London Dinner Centenary

One hundred years ago, in the year following the end of WWI, 91 Old Melburnians gathered over dinner in London to delight in the meeting of old friends and to commemorate the fallen. In 1919, members of the Melbourne Grammar School community gathered in London to celebrate the centenary of this event.

This article provides an account of these functions, as well as links to relevant historical stories.

Pre-1919 London Dinners

One of the first London-based reunions of Old Melburnians recorded in the Melburnian occurred on 13 March 1913.

Organised by Dr Mark Gardner, 1903 Captain of School, 21 people attended the Dinner, including Dr. Ambrose Wilson, Headmaster (1885 – 1893). The group agreed that an English branch of the Old Melburnians should be established, and, in 1919, that formally occurred.

The 1919 London Dinner

On 25 April 1919, 91 Old Melburnians gathered for, what was termed in the 1919 Melburnian, a Victory Dinner, although there is some evidence that participants called it a Peace Dinner. We believe the numbers were relatively high because, although the war had ended the year before, numerous Old Melburnians were still waiting for a berth on a ship to take them home.

Almost every rank from a colonel to a private, was well represented, while the darker hues of civilian dress were mingled profusely with the familiar khaki of the uniforms.

The dinner was a tremendous success from every point of view. O.M.’s from all over England had come to London for the event, and many others had managed to obtain leave from France in order to be present. In spite of the fact that many members had returned to Australia: a representative gathering of 91 O.M.’s was finally obtained, the dates of their entries at the School ranging from 1876 to 1915.

Excerpt from the 1919 The Melburnian

The group spoke fondly of the School, with the first verse and chorus of the School Games’ Song sung with great enthusiasm.  Dr Edward Champion (OM 1885), unanimously agreed upon as the chairman of the assembly, proposed a toast to the King and Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Hayes, CMG (OM 1883) (commonly known as ‘Froggy’) proposed a toast to the School, with Lieutenant-General Sir Edmund Herring, KCMG, KBE, DSO, MC, ED (OM 1910) responding on behalf of the School.

On a more sombre note, Lancelot (Lance) Gaunt (OM 1892) proposed a toast to ‘Fallen Comrades’.

Mr Wilfred Howitt (OM 1913) asked Old Melburnians at the 1919 London Dinner to sign his copy of the menu. This artefact was generously donated to the School Archives by Mrs Button Howitt, wife of Mr Godfrey Howitt (OM 1951), Mr Wilfred Howitt’s son. His grandson, Mr Tom Howitt (OM 1981), attended the 2019 Dinner. Members of the Howitt family have been attending the School since 1868. 

In addition, to those listed above, many distinguished service men attended the event, including:

  • Lieutenant Colonel William Joynt VC (OM 1904)
  • Brigadier Alexander Forbes, MC, MVO, JP (OM 1910)
  • Brigadier Sir William Johnston, CBE, DSO, MC, ED (OM 1905)
  • Brigadier Douglas McWhae, CMG, CBE (OM 1900)
  • Brigadier Hugh (Ronald) Officer (OM 1916)
  • Brigadier (William) Howard St. Clair, DSO (OM 1911)
  • Colonel Sydney Cole, ED (OM 1911)
  • Colonel Rupert Fanning, DSO  (OM 1909)
  • Colonel Sir Wilfred Kent-Hughes, KBE, MVO, MC, ED (OM 1914)
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Hayes, CMG (OM 1883)
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffry Hurry, DSO (OM 1885)
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Claude Morlet, DSO (1906)
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Tulloch, MC and Bar (OM 1899)

Through the course of the evening, it was agreed that a telegram would be sent to all Old Melburnians in Australia, through the secretary in Melbourne, and also to wish the School the’ very best of luck in the upcoming “boat-race”, the Head of the River.

Numerous descendants of the 1919 Dinner participants are or have been students of the School. Indeed, Sebastian and Nicholas Lincoln, who, in 2019, currently attend Grimwade House, are direct descendants of not just one, but two, people who were at the 1919 Dinner – Victor Yule Kimpton (OM 1901) and Henry Forbes Creswick (OM 1904). Victor’s son, Stephen Kimpton (OM 1931), married Henry’s daughter, Sheila. Stephen and Sheila are the boy’s great grandparents.

The 2019 London Dinner

On Friday 28 June 2019, Old Melburnians, members of the Melbourne Grammar School community and special guests from around the world gathered in London to commemorate the centenary of the 1919 Dinner, and to remember Old Melburnians who served.

The group of 80 included the Headmaster, Mr Roy Kelley, and his wife, Ann, members of the Old Melburnians Council, and cricketing families from the School, in London as part of the School tour of England.

Eighty people attended the 2019 London Dinner. The blue irises on the table were consistent with those at the 1919 Dinner.

The Old Melburnians at the function were drawn from the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and further afield. Young and old, some Old Melburnians present were descendants of those who attended the 1919 dinner, some were or had previously been serving members of the armed forces. Stories of families and military ties were outlined in a superb speech by President of the Old Melburnians, Mr Andrew Maughan (OM 1979).

In his remarks, the Headmaster spoke of the importance of a School community, and the special spirit present at the auspicious occasion. He told a poignant tale about the crucifix Rev’d Julian Bickersteth carried with him to war. Chaplain at Melbourne Grammar from 1912, Rev’d Bickersteth volunteered to work as an army chaplain on the front lines in 1915 and was given the crucifix on his departure from the School. Many of the fallen held his crucifix as their final act and he wrote often of the impact this had on him and on those around him. The crucifix is now held in the School Archives.

Justin Holt MBE (OM 1981) proposed the Loyal Toast. Colonel Graeme Sligo (OM 1977) proposed the Toast to the Fallen.

The Dinner followed a Western Front Anzac Tour, led by military historian, Hugh Dolan (OM 1980). The group of five Old Melburnians and, in some cases, their children, visited the battlefields of France and Belgium during 20 – 28 June 2019.