales with his siblings. After Bedales, he went up to King’s College Cambridge and was both a friend and some-time love rival of Rupert Brooke. World War I came, and of course, he was called up to fight on the other side to most of his Bedalian friends. When he was killed in action, he was overlooked for the war memorial at King’s College Cambridge. It would, after all, be strange to commemorate the service of ‘enemy aliens’. This was not, however, the attitude at Bedales, where being a Bedalian was ranked a higher consideration than the side on which he fought. When we marked the two minutes’ silence on 11 November, we heard two stanzas from a poem by Ferenc Bekassy:
So many thousand lay round him, it would need a poet, maybe,
Or a woman, or one of his kindred, to remember that none were as he ;
It would need the mother he followed, or the girl he went beside
When he walked the paths of summer in the flush of his gladness and pride,
To know that he was not a unit, a pawn whose place can be filled ;
Not blood, but the beautiful years of his coming life have been spilled,
The days that should have followed, a house and a home, maybe,
For a thousand may love and marry and nest, but so shall not he.
So frequently in our Remembrance Jaws, we consider only the men who fought. The stories of some extraordinary women get overlooked. Old Bedalian girls undertook a huge range of roles in World War I, but one of the bravest was surely Sadie Bonnell, who drove ambulances in St Omer.
On one night, during very heavy shelling, the only ambulance available was blown up, and many men lay dead and dying in No Man’s Land. Sadie and her colleagues – amongst whom was another OB – rallied round and found three ambulances that they, without thought for their own safety, drove under fire to collect the injured. Doubtless they saved many lives that night. She and her friends were all awarded the Military Medal for their extraordinary bravery under such difficult conditions.