The Perse School

A sense of perspective

I always enjoy watching episodes of Father Ted. One of my favourites involves the hapless Father Dougal struggling to grasp the size difference between small toy cows and ‘small’, far away cows, grazing in a distant field. It is a moment of simple comic genius, but also a reminder of the importance of perspective.

Today’s teenagers live in a fast paced, complex, and apparently unforgiving world. They feel under pressure to wear the ‘right’ clothes, acquire ‘trendy’ accessories, have lots of friends, appear attractive and perform well in school. It was ever thus. The difference for young people growing up with omnipresent social media is the almost total lack of respite from these pressures. Media reports last week cited research by a Cambridge academic that found 12% of adults surveyed felt they could comfortably go without food for longer than they could go without social media.

Parents and schools have a challenging task in supporting teenagers and helping them differentiate between worthwhile concerns and issues of little real consequence. It can be hard for young people to see the bigger picture when their main frame of reference is peer group chatter on Facebook or Instagram.

On 11 November schools across the land will rightly halt their timetables at eleven o’clock to remember those who died in armed conflict. At The Perse we will remember the 92 former students and staff who lost their lives in World War One, and those who survived but were physically and/or emotionally injured by their experiences. Many of their stories are recorded in the 1914-18 Pelican magazines which contain moving accounts of young lives ended or forever changed in the trenches. Private O.G. Bampton Taylor was “a stretcher bearer, and went about treating and caring for the wounded in the bravest possible manner….he was killed by a shell bursting in a rest-billet”. Private J.W. Whittet was wounded in the leg. “He succumbed to meningitis and died aged 19. He was a favourite in his regiment and absolutely the life and soul of the hospital ward with his theatrical abilities”. Lieutenant E.H.H. Woodward who had captained The Perse 1st XV died on Christmas Eve 1916. He was shot dead by the German lines. “Patrols tried to recover the body, but could not, so they put up The Notice Board, asking that the Germans would bury him which they did”.

Three Perse alumni dead before the age of 20.

One hundred years on, 1914 can seem ‘far away’. But remembering the lives lost, the suffering endured and the horrors experienced brings a valuable sense of perspective. We must give thanks that the teenage concerns of today are not the problems faced by the class of 1914-15. Adolescence can be confusing, but most of its preoccupations pale into insignificance compared to the carnage of one hundred years ago. In remembering the ‘lost generation’ we should reflect on the good fortunes of the current generation, recognising the benefits of twenty first century living and the need to keep twenty first century problems firmly in perspective despite the influence of twenty first century media. 1914 may be ‘far away’ but most of the problems of 2014 are ‘small’ in comparison.

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  1. 28 Nov 2014

    Ed Elliott, Head

    Thank you for the suggestion. We’re doing a variation on this theme by creating we’re calling the ‘Tessara’ for our 400th anniversary. This is an anniversary marque composed of objects that capture an aspect of The Perse, and whose shapes can stand in for the ‘four’ and the ‘zero’ of ‘400’. Readers of this blog are welcome to suggest suitable objects to help ensure the evolution of the marque over the course of the year covers the breadth and depth of a Perse education.
  2. 28 Nov 2014

    William Connolley

    O/T but you could do the "history of the school in 100 objects" type of thing noted here: http://heartheboatsing.com/2014/11/28/radley-college-from-school-to-the-somme/
  3. 12 Nov 2014

    eamival

    Thanks for your kind reply, Mr.Elliot. Having been one of the very last males to do National Service(I'm still in touch with half a dozen of us,who learned some Mandarin, and used it in Hong Kong) I fully accept that before two world wars many men would automatically join up to fight any invading force just like I accepted National Service. Sadly as the years roll by and things change, one discovers that, unless you were a conchi, you would run the gauntlet of killing or being killed. These days I would rather be a conchi , "love my enemies" and keep my conscience clear.
  4. 12 Nov 2014

    Ed Elliott, Head

    Thank you for your comment. You are quite right that in looking back we should remember all those who suffer due to armed conflict, and ensure that our aim in doing so is to learn lessons for the future. Although we focused on the stories of Old Perseans yesterday, to help current students feel their connection to the past, the tone of our remembrance is one of respect for all who lost their lives. In our prayers we asked for tolerance, understanding and peace in the future. Here is an extract: Let us pray for the peace of the world for the statesmen and rulers, that they may have the wisdom to know and courage to do what is right. For all who work to improve international relationships, that they may find the true way to reconcile people of different race, colour, and creed. And for men and women the world over, that they may have justice and freedom, and live in security and peace.
  5. 11 Nov 2014

    eamival

    Yes, I too have viewed "Father Ted" with sheer enjoyment, despite knowing that the actor playing Father Ted died soon after the various series were shown. Also I enjoyed watching "Dad's Army" and still do. What I did not enjoy was participating in the Perse CCF(Combined Cadet Force) in the fifties. One or two of our number bravely refused to do likewise, and with the perspective given by time now makes me wonder why so many of us were prepared to join in - probably due to the fact that National Service was around the corner, and we did not wish to serve in the army. Now I realise both were big mistakes, and in a Christian land I wonder why we totally disregard Christ's teaching on such matters. These days we have a German daughter-in-law, and are often in touch with her parents. So we find it tricky if we are to only remember our own forces on Remembrance Day. Let's look forwards rather than backwards - please.
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