Researching a school’s war heroes has proved elementary for a group of budding historians.
A small band of students at Richmond School and Sixth Form College volunteered to trace the heroic antics and heart-rending deaths of their tragic old boys.
They each took a name from a burnished memorial brass plaque featuring 28 names of men who sacrificed their lives for king and country on far flung shores in the war to end all wars.
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.
The Doyles were born and bred in Edinburgh but somehow John Francis Innes Hay Doyle became 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.
Students discovered that Innes was a 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,” said Richmond School history teacher Sophia Mawer.
He died in February 1919 and is buried in Belgium after falling to Spanish Flu.
“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.
Their work helped them 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, while Bernard and William Wilkinson became victims of the infamous Battle of the Somme, aged respectively 23 and 20, leaving six sisters.
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,” said 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,” said 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
Lt Francis Aymer Richardson
L/Cpl John William Ringrose
Capt Arthur Henry Robinson
2nd Lt Geoffrey Stapylton Rowe Roper
Capt Randal William Shuckburgh Croft
Gunner James William Thompson
2nd Lt Bernard Jocelyn Wilkinson
2nd Lt William Septimus Wilkinson
Thomas Charlton Wood
L/Cpl Alfred Thomas Woodhams