Guest Blogger: Steve Parker (1972)

Steve ParkerSteve studied at the then Chester College from 1969-72. In between playing for the College Table-Tennis team for three years, and generally supporting all the various College sports teams, he qualified as a Secondary School Teacher in History and Maths. In this week’s blog post, Steve tells us about a chance meeting at the Alumni office which led to a fascinating research project into World War One.

“Who would have thought that after leaving Chester Teacher Training College in 1972 that I would be back 45 years later? But more of that in a moment.

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Top row, L-R: Kev Phillips, Steve Parker & Doug Wright. Bottom row, left: Jo Landy.

“As a History main student under Mr. Scarfe and Dr. Driver, studying modern American history and the Emperor Charlemagne in medieval France, I decided to start my teaching career specialising in my subsidiary subject of Maths. The reason being that we were introduced to a modern invention of the time, the computer, and were taught the joys of computer programming. We had access to one paper-tape based terminal housed in a small area outside a science lab, which needed a key from the bursar to access it.

“So began a career of over 42 years teaching Computer Studies in 1972 (without a computer!), which then transformed into Information Technology, and recently back again to Computer Science teaching the same topics as I did in 1972 – computer programming or coding as it now likes to be called! Everything eventually turns full circle in education.

“Throughout that time, the two subjects came together in my personal life with my interest in family history. Being able to search huge databases remotely by computer made compiling my family tree much easier than it would have been having to trample around old graveyards! Unfortunately, unlike the celebrities on “Who Do You Think You Are?”, I am not related to royalty or have roots in far flung posts of the British Empire, but rather relatives who ended up in a workhouse having become bankrupt from a failed butcher’s business in 1902, to a distant cousin who became a teacher in London at the turn of the century and ended up flying balloons over France in WW1 on recognisance. And that is where my interest in World War One began.

“Fast forward to a couple of years ago and a casual visit to the Alumni website. After exchanging emails with Fiona (the Alumni and Development manager), I paid a visit to my old college (it will always be Chester College to me), and was given the guided tour – good job it was guided as I never would have recognised the place now. What happened to the new Bernard de Bunsen centre? and the Rugby pitches etc.? As part of the tour, we went into the chapel and Fiona pointed out the memorial to 77 former students of the college who had lost their lives during the First World War. There and then was the meeting of two minds: “Would you be interested in researching into the lives of the names on the memorial?” asked Fiona – “yes of course” I replied.

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The memorial plaque in the University of Chester Chapel.

“And so it began. Using a combination of Ancestry databases, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, Lives of the First World War website, Forces War Records, War Diaries of the various Battalions, newspaper cuttings, old school records, a NUT booklet on teachers killed during the war whilst on service, etc. etc. etc. I began to piece together biographies of the fallen soldiers who had trained as teachers at the College. I have details of over 70 of the 77 former students in varying stages of completion, which will be turned into full biographies

“This has become a real ‘labour of love’, if I can use such an expression for discovering, at times, quite harrowing findings. It has been fascinating to find out about the back stories of these ‘names on the board’ – the number of different regiments they joined, the differing roles they played in the war and the acts of heroism by so many resulting medals for gallantry for some.

“Of course, it has not all been easy. Starting off with just a surname and initials can lead you down the wrong trail altogether. The first challenge therefore was to identify fully and correctly the individuals concerned. Visits to Chester Public Record Office in Duke St. and the University’s own library to look up old editions of The Collegian (the forerunner of The Cestrian) helped, but not a lot. Why did no one use forenames in those days? Oh how I got to love names like Norman Job Reynolds or Lewis John Edward Irlam – there can’t be many with exactly those names.

“Hopefully, by May of next year, the biographies of all those brave former students will be published on the University website for all to read and recognise the sacrifices made by them for us all.

“If you had any relatives who attended Chester Teacher Training College at the time of the War and maybe have records, old photographs, memorabilia etc. that you wouldn’t mind sharing with me for future inclusion in their biography on the website, please get in touch either with the Alumni office or me directly at steveparker1@btinternet.com.”

July 1 marks the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Thousands of soldiers, from both sides, lost their lives on the first day, including one of our former students, Alfred Pearson. Alfred was born in Liverpool in 1893. After attending Chester Teacher Training College, he left in 1914 and started teaching at Boaler St. School in Liverpool. He enlisted on September 2, 1914, just a month after the start of the war, and was promoted to Corporal on September 1, 1915. He sailed to France with his regiment, the Liverpool Pals, 18th battalion, in November that year. Alfred was killed in action on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. No known grave exists, but he is commemorated on the walls of the Thiepval Memorial in France.

If you are interested in Steve’s project or have any information to share, please get in touch. You email alumni@chester.ac.uk or call 01244 511091. Full biographies of all our fallen alumni will be available next year.

We will also be hosting a WW1 Commemoration service and events in June 2018. As part of the commemorations, we are asking volunteers to create an individual textile poppy for each of our fallen alumnus in WW1. If you are interested in taking part in our poppy project, you can find out more information here.

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