Old Scholars Reunions

This weekend should have been the Old Scholars Reunion at Bootham School. It is with great sadness that the reunion has had to be cancelled again this spring, due to Covid-19.

There have been Old Scholars annual reunions for well over a century now.  The Old Scholars Association was formed in 1879 and the first gathering of members, at Whitsuntide, was held the following year. 

In the July 1942 issue of the school magazine, “Bootham”, Roger Clark wrote of his “Memories of Whit”:

“1889 was my first Whitsuntide as an Old Scholar—and, of course there is nothing afterwards quite to compare with the glamour of the first year or two of going back—while you are still something of a hero to the small boys who were at school with you—while the Masters who taught you (” The men who tanned the (metaphorical) hide of us “) are still there, still kindly interested to see how the seed they tried to plant and nourish is coming to fruition—while your own contemporaries—your closest friends—are still coming back and looking to renew the old affection.”

In the November 1912 issue of “Bootham”, Robert O. Mennell wrote in his “Report of the Old Scholars’ Gathering, 1912.”:

“Looking back, it was no mere sense of holiday glow that we brought away with us, but, as Edmund Gower truly said, ” a very deep impression of the genuine and inspiring nature of such an Old Scholars’ gathering.”

Three photographs of Whitsun gathering at Bootham School in 1912.
Whitsun gathering at Bootham, 1912

Even though meeting up was more difficult during wartime, some gatherings still took place. For example, in 1915, the usual reunion in York could not happen, but members of the Association met in London.

“Old York Scholars’ Association. Thirty-Seventh Annual Meeting, Held in the Castle Assembly Rooms, Richmond-on-Thames, Saturday, May 22nd, 1915. T. Edmund Harvey, M.P., presiding.

After the singing of Alma Mater T. Edmund Harvey, who had returned specially from France to preside at the meeting, said : 

 I think all of us feel, and we are glad to feel, that our annual gathering is something infinitely more than a social function; it is a time of inspiration and of fellowship, where friends meet together to help each other, to share in the sense of comradeship and of unity and to get inspiration from the ideals that have been lit for us in our youth in the two schools.” *

(*  two schools: Bootham School and The Mount)

The March 1917 issue of “Bootham” reports:

“In view of the increased difficulties of holding the annual Whitsuntide gathering it is proposed that the cricket match as arranged by W. B. Barber shall take place as usual, and Old Boys in the neighbourhood who can come shall be encouraged to spend Whit Monday in York. It is hoped that (subject to the agreement of the Mount Old Scholars’ Association) there may be a small reunion of Old Scholars in the neighbourhood of London, possibly ‘at Jordans, if available, on the afternoon of Saturday, May 26th (during Yearly Meeting), when a minimum of necessary business shall be transacted and a quiet afternoon spent together in the country.”

and the May 1918 issue:

“On Tuesday, January 22nd, at a joint meeting of the Committees of the O.Y.S.A. and Mount Old Scholars’ Association held at Bootham School careful thought was given to the holding of the Whitsuntide gathering this year. The difficulties are greater than before, and after long consideration it was agreed not to meet this time in York. W. B. Barber expects to bring his cricket team to Bootham as usual, and it was decided to arrange for a reunion at Jordans on the Saturday afternoon following Whitsuntide (May 25th) of those who live in the neighbourhood of London or are attending the Yearly Meeting. It is not likely that food can be provided. A joint meeting will be held in the afternoon, as last year, but in view of our being out of York, and only meeting in small numbers, we decided not to bring forward important matters of business involving the expenditure of large funds.”

There is a report of the 1918 York meeting in the July 1918 issue of “Bootham”:

“Old York Scholars’ Association. Whitsuntide, 1918: York.

Everything else may change, but we are still members of the same great company, and nothing helps us to realise this more than these few days spent in the old familiar surroundings with the friends and contemporaries of our schoolboy days.   …..   Addresses from the Presidents of both Associations and the singing of ” Alma Mater ” put us in mind once more of the meeting of the O.Y.S.A., at one time so prominent a feature of Whitsuntide, and now soon to be held so far away from York. Representatives from both Schools were selected to attend at Jordans,   ……   To leave Bootham again must have been a wrench to all of us, but the influence of Whitsuntide had not failed to do its work. As we returned to the many and varied duties which call us in these troubled times we did not go back empty. The thought of all that our School and our Association mean went with us, and the great hope that the day of our reunion must shortly come has been able more than anything else to strengthen and revive us.”

The same issue has a report of the meeting at Jordans:

“Old York Scholars’ Association. Whitsuntide, 1918: Jordans. Saturday, May 25th, 1918.

