Sitting in the school chapel this morning, the memorial tablet loomed large across the nave. Outside the chapel there is a terrace on which stands a large Celtic cross commemorating those who fell in the Great War, and one of the grey granite school buildings from the 1920s was dedicated in memory of the fallen, but it is on the tablet in the chapel that the dead are recorded name by name.
Memories of many of the dead must have been vivid, some left in the late 19th Century, but many were boys at the school in the years immediately preceding 1914. Frequently second lieutenants, men whose life expectancy on the Western Front was numbered in weeks rather than months, the tablet records sixty-seven old boys and five masters, sixty-nine of the seventy names were officers. There were three men who had not received commissions, one a cadet, one a lance corporal and one a sergeant; it would have been unusual for ex-public schoolboys not to have been offered the chance to be shot to pieces in No Man’s Land with a stripe around their sleeves, almost as though they had chosen to enlist as private soldiers.
Pondering the name of Lance Corporal Stamper, I wonder what had motivated him to leave the tranquility of rural Ireland to die in some distant place.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission tells that Hugh Stamper died on the Somme on 13th November 1916 at the age of thirty-two, the son of the Revd J and Mrs C Stamper of Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow. Imagining an ageing Church of Ireland cleric receiving a letter from his son’s commanding officer (no telegrams for ordinary soldiers), I discovered that the Revd J Stamper had died some fifteen years previously at the age of seventy-five, having retired in 1885 at the age of fifty-nine. Hugh had been fifteen when his father had died, what career had he followed in the years after school, what things had happened in his life? It seems there was a brother, had he also joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers with Hugh?
Had Hugh Stamper died in Dublin in 1916, it is difficult not to imagine that every single detail of his life would have been preserved, difficult not to think that he would have found a place in some museum’s remembrance of the events of that year.
Hugh Stamper’s choice to serve the Crown leaves him without a place in the annals of Irish nationalist history and to be remembered by a foreigner pondering his name on a bright May morning.