Arthur Thomas – Tablet Erected in His Memory

February 1923

Mexborough & Swinton Times, February

Arthur Thomas

Friday was a memorable day for the boys of Rossington Street School, Denaby Main. A tablet has been erected in this school to the memory of Arthur Thomas, the little hero who lost his life on November 12 th in an attempt to rescue his brother from drowning in the canal at Mexboro´. Arthur Thomas, who lived at Cliff street, Denaby Main, and attended the Rossington Street School, was only eight years of age. He took his two younger brothers with him on November 12 th to see the Mexborough war memorial, which had been unveiled the previous day.

One of the younger boys fell into the canal as they were proceeding on their way. Arthur cried “I’ll save you!” and plunged in after his brother. A young miner named George Aird was attracted by the screams of some women, who saw the incident from the Pastures Bridge, ran down the bank and rescued the younger boy, but Arthur was drowned.

His comrades at the Rossington Street School were so impressed with the bravery and self-sacrifice of the little fellow that they eagerly fell in with a suggestion that his deed should be placed on permanent record in the form of a memorial tablet. This their teachers and some “old Boys”, are paying for it. The tablet is of beaten brass, and is inscribed:

To the Memory of Arthur Thomas, Aged eight years

Who gave his life in the effort to save his Brother, 

November 12th
1922.


“And a child shall lead them”

 

Above the tablet is a framed photograph of the boy, and beneath this, his last words, “I´ll save you!” engraved in brass.

 

A Beautiful Ceremony

The tablet was unveiled on Friday afternoon by Mr. W. H. Chambers, of Clayworth Hall, Retford, managing director of the Denaby and Cadeby Collieries, and a manager of the Rossington Street Schools. The ceremony was performed in the presence of all the boys of the school, and they seemed much impressed by the proceedings. The father of Arthur Thomas was present and was deeply moved. Mr. John Brocklesby, chairman of the Conisboro´ Urban District Council, and of the local education committee presided.

 

Mr. Brocklesby opened the proceedings with a short address to the boys on the subject of “Courage”. One of the dictionary definitions of bravery, he said, was “indiscreet boldness”, and it was bravery of that kind that they often met with in the young, particularly the very young. Boys had a way of rushing into danger unnecessarily, and of taking risks that were inadvisable, though they were nevertheless inspired by courage. A very fine type of courage was that which went with discretion and judgement, and proceeded from a complete grasp of the situation and all that it involved. Physical courage was very variable, both in quality and quantity. Perhaps the highest of all forms of courage was moral courage, the courage to choose the good and reject the evil, to confess the truth and to despise the falsehood.

 

At the suggestion of Mr. Chambers, the headmaster, Mr. W. Watson, briefly recited the history of the deed that was to be commemorated.

 

Mr. Brocklesby, introducing Mr. Chambers, said that probably every boy present knew Mr. Chambers very well. Long before they were born, Mr. Chambers was labouring and planning for the good of that place, deeply interesting himself in the welfare of Denaby Main. They had only to look around and they would see many objects whose construction had entailed forethought, skill, and enterprise, and it was that sort of thing that Mr. Chambers had been doing among them for very many years. No single person had done anything comparable with what Mr. Chambers had done for the welfare of that locality. Their school had been planned by him, and everything round about them had excited his interest and effort.

 

Inherited Courage

Mr. Chambers, who was greeted with warm applause, spoke with considerable emotion. He thanked them for the honour of being asked to unveil the tablet to the memory of this brave lad. He (Mr. Chambers) had been associated with mining, the work which most of their fathers did, nearly all his life. No one knew better than he the dangers that beset those who engaged in that work, or the self-sacrifice and bravery that were frequently called for. No one knew better that he how nobly and unselfishly that call was usually answered. Many brave deeds had come to his notice, the deeds of humble working men who had gone to the aid of their comrades in circumstances of deadly peril, well knowing and understanding the nature of the risk. All thought of self-preservation was set aside at such moments, and only the desire to succour and relieve remained. He thought it very likely that a good many of the lads present had inherited that kind of bravery and would have occasion to show it in due course. The little boy whose memory they were celebrating that day had had early occasion to show it. They grieved that so young and so gallant a boy should have lost his life, but the memory of such deeds was undying. They remained to inspire others. He was very pleased that they had decided to keep in their school a permanent memorial of this boy´s bravery and self-sacrifice. It would always be before them, and before succeeding generations of Denaby boys, as an inspiring example of noble love and unflinching courage. Such examples helped to form character, and to lend strength in moments of difficulty and danger and adversity. This boy would not have died in vain if the memory of his deed had so impressed itself on his young comrades as to influence their lives.