ONCE again our annual reunion has been held at the Old Jordans Hostel in company with the Mount Old Scholars’ Association.    …………   About a hundred and twenty had come down from London, a number large enough to fill the Jordans Meeting House.    ……    

T. Edmund Harvey, M.P., in opening the meeting, said :—

“It always seems to me when I come to our gathering at Whitsuntide that the Old York Scholars’ Meeting is one of the most beautiful of life’s wayside inns. Along the journey as we come year after year, we turn aside from the dust of the highway and leave the care and the worry of the journey behind us. We come for this season of refreshment to the familiar place. Although it is not the old loved centre that we have turned to to-day, we are still as Old York Scholars meeting together as an association in the same spiritual centre. The old memories are here. Many of the old friends are here. We are grateful for this happy moment.””

Photograph of Whitsun at Jordans, 1918.
Whitsun at Jordans, 1918

After the Great War, reunions at York resumed.  The July 1922 issue of “Bootham” has a report of that year’s reunion:

“Changes there have been, but obviously the School is thriving. Long may it flourish! And quite certainly, the spirit of O.S. is unchanged. We felt it most at School Reading on Sunday evening, when the Headmaster gave us a great message in his own inimitable way, and we joined lustily in the singing; but it could be felt all through. The same old programme was carried through with the joy and enthusiasm which have always marked our re-unions, We all were boys together ; we felt again our common membership of the great body which is Bootham.  ……..  

 our hearts are full of thanks to everyone who helped to mix that magnificent tonic—” Old Scholars’,” 1922.”


Photograph of four Old Scholars at the 1930 Whitsun reunion in York.
Four Old Scholars at the 1930 Whitsun reunion in York.

The Second World War caused further difficulties for holding reunions at York.  We read in the July 1942 issue of “Bootham”:

““Whitsuntide, 1942 The question of holding the Annual O.Y.S.A. gatherings had been carefully considered in view of the request of the Government that we should avoid travelling as far as possible, and the air raid on York, aggravating the problem of accommodation, confirmed our decision to cancel the meetings. It was with the greatest regret that we so decided, for it is no light matter to break the long continuity of these reunions. “

A small gathering of those local to York was held that year instead.

“We greatly missed the sight of the field full of visitors, but there was some consolation in the thought that had they come they would have had a colder, windier and wetter Whit-Monday than most of us could remember ! Appropriately at lunch-time the following telegram came from one large group of Old Scholars overseas :— ” Sing up Bootham, Swing it Mount ! Keep the thing in tune. These ‘ere camels got no umps, They’ll be with you soon.” “

In the July 1943 issue of “Bootham” we read the following:

“The School and former Whitsuntide gatherings were in the thoughts of many Old Boys, who sent kindest remembrances to everyone. J. G. Appleyard (1930-35), Major, writes: ” Whit-Sunday. My thoughts are very much with you in York this weekend, and I know that all other Old Scholars in North Africa will be thinking of the same things at this very special time in the School year. Needless to say, one feels very ‘ homesick’ for the old place and for the Whit, gatherings, though I suppose that this year, as last, you will be having a much quieter time than the normal Whit. “

The July 1945 issue of “Bootham” has the following:

“Although V-E Day had come and gone, it was inevitable that Whitsuntide, 1945, should be of the wartime variety. It may come as something of a shock to realise that only a dozen present scholars were at school when the last Old Scholars’ gathering was held in 1941, and on that occasion the usual programme was very much modified. One boy only remains in the school who was present at a pre-War Whit., and he is not likely to be still at school at Whitsuntide, 1946. A whole generation has passed through the school who know not the ways and traditions of Whitsuntide, but they will come back at the first opportunity, in ’47 and ’48, if not in ’46, and the break in the long series of gatherings will not be allowed to make any break in the fellowship of all Old Scholars, whatever their years.”

It is clear from the reports of past reunions that they have meant a lot to Old Scholars over the years.  Let us hope that it is not too much longer before Old Scholars can meet in person again at Bootham.  In the words of G. P. Hugo (Bootham 1918-21), Flight-Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force in 1944,

“I hope, indeed, that the majority of Old Scholars will be able to renew old friendships at a not too distant date.”

V.E. Day – 75th Anniversary

On the 75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe, we look back in the Bootham Archives to see what was recorded about it.

The July 1945 issue of the school magazine, “Bootham”, contains a report of the school terms from January to June 1945.  There is just a brief mention of V.E. Day, as follows:

“What shall we say of V-E Day, but that we all enjoyed ourselves ? Some went camping ; some went home ; most went for cycle rides.”

