A century on – Scotch salutes its World War I heroes
On Tuesday 10 February 1914, 600 Scotch Collegians assembled at the school’s East Melbourne home for the start of a new school year. The previous year had ended on a positive note with excellent academic results, and under William Littlejohn’s leadership the busy life of the school would soon gather momentum. In the wider community, record crowds were attending sporting events and the influence of the motor car was increasingly apparent.
Then on 4 August 1914 came news that Britain, and by implication the British Empire, was at war with Germany. In response, the Australian government announced its intention to raise a volunteer force to support Britain.
ABOVE: OLD BOYS AND BELOVED SCOTCH STAFF MEMBER GEORGE WOOD (standing, second from left) AT THE BROADMEADOWS OFFICERS’ TRAINING CAMP EARLY IN WORLD WAR I. FUTURE VICE PRINCIPAL HENRY ‘BOSH’ BOWDEN (1907) IS STANDING ON THE FAR RIGHT. THE PHOTOGRAPH APPEARED IN THE MAY 1916 EDITION OF THE SCOTCH COLLEGIAN. SIX OF THE 15 MEN IN THE PHOTOGRAPH DIED DURING THE WAR.
For the next four years, Australians were to face their first major challenge as a nation. Australia would never be the same; nor would Scotch College. The wartime deeds of Old Scotch Collegians and staff would have a profound impact on the school’s identity and culture..
Within weeks of the government’s announcement, hundreds of Australians, including 70 ‘Old Scotchies’, as they were known, had responded to.the call of duty. On 1 September 1914, dozens of Old Boys, staff and former staff gathered at the Grand Hotel, later known as the Windsor Hotel, to farewell.some of those.who had enlisted.
The Melbourne Argus gave considerable coverage to the event, quoting extensively from the rousing speeches given by Colonel James Whiteside McCay (Dux 1880), Principal, William Littlejohn and OSCA’s first President, Frank Shew (1866). McCay struck a chord with those present when he said: ‘Not only those going now, but those others to follow, realise that there are some things worth more than home, or people, or life; the maintenance of the Empire to which we belong, and which stands for right and justice.’
Several of those present, including Colonel McCay, were soon to leave for the Middle East, and prepare for a war which many thought would be over within months. The reality was to be the tragic Gallipoli campaign in 1915, where 11 Old Boys died at the landing, and from 1916 the horrendous battlefields of the Somme and Flanders.
The war affected Australia more than any other event since British settlement, with more than 200,000 Australians killed or injured in just four years. Of the approximately 1,300 Old Boys and staff who enlisted, 226 are currently known to have made the ultimate sacrifice.
The dead included two Captains of the School – William Knox (1904) and Stan Neale (1912) – as well as two of the school’s most cultured young alumni. James Drummond Burns (1914) and Boyd Thomson (1912) had both edited The Scotch Collegian and were brilliant writers, especially of poetry. The school also lost a much revered teacher, George Wood (1908-1917), who had written the College Song and the College Anthem.
As the war progressed, Scotch’s reputation grew. John (later Sir John) Monash (1881) became commander of Australia’s forces in France, and by the end of the war, 35 per cent of the enlisted Old Boys had received commissions for ranks ranging from lieutenant to general, while 23 per cent were non-commissioned officers.
The Hawthorn Glen site
At the very time war broke out, Scotch was also embarking on a project to relocate the school to a new home in Hawthorn. It had become apparent that the school’s East Melbourne site could no longer accommodate its ever-increasing student population.
Prior to the war there had been a fundraising campaign to build a new school hall in East Melbourne. Others argued that the priority should be to find a new site. After lengthy discussions it was determined that Scotch would purchase a property known as the Hawthorn Glen Estate. To guarantee the purchase, a sum of 5,000 pounds had to be raised by May 1915 at the very time that the first Old Boys were falling at Gallipoli. The first students arrived for the 1916 school year.
As the war progressed and Scotch casualties rose, Old Boys led by Arthur (later Sir Arthur) Robinson (1887) determined that the new campus would commemorate those who had fallen during the war. Scotch’s Memorial Hall was to be hallowed ground. On 5 March 1920, Sir John Monash laid the foundation stone for the Memorial Hall.
BRUCE BROWN ('60)