Remembering the past. Educating the future.

The past week at Wellington and, indeed, in the wider world, has had something of a Janus-esque quality to it. On the one hand, we have all looked to Glasgow and the COP26 summit for news of how the world’s leaders intend to grapple with existential global questions around the future of the planet; on the other, Remembrance has taken us deeply into the past as we mark the contributions of our armed forces and the ultimate sacrifice which so many millions of people have made over the past century to secure the freedoms we enjoy today.

Wellingtonians have been involved in both. Just before half-term, not one but two Lower Sixth Formers – Georgiana and Cindy (both O) – were selected from nearly 200 applicants to form part of a team representing the UK Schools Sustainability Network (UKSSN) at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. We are obviously extremely proud of them both and I look forward to hearing their reflections this week.

Closer to home, for the first time in two years, the Wellington Community has been able to mark Remembrance Week in our traditional manner and, thanks to the proliferation of live-streaming events over the past 18 months, as well as the Upper Sixth parents who joined in Chapel for the 10am service on Sunday, families from other year groups were able to tune in and listen to the choir singing with exquisite poignancy movements from both Fauré’s and Duruflé’s Requiem masses, as well as hearing the message of Major Toby Foster and watching the Colour Party march the College’s colours – our military flags – to be presented on the altar during the service.

In the Front Quad, as 11am came ever closer, the entire College community lined up in silence, House by House, accompanied by the band, our Drum Corps and Upper Sixth Former, Robbie (Pn) on bagpipes. The Colour Party, led so brilliantly by Tash (A) were once again flawless in their manoeuvres and, as the colours were lowered as the Last Post resounded around the College played by three Fourth Formers – Balthazar (Pn), Wynn (Bn) and Jack H (S) – the Chaplain, Father Adrian, led us in prayer before a rousing rendition of the National Anthem. The occasions are never underpinned by jingoistic pride or martial hubris, rather deep and solemn reflection on the horrors of war and what previous generations of heroes have done for us today.

A more recent addition to the ceremonies has been the removal and scattering of poppies in the Front Quad as pupils have departed in silence, each marking the life of a Wellingtonian from a former generation. But even this gesture does not do justice to the sacrifices made by OWs in the two World Wars. We have 1094 pupils at the College currently. 725 OWs and College staff lost their lives in the Great War alone; the number is even greater from the war against Nazism. In total, thousands of pupils and staff lost their lives throughout the 20th century with the most famous and only casualty at home in the Second World War being the 6th Master of Wellington, Bobby Longden, who was killed by a German bomb dropped over the College in October 1940.

COP26 has, rightly, dominated headlines over the past fortnight and we can only hope that the deal hammered out in the very final moments of the summit will do as much to protect the planet and safeguard the freedoms of future generations of Wellingtonians to come as did the sacrifices which so many millions of service personnel and their families made in years gone by. It is an uncertain future, but we will remember them.

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