HIDDEN in plain sight on the hall wall, slightly above natural eye level, a burnished brass plaque reveals its war dead.
Twenty-eight names, men who gave their all for freedom, sacrificing their lives for king and country on far flung shores and among the carnage of a war to end all wars.
Of the countless millions who died in the most mechanised and brutal fashion 28 seems a modest price to pay for one of North Yorkshire’s most prominent schools.
But as Richmond Grammar School, as it was known then, only had a role of 32 the death toll represented a generation lost.
As the world marks the centenary of an event that irrevocably changed as many lives as it ended it was left to a small band of young historians to trace the heroic antics and heart-rending deaths of their tragic old boys.
And with the skill and tenacity of a latter-day Sherlock Holmes they made a remarkable find – the brother of celebrated author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who brought the inimitable detective to life in prose that has lasted the decades.
But as the Richmond School students’ research answered one question it posed myriad more. The Doyles were born and bred in Edinburgh so how did John Francis Innes Hay Doyle become an old boy of Richmond Grammar School, a popular boarding school in its day used by members of the armed forces in a garrison town.
What is clear is that Innes was highly decorated brigadier general showing illustrious service with the III Corps Royal Artillery HQ Royal Field Artillery, receiving the Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George, Distinguished Service Order and Legion of Honour (France).
“There is certainly a lot more digging to be done and we would love it if someone reading this could let us know any more information,” says Richmond School history teacher Sophia Mawer.
“He died in February 1919 and is buried in Belgium so he survived the war but fell victim to the Spanish flu epidemic that ravaged Europe during the clean up operations. His son died too and apparently the double tragedy triggered Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s well-documented interest in spiritualism. It is believed that Sherlock and his brother Mycroft were based on Arthur and Innes.”
Year 7-10 pupils, helped by sixth formers, volunteered for the project that was backed by the Green Howards Museum and English Heritage’s schools programme. They were assigned each person on the roll of honour and asked to research where they served, fought and died.
They also began to appreciate that the four year conflict truly was a world war with some of the old boys dying in Chile, such as Rear Admiral Christopher Craddock, of Hartforth Hall, who went down with his ship trying to stop the return to Europe of part of the German fleet.
Another died in Tanzania, one more at Gallipoli, their lives cut short by the misfortunes of war. Bernard and William Wilkinson became victims of the infamous Battle of the Somme, aged respectively 23 and 20, leaving six sisters to mourn their loss.
For Year 7 pupil Betsie Hall the research was tinged with sadness. James Witham Thompson was a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery and survived the majority of the war. But on November 1, 1918, aged only 27, his luck ran out and he was killed at the ‘last great offensive’, the Battle of Valenciennes, just ten days before the armistice. He is buried in Northern France. His family appears on the Richmond census as living at St Martin's House.
“It was really exciting starting the research knowing nothing about him,” says the 11-year-old, of Crakehall. “But when I found out he died just before the end of the war I thought that was really sad.”
Mrs Mawer is currently analysing all of the information that will be collated to form an exhibition at Richmond Station in March and could be published as a memorial book.
Staff and students received help on the day from Green Howards education manager Liam Beeton and his colleague Virginia Arrowsmith pointing them in the right direction of specialist research.
“The initiative has proved to be very exciting and the students gained an incredible amount from the experience,” says Mr Beeton. “It really has brought history to life.”
Anyone with any further information on the soldiers can contact Mrs Mawer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richmond School’s Roll of Honour
Capt John E Brydon
2nd Lt Greville Arthur Bagot Chester
Rear Admiral Christopher George Francis Maurice Cradock
2nd Lt C Hugh Crowley
Brig Gen John Francis Innes Hay Doyle
Capt Roy Craig Dunford
2nd Lt Richard Percy William Gethin
2nd Lt Leslie Keith Gifford-Wood
Lt Alan Ryder Hall
Lt Frank Hargraves
Lt George Hanley Hutchinson
2nd Lt Edward Earle Jones
Capt George Neville Mackie
Francis Aylward McDermot
Lt Col Henry Glanville Allen Moore
Capt Robert Henry Murray
Capt William Percy Ness-Walker