A book detailing the moving stories of more than 200 former pupils of Dungannon’s Royal School who served in the World Wars has been launched.
From Flanders Fields to Lone Gallipoli is the fruit of several years of careful research by the school’s Head of History, Paul Kerr.
Taking his inspiration from a class project, Paul has delved into the military records and made contact with sources from all over the globe to complete his ‘labour of love’.
The book chronicles many intrepid stories, including those of the 38 past pupils who died as a result of the conflicts. One harrowing account includes a letter from a medical captain in which he confesses to weeping at the thought of his young daughter.
Printed in full colour with illustrations and photographs throughout, it is a wonderful testament to the school, the men and their families.
According to Mr Kerr, the work for the book began as a classroom activity: “My interest in the old boys who were killed in the war started several years ago when I was developing a research project for my Year 10 pupils.
“Eventually, looking into what happened to them became a labour of love and with the help of people from around the globe, and funding from the PEACE III organisation, we were able to publish the book.”
One of the tragic stories chronicled is that of Captain William Gordon Cummings, who died on 18 May 1917.
Cumings unit was at the front during the brutal attempt by British and Australian troops to capture the village of Bullecourt in April and May 1917. In a letter to his wife, written shortly before his death, Cummings was under no illusions about the danger he and his men were in:
“We are proceeding right up into the fray with the stretcher-bearers, and things are pretty hot just where we are, and I expect they will be hotter still. Brought up my section here last night and during that time there was a terrific ‘barrage’.”
With death a real possibility, William’s thoughts turned to his little girl:
“I hope my darling baby is all right. Dear little girl, I cried about her last night while going along the road on my horse leading my men. I am doing my duty at any rate, in fact more than most.”
Captain William Cummings was killed instantly on 18 May 1917 when a shell exploded in a dug-out where he was attending to wounded soldiers. In a letter to his wife, the Assistant Director of Medical Services of his division wrote,
“I feel his loss deeply, as he was an officer of whom I had formed the highest possible opinion, and on whom I placed the greatest reliance. He was always cheery under the most adverse circumstances. Such an officer the R.A.M.C. can ill afford to lose.”
Several local people contributed information and photographs related to family members. Former RSD member of staff Keith Patton, whose grandfather Joseph served with the Inniskilling Fusiliers, said, “I found some of the stories to be really moving. I’d recommend the book to anyone interested in the history of the school or the local area.”
Contributor to the book Joan Reid, whose ancestor Robert Neville was killed in 1918, said: “I think it’s a wonderful publication and a great way of commemorating the sacrifice made by so many local men.”
The book also features a foreword by former RSD pupil, and current Head of Horticulture with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, David Richardson.
Copies of the book are on sale at £10.00 and are available from the RSD Reception Office or from the Ranfurly House Arts & Visitor Centre.
All proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the Fields of Life charity and will
contribute further to the building of the new Bethel Royal High School in Uganda.