FOR many people the first image which springs to mind in reference to World War 1 is one of mutilated bodies, splintered trees, muddy trenches, huge bomb craters and rows of soldiers, shuffling to a first aid station to receive treatment after an enemy gas attack.
But in 1914 these images were unknown and war was still glorified and seen in many circles as a romantic adventure.
Youngsters at schools such as the Grey Institute at the Donkin Reserve in Central, Port Elizabeth, were encouraged to prepare themselves for war – and so keen were the pupils that some actually tried to enlist. The school moved to Mill Park in 1915 and become known as Grey High School.
Two hundred eager cadets lusted to fight for their country and some petitioned – more drills for higher qualifications – just in case the war lasted two or three years longer.
The youngsters, aged 16 or 17, were trained how best to mow down the enemy with machine guns, use rifles, disembowel an enemy soldier with a bayonet – and then learnt Latin declensions.
Members of Prince Alfred’s Guard helped train the Signalling Corps.
Only the services of the Cyclist Section as dispatch-riders were accepted by the District Staff Officer and the municipality, even though the teaching staff felt confident the school “could put a squadron into the field which in size, discipline, signalling, shooting and endurance would equal some of the units actually on service”.
The youngsters were keen to prove their courage and eager to fight for their country.
It was up to their sisters at Collegiate High School to provide balaclava helmets, seamless socks and cholera belts.
A fundraising effort for new tennis courts was handed over to South African war funds and older pupils put in some hard work with spade, shovel and wheelbarrow instead.
The innocence of the age is reflected in the words of a pupil poet:
Or he stood beside his battery,
Watched his gunners falling, falling;
Then alone in all that carnage
Cool he charged and fired his piece, till
Rescued by the shouting horsemen
Wild acclaiming his persistence.
– Ivor Markman