Images of happy and carefree faces, unaware of dangers and horror ahead

The faces in the pictures are smiling and carefree. The boys are in the full flush of youth, unaware of the horrors they face.

Images of happy and carefree faces, unaware of dangers and horror ahead

Found in schoolboy albums in the archives at Shrewsbury School, these intimate pictures – taken by the boys themselves – show the school's cadets in training when the reality of war was only months away.

"They are a chilling reminder of the irreparable loss of talent and potential on the battlefields of the Great War," said Shrewsbury author and journalist Katy Rink, who has been through the fascinating albums.

In one of the pictures young, fit boys are digging trenches in the school grounds, swinging their picks with big smiles. It was all a jolly jape, before the formal declaration of war, on August 4, 1914.

"Many were taken at an OTC camp in Rugeley, Staffordshire, that very summer, showing the boys relaxed and laughing. But these were condemned men. Their camp was broken up, on the eve of the declaration.

"Statistically, just under one fifth of them would not survive the conflict. Casualties among public schoolboys were high at 20 per cent. Junior officers were first over the top and last to retreat. Shrewsbury School lost 321 former pupils and masters to the war out of the 1,850 who saw active service - 17.5 per cent.

"The albums are extraordinarily intimate and unsophisticated, a contrast to the stylised school portraits of the time. Some of the pictures are clearly snapped secretly in class, showing masters in full flow."

The boys who took the pictures shared the same Ingram's boarding house and a love of photography, using hand-held Kodak Brownie cameras. They were John Henderson and Tom Rose Bowden, a talented artist, who went on to become a doctor in Betws-y-Coed. Both survived the war. Tom served as a Captain in the Royal Garrison Artillery and John was a sub lieutenant in the Royal Navy.

Although they were lucky, many of their friends were not. One of Bowden's pictures shows three boys huddled together in a tent at Rugeley, in 1914, aged 15 and 16.

The boy in the middle, Denis Digges LaTouche, would be dead within the year, killed in August 1915 as a Captain with the 8th Battalion, Welsh Regiment, in the attack on Chanuk Bair, Turkey as part of the Gallipoli campaign.

The battle between the Ottoman defenders and British troops resulted in a bloody massacre. It is possible that Denis was gunned down in a successful Ottoman counter-attack but his body was never found. He was 20 years old.

"Life could have been so different for him and the hundreds of other Old Salopians who lost their lives in the Great War.

"LaTouche was the son of a famous geologist Thomas LaTouche, a Shrewsbury schoolboy himself, and grandson of the vicar of Stokesay. A keen runner and a school praepostor (prefect), he had been elected to a senior scholarship at Corpus Christi College Cambridge but gave it up to enlist.

"Also in the tent was Thomas Clark Powell, who died three years later, serving at the front with the Royal Garrison Artillery, as a second lieutenant. He gave up an open mathematical scholarship at New College, Oxford, to sign up, in 1916. He passed out with distinction from the artillery cadet unit but was sent at once to the front, was wounded at Ypres on the night of July 14, 1917 and died shortly after reaching the casualty clearing station.

"Only one of the three campers survived – John Rowan Addison McFerran, although he was wounded as a Captain in the Royal Irish Rifles.

"Around 60 former pupils and masters are buried in the Somme, 40 at Arras and a further 61, close to Ypres. Michael Palin's own great uncle and former Shrewsbury schoolboy Henry William Bourne Palin died in the battle of the Somme in 1916, aged 32. He enlisted in Canvastown, New Zealand, where he had been working as a farmer and served with the Canterbury Infantry Regiment.

"The novelist Nevil Shute Norway, a pupil at Shrewsbury School during the war, wrote in his autobiography Slide Rule, that his time there was overshadowed by the knowledge that 'I was born to one end, which was to go into the army and do the best I could before being killed'. He goes on 'it was a time for contemplation of the realities that were coming and for spiritual preparation for death'."

l Pictures courtesy of Shrewsbury School archives.

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