Somme 100: Hornbeams for 100 schools 2016
In September 2016 we were pleased to announce that Year 9 NSB student Jacob Benhayoun had won a prize in a poetry competition launched by the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
Jacob Benhayoun now aged 14 was put forward for this competition by his English teacher and won the KS3 category of the competition.
Jacob wrote a poem about a tree that became a poignant symbol of hope during the Battle of the Somme - one of the defining events of the First World War. As part of the prize the school has been privileged to be given a tree sapling propagated from the remaining hornbeam tree that was left in Delville Wood after the Battle of the Somme and, as such, is of great historical significance. Jacob was one of only 100 students to win a tree for their school which is a huge honour for NSB.
On Wednesday 7th December 11.00am Northampton School for Boys was very proud to hold an official tree-planting ceremony, along with a commemorative plaque donated by AJ Mills Master Stone Masons. R&G Landscaping and Grounds Maintenance took great care of the sapling before the plantation and will continue to do so as the sapling develops to maturity.
Mr Geoff Moss, Chairman of the Northampton Old Grammar School Foundation led the ceremony with a contextual introduction about the Battle of the Somme and war; bringing home to the people in attendance, just how many masters and students from the school never returned from combat. Jacob then read his winning poem to the assembled guests of staff, parents and governors before Mr Moss officially planted the sapling with the NSB ceremonial silver spade. The ‘Last Post’ bugle call was played followed by two minutes of silence and reflection.
It is the intention to record the growth of the sapling and to proudly display its progress in our 1911 Hall where our school war memorial holds pride of place.
The Last Witness
The last witness stood over the floor of what was thriving woodland,
What was lush green and beautiful was destroyed and had become a desolate wasteland,
The place which was the hornbeam’s castle of green,
Was destroyed by a war when they could not intervene,
In a battle which was not theirs to fight,
The trees were destroyed by men, who obliterated without right,
As bodies were abandoned and the stench of blood filled the air,
Soldiers were left by their enemies, who did not give a care,
But still stood strong a single hornbeam,
Who suffered from all of the violence which it had seen,
After witnessing the barbarity caused by many tank drivers,
This tree, it can be said, is the final survivor.
By Jacob Benhayoun
Mrs E. De Vito Jacob's English Teacher was pleased to provide the background to this achievement:
In May 2016, I received a letter from my 90 year friend, Vera, who lives in the West Midlands and with this letter was a newspaper cutting about a competition: The National Memorial Arboretum was giving away 100 trees for 100 schools across the UK to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.
Intrigued, I looked on their website and got some more information about this. I then opened this competition up to my Year 7 and Year 8 classes and encouraged students to submit a piece of work. I had quite a few responses and read each one over several times before making my decision as only one poem could be put forward on behalf of Key Stage Three. There were two that stood out for me: Joshua Murphy’s poem which started dramatically with the lines:
And Jacob Benhayoun’s poem entitled ‘The Last Witness’ which was the eventual final choice for submission on behalf of the school.
I was delighted when I received the email saying that we had won one of these very special hornbeam saplings. To have been selected from so many schools that applied was a great honour; Jacob was thrilled – as was my friend Vera who, having lived through the Second World War, knew how historically significant this new addition to the school would be.
The saplings were so delicate that I was asked to collect it from the Memorial in Staffordshire. Whilst there, I took time to wander round and I was overwhelmed by how many conflicts there had been. Not to mention the loss of life.
Upon receiving the sapling, I didn’t realise that he would be over six feet tall. Naming him Harry the Hornbeam, he didn’t complain once on the 85 mile journey back to Northampton.
After a tentative weekend nurturing the sapling like a precious treasure, the sapling finally arrived at NSB and was whisked away to a safe place until his big day: the day of the planting!