With the outbreak of two World Wars in the twentieth century it was inevitable that former pupils of Sir William Turner’s School would serve in H.M. Forces. Although precise figures are still to be established, it is thought that over 300 old boys served on the First World War, of whom 48 lost their lives. Similarly for the Second World War, over 600 served, of whom 55 lost their lives.
In 1920 the School, like many others, launched a subscription to establish a permanent memorial to those 48 Old Coathamians lost in the Great War. A granite Celtic cross bearing the names of the men was unveiled and dedicated on Founder’s Day June 24th 1922. The war memorial itself was first placed in a prominent position in the School grounds on Coatham Road, and was later moved to the new cloisters built in 1932, always in a position where it could be seen by everyone entering the School. As the School moved around Redcar, so did the war memorial. It was dedicated in its current place on Corporation Road, Redcar, in November 2008.
In 1948, the Old Boys of the School raised subscriptions to commission a further memorial to those Old Coathamians lost in the Second World War. This takes the form of a bronze plaque, unveiled in March 1948 in the Great Hall of the Coatham Road building by the Marquess of Zetland, and in fact lists Old Coathamians lost in both World Wars. It was placed in the Great Hall of the School, in a place where all could see it daily. Like the Celtic cross, it too has moved as the School moved around Redcar and it is currently on public display at Redcar & Cleveland College.
Every year since 1922, on or around November 11th, a ceremony of Remembrance has been held at the School and its subsequent Colleges. The ceremonies have varied in form over the years. From 1922 through to the 1950s, for example, it was the practice to read out the names of all the Old Coathamians who had lost their lives. As a School, the ceremony was led by the Headmaster of the day, all boys attended, and it was firmly religious in tone. In the days of the Sixth Form College a degree of student participation was introduced, with readings, both secular and religious, being a feature.
Since amalgamation in 1994, the ceremony has further evolved to include a wider range of guests, such as local civic dignitaries and representatives of the British Legion, alongside the staff and students of both Sir William Turner’s and Redcar & Cleveland College. A dignified ceremony involving reflections on individuals, presentations from students, poetry and prayers, as well as the laying of wreaths and memorial crosses, has become an important feature of the College year.
In November 2014 a further milestone was reached with the unveiling of two Books of Remembrance, one for each of the two World Wars. These leather bound volumes are housed in Redcar & Cleveland College, in specially commissioned cabinets made by a student in the College, and serve as a further focus of the sacrifice made. Each of the 103 Old Coathamians lost in the Wars has a page in the Books recording details of their lives and military service. Initial research for the Books was carried out by two Old Coathamians, Philip Norris and Peter Chester, and a team of students at Redcar & Cleveland College. The research is an on-going project and it is expected that every year pages will need to be revised and updated. The project has been generously supported by the Sir William Turner Foundation and Redcar & Cleveland College.