Last year, a photograph appeared in a box of old items that had been buried deep in storage for some time. It had no identification and seemed much older than everything with it. It showed a Vicar with a medal. I left it on my desk, not for a moment thinking that anyone alive would be old enough to know who it was.
A couple of weeks ago, Mr Williams, History Master, told me about a book he had found on the internet which was written by an ON who served as a Chaplain in Northern France and who had been held by the Germans. The book was about his experiences as a POW. We discussed the possibility that the photograph might just be of him and we knew we would probably never know. The name of B.G.O’Rorke meant nothing to me but later that day, I found a request for information, dated two years previously, from his great grandson. The penny dropped.
Almost weekly in the school archives I uncover extraordinary stories of Old Nottinghamians and their place in the world; recently especially of men who were pupils in the last years of the nineteenth century. Last week, by this strange series of coincidences, I came to know of Benjamin and Frederick O’Rorke, two brothers who attended the High School from 1892 – 4. Sons of the owner of the Caledonian Hotel on Lister Gate which was bombed in the only Zeppelin raid on Nottingham in 1916, both brothers’ careers exemplified courage and public service.
A very good student, Benjamin had taken Holy Orders after Oxford University and became a chaplain during the Boer War. He was a chaplain to the forces, 2nd class and then senior chaplain to the forces, Devon and Cornwall, finally finishing up as assistant deputy chaplain general to the British Expeditionary Force. He was captured during the retreat from Mons on 25th August 1914 at Landrecies when the Coldstream Guards and others fought a rear guard action to hold off the Germans as the BEF escaped. He was a prisoner of war in Germany for 10 months before being repatriated and returning to France with the 33rd Division as senior chaplain. Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the DSO, he died in Falmouth Military Hospital on Christmas Day 1918 from pneumonia, aged 43.
His younger brother Frederick had no less an eventful war but was luckier. After training as a vet, Major Frederick O’Rorke F.R.C.V.S. served with the Army Veterinary Corps on the Western Front, 1914 – 1919, initially as Executive Veterinary Officer at Le Havre and later as Chief Veterinary Officer at III Corps Headquarters. In a diary found later he described his original appointment as the officer in charge of disembarking horses from the transport ships at Havre, examining and passing horses when fit and then as Executive Veterinary Officer where he described his responsibility for retaining injured or sick horses until they were well enough to be dispatched to their units, and the disposal of dead horses. He refers to disorganisation, including the lack of water troughs and rations, the quality of the animals, his travels around units inspecting the condition of horses and experiments concerning the effects of chlorine gas on horses. He also was mentioned in Dispatches and survived that war and the next, dying in 1975 aged 95 years.
On the 25th January, 120 years to the day that the brothers entered NHS, Chris Davies, his Great- grandnephew found Frederick’s army photograph in the National Portrait Gallery Archive and confirmed our anonymous photograph as the same one he had seen as a child in his Grandmother’s house.