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01st January 2008

Exeter’s Fallen Men

Written by Patrick Howard

On Wednesday 7th November, the drawing room of the Rector’s Lodgings was packed with refugees from the bitter Michaelmas cold; they had come to hear Bob Malpass, the College’s Buildings Manager, talk about the sacrifice made by hundreds of Exonians during the Great War, the armistice of which the nation commemorates this Sunday.

Bob wove a compelling narrative that wedded the historical perspective to the personal, allowing us a moving glimpse into the horror and the suffering of the war, and making all present profoundly aware of the human cost of conflict. Bob’s talk was punctuated by renditions, superbly performed by Exeter’s choir, of Stille Nacht, When this bloody war is over, and Willie McBride, adding powerful musical colour to Bob’s description of war and its effects on its participants on both sides.

In a presentation that revealed the depth of his painstaking research, Bob teased from the collective anonymity of the fallen tales of Exonians, Fellows and Junior Members alike, who displayed heroism and incomparable bravery amidst the blood and shrapnel, disease and death of Gallipoli, the Somme and Passchendaele, etching on our minds the depths to which the human soul can plunge, and the heights to which it can soar.

The camaraderie of the trenches was re-enacted this cold November night as staff, students and Fellows together heard tales of another community of Exonians from nearly a century before; it is thanks to the efforts of researchers like Bob Malpass who keep the sacrifice of previous generations alive in our minds, giving the Remembrance period renewed vigour and emotional resonance, that the names of those men are lifted from the stone on which they are inscribed, and brought to life again.

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