STAFF and students at one of the North’s newest school buildings are to honour their dead by re-dedicating their war memorial next month.
The re-dedication ceremony, when dozens of former pupils will be invited to attend, comes 90 years after Durham Johnston’s first war memorial was installed in the aftermath of the First World War.
The new plaque will be displayed in the main hall of the school, which moved to a new £23m building two years ago.
Plans for its re-dedication have led to students and staff uncovering some fascinating facts about the heroism of some ex-pupils, including one who was captured as a spy and shot in a Nazi concentration camp.
Andrew O’Sullivan, the school’s assistant head and former head of history, explained: “Isidore Newman grew up in one of the terraced streets in Durham beneath the railway viaduct and was a pupil at Durham Johnston before training as a primary school teacher.
“During World War Two he was recruited to the Special Operations Executive, which waged a covert war against Germany behind enemy lines. He was flown into France and assisted the Resistance movement as a wireless operator before being betrayed, captured and shot in Mauthausen concentration camp, aged 28, in September 1944. Former pupils like Isidore Newman are part of the school’s history and tradition and must never be forgotten.
“The war memorial was first dedicated in 1921 at our old school site in South Street, Durham. It was re-dedicated in 1948 when we moved to Crossgate Moor, on our present site.
“There are 107 men named on the memorial, the majority of whom were members of the Durham Light Infantry. However, the men who are remembered served in both wars and in a variety of services and regiments. When our new school was being built the memorial was stored in a cupboard while preparations for the re-dedication were made.
“We intend to follow the ceremonies from 1921 and 1948 as closely as we can. We also intend to commission a plaque to acknowledge any money raised by our current students.
“The research has helped our students to learn about and honour the past. On visits to France and Belgium school parties visited the war graves of some of our former pupils who died in World War One.
“It is possible we were the first visitors these brave men and boys had ever received. Their loved ones would have been unlikely to have been able to visit during the 1920s and 30s.”
Headteacher Carolyn Roberts added: “We hear so much of war now that it is important to help young people understand that human resilience and selflessness may still survive under terrible circumstances.” The memorial is thought to be the only one in a comprehensive school in the region.
The school was recently contacted by John Heslop, chairman of the Wardens of Durham City Freeman, pledging £2,000 towards the restoration of the memorial.
Five students, accompanied by Mr O’Sullivan, have accepted an invitation from the Freemen to attend their Candlemas Guild Day meeting in the Guild Hall of the Town Hall on Monday. Students will make a presentation to the meeting about the history of the war memorial and their research into the former Johnstonians involved in both world wars.