These two men were among the bravest of the brave, the ones who lost their lives on the muddy battlefields of World War One.
They were known to each other long before the war, one as a teacher at Christ’s Hospital School, the other as one of his students.
It was at the Western Front they became friends before the fatally wounded master died in the arms of the student.
The men were Lt Colonel Thomas Henry Boardman, who served in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and Captain Arthur Hodder Robbins, who had studied as part of Lamb A house, who joined his old master in the Fusiliers.
Elizabeth Bridges, curator of the Christ’s Hospital School museum, said: “In August 1917, Lt Col Boardman was fatally wounded and Arthur accompanied him to the Field Dressing Station and stayed with him until he died a few hours later.
“Within eight months, Arthur himself was killed, being described by a fellow officer as ‘ever a soldier, gentleman and friend’.”
Tales of the brave deeds of former Christ’s Hospital School students have been shared in an exhibition about World War One – and not all of them had a happy ending.
Take Wilfrith Elstob, one of four Old Blues to receive the Victoria Cross. Wilfrith attended Christ’s Hospital between 1898-1905 and went on to gain a degree at Manchester University.
He was a teacher when war was declared and was commissioned into the Manchester Regiment on October 30 1914, after stepping up as a volunteer.
Wilfrith was killed at Manchester Redoubt, near St Quentin, on March 21 1918, after refusing to surrender despite being vastly outnumbered. His citation included the line: “He set throughout the highest example of valour, determination, endurance and fine soldierly bearing.”
Also remembered in the exhibition, at the school museum, was Henry Pitcher, a lieutenant in the British Indian Army, who showed huge bravery recapturing the ‘Crag Picquet’ from enemy forces having led the first charge and in doing so was wounded. He was awarded the VC in 1863 for his great courage. He was only 22.
Another posthumous honour went to 2nd Lt Edward Felix Baxter of the 1/8th King’s (Liverpool) Regiment – a particularly tough unit, known unofficially as the ‘Liverpool Irish’. Edward commanded a raiding party and his bravery lost him his life. His VC was awarded by King George V in 1916 at Buckingham Palace to his widow.
One Old Blue who made it through the war was Edmund Blunden, who attended Christ’s Hospital from 1909-1915. Despite winning a scholarship to study classics at Oxford University, young Edmund opted instead to fight for King and country. He went to France in 1916 as part of the 11th Royal Sussex Regiment of the Southdown Battalion’s.
In his book The Undertones of War, he described his experiences as a junior officer in France and Flanders during the battles of the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele. His work is regarded as one of the best personal accounts of war on the Western Front.
One of Edmund’s accounts, The Feast of Five – Old Blues of the Royal Sussex Regiment is referenced at the exhibition and describes the emotional meeting of five Old Blues who were brought together by the War serving in the Royal Sussex Regiment.
Just before going over the top at Passchendaele, they enjoyed a day out and a meal together in the village.
Edmund – who was one of the five – said in his book: “Let me remember, what I can never forget, the luck which brought five Old Blues together as officers of one company of the Royal Sussex.
“We might have been on holiday together, so hearty was the brotherhood, so ready with wit and humour, until on July 31 1917, all five went over the top at the opening of the ill-starred Passchendaele offensive, whence two never returned, Tice and Collyer, soundest of men.”
A third of the five, Arnold Vidler, was so disturbed by his time in action, he took his own life in 1924.
Christ’s Hospital School museum is open on Tuesdays and most Thursdays by appointment only. Call 01403 247444 for details.
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