Leading WWI historian, author and broadcaster, Richard van Emden informed and entertained a packed Thomas Arnold Hall last week.

Lecturing on the theme of “Meeting the Enemy: The Human Face of the Great War”  Richard shared remarkable, little known human stories of two peoples divided by war; a reminder that the experiences of individuals can provide a rare insight into the history of such a well-documented conflict.

Based on a wonderful set of anecdotes and photographs, the audience was treated to evidence which showed the complexity and often kindness of human spirit in appalling conditions. The tale of Captain Gordon, interned in a German POW camp, who wrote directly to the Kaiser to be allowed to return to see his dying mother started the lecture. Gordon was given permission and unbelievably returned to Germany to be incarcerated again two weeks after visiting England. Days later, he promptly tried to escape and was captured at the Dutch border.

Equally poignant was the story of Henry Hadley, a young man who van Emden claimed was the first British casualty of the war. Hadley, a former Cheltenham College School boy, was shot by German officers following a row on a train only 3 hours after war had been declared between the two countries.

These were just two of a string of marvellous tales. Equally valuable was the message that Richard delivered to the pupils in the audience. His claim that the excellence of his work was based on hours of painstaking research in the National Archive was a timely message for those in exam years.

The evening finished with an interesting Q&A session and book signing. Richard was left in no doubt that he will be warmly welcomed back to Warminster in the future.

Graeme McQueen