Soham Grammarians : The Fourteenth Legion - July 1969

On Wednesday, 16th June [sic: it was actually 16th July 1969, see Speech Day programme], the four tired but proud cohorts of the Roman XIV Legion - in the persons of Forms One and Two - arrived at Soham to make camp for the night.

The day's march had been hot, but a horse had been found for Legatus Bayes, and the prospect of a meal and a rest made the Legionaries step out in lively manner as they entered the school playing field arena.

The serenity of the evening was broken, however, when, as soon as the Legion had halted, it was attacked by a rabble of Celts who had evidently been lying in ambush - but a rabble nevertheless, who were brushed aside with an efficiency and speed which had characterised the conquest of the whole country.

Speech Day

Photograph in Summer 1970 School Magazine by courtesy of the
Cambridge Evening News

A meal was taken, a stockade quickly erected, guards posted and tents pitched for both officers and other ranks. The march into the camp was carried out with customary dignity, and the Legion retired for the night. During the third watch a Celtic claque appeared, more hostile than the first, and the bugler roused the sleeping camp to arms. The attack was successfully beaten off and the remainder of the night passed in peace and quiet.

Early on the following morning, camp was broken, tents folded and packed and the Legion mustered for the day's march. Refreshed by their rest, the Legionaries paraded in full kit and a roll was called. Then, with the standard (complete with full battle honours) proudly borne by a tiger-skin-clad aquilifer, the Legion was inspected by, and then marched past, Mr. R. E. G. Jeeps, the honoured guest.

The whole pageant was an exercise in co≠operation between boys, staff, parents and the outside firms who helped in so many ways. Our grateful thanks go particularly to Messrs. Tillotsons of Burwell for their generous gift of cardboard; to the Forestry Commission at Brandon for the loan of 300 stakes; to Messrs. Greene King of Bury St. Edmunds for the loan of frames for the officers' tents; and finally to Mrs. C. Human of the Riding School at Barway for the loan of 'Rustier' and for Bayes' lessons.

from the Summer 1970 Soham Grammar School Magazine: source Frank Haslam

If you have any anecdotes or further photos, please contact the editor.

Mel Cornwell (1967) 19 Oct 2003 - I have studied the 1972 School photo, and I know most of the faces on there. However, I had already left, late 1971, as my family moved to London (Thomas Hood High, Leytonstone). The references to the 14th Roman Legion are very interesting. By the time we had completed our preparation, and made the shields, helmets etc., we were heartily sick of anything Roman, and RAT was probably sick of us, too. I have a full 'dress rehearsal' photograph (about 170 boys) taken in front of the original 1 Alpha/1A classrooms/Old Dining Hall. This is the photo one Mr Noble was asking after in the Messages section, I believe? It even has the unruly Celts in the front row!

I had a struggle finding myself on the photo (back row, fourth in from the right hand side) because the helmets are a mean disguise. I am sure this picture would interest others too?

source: Mel Cornwell (1967): click on the image for a very much larger (225k) version

Mrs Kathy Howells (Biology 68-69) 20 Dec 2003: One of my vivid memories was the Roman Pageant that the lower school acted out in the summer term.   This was a really splendid affair but caused me more than a few headaches.  Mr Taylor presented me with two bolts of brown fabric and told me to organise costumes.  I remember having to measure every boy in the Lower School to work out how much material was needed for his Roman tunic as there was only just enough to go round!  Rather nerve racking at the time but fun. I lost count of all the tunics I made myself because some mothers (or children) couldn't sew. 

Martyn Davies 66: 23 Sep 2005: I was one of the 'Celtic Claque'. I recall we wore sacking - probably courtesy of Clark and Butcher. We numbered about 14 or 13 so were outnumbered about 4 to 1 by the Romans. We would have been more, but two eager volunteers, Messrs Paul Cat Stevens and Mark Gamble were persona non grata as far as RAT was concerned "My word, I don't need your services, I'm not that desperate". It would be true to say that at that period Paul and Mark would interpret compliance with authority in a liberal fashion.Without their support Soham was conquered by the Romans.

Ed Reed 67 brought his shield and body armour to the 2017 Annual Reunion Lunch.
He provides his memory of the event below.

Ed Reed 67: I seem to remember this was a huge event for RAT who was the inspirational driving force behind the pageant when he was head of the Lower School.

We made our armour and uniform in Pete Askemís art classes over several weeks using carboard which I think was supplied by Tillotsonís carboard box factory in Burwell.

Mick Bayes had to take horse riding lessons and he led the XIV Legion from horseback and you can see him in the centre of the photo wearing what looks like a leopard skin over his head and shoulders.

The Celts were recruited from either the 3rd or 4th form and wore sackcloth and daubed their faces in something similar to the stuff used for camouflage by the school cadet force. We all had to raid the family bed linen for sheets to make our tents. Newmarket Hospital had originally been asked for any surplus bed sheets but were unable to help, apparently due to the risk of us being infected with some awful illness - I would have hoped they could have been washed first!

The armour was lightweight but very uncomfortable mainly because of the sharp edges of the metal clips poking through on the inside which were used to hold it together. Our swords were made in Dick Bozeatís woodworking lesson and were used to teach us how to make a cross-halving joint using his 'gap filling' glue from the glue pot which contained that awful smelling brown substance, I think made from animal bones, that was always boiling in the glue pot at the back of the woodworking shop. 

Part of the pageant was forming a tented encampment somewhere in the area where the running track used to be during the Summer term in front of the pavilion where parents and dignitaries congregated to watch the spectacle. As part of the enactment, our tented camp was attacked by and had to repel the Celts which was quite realistic and probably would not have passed much of a risk assessment today.

The whole thing actually went very well and it was a lovely sunny day but I can still remember my first thought after we had finished was of the huge amount of effort for what seemed most of the preceding year when the whole pageant was over in less than an hour and a half. Perhaps we should have been like the real XIV Legion and gone on tour!

I put my armour up in the loft and forgot about it and it only came to light again quite recently when I was doing some improvements to my parents bungalow in Fordham. Unfortunately, I could not find the helmet.

Link: press report of Lower School Speech Day 16 July 1969
last updated 11 Oct 12: 27 Oct 17: 24 Oct 19