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John Stanley Richardson

Remembrance Day Service 2021

Before the guns fell silent in November 1918, no less than 298 Rossallians had died in service to their country. It is difficult for us to imagine the sacrifice and burden of suffering that befell this community. The last tangible link with those days has now passed from living memory. Back in 1990, I took part in the Queen Mother’s 90th Birthday parade and I remember a military vehicle driving by with a group of very frail old men. They were part of what was known as ‘the OId Contemptibles’ – members of the British Expeditionary Force who had fought in Belgium during the Autumn of 1914. White-haired and well into their nineties, they raised frail arms and waved at the appreciative crowds on Horse Guards Parade – it was as though they were taking their leave of this world.

With the passing of each successive Remembrance Day Parade, the number of First World War veterans diminished and with the death of Harry Patch at the age of 111 in 2009, that last tangible human link with the war was gone.

There are no veterans left to tell us of their days in the trenches and it is the case that our direct link with the Second World War is fast slipping from our grasp. It is important for us to tell the stories of those within our own community who sacrificed their lives. If we do not, they will be forgotten and reduced to meaningless numbers in dusty old documents and history books. Each individual life lost in war is a tragedy. It is not possible this morning to rehumanise or retell the stories of all those who have died but please bear with me whilst I share with you the story of John Stanly Richardson, just one of many boys who sat in this Chapel during his school days here at Rossall some 125 years ago.

John was the second of six brothers who all attended Rossall. From 1896-1901, he was a member of Mitre House. His father, Sir Thomas Richardson, came from a family of distinguished marine engineers in the north-eastern town of Hartlepool. Indeed, he served as Member of Parliament for Hartlepool and was evidently very wealthy because not only did he send six sons to Rossall, he also donated considerable sums of money to the School.

The Old Rossallian Magazine reported that John was a quiet boy who, despite his slight build, was an excellent athlete. He did not excel especially from an academic perspective and when he left school he joined the army.

He excelled during training and was awarded the King’s Sword. At his passing out parade he was recognised as the most brilliant cadet of the year.

John entered the Royal Engineers and served with great distinction in India. The School magazine reports that his brilliance as a soldier was such that his superiors were watching his progress very closely, with an eye to future promotion.

During this period, one of John’s brothers, Leonard, had joined the navy. His family and he been involved in marine engineering and so perhaps it was inevitable that he would be drawn to serving on board one of the very earliest of submarines. In those days, submarines were incredibly dangerous.

On 2nd February 1912, the submarine upon which he was serving was sunk as a result of a collision that occurred during a training exercise in the Solent. All members of the crew on board were lost. This must have felt like a shattering loss for the Richardson family but worse was to come.

When war broke out, John Stanley Richardson was posted to France where he and his fellow soldiers were tasked with halting the advance. By this stage, he was newly married.

Sadly, John died on 28th October, just a couple of months into the war. His body was never found but we are told that he fell whilst leading his men against an overwhelming German attack. His name is recorded on the Le Touret Memorial alongside the names of 13,389 other British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave.

Le Touret Memorial

John’s father had died in 1906 but his mother was still alive and had to cope with the loss of her second son in the space of just two and a half years but worse was to come. The war took more from the Richardson family than one can possibly imagine.

John’s death was only the beginning. By the end of the war, three more Richardson brothers had lost their lives; they had all attended Rossall.

Arthur Douglas Richardson died at the age of 28 1915. He died from bronchial pneumonia.

Ernest Benbow Richardson died on a hospital ship having been taken ill with jaundice at Alexandria in Egypt in July 1915

Finally…

Raymond De Dibon Richardson died at H.M.S. President (an onshore navy base) in March 1919 having served at Gallipoli at the age of just 17 in 1915.

Just one son survived the war, and that was Thomas who became a High Court Judge and died in 1956 at the age of 76.

One can only imagine the torment that he must have felt having lost all five of his brothers. One cannot imagine that his poor mother ever recovered from losing five of her eight children in the space of just seven years.

I share this story with you this morning, not because this loss was unique but because it serves to demonstrate the terrible heartache caused by conflict.

It is difficult to comprehend that so many Rossallians lost their lives in conflict during the twentieth century. Those who sat where you sit today probably never envisaged that their lives would end in the mud filled trenches of northern France or the icy depths of the Atlantic. It is reasonable to presume that they will have had the same hopes, fears and dreams that are dear to you. They will doubtless have searched for love, meaning and purpose just like you do.

These Rossallians were loved as sons and brothers – they were part of families that must have forever been devastated by their loss. This community still feels that loss and this Chapel is dedicated, in part, to their memory. You and we are their successors and it is our collective responsibility to remember Old Boys such as John and his brothers, Arthur, Leonard, Ernest and Raymond.

May their memory endure from generation to generation.

Floreat Rossallia.

Jeremy Quartermain


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