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Renowned military historian impresses pupils at annual dinner

Published Wednesday 10th of April 2019 10:51:52 AM

At the end of March, Kingham Hill School was proud to host its annual dinner of the Octagon Academic Society, welcoming military historian Taff Gillingham as guest speaker. Around 150 guests were treated to an impressive evening of food and academic discussion. Octagon pupils were joined by family members and teachers who have inspired them. The occasion is modelled on a traditional Oxbridge college dinner with gowns, toasts and speeches. It is set in the beautiful, oak-panelled Hall, surrounded by the portraits of former Headmasters and the names of previous Heads of School. The Dinner is an opportunity to showcase the Society, which exists to encourage and foster intellectual curiosity in our pupils. This year we were very pleased to be joined by the well-respected military historian, Taff Gillingham, who enthused and challenged us to search for historical fact rather than settling for the established narrative. He spoke in particular about the First World War, explaining how settling for the “Lions led by donkeys” interpretation of the Western Front was lazy historiography. For example, his particular experience with soldiers’ kit was able to debunk a popular misconception on why soldiers were told to walk while making a frontal attack across no man’s land. Given that the average soldier would have up to 80lbs of kit on their backs, running across an overgrown stretch of land with dangers hidden by the tall grass would not have been a realistic expectation if the man was going to be able to fight to take possession of a trench system at the other end. Rather than make the interpretations for us, he left such pearls of wisdom hanging in the air for the members of Octagon to draw their own critical conclusions. He was an excellent Guest of Honour, and we look forward to meeting him again when he opens his Great War Huts visitors’ centre in Suffolk in the near future. Alongside Mr Gillingham, the outgoing President of the Society, Imogen, gave an excellent vote of thanks in which she reminisced about her seven years in Octagon and paid tribute to many teachers who had helped her to become the impressive young woman we had the pleasure of listening to on that evening. According to tradition, Mr Williams, the Head of the Society named the new President in his speech. In September, Year 12 Thomas will take on the responsibilities of the position.
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