Nowell Smith, Headmaster 1909-1927.

In October 1918, Nowell Smith, the Headmaster of Sherborne School, wrote in his report to the School Governors:

‘Never before these last four years have Schools been so closely and evidently bound up with the life of the nation as a whole: and never in the nation’s history has there been a year fraught with more tremendous issues or more startling events than 1918.  But for this very reason the chronicle of our School life is comparatively monotonous.  The boys pass regularly into some branch or other of the Forces.  Their subsequent careers would fill volumes with the greatest variety of place and adventure and gallant deeds and noble deaths.  Their lives here have their activities and their importance – never more so: but interest is no longer centred upon the incidents of School life as it used to be; and the incidents themselves are fewer.  Writing in the midst of the glorious news of the work of liberation which our armies are performing East and West, I cannot help hoping that this will be the last report of a year devoted entirely to war.  But I also hope that the wider outlook and the keener consciousness of national life which the war has brought will not be lost, at least at Sherborne School, when peace returns with its problems, less exciting, but no less urgent and more intricate.’

Nowell Smith’s wish that this would be his last wartime report was granted just a month later when, on 11 November 1918, hostilities ended.

At 12 noon on Monday, 11 November 1918 the School bell was rung and the whole school gathered in the Courts.  Standing by the elm trees on the Sixth Form Green, the Headmaster announced that the Armistice had been signed at 5.30 that morning and that there would be no more school until Wednesday morning.  The Director of Music, Mr Alexander Sainsbury, began singing the National Anthem and soon the whole school joined in.  At 12.30 a Service of Thanksgiving was held in the School chapel at which the ‘Te Deum’ was sung.

Postcard of Sherborne School, c.1918.

Many had mixed feeling about the end of hostilities.  Henry Robinson King, the housemaster of Abbeylands, recorded that day in his diary: ‘Villages all beflagged. Church bells ringing. Rather forlorn processions’, and the housemaster of Lyon, Alick Trelawny-Ross, described how he felt that rather than celebrating they should be on their knees in the chapel or doing a job of extra work ‘as a thank-offering.’  Alick’s brother was still a prisoner of war, the Headmaster had lost a brother, and over 200 former pupils and three members of staff had lost their lives on active service.  In response, Alick returned to his classroom (no.16) and corrected 200 exam papers before making his way back to the House.

William Hayman who attended Sherborne School (Abbeylands) from 1917 to 1921, described how the war had conditioned their lives: ‘Boys leaving school joined up at once, had a brief training and within months were in the front line – perhaps to die.  We knew that we might well follow the same course, and accepted the fact without heroics.  Most of us received first-hand information about what fighting the Germans was like and we had no illusions.  Relations in the forces and old boys all painted the same picture, and the result was that we wanted to take our part in the conflict in the cause of what we came to believe to be right and necessary.  I suppose there were one or two convinced conscientious objectors among us, but if so they kept very quiet.’  It is therefore hardly surprising that many of the boys felt a great sense of relief that the war had ended and wanted to celebrate.

In the BSR at 5.30 pm that evening the Sophists gave a reading of T.W. Robertson’s comedy ‘Caste’, which was followed by fireworks in the Courts.  The following day, the School Games Committee arranged impromptu sports on the Upper and a game of soccer was played between the masters and the boys (and won by the masters!).  The School Prefects formed an entertainments committee and in the evening put on a concert, including a performance of ‘The Conversion of Nat Sturge’ by Malcolm Watson which, considering how quickly the parts had been learnt and rehearsed, ‘was a delightful success, although slightly interrupted by the orgies of the town.’  The evening concluded with a fancy dress dance with music kindly played by Mrs Stubbings.

‘Such were the festivities marking the conclusion of the war’.

Vivat Shirburnia by Patrick Francis.

Rachel Hassall
School Archivist
6 November 2018

Copies of Patrick Francis’s book, Vivat Shirburnia: Sherborne School and the Great War, 1914-1918 (2014) are available for purchase from Sherborne School reception, Abbey Road, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 3AP, tel. 01935 812249, or email:

See also: Online Resources for Sherborne School and the First World War

For further information please contact the School Archivist

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