A Time for Courage

There can be very few of us who have not been following the exploits of Captain Tom Moore over the past few weeks. For those parents who are overseas, who were not able to read last week’s Master’s Voice, or who do not have ready access to social media and television, Captain Tom Moore was a former officer in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment who served in India and Burma, now Myanmar, during the Second World War. A few weeks ago, in order to raise money for the National Health Service – his initial target was £1000 – Captain Moore set himself the challenge of walking 100 laps of his back garden before his 100th birthday last Thursday, no mean feat considering that he can only walk with the aid of a supportive walking frame.

What happened next is now the story of a modern-day national hero for our times. Captain Moore completed the challenge, has now raised over £32 million, became the oldest person ever to reach No 1 in the charts with a cover of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ with Michael Ball, has been made an honorary Colonel, celebrated his 100th birthday with a flypast of a Hawker Hurricane and a Spitfire, and has received over 150,000 birthday cards. There is now a concerted national campaign for Captain Moore to be knighted.

In the week during which we celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day, Captain Tom Moore is enduring evidence of the pride and gratitude which our nation still holds for the heroes of previous generations, and although Captain Moore is not an Old Wellingtonian, I am certain that the Iron Duke would himself be full of pride and admiration at the courage and achievements of a man who once fought in his eponymous regiment.

Thousands of OWs did fight in WW2 and it is estimated that over 500 of them lost their lives in the allied effort to suppress the Nazi regime. Three particularly famous old boys who played significant roles in the conflict were: Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, who attended both Eagle House and Wellington, who later became a Governor of the College, and who gives his name to one of the rooms in our library (his Wikipedia page is well worth a read); Herbert ‘Blondie’ Hasler, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Marines whose exploits in Operation Frankton were immortalised in the film ‘The Cockleshell Heroes’, which starred, amongst others, Christopher Lee (OW); and Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, played by Richard Attenborough in the cult film ‘The Great Escape’ who masterminded the mass break out from Stalag Luft III in 1944, only to be recaptured and executed by the Gestapo.

There are memorials to Hasler and Bushell in the floor of the entrance to the Wellington College Chapel – look out for them next time you attend a service – and the list of Victoria Cross recipients in Waterloo Hall (on the right-hand wall as you walk in) also commemorates the five Old Wellingtonians who received the highest and most distinguished award for valour during 1939-1945: RAB Learoyd, ACC Miers, PA Porteous, VB Turner, C Raymond. The stories of three of these heroes can be found on the Wellington Community website, along with an article about how the College marked VE Day back in 1945 – many thanks to College Archivist, Caroline Jones, for putting these remarkable resources together.

Courage is, of course, one of our College Values and we must never forget that courage has been in the DNA of Wellingtonians and Old Wellingtonians since the school was first opened in January 1859 to provide an education to the orphaned sons of soldiers, the original sons of heroes – Heroum Filii. So, as we celebrate VE Day this Friday, let the entire Wellington Community remember the courage and sacrifice of all OWs who lost their lives in WW2, and let us continue to have the courage to serve others in the weeks, months and years to come. To do otherwise would be to dishonour their memory.

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