Embracing our hard-won freedom
At Scotch, we embrace, celebrate and promulgate our freedom and liberty, and honour those who made it all possible.
Mr Tom Batty
Some of my earliest school memories date from the late ‘60s when I left the comforts of nursery school grass for the dark asphalt of the primary school playground. Recess and lunchtimes, so recently spent on slides, climbing frames and in idle daydream, now had but two variations: football and ‘playing war’. Playing war was always British against Germans. The British always won and never lost a ‘man’.
The Second World War still resonated strongly, and, despite the rules of our games, we knew British servicemen had died, and in large numbers; that the war had come to our shores; that there had been dark times when the outcome tottered on the brink; that parents had fought or had their childhood interrupted by evacuation, or, like my mum as a girl in Liverpool, by being rehoused having been bombed out of home.
I’m pretty sure we already felt the stirrings of a debt of gratitude for the service of those who had fought, planned, healed and endured, and that this, in turn, was sowing the first seeds of a desire and need to remember.
Without ever wrestling with the conflict of ideologies that sat behind the Battle of Britain, Atlantic convoys and D-Day landings, I think we understood victory was important and that our lives would have been very different without the sacrifice of those whose actions we sought to re-enact. Perhaps, in those very early steps to manhood, there were also the glimmers of an awareness, that, though the battle had been won, protecting our way of life was something that would continue to require engagement and vigilance.
This year, our thoughts turn to events 100 years ago; to the battles raging across Europe and beyond, in what became known as the First World War; to some 1,300 Scotch boys who served their country; and, in particular, to the 226 boys and five members of staff of our school who made the ultimate sacrifice, including the 38 Scotch Collegians who were amongst the 8,700 Australians who gave their lives to the Gallipoli campaign.
Fittingly, this edition of Great Scot focuses thoughts on Service, Remembrance and Freedom; on those Scotch Collegians who risked, and gave, their all in times of conflict; on our responsibility, and need, to remember; and, on our obligation to reflect upon, embrace and uphold the very freedom won for us by their service, steadfastness and courage.
Schools are centres of communities, charged with nurturing and developing minds and bodies to best influence to the greater good. This, and that war tends to consume the energies, optimism and fearlessness of the young, intrinsically place on schools a responsibility to inform of, and commemorate, the sacrifices of those who made our lives possible. I believe it is incumbent on schools to engender an understanding and appreciation of those principles deemed worthy of such sacrifice, and to continue to pursue such values through service, enterprise and engagement.
Boys and girls should, I feel, learn of those few people whose vision, intellect and leadership helped set the course for victory. People like our own General Sir John Monash (1881), who rose above the ignorance of prejudice and confines of established doctrine and practice, to fundamentally change the course of events, and, in so doing, influence the lives of future generations.
But it is also important that they learn that our democratic freedom has been achieved by ‘ordinary’ people doing extraordinary things. ‘Ordinary’ people refusing to stand by and see our way of life dismantled. ‘Ordinary’ people, like Scotch Collegian David Anderson (1910), who was rejected eight times on account of poor eyesight before being accepted in the Medical Corps and heading to France as a stretcher-bearer, where he won the Military Medal for rescuing a truckload of wounded men during a gas bombardment. ‘Ordinary’ people like David Anderson’s close school friend James Agnew (1913), who was training for the Presbyterian ministry at the outbreak of war. On the Western Front, Anderson and Agnew carried together in the terrible battles of Pozieres, Bullecourt and Messines. They were killed together while tending wounded in the battle of Ypres in September, 1917.
Our times of remembrance, be they formal gathering or quiet personal reflection, focus thoughts on the selflessness of those who endured the horrific turmoil of war – the fear, uncertainty, alienation, disease, suffering – the freedom they bestowed upon us and what use we have made, and continue to make, of our liberty.
I have two enduring memories of remembrance. One comes from Sunday morning soccer and a cold, foggy November morning when all the teams gathered on a large recreational ground, lined up for kick-off and stood listening to the church bells before observing a minute’s silence, broken only by the referee’s whistle. The other stems from the two occasions I visited the Museum of the Defence and Siege of Leningrad, which commemorates the 900-day blockade of the city (8 September 1941 to 17 January 1944), in which more than 700,000 civilians died. On both occasions the school groups I was assisting with were led around by a local guide; on both occasions the guide finished the tour desperately trying, but failing, to hold back floods of tears.
It is important, I suspect, for Scotch boys also to remember the many from beyond our shores whose sacrifice contributed to our freedom.
In moments of remembrance, it is right for Scotch boys to ponder what it was that steeled their forebears to endure so much and refuse to buckle. To a degree, it is, of course, speculation, but standing in the pulpit at assemblies, I am often led to reflect that, perhaps above all, it was the hope of a better future for those to come: a future freer of social division; a future in which people would be valued as individuals as well as members of groups; a future where all could speak out loud about their doubts and fears; and a future where each boy and girl would be educated to take control of his/her own life, in an environment free of doctrine and dogma, to understand that rules and laws should always be questioned and challenged.
This is our challenge as a school. To educate boys in how the world has evolved; how it might be made to evolve; and the parts they might play in influencing the future to the greater good. We want them to revel in a freedom gained at such cost, and for each boy to celebrate what makes him different while permitting and encouraging others to do likewise. We want Scotch boys to nurture their individual talents and marry them with those of others to build something better; we want them to embrace, and participate in, our democratic freedom.
Such a commitment to education has been evident throughout the long history of our school and, underpinned by our Christian faith, continues to drive all we do.
It is there in the range of opportunities offered to boys beyond the classrooms. A breadth, which, over the summer break involved more than 500 boys and 50 members of staff in cricket, swimming, rowing, tennis, volleyball and swimming camps; junior and senior Scotch@Cowes camps; the STAR Disability Camp; a pipes and drums camp; language exchanges to Germany; an orchestra tour to the USA; an expedition to Nepal; the inaugural Yale-Singapore Model UN Conference; and a Cadet promotion course at Puckapunyal.
It is there in, and given direction by, our stated educational intents and our belief that teaching and learning is premised on engagement and relationships, and best pursued in a climate of ongoing conversations of learning.
It is a commitment that can be viewed in the innovations we have made and continue to make, which this year include further expanding the concept of relational learning at Scotch through two visits by Foundation Fellow, Dr Michael Reichert (Executive Director, Centre for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives, and research advisor for the International Boys’ Schools Coalition); continuing our flipped teaching pilot programme to classes in Year 9 English and Year 7 history; furthering our drive to play a role in mathematics education; and expanding the 2014 ‘Big Ideas’ lecture series.
It is a commitment given tangible form in every brick, girder, and pane of glass of our bold development plans which, as I type, are growing out of the west end of Morrison Street in the shape of the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre for Science.
Most importantly, it is a commitment best witnessed and judged through the character, talents and ambitions of those who step out from our school, and all they contribute in challenging those things which need challenging and supporting those which need supporting.
In all this, in every engagement, with every question asked, opinion voiced, friendship forged, interest pursued and moment of laughter shared, we embrace, celebrate and promulgate our freedom and liberty, and honour and pay respect to those who made all possible.
ABOVE: STANDING: MATTHEW HOTCHKIN-VAN NEUREN, HUGH ALEXANDER, PRINCIPAL MR TOM BATTY, MAJ (AAC) PETER REARDON, CALLAN ROZMAN. KNEELING: TIM MCPHEE.