27 Jun '14

News Using schools to boost the military ethos could be making a comeback | Giles Fraser

Is the commitment for 100 new cadet force units in state schools by 2015 the best way to mark the start of the first world war?It was a summer much like this one, 100 years ago, July 1914. Vera Brittain remembers it in her Testament of Youth, as "the one perfect summer idyll that I ever experienced". The location was Uppingham School, Rutland, where Brittain was attending her brother's speech day though the real pull was his best friend, Roland Leighton, with whom she was falling in love. In that year's speeches, the headmaster, the Rev Harry McKenzie, reminded his pupils: "Be a man useful to your country; whoever cannot be that is better dead."Within months, Brittain's brother and lover were mobilised through the school's Officers' Training Corps (OTC) and thence to France where they were eventually to meet their deaths, along with one in five of their classmates. One student described an air of "appalling jingoism" that permeated Uppingham. Not sharing the school's attitude to war, he was "kicked, hounded, caned, flogged, hair-brushed, morning, noon and night". As the historians Alan Bishop and Mark Bostridge explained, the OTC "provided the institutional mechanism for public school militarism and [schoolmasters] contributed to the generation of 1914's overwhelming willingness to march off in search of glory". It's unsurprising that Old Uppinghamian Stephen Fry gave us Blackadder's General Melchett. Continue reading...

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