Distinguished Answers from Prize Winners

Some of the answers that we felt deserved special attention

Daniel Hooker – Hendon Prep School

Tell the whole story revolving round ONE of these famous quotations:

(His choice:)

‘To no man will we sell, deny, or delay justice.’

The above quotation is from the Magna Carta, the major legacy of the reign of King John.  This document was to resonate down the ages, even to the present day.

John came to the throne in 1199.  England was in desperate need of a strong leader, especially as it was bankrupt after the expensive wars of Richard I and faced a strong enemy in Philip Augustus of France.

At first John seemed perfect for the task.  He was a good administrator and cared about the country, unlike his brother who spent less than a tenth of his reign in England.  However, John’s barons quickly became angry at his interference in local justice.

John had to fight a war against Philip Augustus in France.  It started well when John captured the castle of Mirebeau after marching 60 miles in 2 days.  His problems started here when his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, who some felt had a better claim to the throne than John, disappeared.  Stories circulated blaming John for Arthur’s murder and he may have been responsible.  Whatever, this turned wavering French barons against him and the whole war turned in favour of Philip. By 1204 John had lost Normandy following the fall of the famous Chateau Gaillard. A king’s first task in medieval time was as warlord and John had clearly failed.

Many barons owned land in France or had financed the war, and they were furious. They were even more angry when John raised taxes to ridiculous levels. Inheritance tax was normally £100 for barons, and John made it many thousands. He also made barons pay to get a fair hearing at one of his courts.  The sentence from Magna Carta, at the top of this essay, relates directly to these practices.  Many barons were muttering darkly about John abusing the feudal system, and ‘going against the customs of the realm.’

John also managed to get England placed under an interdict by the Pope for denying the Papal candidate for Archbishop of Canterbury.  Churches were locked and general mass was not allowed.  John himself was excommunicated, expelled from the church.  This caused much bitterness and distress, and gave the barons a further reason to oppose John.

John eventually gave in to the Pope in 1213, but in a manner which further infuriated many barons.  He did homage to a Cardinal and promised to rule England for the Pope and in his name.  One chronicler summed up the mood of the barons: ‘The King hath degenerated himself to the level of a serf.’

This king then raised further taxes to launch a war against France.  It was a make-or-break strategy for John.  He was defeated at Bouvines in 1214 and lost all chance to re-take his French lands.

The barons were furious that John had lost their money by this humiliating defeat in France.  They raised an army and captured London, and then, led by Archbishop Stephen Langton, forced John to accept their demands.  These were put down in a Great Charter (Magna Carta) and John put his seal to this at Runnymede on 15th June, 1215.  For the first time it made the King clearly accountable to the law.  It also contained a phrase saying that every freeman had a right to a fair trial and that judges could not take bribes and must remain impartial.

John was still fighting the barons at his death in 1216, but Magna Carta, and the freedoms that it gave, became so deep-rooted and crucial to the constitution of this land that its power could never be undone.

Thomas Hill – The Hall School 2009

The year 2009 is the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin.  Outline his career, and assess his achievements and importance

How did life originate?  Why is it so diverse?  What is the purpose of our existence?  For many intelligent people, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) produced the most credible answers to these questions and is therefore is a man of huge importance to history.

Darwin initially studied medicine, but disappointed his father who sent him to study theology at Cambridge.  Instead of being ordained, he then took a post as a naturalist on board HMS Beagle, which set sail to chart the South American coastline.  He spent the five-year voyage collecting rocks, fossils, animals and plants, which he sent back to Cambridge.

The geologist Charles Lyell had already convinced Darwin that the Earth was much, much older than the few thousand years biblical scholars had predicted.  During five weeks in the Galapagos, Darwin noticed differences in the shells of giant tortoises and between mocking birds from different islands.  They were clearly descended from a common ancestor and had spread to different islands where they had adapted to eat the food available.

In England, Darwin’s collection was analysed by a team of experts.  The ornithologist John Gould helped him notice the finches from the Galapagos.  Some had stout beaks for eating seeds and nuts; others had beaks ‘designed’ to eat insects or fruit.  It appeared that animals had evolved to eat what they could and had adapted to their diverse environments.  Yet he still did not know how evolution worked.

The ‘eureka’ moment came in 1838 when he read an essay by economist Thomas Malthus on human population growth and food supply.  Darwin suddenly realised that all life was a competition for survival.  Characteristics that enhance the change of reproduction spread and those that are at a disadvantage die out.  Just as a farmer selects certain characteristics when breeding livestock, nature applies a similar process, albeit a much slower one.  He called this process ‘natural selection.’

In 1842 the Darwins moved to Down House, Kent, where Darwin studied everything around him, from climbing plants to barnacles, from earth worms to fancy pigeons – all whilst bringing up seven children!  Despite chronic illness picked up in South America, he worked prodigiously hard, building up evidence for ‘transmutation’, as he called evolution at the time.

