In Roll of Honour - the first book in the Schooling and the Great War trilogy - the myriad faces of teachers who experienced the war of 1914 to 1919 are presented to the reader. They include:
Teacher as patriot and recruiting agent
Erich Maria Remarque's iconic anti-war book All Quiet on the Western Front exemplifies the notion that the teachers of 1914 did their patriotic duty - like Herr Kantorek in the book - by urging their students to enlist. In 1914 some teachers did contribute actively to the recruitment drive. The Headteacher of Wintringham School, Grimsby, went further than Kantorek by forming an Officer Training Corps (OTC) in 1910 and then, on the outbreak of war, by founding a 'pals battalion' comprised mainly of Old Boys from his school. Some 250 former pupils formed part of the 'Grimsby Chums' (10th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment).
Teacher as part-time soldier
The Volunteer, Militia and Territorial forces established during the Victorian and Edwardian era attracted many teachers to their ranks. When Britain declared war in August 1914 these teacher-soldiers were recalled to the colours and served with the BEF in the initial engagements in Flanders. Others commanded the OTC in their schools, preparing young cadets to replace junior officers who were killed in action.
Teacher as volunteer
Thousands of teachers responded to the call-to-arms in August 1914. In Peterborough, crowds flocked to the army recruiting office. Amongst them were two Old Boys of Deacon's School who were employed as teachers in local elementary schools. Albert Herbert taught at St Mark's School in the city. Edgar Law taught at Broad Street Boys' School in nearby Whittlesey. Both took the king's shilling and enlisted in the Northamptonshire Regiment. Both were killed in action.
Teacher as 'Temporary Gentleman'
During the Great War 247,061 commissions were granted in the British Army. Some 100,000 of these went to men with OTC experience gained in the Public Schools and universities. High attrition rates, however, meant that demand for officers soon outstripped supply. From January 1916 new Officer Cadet Battalions (OCB) were formed. These provided a four month course for ex-rankers, many of whom were men of working and lower-middle class origins. New officers were granted commissions for the duration of the war. The Temporary Officers were often referred to as 'Temporary Gentlemen'. This became a term of derision for those who were not from the 'quality' classes.
In Journey's End (1929) by R.C. Sherriff, the system of commissioning into the armed forces based upon school attended is presented for dramatic effect. In this scene (from left to right) Raleigh, Trotter, Osborne and Stanhope are all commissioned officers, together awaiting the onslaught of the German Spring Offensive of March 1918. The characters are dramatic stereotypes of members of the British officer corps at the time. Captain Stanhope, Lieutenant Osborne and the new young subaltern Raleigh are the products of the English public school system. Second Lieutenant Trotter is not, having risen through the ranks. They are all Temporary Officers, but only Trotter is not a real gentleman.
Teacher as senior officer
The majority of teachers serving in the British armed forces were NCOs and privates. Only about a third of teacher-soldiers became commissioned officers and very few were promoted to the higher officer ranks. Most public school masters who fought in the Great War were officers, and some, including George Tryon and Wilfrith Elstob, were promoted to lead battalions. Senior officers drawn from the ranks of elementary teachers, for example Lieutenant Commander Archibald Buckle, were exceptional in more senses than one.
Teacher as auxiliary
The Great War was a total war in which all - young and old, male and female - were expected to serve. Recruitment posters urged women to join the auxiliary forces or replace men in the factories and other wartime production and transport services. Many schoolmistresses left the classroom to work in the field hospitals on the battle fronts and in the munitions factories.
Whilst most of the male NUT members joined the Army, some 200 of the 331 women members who volunteered became nurses at home and at the front. Some women teachers joined the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). The National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT) also debated ways in which they might contribute to the war effort. The West Ham branch of the NUWT encouraged members to join the Women's Police Patrols.
Teacher as national hero
For their calmness and bravery in helping evacuate the survivors of the North Street School bombing in June 1917, three teachers (right) were awarded OBEs.
The National Union of Teachers War Record (1920) lists hundreds of their members - predominantly teachers employed in elementary schools - who were awarded military honours and decorations. Three received VCs, whilst others were recognised by foreign governments.
Teacher as shirker?
In an age when young men not in uniform risked being given the 'White Feather' of cowardice, the pressure on men to enlist was ever-present in some communities. Teachers were expected to be role models in thought and deed. Those who were Conscientious Objectors faced real difficulty in retaining or securing employment, despite teacher shortages. Institutional needs also meant that some masters were simply not allowed to fight if staffing the curriculum was difficult. Headteachers often pleaded with Local Tribunals to be allowed to retain key staff who had been called up after the Military Service Acts of 1916 and 1918 introduced conscription for all single men aged 18-41 and 18-51 respectively. The 1918 Act, in the wake of the German Spring Offensive, also ended all exemptions from service.
The Fallen - a Lost Generation of teachers
Over two thousand British teachers were killed in the Great War. They included masters from the great public schools and grammar schools, schoolteachers from the elementary schools, and even trainees preparing to join the profession. Some were famous, like George Butterworth the composer. Most were not, but were nevertheless citizens who had been of value and great importance to their families, schools and local communities.
Now you can find out more about the wartime exploits of teacher-soldiers in the second book in the
Schooling and the Great War trilogy:
Thousands of men from the Britain and its overseas Dominions responded to the call to defend the Empire. Many from Australia, New Zealand and Canada enlisted in defence of the 'Old Country' and became valued as some of the best fighting men in the British Army. Temporary Gentlemen follows the fortunes of men and women from the teaching profession in these countries. It describes how they came to be teachers; the ways in which they were employed in different types of schools; how they responded to the British Empire's call-to-arms in 1914; their varied campaigns as teacher-soldiers and auxiliaries; and, for those who survived and returned home, their re-adjustment in a post-war world. Temporary Gentlemen focuses on many hitherto unknown individuals who fought in the Great War. In particular, it investigates the careers and wartime exploits of teacher-soldiers from a single Teacher Training College in each of the four countries below.