Wellington College old boys killed on the Western Front

It is easy to reduce the First World War to an exercise in statistics. Many of the schools that existed at the time of the war have a roll of honour that acknowledges the ultimate sacrifice made by ex-pupils. These can simply become lists to future generations who walk the corridors of these schools – until you meet men such as Alex McColl, who was a Wellington College prefect, 1st XV member and rowing champion or Douglas Harle, who was the school dux of 1911. Many more did not scale such heights at school, but their experiences are still an integral part of this chapter of our history.

During the First World War 1643 Wellington College old boys served overseas. From this number, 222 died and a further 350 were wounded. Some, such as the highly decorated Oscar Gallie, appear on the college’s list of the glorious dead. His brother Victor was also highly decorated. He died in 1929 from wounds received during the war so did not make it onto the roll.

Victor was not alone in suffering terribly in the years after the war. One of his team mates from the 1909 1st XV, Wilfred 'Frisky' Fitchett, was gassed at Messines in 1917 and suffered long-term effects. He returned to the family farm after the war but was soon forced to give up farming – the smell of the various chemicals used to dip and drench sheep made him violently ill.

Among the 843 New Zealanders killed at Bellevue Spur, Passchendaele, on 12 October 1917 were five old boys from Wellington College. By the end of that terrible month, 18 former pupils had lost their lives in the Belgian mud. These numbers may not seem great in the overall context of this battle, but the death of these young men had an enormous impact on a relatively small school.

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