A Gardham

A Gardham
There is no headstone for Arthur Gardham.
He died too late to receive a Commonwealth
War Grave.


Mr Arthur Gardham (1881-1931)

My name is Arthur Gardham, and I was the first headteacher of John Hampden Grammar School, although it wasnít called that at the time Ė it was called the Schools of Science and Art and later the High Wycombe Technical Institute.

I was born in Hull in 1881 and after my education in 1902 I got my first job as a teacher at Hull Elementary School, teaching mathematics and geography. After a few promotions I became the principal at the Hull Evening Technical School. Also at this time I was working to get my BSc degree.

In 1909 I got married, to Ethel, who remained by my side for the rest of my life and we had two children, a son called Marcus and a daughter called Thelma. I was very proud of them.

In 1913 I applied for and got a job leading the school in Wycombe. The war started in the following year and there was still the important job of educating the young people to ensure that when the war was over Wycombe was in a position of strength. However as the war continued I felt it was important, since I was young enough, that I volunteered to go to war, especially as I had encouraged others to join up and many from the school had.

The School agreed to continue to pay the difference between my salary as Principal and that of a soldier. In April 1916 I signed up and went to fight with the Royal Engineers. In October 1916 I heard that my brother, with whom I was very close, had been killed during the Battle of the Somme.

About a year later I was offered a commission in the Royal Garrison Artillery, which I accepted and I become a Lieutenant. Throughout the rest of the time of the war I was involved in shelling the enemy. It was dangerous work as the Germans would often work out where our guns were placed and then would train their guns on us. We, of course, were trying to do the same to them. I saw many of my battery become casualties. In July 1917 I was with the Battery near Ypres; we were preparing for a large battle which would later be known as Passchendaele. It was very wet and there was mud like you canít imagine. In preparation for a large attack we were shelling the German lines almost constantly, sometimes firing 1000 rounds a night out of the four guns. It was during this time that the Germanís developed a new gas; we called it HS, which stood for Hun Stuff. Iíve later heard it called mustard gas and I gather the French called it Yperite after the town where we were based. This gas burned your skin as well as poisoning you and the Germans discovered that it could be delivered with shells. Thousands of these shells rained down on us. What happens is that all around you, you hear these thuds and plops and then there are clouds of vapour rolling about. Wearing a mask while working on the guns was very difficult; it was hot work. It was during one of these attacks that I was injured and I lost my sight. I was rushed to hospital and luckily after a few weeks my sight returned and I re-joined the regiment.

At the beginning of April 1918 I was stationed in the Somme and the Germanís were attacking and trying to break through our lines. We had heard from HQ how important it was to stop them and we were told to hold the line and not to retreat. I was only a few miles away from my brotherís grave and this made me more determined. There were many times during the attack when we were being heavily shelled when the easy thing to do was retreat, but we kept the guns going throughout the attack, and there were many times when I had to operate the guns myself as we sustained many casualties. It turned out that we kept them at bay and we now know this was the last German attack before the tide turned. For this action I was honoured to be awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.

When I returned from the war I resumed my position at the school. It was based at Easton Street, behind the Norman arches, at that time; the building is now offices. I cared deeply about the School. I remember once we needed a new art block and gym but the council felt we didnít need it and came to inspect. I arranged for the boys and girls to run ahead of the inspectors so that every classroom they reached seemed to be stuffed full of pupils. Needless to say we got the new buildings! I also used to hold a daily roll call on the Fives Court when I inspected the hair, shoes, general tidiness including the finger nails, of all the boys and girls. I still had my officerís stick from the war, which I used to carry most of the time.

For a time I lived in the school before we purchased a house in Lucas Road, just the other side of Amersham Hill from here. In 1930 I became ill and in January 1931 I died. The funeral was a large affair and most of the school attended. I was pleased to learn that in 2013 a room in some new buildings at the school in Marlow Hill was named after me. Did you know by the way that the Marlow Hill site was obtained by the school during my time for the school playing fields? I also chose the school motto, Quit Ye Like Men, which means you should behave as a man. Iíd like to think this is as important now as it was in my day.

Researched and performed by Tom Demery

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