The ‘Two Men’ – Masters from Shrewsbury School
The first week of the Somme was the beginning of a terrible period of the war. Two Masters and good friends from Shrewsbury School, Malcolm White and Evelyn Southwell, were killed in the Battle of the Somme. Both joined the School in 1910; both were inspiring and inspired teachers, admired and respected by pupils and colleagues alike. “Of the junior masters at Shrewsbury I can honestly say that I never came into contact, in all my life, with a group of minds so original…” wrote Headmaster Revd Cyril Alington. They joined up together in 1915, following the death of a fellow member of the Common Room, and they died within a few weeks of one another.
Following their deaths, their colleague H.E.E. Howson collated and edited a collection of their letters, poems and other writings in a memoir entitled ‘The Men’. In the foreword, he wrote, “For those who knew them both it is impossible to consider them apart; the memory of them is single. To their contemporaries and to each other they were known as ‘The Men’. ‘Man, it’s time to go into school. ‘Yes, Man.’ And so, in this account of their Shrewsbury life, they will be spoken of as ‘the Men’.”
The memoir is an elegiac account of life at Shrewsbury just before the First World War: “…The life of our Society from which they went was for those few years as nearly that of a happy family as any which the whole annals of schoolmastering can show,” wrote Alington in his Foreword. “The New House, the Staircase, the Rehoboamite Meetings, Kitch’s room with its interminable discussions and uncovenanted meals, – these are things which can never be forgotten while one of us remains.”
Their writings give a wonderful insight into the personalities of the two men, their humour, intelligence and energy, and the deep affection in which they held the School. “I have for all these months seen everything in terms of Shrewsbury,” wrote Southwell to Alington in August 1915. “I have seen a hill, perhaps; and I reflect that it would not do for the fold around the Wrekin, even though it did have a Roman Camp at the top. Or a path from the bed of the Avon, up towards Sidbury, and I remember that the track from the boat-house to the schools has a better curve upon it, and the feet of more adorable people. Or a I have been with ‘B’ Company on Church Parade every Sunday for months, and the wrench was an almost physical one with which I had to tear myself away from the belief that I was in Chapel, and had been there every minute of the service.”
In his final letter to Southwell on 27th June 1916, White wrote: “Oh Man, I can’t write now. I am too like a coach before the Bumping Races or Challenge Oars. So, Man, good luck. Our New House and Shrewsbury are immortal, which is a great comfort.” He died four days later, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Southwell was killed on 15th September.
Further details of former staff and boys from Shrewsbury School, who lost their lives during the First World War, can be found on the school’s website http://www.shrewsbury.org.uk/osww1
A copy of the book “Two men; a memoir” Oxford University Press, 1919, is available at Shropshire Archives ref. D 35.7