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News > Pangbournian Stories > Book Reviews > The Old Pangbournian Record, Volume 2: Casualties in War 1917-2000 - Reviewed by Gerry Pike

The Old Pangbournian Record, Volume 2: Casualties in War 1917-2000 - Reviewed by Gerry Pike

23 Oct 2020
Written by Gerry Pike
Book Reviews

A Review of The Old Pangbournian Record Vol. 2 by Robin Knight (56-61)

“The death of one man may be regarded as a tragedy, the loss of millions merely a statistic” may be an apocryphal observation (usually attributed to Stalin) but it reminds us of the potentially numbing effect war can have on our sensibilities. The number of casualties can be overwhelming until we somehow begin to connect with the individuals concerned, as members of our family, close friends or, in this case, fellow Pangbournians. The striking window suspended over the porch in the Falklands Memorial Chapel is a powerful collective tribute to the 178 OPs who died in War but this meticulously researched second volume of the Old Pangbournian Record by Robin Knight goes a long way towards bringing them back as individuals, by telling us how they served and how they died. They are stories full of courage, quiet heroism and that most Pangbournian of virtues, sacrifice. It is, as good history should be, authentic and evocative.

It is often said that for a small school, Pangbourne punches well above its weight on the sports field and for its readiness to commit in the War it suffered a relatively heavy toll. Look at the opening photograph in the book of the College First XV from 1932 and you will find that no fewer than a third of them had been killed in service by 1945. Of the clutch of 18-year olds who joined up straight from College, most were dead within a year. Some families cruelly lost both sons and, in the case of the Brashers, all three.

Pangbournians also served widely, which is why their individual memorials may be found all over the world, reflecting the truly global scale of the war, from the Arctic Circle to Sumatra. They participated in many of the most strategic battles too: defending convoys to Murmansk and across the Atlantic, fighting bravely at Dunkirk, at Tobruk, at Taranto, in the Malay Peninsula and on the beaches of Normandy.  

How varied were their roles too; many in the Royal Navy, of course, but they were prominent also as squadron leaders in the RAF, flying Blenheims, as Captains in the army, as Swordfish pilots attacking the Bismarck, as cadets in the Merchant Navy, serving in the depths as members of a submarine crew, one on Special Operations trying to block the Corinth Canal and another as a Royal Marine Commando Major. Inevitably, many died particularly grim deaths: in a Japanese POW Camp, trapped in a stricken submarine, ship or aeroplane, or shot in the head by the SS. A few were victims of friendly fire or died in training, and a number were never found.

To elevate some above others would be invidious; to their loved ones, each one is special and their stories deserve to be told. Yet, I suspect we will each be struck by different tales or details that strike us as notably inspirational  or poignant. Just one vignette to illustrate my  meaning. Dick Shuttleworth who left Pangbourne in 1938 had his honeymoon interrupted so he could take up his new position as Squadron Leader RAF at the tender age of 21. He was then killed leading his very first Blenheim raid. There are many more I could cite with something on every page to bring home the particular honour and sacrifice of individual OPs facing death and the brutality of war.

Gerry Pike (CR 86-14, Hon OP)

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