Remembrance Service Address, Sunday 12th November 2023
We are pleased to share with you the address delivered by our Chaplain, Ed Barker (Hon.), at this year's Remembrance Service:
“Love each other as I have loved you.”
These were Jesus’ orders to his disciplines, and so to us; to imitate Christ’s sacrificial love. What does that mean? To love each other unconditionally, unquestioningly, unselfishly. But Jesus added a further qualification to this love. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. This is what Jesus did when He died for us on the cross, but also what those whom we gather here to remember did, when they made that ultimate sacrifice in various conflicts around the world.
This term’s chapel services have focused on the characteristics of a Lorettonian as laid down by our former Headmaster Hely Hutchison Almond. He wanted Lorettonians to be examples to follow; people of character. We are lucky enough in this building to be surrounded by examples to follow, and we are particularly reminded of this on Remembrance Sunday. Look around our chapel and you will see name upon name. Names which are to us just names, but which represent young lives, full of honesty, zeal, vigour, academic and sporting prowess. To paraphrase a quote from the the film chariots of fire, they were the flower of a generation; the best of their country and they died for their country and all that it stands for. For the current Lorettonians, the message is that through tragic necessity, their dreams have become yours.
I want to concentrate on one particular example today, who I think personifies not only the sense of selfless service that is one of the best aspects of Lorettonian character, but also made the ultimate sacrifice to which Jesus refers.
The man is Major Gerald Hedderwick.
He was born on 26th May 1893, and at Loretto from September 1907 to April 1912. He was a Prefect, played in the 1st teams for Rugby and cricket and also represented the school at Fives. He was editor of the Lorettonian, and a Sergeant in the CCF. Athletic, academic, a true all-rounder, this was someone to whom everyone in this room can relate, and indeed he sat in this very chapel as a boy. He went to Cambridge to study History, but as he finished his degree he was caught up in that cataclysmic event: WWI. He joined in 1914 and served all the way through the war, ending up in the Royal Tank Regiment, the unit to which Mr Woolley belongs. His was no quiet war behind a desk. He was in the thick of the action. He won a military cross (the second highest award for bravery). His citation read:
As second in command of his company, he displayed the greatest zeal and gallantry in getting his tanks into action, continually exposing himself to danger throughout the whole day in order to help his company, and bringing back information of the greatest value, on several occasions passing through heavy enemy barrage. The success of his company was due to his fearlessness and devotion to duty.
It is his medals you can see as you come in by the door. You will note that they are pristine, despite being over 100 years old. Why should that be the case? I suspect he was like my great-grandfather. He was an army doctor in WW2, and was so traumatised by the things that he saw just wanted to forget about it all. As such, my great grandfather never spoke about his experiences, and never claimed his medals, let alone wore them. In WW2 you had to send off for your medals, in WWI they sent them to you, as they do today. Most veterans are very proud of their medals, myself included, but as Winston Churchill once said, ‘a medal glitters, but it also casts a shadow’. I cannot look at my Afghanistan medal, without thinking of my experiences there, and of those I left behind in that unfortunate conflict. For my great grandfather and Major Hedderwick, the medals clearly cast too long a shadow. I claimed my great-grandfather’s medals on his behalf a few years ago, and long after his death. Major Hedderwick’s medals were donated by his family to the school earlier this year, and one of the things that struck me when I saw them was that they were still in their boxes, the ribbons unattached. It seems that they were a reminder of a time he would rather forget. And you can certainly understand why. Serving from 1914 to 1918 in a combat regiment, Major Hedderwick must have been through the worst of the fighting, seen things that most of us can only imagine. He also suffered tragedy when he lost his younger brother Charles, a officer in the Royal Scots and another Lorettonian whose name you can see on the war memorial. He must have wanted to make a clean break from the war. Despite the fact that the Military Cross made him a hero, he put the medals in a drawer, and threw himself into life; playing lots of rugby, and joining the staff at Loretto as a history teacher in 1923, once again sitting in this chapel, as you are now. By 1935 he had become the Vicegerent, where he would have sat in the same seat as our own vicegerent.
However, that is not the end of his story. Despite how traumatised he must have been, despite how settled he was back here at his old school, as soon as the second war broke out in 1939, he signed up to his old regiment. That is the essence of service above self. That is character. He was sent to France in 1940 in command of a company. The story does not have a happy ending. He arrived in France on the 5th May and was killed on the 21st May at the age of 47. He leading at attack at Arras, an area that would have fought over in his first war.
I’m not telling you this just because it is a sad story, but because it is typical of the self-sacrifice of a generation of Lorettonians, whose names surround you in this chapel and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude that can never fully be repaid. Gerald Hedderwick represents the best of Loretto, and in a moment we will have our two minutes’ silence. If you have no one in particular you can remember during this time, I want you to remember Gerald Hedderwick, for it is he, and the hundreds of Lorettonians on the memorials in this chapel, who carried out the orders of their country, but in doing so, carried out the order of Christ and lay down their lives for their friends. Lorettonians of today, by tragic necessity, his dreams have become yours, and I exhort you, apply yourself fully to everything you do, and develop your character. In doing so you will honour his memory and the memory of the countless others whose names surround us.