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#50 - 2007

At Shiplake College we feel that nothing beats an immersive learning experience and in 2007, the history department dug their very own trench designed to First World War specifications! Twenty feet long and about six feet deep, it was built to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Paschendale. A group of pupils and staff spent the whole night there and BBC Radio Berkshire journalist Ollie Williams was invited along to join them:

"I thought they might not be serious. I thought maybe I'd be able to turn up, take a look at the trench, take some photos then run off before the night set in. But when I reached Shiplake College to find teachers Chris Bridgeman and Jon Cooksey in combats, wielding guns and throwing 'my' sleeping bag at me, I knew there'd be no escape. Not, of course, that the many millions of soldiers who lived out their lives in World War One trenches had any choice either and the life-sized WWI trench at Shiplake is designed to give today's teenagers an idea of the conditions their counterparts had to endure nearly a hundred years ago.

"It's remarkably accurate," says Jon Cooksey, a military historian by trade who teaches at Shiplake two days a week. "We studied photos of German and British trenches, then Chris built it to the exact same dimensions." Jon is clearly in his element and, alongside Chris, soon had his troops working to a sentry duty rota, responding to rank, and making the officers (ie adults) tea. He believes the trench is a fascinating social experiment, and that today's youngsters are surprisingly similar to their World War One forebears. As an example, once the darkness encroaches on games of cards, some of the 13 and 14 year olds in the trench begin to sing. "They just started spontaneously," says Jon. "It passes time because there's nothing else to do, it's a group activity." "That's exactly what they would have done in a World War One trench."

The evening begins quietly as the troops settle in but, just before 11 pm, the trench is rattled by a series of explosions. The boys immediately reach for their guns, although some naively try to aim at the smoke above them, rather than facing out of the trench at the enemy in the darkness. It turns out that enemy is the Headmaster, equipped with a box of fireworks. Happily, all survive the bombardment, although the Head admits to having grave fears should a school inspection team turn up. Trench foot back in the trench the soldiers eventually settle down at gone 1.00 am, as the sentries change for the third time. But soon the rain starts to come down - and it's this that made trench life truly unbearable in the great wars of the last century.

By 4.00 am, the trench is awash in a foot and a half of water, and ladders designed to go 'over the top' are employed practically as rafts. After all, no one wants to develop trench foot in Shiplake, of all places. 5.00 am rolls in and the bedraggled, damp Year 9s are beating a hasty retreat to the school, a shower, some warmth and some clean clothes. It looks unlikely they'll be back for a second consecutive night, let alone months of campaigning on the Continent!"

Ryan Weare set a fine example as Head of College. He led the way with an unusual form of spiritual leadership. The River Thames in April was considerably colder than the River Jordan. Yet Head of College, Ryan Weare, decided to be baptised in the River Thames. "I haven't been baptised and I decided to opt for the traditional method of total immersion in the river," said Ryan. Fellow Upper Sixth Former, Lucy Andrews, decided also to follow in the tradition of John the Baptist. The congregation was relieved to learn that they did not have to enter in the river as in the full John the Baptist tradition.

We really enjoyed reading this lovely poem from The Court by pupil James Gifford (10B). It is entitled 'Identity' as that was the theme Year 10 and 11 were exploring for World Poetry Day.

In Autumn 2006, students listened to a Radio Four play "The Lost Boys" written by Andrew Birkin, which charted his thirty year long fascination with the story behind JM Barrie's famous children's story Peter Pan and the tragic echoes of the Barrie story in his own life with the loss of his son Anno. The students contacted Andrew and as a result of this, built up a relationship with Andrew and Bee Gilbert, Anno's mother that resulted in a theatre piece quite unlike anything the College had seen before.

To Be And Not To Be interweaved three storylines – the students looking at the concept of death and loss, the life and death stories of Barrie's lost boys (one killed in World War I, one a tragic drowning accident and one a suicide under a tube train) and also the loss of Anno Birkin and three members of his band "Kicks Joy Darkness" in a car accident in Milan in 2001. The Birkin family released to the students a huge amount of material... not just all of Andrew's J M Barrie and Peter Pan research but also a massive amount of family archive footage of Anno. The students worked with this to create a theatre piece that combined live action with film footage. The production was hailed a success and was given a stunning review in the Henley Standard:

Also in 2007:

- As part of World Book Day, pupils voted George Orwell’s 1984 as the greatest novel ever.

- The College was awash with sporting stars in March as they gathered for a Sports Dinner to raise money for the development of sport at the College. Guest of honour was former England and Wasps forward Roger Uttley.

- According to The Court “It has been the most successful season for Shiplake College Boat Club in its 48 year history - what a perfect time to be a rower or a coach at the club. And the good news is that with success at the lower age groups, a healthy input of new young rowers and a girls' squad off the ground, it is only going to get better in the next few years.”

- An eclectic line-up of performers, musicians and artists took part in the College's Festival of Arts. The concert followed by the opening of an art exhibition showing much of the work produced for GCSE and A Level.

Whole School Photograph 2007