The Seven VCs of Stonyhurst College by R L Kirby and R R Walsh (T H C L Books, Blackburn, £13.95)
IN THE 131 years since the Victoria Cross was instituted to reward outstanding valour in war about 1,355 have been awarded throughout Britain and the Commonwealth. Considering the number of wars, the length and intensity of some, and the enormous number of men and women who took part in them, the number of VC awards is remarkably small.
Yet Stonyhurst College, a school with rarely more than 400 boys at any one time, has produced seven VC winners since 1897. This extraordinary record certainly deserves a book and as a military historian I am pleased to see it so well covered.
Messrs Kirby and Walsh deal with their heroes chronologically, provide a map showing where each award was won and illustrate their book with photographs of the recipients and, where possible, with drawings of the exploits concerned.
The valient young men were: Lieut Edmund Costello, NorthWest Frontier, 1897; Captain Paul Kenna, Khartoum, 1898; Lieut Maurice Dease, Mons, 1914; Captain John Liddell, Belgium, 1915; 2nd Lieut George Coury, Guillemont, Somme, 1916; Captain Harold ErvineAndrews, Dunkirk, 1940; Captain James Jackman, Tobruk, 1941.
Dease and Jackman received posthumous awards and Kenna was later killed at Gallipoli.
John Dease won the first VC of the 633 Victoria Crosses awarded during the Great War 1914-18, and he also won it on the first day of the first British encounter in the war. Coury, aged 20, was the youngest of the Stonyhurst VC winners.
Stonyhurst's seven awards raise the interesting question of how one small school brought forth so many super heroes. No answer is attempted by the authours but Lieut-Colonel Ervine-Andrews, the only VC survivor, makes a suggestion in his foreword. "It is perhaps less surprising when one considers how much the values of the English Jesuits who taught in that school harmonised with the values of Cavalry and Infantry regiments of the British and Indian Armies during the first half of the century. Integrity, discipline, loyalty to Church and Nation . . . and the ideal of service before self were all emphasised throughout a boy's time at the college . . . Perhaps too the eschatology of the Catechism is a better basis than most for life in a fighting unit in wartime."
The slender book is beautifully presented and this hardback edition is limited to 2,000 numbered copies. Having visited the graves of the three Stonyhurst VC winners who were killed in action I am glad to have a copy of the book. The others should not remain long unsold.