From school to the front: Gresham’s School, Norfolk

Cuthbert Frank Shaw's medal index card, digitised by the National Archives.

Cuthbert Frank Shaw’s medal index card, digitised by the National Archives.

Holt, in Norfolk, is home to Gresham’s School. This independent school had a successful officer training corps in 1914. We recently visited Norfolk with BBC World War One at Home Live Events.

In practice, this meant that over 100 soldiers who had been pupils at Gresham’s fought and died in the First World War. About three quarters were under 25, and the majority were unmarried.

Over 100 soldiers who had been pupils at Gresham’s fought and died. About three quarters were under 25.

George Howson was the headmaster. He was said to be devastated by the loss of so many former pupils, passing away himself not long after the war ended in 1918.

The Gresham’s boys would join up on leaving school, serving in the army, navy and later RAF. Because they joined as officers, they were often particular targets for snipers looking to deprive a unit of its leadership.

BBC World War One at Home‘s feature on Gresham’s School is linked from both the following Life Stories. Follow the links and explore what has already been added to their Life Stories to hear a short audio clip on the school and its pupils.

Cuthbert Shaw: from school to the army

Cuthbert Frank Shaw was one of these young officers. A second lieutenant in the Royal Sussex Regiment, he was killed in action near Ypres on October 30th 1914. The war had barely been declared a month. He was just 22.

But what else do we know about Cuthbert? There is a tribute to him on the Gresham’s Roll of Honour, which tells us a few things:

  • Academically speaking, we know that he was chiefly interested in engineering. In May 1907 he started at Gresham’s, aged about 14. Three years later he left, in July of 1910, to be an engineering student at King’s College, London.
  • In February of 1913 he had just passed  the Associate Membership Examination of the Institute of Civil Engineers. He spent a few months as an engineering assistant with a company by the name of ‘Messrs. Kirkland & Capper of Westminster’.
  • Like Private Stephen Brown (who was not an officer and likely had more financially pressing motivations), Cuthbert had an interest in joining the armed forces before war was declared. He was in the Special Reserve of the Royal Sussex Regiment from the beginning of 1914.

Cuthbert  went to the front to join his regiment early in October. He was killed on 30 October.

Arthur Cook Bird: posted to Baghdad

Arthur Cook Bird was another former pupil of Gresham’s. Unlike Cuthbert Shaw, he was a private in the Army Service Corps.

  • The war began when he was about 26, and he attended the school from 1898, when he was 10, to 1903.
  • After that, he travelled to Canada to farm, but ended up returning to England to try setting up a business.

Arthur did not join the army until May 1917. By July he was serving in Mesopotamia (now Iraq). He died in Baghdad of May of 1918 after sustaining serious burns.

A war memorial Community

The Life Stories of Cuthbert and Arthur have been added to a Community on Lives of the First World War, grouping together the names on a war memorial in Sheringham, Norfolk.

As yet, neither Life Story has a photo added to it. Do you have any photographs, memories, or other evidence?

How about your local area? Are you researching the contributions to the First World War of your local people? We’d love to know how you’re using Lives of the First World War, what you’ve discovered, and who you’re remembering. 

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