Posted By pferguson on September 8, 2014
Gonville and Caius College from King’s Parade, Cambridge University.
The Voice of 1919
Even though there is a desire on my part to try to make every blog, at this time, commemorate an anniversary of the Great War, I find that when the idea is generated one has to work with it else it leaves this writer for a great while. I know that this blog, inspired by the film “Chariots of Fire”, has been on my mind for at least two years. And so I decide to watch the film and soon I begin noticing many things.
The Great War has been over less than a year. The veterans, not as old men but youthful themselves and having seen visions beyond their years stowing baggage, one with the dressings and braces of an unkind war, medals in place hoping for a little cash from this new generation of youth. One character of that new generation is student, Harold Maurice Abrahams, the famed runner, played by Ben Cross. Abrahams held the King’s commission in the British Army but he was not to make the journey to the front unlike these two souls wearing a trio and a pair or as the vets called them “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred” and “Mutt and Jeff”.
Thinking about these two returned men searching for a bit of work reminds me of meeting Professor Richard Holmes, author of “Tommy”, in London, England. What a grand experience that was where for a few brief minutes we had a conversation about returned soldiers finding it difficult to obtain work. In protest many men pawned their medals and wore the pawnbroker’s tickets on their lapels as an act of protest. How we both wanted to discover an image of this symbolic act and how some while later I saw one in a special exhibit at the Imperial War Museum.
There is however another scene that interests me and it is indeed the one that first started my musings about a Chariots blog all that while ago. I turn now to the Caius College Master’s speech as today’s point for reflection. Someone else’s words that attempts to shape what his generation has felt as name after name were added to the wood paneling. Lines of memories, each name once a voice in the University, each student excited by the prospects of new experience. It is the Master’s voice that needs to be heard, his words, the actor’s delivery capturing the recent days of the University in which likely no day was without loss. This is the voice of 1919 that should be recalled each and every day of these 100th anniversaries. It is the voice of anguish, a reminder of loss but additionally provides the kindling to a new group of youths whose time has come to accept their place in a new world trying to survive those earlier desperate years.
Caius College Master’s Speech (Played by Lindsay Anderson)
Scene: The Freshman’s Dinner
“I take the War List and I run down it. Name after name which I cannot read and which we who are older than you cannot hear without emotion — names which will be only names to you, the new college, but which to us, summon up face after face, full of honesty and goodness, zeal and vigour and intellectual promise. The flower of a generation. The glory of England and they died for England and all that England stands for… and now by tragic necessity their dreams have become yours. Let me exalt you. Examine yourselves. Let each of you discover where your true chance of greatness lies, for their sakes, for the sake of your college and your country seize this chance rejoice in and let no power or persuasion deter you in your task”. (Thursday October 10, 1919)
Did you know?
Two well-known alumni of Caius (pronounced Keys) College include:
Harold Ackroyd VC MC
Royal Army Medical Corps attached 6th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during operations. He attended the wounded under heavy fire, and finally, when he had seen that all our wounded from behind the line had been got in, he went out beyond the front line and brought in both our own and enemy wounded, although continually sniped at.” (Delville Wood, 19 July 1916)
“For most conspicuous bravery. During recent operations Capt. Ackroyd displayed the greatest gallantry and devotion to duty. Utterly regardless of danger, he worked continuously for many hours up and down and in front of the line tending the wounded and saving the lives of officers and men. In so doing he had to move across the open under heavy machine-gun, rifle and shell fire. He carried a wounded officer to a place of safety under very heavy fire. On another occasion he went some way in front of our advanced line and brought in a wounded man under continuous sniping and machine-gun fire. His heroism was the means of saving many lives, and provided a magnificent example of courage, cheerfulness, and determination to the fighting men in whose midst he was carrying out his splendid work. This gallant officer has since been killed in action.” (31 July – 1 August, 1917, Ypres, Belgium)
Killed 1 August 1917 by a sniper, Jargon Trench
Buried Birr Cross Roads Cemetery, Zillebeke, Belgium
Sir Harold Delf Gillies
Famed Great War plastic surgery pioneer whose work in facial reconstruction is well documented at Queen Mary’s Hospital Archives, Sidcup, England. The earlier scene of the returned veteran with bandages and bracings seems to suggest that the film team was aware of this distinguished alumnus.
Film Location of the Speech
I suspect the scene of the Ciaus College master’s speech to be in King’s College at the University of Cambridge as the UK inventory of war memorial records “King’s College Chapel Wood WWI paneling”. There are many colleges at the University but this is the only one recorded that is similar to what is shown in the film. I would like to verify where the Master’s Speech was filmed and would be interested to hear from anyone knowing for certain. Attempts to find an image of the memorial online have not met with success.