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1917 Society

As the Society’s Centenary year approaches, I thought it would be interesting to write about the Society’s early days.

The first meeting was on 8th September 1918 and many clubs and societies are short-lived, or at any rate have chequered careers, dependent upon the prevailing enthusiasm for their aims and the flow of volunteers coming forward to support them. But the 1917 Society has continued since that original tea party, a fact which would have given the founders a solemn satisfaction.
Those who accepted Aubrey Douglas-Smith’s invitation to tea on that Sunday afternoon at his house in Clapham were G.G. Henderson, J.O. Irwin, P.A. Bartholomew, G.T. Redman, F.C. Hawker and A..G. Coulson.
Diggle (that was the nickname by which Douglas-Smith was known) made the suggestion of forming a Society to be called the 1917 Society because they had all been at the School together in that year. His further suggestion that the Society should be regarded as a memorial to James Maxwell Adair Hannan (who had left School in 1917 and had been killed in action on the Somme in July 1918) was at once accepted.
The Society’s original Minute Book is still in use. The minutes of the first meeting on 8th September 1918 are short, simply listing those present, recording the Society’s foundation and Coulson’s appointment as Secretary. They also state that it was decided to extend an invitation to membership to L.G. Sach. 
In the early years, meetings were held frequently, and the practice of holding them in the form of a tea party continued for the first two years of the Society’s existence. The second meeting took place at Coulson’s home in Lewisham Park on 17th November 1918, six days after the Armistice. As with many of the early meetings, the date chosen was a Sunday, and, although the proceedings started with tea, there was always sufficient conversation to prolong the meetings until the time of last trains home.
It is plain that the progress of the Society owed much to the mothers of the early members for the hospitality which they freely gave for the meetings.
The third meeting, held on 22nd December 1918, also at Lewisham Park, was marked by a full attendance. At this meeting the talk about the School crystallised into formal resolutions, the following matters emerged as requiring special attention:-
1.         the extension of the playing fields
2.         the introduction of compulsory games
3.         the redecoration of the Pavilion
4.         the holding of services in the Temple Church
5.         the acquisition of a Prefects’ Room
6.         the introduction of uniform clothing of a ‘sombre hue’
As the Society evolved, it became constituted on the basis of initiative and control by boys still in the School, with a growing membership of Old Boys, consisting of the leaders of each generation, having a high standard of interest in the welfare of the School and what needed to be done to serve its best interests, and whose role was to listen and to encourage.
The Old Boy element in the early days seems to have provided a stiffening of resolution to achieve progress towards the desired improvements at the School. This may be inferred from the minutes of the third meeting, which state that, should no sympathy be received from the Headmaster in regard to the matters deemed to require special attention, it was decided to obtain an interview with members of the School Committee.
Following the end of the 1914-18 War, a War Memorial Committee was set up by the John Carpenter Club charged with raising funds to provide the means of educating and maintaining the children of Old Citizens who had lost their lives. The minutes of the fourth meeting, which was held on the 12th January 1919, at Sach’s house at Wimbledon, recorded that signatures were then appended to a petition to the War Memorial Committee for the acquisition of more playing fields. This was obviously a subject of the greatest importance to the Society, standing as it did at the head of the list of matters under special consideration.
Now came a break with the custom of tea parties, the fifth and sixth meetings being held on the 13th and 24th February 1919, in the Buffet at St Paul’s Station. Much discussion seems to have taken place as to the Society’s constitution, but that there was talk about the School is shown by the sentence at the end of the minutes of the sixth meeting that a scheme to collect funds for the acquisition of further playing fields as a war memorial was considered impracticable.      
For the seventh meeting held on 30th March 1919, the Society accepted the hospitality of G.T Redman (known to his friends as “Pie”). Diggle was chairman and read an obituary notice, which he had prepared, of Max Hannan, and it was decided that this should be entered in the Minute Book. Geoffrey Lawrence, then a leading figure at the School, was present at this meeting as a member for the first time.
At the eighth meeting, which took place at Lewisham Park on 17th April 1919, the aims of the Society were discussed. It was proposed the deletion of the word “firm” from the sentence “to be firm friends all our lives – and after”, on the ground that as the Society increased in numbers, it would be impossible to admit all members to what the words “firm friends” should imply.
The venue for the ninth meeting was Frankie Hawker’s home in Palmers Green (no-one called him Cyril in those days). The particular topic under discussion was the attitude of House Masters to the Society, and it was agreed that it was desirable that they should be given particulars of the Society.
The second Annual General Meeting was reached on 28th September 1919, at Lewisham Park, when it was recorded that the accounts submitted by G.T. Redman showed a balance in hand of 2/ 2d. It was at this meeting that the proposal to insert in the press an annual obituary notice was adopted, and Hannan’s name appeared in the In Memoriam column of the Times every year until the 1970s. The main business for discussion was a proposal for the formation of House Reunions of a social character, and the Society pledged its support for the scheme. 
At the next meeting, the eleventh, held also at Lewisham Park, it was decided to present a trophy for the House 2nd XI Cricket Competition as a means of making the Society known to the School.
Geoffrey Lawrence was now Secretary of the Society and the twelfth meeting took place at his home in Tooting on 18th April 1920, when it was established that the power to elect new members should rest with the members at the School.
By the year 1920, the Society was getting into its stride and business was transacted in a more formal manner. No more meetings were held in members’ houses, the membership having become too large.
Henceforward many meetings were held in the School Library, where the third Annual General Meeting took place on 28th September 1920. Sach was elected President, A.H. Seymour, Treasurer and Geoffrey Lawrence was re-elected as Secretary. It was proposed that, “At Homes” should periodically be held at the School and should take the form of informal tea parties. From this may be traced the form of the then termly meetings, when the proceedings commenced with tea and were followed by a formal meeting when a team of the senior boys of the School, led by the Head Boy, report upon the state of the School.
The first Anniversary Dinner was held in the Library on 28th September 1920. The menu card was beautifully engrossed and autographed, as was custom in those days by all present. As one would expect, Diggle replied to the toast of the Society. The report of the Dinner in the Minute Book, written by Geoffrey Lawrence as Secretary, concludes as follows:- 
This ends the official toast list, but for reasons unknown R.H. Pilgrim proposed the toast of the Secretary. The suddenness of this attack and the embarrassing and personal nature of many of the proposer’s remarks prevented an adequate reply”.
Of the original members of the Society, Henderson and Sach gave outstanding service to the School as members of the staff. Sach gave his whole life to the School until his untimely death in 1936. Henderson later became Headmaster of the City of London’s Freemans’ School, but died soon after taking up the appointment. Bartholomew adopted the Army as a career, but ill health led to death in 1964.
It is sad that Diggle did not survive to celebrate the Society’s Golden Jubilee in 1968. He was a dedicated Old Citizen and his History of the School and the 1917 Society will be his memorial. He died in May 1963 just short of his 64th birthday.
Many of the schemes which developed from those early talks have reached fruition. The School’s extensive new playing fields at Grove Park came in the early twenties. The School uniform is now standard and of a “sombre hue”, and the Prefects have their room. 
MABI – May 2015
P.S. Please send suggested changes/improvements to the above to the Secretary of the 1917 Society, Martin Israel –