The same issue contains an editorial which reflects on the war and the Old Scholars’ meetings at Whitsuntide, has a message for those still overseas, and remembers those who will not return.


“Although V-E Day had come and gone, it was inevitable that Whitsuntide, 1945, should be of the wartime variety. It may come as something of a shock to realise that only a dozen present scholars were at school when the last Old Scholars’ gathering was held in 1941, and on that occasion the usual programme was very much modified. One boy only remains in the school who was present at a pre-War Whit., and he is not likely to be still at school at Whitsuntide, 1946. A whole generation has passed through the school who know not the ways and traditions of Whitsuntide, but they will come back at the first opportunity, in ’47 and ’48, if not in ’46, and the break in the long series of gatherings will not be allowed to make any break in the fellowship of all Old Scholars, whatever their years.


These pages will be read by many who are still far from home, in Germany or Italy, in India or the Far East. We hope none of them will feel that plans for a grand reunion are premature. We know that many will have faint hopes of getting to York next Whit. We would assure them that they are not forgotten now, and will not be forgotten then. It is always a pleasure to hear from them and we hope that these pages may serve them as one link with home.

We have been very glad this term to welcome back some who have long been absent, and in particular those who have been prisoners of war. We rejoice to see them again and look forward to visits from many more. But there are those who will not return ; we remember them with pride and sorrow. Their names are recorded on the opposite page. The list is complete as far as our information goes ; if there are any omissions we are sorry and would like to be told. Up to now nothing has appeared in the pages of ‘Bootham’ about these comrades whom we have lost. In the next issue it is hoped to give some little account of each one of them. The help of our readers in doing this is earnestly sought. Some have already written of their friends who have gone. May others follow their example, and in so doing help their old school worthily to remember them.”

List of Bootham Old Scholars killed in the war from 1939 to 1945, published in July 1945 issue of "Bootham" magazine.
Bootham Old Scholars killed in the war, published in July 1945 issue of “Bootham”.

As we read above, there were still Old Scholars overseas after V.E. Day.  Unfortunately some of these, too, did not return.

First World War: Some thoughts from Meetings of the Old York Scholars’ Association

Each Whitsuntide saw the annual meeting in York of the Old York Scholars’ Association, and these meetings are reported in the school magazine “Bootham”.

In 1915 however, the meeting could not be held in York. Instead the Old Scholars met in London.  In “Bootham”, Robert O. Mennell (B. 1897-1900) wrote:

“Whitsuntide 1915. KEW, Richmond-on-Thames, Westminster Bridge, and Croydon are strange place names to associate with the Old York Scholars’ Whitsuntide Gathering. Yet so it was; and the memory of the coloured loveliness of Kew and the silent beauty of the Thames in twilight will long be treasured by those who were there. But the London gathering will be remembered not so much for these or any other outward impressions as for the spirit that pervaded the meeting at Richmond—the sense of appalling need and the imperative call to render peace service in the midst of war.

T. Edmund Harvey and Philip J. Baker had come straight from the battle zones of France and Flanders, one from the devastated villages of the Marne, the other from the shattered city of Ypres, and their outline sketches of the relief work going forward under their direction seemed to bring the tragedy home as nothing less personal could have done. Other aspects of war’s cruel battering of humanity were portrayed by Ivy Weston in her picture of Folkestone Harbour invaded daily by crowds of ravenous refugees, and by Florence Barrow in her descriptions of the plight of “enemy-aliens” in this country.

In all the work of succour described—work undertaken in the spirit of a common humanity and with the single aim of healing and of reconciliation— the challenge of fine example lent point to the call made to us to render “special service in this time of supreme needs.”

Another form of service, less looked for perhaps from the Old Scholars of a Friends’ School, but undertaken in response to the stern call of duty and with entire disregard of personal interest or personal risk, was brought vividly before us by the khaki uniforms of some of our members, by a letter read from an Old Scholar in the trenches, and with peculiar force by the Head Master’s mention of those whose offer of the supreme sacrifice had already been accepted.

For every reason this annual meeting of the Associations must remain one of historic significance. The run down the river to Westminster Bridge, in the fading light, made a fitting close to the day.”

Robert O. Mennell in Senior Class at Bootham, 1900.

