Last Sunday, 14 September, Dean Close held a truly unique and special event when it commemorated the 128 Old Decanians who are known to have died in World War One. Over 500 guests attended the black tie Gala Memorial with a number in mess kit and decorations. The performance was stunning and highly emotional.

That day marked the exact date 100 years ago when the first Old Decanian (alumni) fell in the First World War. The Gala Memorial featured performances from current and former pupils, including a number of professional actors and musicians. The script, written entirely by Rebecca Vines who is Head of Speech and Drama at Dean Close, was taken almost entirely from archive letters and diary entries from WWI servicemen, and told the story of the 128 Old Decanians who died during World War One: eerily one death for each year that the School has been in operation.

The stories were heart-wrenching: the nine sets of brothers who perished, the MC winners awarded posthumously, the parents desperately searching for news of their lost son for years after he was first reported missing. One of the soldiers was Lionel Halse, an old boy of the School who studied music at Cambridge and returned to teach music at Dean Close. He was barred from military service twice because of his poor eyesight, and on finally being admitted into the military in 1917, was mortally wounded and shipped home to hospital in London. He died a month before the armistice, the day after becoming engaged to the daughter of the then Headmaster, Dr Flecker.

The performance was followed by a champagne reception in the dining hall where there was a pop-up museum which had been assembled using the School’s archive materials from the era. Posters showed images of the School in that era, including the CCF corps marching across Big Field.

This event formed part of a year-long programme of events and activities created by Dean Close to commemorate the centenary of WW1. The programme has also included an art exhibition, poetry recital, lectures and Cheltenham Festival events, and was designed to help the younger generation of Decanians understand the sacrifices made, the horrors suffered and the lessons learned.

Below are a few quotes from those who attended the evening:

“Thank you for all your hard work towards the roaring success of Dean Close Remembers last Sunday. As the parents of one – and possibly another, soon – young officer, we were deeply impressed by the wonderful performances, which brought home powerfully the individual humanity of the 128 Old Decanians. We particularly enjoyed the singing which it was a great pleasure to listen to.”

“I thought it was an extraordinary and moving event on Sunday evening and I write to thank you and congratulate all those involved. We saw the best of the School in so many ways: the superb expressive talent; the community of Decanians and Old Decanians, parents and friends; the thoughtful, careful responses to the world expressed on stage and off; the ability to create something so memorable in so short a time. My memory of the evening is still reverberating and I think will continue to do so; I don’t think I will ever forget it. Thank you and congratulations to all those involved.”

“Thank you for the most wonderful evening on Sunday. It was one of the best events we’ve ever been to at school. You managed to achieve just the right balance of emotion mixed with the historical facts and it was a magnificent performance all round. My favourite part was the slow motion action of the men being killed as it really hit home when you see it performed like that.”