Last Friday, in the Long Room of Lords Cricket Ground, the Westminster Cathedral School held a special assembly in commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. Years 3, 4, 5, and 6 sat attentively ahead of an audience including parents, staff from Lords and Westminster City Council, Chelsea pensioners and other invited guests.
The day, curated by the Archives’ Education Officer Peter Daniel, started with a visit from the ghost of a soldier from Pimlico – Ernest Richard Boots (now aged 133 years). In a flurry of historical hats and playful repartee with the children, this charismatic apparition explained the features of his army uniform and how each was suited to the international arena of the First World War. Two modern-day soldiers from the 7 Rifles, the Army Reserve Battalion in Westminster, then explained how the uniforms had changed in accordance with technological developments.
The main attraction of the day followed, when the Year 5 class of the Westminster Cathedral School performed a play about Major Booth for their colleagues. The play told the story of Major Booth, who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme and was a player for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and Second Lieutenant in the British Army. The play had previously been performed by the MOD Theatre group.
Booth’s biography intersected with various key moments in 20th century history. The story included encounters with the Suffragettes and Mahatma Ghandi. Booth’s path to success as a cricketer and his role in the army showed how the world had been unfair before the war and how after the war, through the equality of sacrifice of all the soldiers and those involved in the war effort at home, British society came to adopt the determination to pursue a fairer, better and more inclusive structure.
Each of the roles in the play was shared with different children taking it in turn to act each part and the Year 5s joined in chorus to sing an ensemble of wartime songs. The songs which had been used as a mnemonic tool to teach the children about history, now staggered the performance beautifully.
The show ended with England’s cricket anthem Jerusalem and a minute of silence led by Chelsea Pensioner John Gallagher with live accompaniment.
A central message came through, questioning the ‘whys’ behind inequality and discrimination of class, gender, and race:
Voice 1: I was a have
Voice 2: I was a have not
All: What hadst thou given that I gave not?
If you’d like to know more about this project, try the following:
- The Story of Major Booth
- Westminster Council Archives commemorate WW1 veteran and former England international cricketer (press release)
- Major William Booth: How a Yorkshire cricket champion lost his life at the Somme