On Vimy Day I published an article on Private Thomas Stinson A’Beckett Shearman, a 21-year University of British Columbia graduate who died at Harrogate’s Royds Hall War Hospital on April 27, 1917 from wounds suffered at Vimy Ridge. In the course of my research I discovered that Royds Hall was converted to a school in 1921 and has remained so to this day. I was both surprised and happy to learn that every year the school’s head boy and head girl lay a wreath on Thomas Shearman’s grave.
I’d been in contact with the school since early April and when they learned that I would be making a day trip to Huddersfield they kindly invited me to visit. I made the journey from Chester shortly after I arrived in Britain and was given a wonderful tour of the school and grounds by Joanne Clegg. During the First World War huts were built on the grounds to house wounded soldiers, an area now used for allotments. The red brick structure in the photo above is the only period building remaining. At one time it was thought to be the hospital morgue but that is no longer assumed to be the case.
After the tour we met with Executive Headteacher Melanie Williams and teacher/archivist Angela. Royds Hall Community School has made great efforts to ensure the students learn about their school’s wartime history and the sacrifices made by those who convalesced, and in some cases died, at the hospital during the First World War. Hanging in the stairwell is a reminder, a memorial plaque containing a quote from one of Thomas Shearman’s last letters to his mother:
It matters not how long we live but what kind of life we live.
The school had pulled a number of items from their archives including clippings and booklets featuring period photographs. One of the most fascinating was a 1917 compilation of articles from the War Hospital magazine that remarkably included a photograph of Thomas Shearman’s funeral. I provided the school with a print of Thomas’s studio portrait and they provided me with clippings and booklets relating to the history of Royds Hall. One clipping includes information on a descendant of the Shearman family who I will try to contact when I return to Canada.
My next stop was Edgerton Cemetery to which the school very generously provided me transportation to. I was dropped at the top of hill next to the Tower House and walked down the hill in the direction of the War Memorial. There are six Canadian soldiers buried here including Flight Sergeant D. Crossland, a 20-year navigator who died in the Second World War. Four of the five Canadians who died during the First World War are buried next to each other in section 11B, a wide open expanse of grass in the lower corner of the cemetery. The fifth soldier, Pte W.L. Raynor, is buried in section 41.
Alongside Pte Thomas Shearman are Driver G.R. Climo (d. 20 May 1917), Cpl T.H. Pownell (d. 20 May 1917) and Pte T. Lawson who died the day before Thomas and who was buried next to him on May 1st. Although Thomas’s gravestone indicates he died on April 26th all other sources, including the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, confirm he died on the 27th.
I had an excellent visit to Huddersfield and I would especially like to thank Royds Hall Community School and in particular Joanne, Melanie and Angela for taking time out from their day to meet with me.