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Pupils solve World War I Mystery

Pupils solve World War I Mystery

Year 5 and 6 pupils came across a fascinating enquiry on the Somerset Remembers website while undertaking WW1 research in their ICT and history lessons. A photograph dated 1915 of some school boys in distinctive shirts was posted asking anyone if they recognised the school in Somerset. Our young sleuths decided to look at the school archives and found the very same photo on the wall of one of their school rooms. Thanks to Mr Derrick Warren’s History of Chard School, the backdrop of the photo could clearly be seen in other photographs as most of the buildings of that time have long since disappeared.

The Belgian historian researching the photo, Mr Walter de Swaef, sent the story of the Old Cerdic.   The Dooreman family lived in Burst, a small village in Flanders, Belgium, where they had a farm, windmill and brewery. Leopold Dooreman had been mayor of the village since 1889. He had three children, a son that died soon after birth, a daughter and a second son, Charles.

On 4 August 1914, the Germans invaded Belgium and on 12 October 1914, they entered Burst where they stayed until 11 November 1918. Mr Dooreman’s life was in danger so he left for Ostend where his wife and children had been on holiday. In Ostend, he established that his wife had left for England and Mr Dooreman decided that he would take the last boat to England and join her.

In December 1914, the family moved to Chard in Somerset. Mr Dooreman decided that his son should learn English so he was enrolled as a pupil of Chard School. Although he was 15 years old, he was in a class of 11-12 year old boys so it is clear to see him as he is much taller than the other boys.

In 1916 he volunteered for the Belgian army and after training in France, fought at the front in Flanders Fields until the end of the war. According to his surviving children, he was nearly killed in the trenches when in May 1918 his unit was bombarded at Oostkerke. One of his comrades died and three severely wounded.

After the war, the family returned to Belgium and Charles followed his father into the liquor trade and eventually became Mayor of Burst.

Chard School has lived through many wars in its long and illustrious history with large numbers of its pupils taking part in active service. Many of the faces in the historic school photographs have long since gone but with the help of technology, the story of one young man in 1915 has become very much alive for the current pupils.

Charles Dooreman is recorded on Chard School’s Remembrance Plaque and will be remembered at a special Remembrance Service at the School on 11 November.