 

Mr. Chambers then unveiled the memorial.

 

The Highest Ideal

Mr. J. H. Brown, H.M. Inspector of Schools, said he was glad to be present on this glorious occasion in the history of their school. They were there to commemorate one of the bravest deeds in the history of any school or of any country. Whether they were themselves brave or not, they could not help admiring bravery, and admiration let to imitation. They had put up this memorial in token of their admiration of a brave deed, and it was there to remind them, day by day, that one of the main things in life and one of the chief difficulties was that of being constantly brave, in small things as in great. Sometimes one of the hardest ways of being brave was to have to speak the truth. This memorial was not for them alone, but it would be an example of courage and sacrifice for all the boys who should come after them. Why were we here in the world? Some people had an idea that we were here to make as much money as we could and to get as much enjoyment as we could. But there were higher ideals than those, and the highest of them was to present ourselves a living sacrifice, spending our lives in the service of others. The poet had told us that we lived in heart throbs, not in years. We might live for a great many years and do less good in the world than this little boy who gave his life for the sake of his brother. Mr. Brown urged upon the boys the tremendous influence of a good deed on the lives of others.

 

Headmaster´s Touching Address.

Mr. William Watson, Headmaster of the school, also addressed the boys. He opened with a quotation from Longfellow:

“Whene´er a noble deed is wrought,

Whene´er is spoken a noble thought,

Our hearts, in glad surprise,

To higher levels rise”.

This ought to be a great day, he said, in the lives of those taking part in that ceremony, and in the history of Denaby Main.

 

“The more I think of the deed which our young friend and scholar wrought, the more I am convinced that we are doing the right thing in placing this memorial on this school wall. His last words are engraved in brass. They are engraved more deeply in your minds and in mine. Nelson´s “Thank God! I have done my duty”, was not more noble than Arthur Thomas´s `I´ll save you!´. In both cases it was the expression of a great soul. In its simplicity, in its loveliness, in its nobility, this act of self-sacrifice is worthy to rank among the great deeds of the world, and we should be lacking in vision if we allowed it to pass among the ordinary things of life”.

 

The lesson of this deed, continued Mr. Watson, was not that children must plunge into water or pass through fire in order to do their duty. Rather it meant that they were constantly to keep in mind the needs of others. To the teachers this memorial would be a constant reminder of the aim of their work, and the responsibility which rested upon them. They must always be ready to be led by the child. That was the secret of all teaching. To the school managers and to others who were responsible for supplying the machinery of education, this memorial made an appeal for the provision of the opportunity of developing human faculties and human personality.

 

“But times change. We older people will pass away, and you will go out and find your place in the work of the world, and there will be new generations of teachers, managers, and scholars. Perhaps – and I hope before long- this school will be replaced by a more modern building. Whether that happens soon or late, I want to give you a charge. I want you to resolve now that when that time comes you will use your influence with the powers that have charge of the education of the district to see that this memorial to the bravest of your comrades and playmates has its place in the new school, so that it may continue its silent appeal there, so that the spirit which broods over us this afternoon may continue to bless and inspire the generations that are yet to come – generations which I hope will realise that better world that you and I are striving to attain. That is the charge I give you. Will you carry it out?” (“Yes, sir”).

 

“We very much appreciate the presence of the gentlemen we have with us this afternoon. They have had a long and varied experience of public life. They have attended all kinds of ceremonies, but I am going to make bold to say that never in their lives have they assisted at a greater occasion than this, and I say that for two reasons-first, we are commemorating the greatest act of devotion of which humanity is capable. `Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friend.´ Secondly, this greatest act of human love was performed by a boy, almost an infant- so young, so frail, so small, yet so great.”

 

During the proceedings, the choir of the school sang the hymns, “Peace, perfect peace,” “Our blest Redeemer,” “There is a land of pure delight”, and “Lead us, Heavenly Father, lead us.”

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