11th November 22
Halliford School came together today in the courtyard to mark Remembrance and remember those who gave their lives in the two world wars and subsequent conflicts around the world. Louis, in Year 10, played the Last Post, and our Head Prefect and Deputy Head Prefects laid a wreath during the ceremony on behalf of the School.
Since Mr Davies became Headmaster of Halliford School, he has been trying to establish whether any Old Hallifordians went on to serve in World War II. A few weeks ago, he learnt about the life of Sergeant Peter Heppell, who died aged 102 on 7 August 2022. His obituary in The Telegraph recalled how Peter had attended Shepperton Grammar School, the original name of Halliford School.
Peter Heppell was called up in May 1940 and joined the Royal Engineers. In 1942, he embarked for the Far East with 67 Chemical Warfare Company. He was posted for ‘special duties’ and took part in what became known as Operation Thursday, a deep penetrative campaign involving not only flying garrison troops and mobile columns into fortified bases but also anti-aircraft guns, bulldozers and machinery to construct airfields for Dakotas to land on.
Heppell flew into Burma on 5 March 1944 by glider, and his objective was some 150 miles behind Japanese lines. Sadly, the scene was chaotic; gliders quickly crashed into others, and terrible injuries were sustained. Heppell recalled those first moments after landing. “Something made me run for it. Then another glider hit ours, causing casualties, and the incoming glider’s wing knocked off my bush hat.” Half of his section was seriously injured. Heppell witnessed intense close-combat flighting as well as relentless attacks from the air. He recalled that Japanese snipers would lash themselves to trees to continue firing even when badly wounded.
As a result of reading this incredible story, Archie McGregor, in the Sixth Form and his mother were inspired to share the story of Major John Gordon James, Archie’s grandfather.
Major James was born the same year as Sergeant Heppell and was educated at Strode School in Egham. He went on to undertake a degree in Engineering at Queen Mary College, but when war arrived, he resented his friends enlisting and joined up himself. He was posted initially to Catterick in North Yorkshire, where he recalls being ordered to collect fresh snow from the Yorkshire Moors to replace the dirty snow in camp. His potential was noticed, and he was dispatched to the Officer Training Unit in India, travelling in a very overcrowded troop ship. After completing his training, he was posted around the same time as Sergeant Heppell to Burma. As a result of his work in Burma with the Royal Signals Corp, Major James was awarded the Military cross.
For us as a school to have two such personal stories connected with members of our community makes this an event for us to reflect upon as we mark Remembrance Day, and we are grateful to Archie and his mother for bringing in a selection of Major James’ army memorabilia including his highly prized medals.
We will remember them.