Stories from the battlefields – Faye Neave

The grave of Geoffrey Staniland
(photo: Faye Neave)

Faye Neave teaches history at Boston Grammar School. Over the last year she has been involving the boys in research into some of those students of the school who lost their lives in the First World War. Some of those in whom she is interested are Thomas Comer and the Staniland brothers, Meaburn and Geoffrey. I, Simon Meeds, helped Faye a little with her research so I’m pleased I played a small part in this story.

In March 2015 Faye took two boys (Harry Hopkins and Rob Hayes) to France and Belgium on a battlefields trip. The trip was organized by the Institute of Education (IOE) and was part of the First World War Centenary project being run by the government. Each secondary school in the country is invited to send two students and one member of staff free of charge.
I’ll let Faye continue in her own words…

When the students return they have a legacy project where they have to feedback what they have found out. The trip was amazing and really inspired me in how I teach WW1.  The staff involved and guides were fantastic (I recommended [Martin] Middlebrook’s Somme book to the guides and I know they are now reading it as they purchased it in one of the shops there).  I have enjoyed the trip and project so much. It has really made me question how I teach WW1. I think I used to have a very negative view of WW1, and of course I still appreciate that there were dreadful parts of it with a great deal of human suffering which we always wish can be avoided, but I am certainly more inclined to see the significance and not just see it as a loss and waste as I did before. I feel that I am less critical of people such as Haig and whilst seeing that his decisions did often lead to human sacrifice, I understand more why he made these decisions. I am now undergoing a programme to be a specialist leader on WW1- there was an application process, I was successful and there are fifteen of us in the country who are doing this with the IOE. Our job is to promote the trip and lead CPD [Continuing Professional Development] sessions for other teachers. I am going to use the case study of Comer and the Staniland boys to create some sample resources for other teachers.

Anyway, on the trip, we visited the grave of Thomas Comer at Lijssenthoek cemetery and we placed a cross there from BGS and Tower Road. As I am sure you will remember, Thomas’ father was the headmaster of Tower Road primary school at the time. His father unveiled a memorial plaque at the school some years after, so it must have been very emotional for him to read out his son’s name. The ex-headmaster who left last academic year (Dom Lloyd), is doing a project called “Memory Lane”, and so we are hoping to work with the school on broader historical issues that are not only related to the First World War. The two students who were involved in the trip and I visited Tower Road primary in June and they gave a presentation on their trip and donated information on Comer. There are details of all of this on our school website.

The grave of Meaburn Staniland
(photo: Faye Neave)

Perhaps more emotive for me was when we visited the graves of Meaburn and Geoffrey Staniland, which did bring a tear to my eye. I am not sure if it was because they were BGS lads but I found that part of the trip very emotional. Our battlefield guide was amazing and I told him about all of the research that you had done and we managed to do a little more together. 

These two brothers were buried in Dranouter Churchyard and were very close together (they died in 1915 only a few months apart). Meaburn was a captain and so therefore was more of a professional soldier as he was already serving in the army prior to WW1. His brother Geoffrey was not professional in the sense that he was part of the Complete Territorial Division which was part of the BEF [British Expeditionary Force], joining up during WW1. Both men died in action. We think that Meaburn was fighting at Hooge which is in Ypres (Belgium). King George actually inspected their division on 19th February 1915. 

We think that Geoffrey may have died in a trench raid in what was “normal trench routine”. Geoffrey was probably leading a patrol as there was possibly as few as three other men with him. 

When you read what happened to Meaburn you will see why I am so fascinated by this story. Meaburn was fighting at Hooge, where we think he was injured and later died (three months after his brother). Therefore, it is a little surprising that he is buried at Dranouter which is some distance away  There is no way that he would have ended up there to be buried unless he requested to be buried there next to his brother, as part of his dying wish. We can think of no other reason how he would have got there unless his men sorted it out for him, knowing about his brother. That perhaps is an even better story. 

I have been in touch with Allan, the guide, since the trip and he has told their story several times since. Of course the other twist is that Meaburn’s  son was killed in WW2.  Again we have done some more research on him – he was killed in Normandy. When Allan next passes this cemetery he is going to get a photo for us.

As I have said to you before, you have really inspired me to find out more about local history and going on this trip and seeing me first hand really made it all the more touching.  I am taking the two lads into Sibsey Primary in November where we shall be telling the Staniland story.

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