Senior School Assembly News

Frances Gabriel, the Head of Years 10 and 11, told a fascinating story in assembly on 10th November. The story of three men and a lady.

“23 years old, Frederick Bannister entered the Royal Navy in 1916, putting off a planned career to fight for his country in World War I. Frederick served as a soldier and as a chef in a cramped, claustrophobic submarine. Fortunately, he survived to serve in other vessels and returned home safely in 1919.

“Joszef Kiraly entered a Signals Corps at the age of 17 or 18 in 1915 or 1916. A dangerous job as he was stationed close to the front line in order to send back news to his battalion or headquarters. Laying communications lines was also dangerous due to enemy shelling and made worse by inadequate supplies of basic materials or enough ammunition to defend himself.

“Another Joszef, 23 years old and and an engineering student, was part of a mass abduction of over 12 million people from various countries, forced to work in a German labour camp in 1944. Brutal places; many died from mistreatment, malnutrition or torture. If anyone was unable to work they were killed. One day, seriously malnourished, one of their guards (who were mostly elderly as they weren’t suitable for active service), knowing how hungry the men were, took a single bite from a sandwich and then left it for Joszef and his companions at the top of a rubbish bin. What the consequences would have been for him had this generosity been discovered we can only imagine.

“How do I know about these men? Frederick and the first Joszef were my grandfathers. Fighting on opposite sides during WWI. The second Joszef, his son, was my father and this is a story he told me himself.

“What does this tell me about war? People fight bravely on both sides for their countries and for what they believe is right. War will always involve sacrifice, always include suffering, and affects not only the soldiers themselves but their families too. War may sometimes be justified but it is never black and white. I can no more demonise the Austro-Hungarian army my grandfather was part of than the German man who helped my father.

“What of the woman? Some people may have heard the name Jo Cox. Ms Cox also died for what she believed was right. She wasn’t a soldier but an MP who was killed in the street by a far-right extremist, leaving behind a husband and two small children. Instead of wanting the killer’s blood and whipping up hostility, her husband and family have led an initiative called ‘More in Common’, echoing Jo’s words in her first speech in Parliament, trying to build on social cohesion, to help people understand each other instead of polarising and separating, the kind of separation that led to her killer’s actions perhaps? In doing so, they reflect her desire for co-operation, mutual understanding and above all, peace in our society.”

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