In 1916, the Whitsuntide meeting returned to York. In “Bootham”, Robert O. Mennell wrote again:

“Whitsuntide, 1916. To be back at York again for Old Scholars was to realise how much we all had lost by meeting- away from the Schools last year. But familiar surroundings were not sufficient to dispel a feeling of unfamiliarity, if not unreality, in all the proceedings. It must have seemed to many that we had come back to York only to find that the heart of things was not there, but in the ends of the earth—anywhere but at York. The explanation was simple. Where your comrades are, there will your heart be also. Our men were out in all parts of the world “on service,” and our thoughts inevitably were much more with them than in the business before us. Throughout the week-end each occasion and each fresh face encountered seemed to send our minds bounding off in search of an absentee, and wondering what particular duty was holding him fast, and what his particular “somewhere” was meaning for him.

In no previous year probably have Old Yorkists been so widely separated geographically or in thought; and yet never, perhaps, has the sense of our school motto, “Membra sumus corporis magni,” been so consciously or so fully realised. We know now that neither distances nor differences can injure our abiding sense of unity in the Bootham fellowship and in our common Bootham heritage—the tradition of cleanness of life and conduct, of honesty and of unostentatious obedience to duty.

It has been given to our generation by a tragic fate to know what war really is. Though borne down by a sense of its immeasurable tragedy, we may allow ourselves some gratification in the thought that the great tradition has been upheld. The call of duty has made a different demand of every individual of us and taken us into widely different spheres of service. When it is all over we shall come back welded by our ordeals and experiences into a closer fellowship than ever, with a still greater duty before us, to take our part in helping to mould the future, inspired, as our Headmaster put it, by a staunch faith in spiritual forces, in the power of loving kindness and courageous endurance. Work performed in that spirit in the interest of civilisation will not fail to bear fruit.”

At the 1916 meeting, Helen Baynes, President of the Mount Old Scholars’ Association, spoke about how valuable and helpful the Schools’ mottoes were, especially in the current times:

“” I have been thinking,” the speaker continued, ” how extremely valuable and helpful just now the School’s mottoes are—’ Membra sumus corporis magni ‘ and ‘ Ad omnia paratus.’ They seem to have been made specially for this year, for these times in which we are living-. We are all members of a great body, whether we regard ourselves as members of schools or members of a religious society, of the nation or of the Empire, and we may even go so far as to think of ourselves as members of a common humanity. As such we have, of course, great privileges, but as such also we have great responsibilities. I think it must be a matter of great happiness to all of us who are older members of this Association to see how finely prepared for everything many of our younger Old Scholars have been: those who are now working maybe with the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, possibly with the refugees in Corsica, Holland, France, or in England, alleviating the distress of aliens and others, or upholding the freedom that has been our priceless possession for so long, by their sufferings for conscience’ sake. It seems that into whatever service our members have entered they have, in most cases, been prepared for almost everything.

” We all hope and believe—do we not?—that a new and beautiful future is going to be born from this terrible turmoil —that a new heaven and a new earth will be built on the ruins of the old. But this will only come about if each one is prepared for whatever may come, if we are making ourselves prepared for this future that we hope is to be so much happier for humanity. Those who are now at school have a glorious future before them, I believe; and now is the very opportunity for choosing what they will do and for preparing themselves thoroughly for that future. There are opportunities of training now that have never been open in the past; there are opportunities for work that have never been open before.””

Photograph of Haymaking, 1916.
Haymaking, 1916

James Edmund Clark recalled the meeting at Richmond last year, when the desire to render service during this war time had materialised in the suggestion to raise a fund in the hope that it would reach £2,000 or £2,500 in aid of the various causes in which Friends were specially engaged.

“In the appeal which was sent out it was suggested that Old Scholars who wished to do so should indicate to what special activity they would like their money applied. The five objects were: The training of women and men; equipment and maintenance; the War Victims’ Relief Committee work; the Friends’ Ambulance Unit; and the Emergency Committee for the assistance of distressed Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians in this country.

It was pleasing to be able to report that the original purpose had been more than accomplished, a little over £2,800 having been promised or subscribed. Grants amounting to £1,755 had been made as under:

Training       … … … … …£225

Equipment … … … … … £100

F.W.V.R        … … … … …£650

F.A.U             … … … … …£550

Emergency Committee … £230

Bootham stood behind the Mount in the matter of the number of contributors, with only 160 against 230. Contributions to correct this state of affairs, and to bring the total to £3,000, would still be cordially welcomed.

There had been one or two donations of particular interest: £7 as the result of the work that some of the boys at Bootham had done in the harvest fields last summer (with a prospect of a further contribution from harvesting and fruit picking in the coming season)*.”

(* August 8. Cheque for over £25 has already come for work done during last term.)”