15 Jun 2021
Yesterday was an historic and noteworthy day in the long history of Downside School CCF.
Since the establishing of the Irish Guards in April 1900, Benedictine schools have provided them with a vast number of officers. A quick glance at the photographs in the School’s Science corridor shows that Downside’s Catholic faith meant that a large proportion of OGs killed in the First World War were serving with Irish regiments and, after Irish independence in 1922, more and more Downside boys joined the Irish Guards in particular.
Some members of our community have spent whole lifetimes with the regiment; Dom Rudesind Brookes, known as Fr Dolly, fought with the regiment in the trenches of the First World War alongside an extraordinary 26 OGs who were serving in the 1st and 2nd Battalions. He resigned his commission to become a monk at Downside in 1924. At the outbreak of the Second World War he was serving as House Master of Roberts, but he persuaded the Abbot to allow him to rejoin the Army, this time as a Chaplain, and he spent four years as Chaplain to the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, winning a Military Cross and OBE along the way. He even buried several of his former pupils who were killed in action during that period, such as Lt Patrick Da Costa (S37) and Lt The Honourable Stephen Preston (R38). Until his death in 1984 Fr Dolly still carried an Irish Guards officer’s blackthorn stick when out for a walk in his monastic habit.
Regimental Sergeant Major Thomas Cahill, Distinguished Service Medal, Croix de Guerre, was the senior Non-Commissioned Officer of the 1st Battalion throughout the majority of the First World War, including the Battles of the Somme and Passchendaele, before serving for several years as a Yeoman of the Guard at St James’ Palace. He finally retired to Downside, where he served as senior instructor to our contingent for many years until his death from throat cancer in 1940. He is buried here, in the churchyard of St Benedict’s, having been given a full military funeral in the Abbey Church by Downside cadets.
Our links to the regiment have remained strong now for over a century, with several OGs currently serving in the 1st Battalion, and the sons of other serving or retired officers here in the School. Few schools can claim to have provided so many officers to a single regiment over such a long period of time, and so it is with great pride and affection that the Army section of the Downside CCF assumes the headdress of the Household Division in reflection of our new affiliation. The Corps of Drums will wear the regiment’s cap badge and drum emblazoning too, with the kind permission of the Regimental Council. We hope that this will mark the beginning of a new era of even closer co-operation, and perhaps some of our pupils who were on parade yesterday will one day join the battalion, as so many Downside cadets have done before.
‘The Downside CCF helps enable the development of personal responsibility, resilience, leadership and self-discipline, and gives pupils within the School the skills and self-confidence to take charge of their life.’ Sophia, Current Sixth Former