He was in no hurry to tell the world of his vision, so at odds with religion.  He feared for his friendships and for his devout wife, Emma, who feared for his soul.  ‘It would be,’ he said, ‘like confessing to a murder.’  But he stopped attending church.

In 1858, Alfred Russell Wallace, another naturalist, sent him a similar idea about natural selection.  Darwin now had to hurry to write ‘On The Origin of the Species…’ which was published in 1859.

Darwin’s notable enemies included Richard Owen, the driving force behind the Natural History Museum, and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, who intervened to prevent him getting the knighthood recommended for him by Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston.  However, when he died in 1882 he was buried in Westminster Abbey – twenty feet from Sir Isaac Newton.

Since Darwin, science has begun to reveal the mechanics of evolution.  At the end of the 19th Century, Mendel discovered laws of inheritance and in 1953 Crick and Watson discovered the structure of DNA, the genetic material.  In 2003, a complete map of the human genome was completed.  However, it his hard to imagine that any future scientific discovery will overshadow Darwin’s Big Idea:  the coherent explanation of life itself.

Ralph Morley – King’s School Canterbury Junior School

Tell the whole story revolving round ONE of these famous quotations:

(His choice:)

‘I believe that it is peace in our time.’

In 1938, Neville Chamberlain stepped out of a Lockhead L.14 Electra and uttered these words.  He had spoken with the German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, and declared that this document ‘represents the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.’  In May 1938, the German Reich had annexed Austria and in October this vicious and powerful nation had invaded the German-speaking area of Czechoslovakia, known as the Sudetenland – ‘to protect the millions of Germans who live there.’  The Conservative government of Neville Chamberlain favoured the Stanley Baldwin approach: appease Adolf Hitler with one hand, and re-arm the British Empire with the other.

Chamberlain flew out to Munich to talk with Adolf Hitler.  Meanwhile, Britain prepared.  RAF aircraft were given camouflage, and factories were allocated for possible war-work.  A degree of panic was apparent in Great Britain – and in Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as people feared a repeat of the Great War, of Gallipoli, Vimy Ridge or Ypres.

However, Chamberlain came back with the Munich Agreement, allowing Hitler to stay in the Sudetenland , somehow having assured himself that no further moves would be made.

In May 1939, however, Germany invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia and turned its eyes on Poland.  Britain and France moved to guarantee the neutrality of Poland, and in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, declared war.  So much for ‘peace in our time.

Mark Bittlestone – Shrewsbury House School

Tell the whole story revolving round ONE of these famous quotations:

(His choice:)

‘One person’s contribution changed the course of history.’  Rosa Parks

One person’s contribution, in this case, changed the course of history.  Rosa Parks was a middle-aged black woman living in Montgomery.  In 1956, she was asked, while on a bus, to give up her seat to a white person.

‘Are you going to get up?’ he said.

No, I am not,’ she replied.

Then I will have to call the police,’ he said.

‘You do that,’ she replied.

Montgomery was in Alabama which had been one of the breakaway Confederate States in the American Civil war (1861-1865).  As it had not been allowed to keep black people as slaves, it had passed laws of segregation, called the Jim Crow Laws’ after a fictional minstrel.  These in effect condemned the black people of Alabama.  One of these laws stated that if a white person wanted to sit down in a bus, that row must have no black people in it.  Other laws followed the same tune: for instance, black restaurants (poor), white restaurants (excellent), black train carriages (poor), white train carriages (excellent).

Rosa Parks was on the receiving end of the bus segregation law.  She was fined $12 (a large amount then) and imprisoned for two months, as this was seen as a serious offence.  Her unjust sentencing led to the ‘Montgomery Bus Boycott,’ sparked off by Martin Luther King.  This was a boycott of the bus service by black people every Monday when they avoided the buses, hitching cheap taxi rides or sharing cars.

When this had little effect, Martin Luther King began to organise protests. These often grew to riots and made life dangerous for white people in Montgomery.  Martin Luther King said: ‘Rosa Parks is one of the most respected ladies in Montgomery; not one of the most respected black ladies, but one of the most respected ladies in Montgomery.’  Later that year, he gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech, sparking Civil Rights protests across the southern USA states.

Eventually the Supreme Court passed laws in the late 1960s that effectively ended such segregation.

Although Rosa Parks did not go out on that day to change the course of history, she sparked off mass protests, and without her, it is doubtful that Martin Luther King would have risen to such an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement and the history of the USA.

Rosa Parks died peacefully in September 2005, a famous and respected grandmother.

Ralph Morley – King’s School Canterbury Junior School

The Early Development of Railways in England

Yesterday, I boarded an early morning train from Ashford, itself a railway town, to Canterbury.  My ticket, a season ticket, was one of the earliest railway developments, introduced on the Canterbury-Whitstable line in the 1830s.

Richard Trevithick, having developed the steam engine in 1804, attempted to sell the idea to road builders to replace the horse and carriage with trains, and to mining companies in his native Cornwall.  He was unsuccessful, and later emigrated and died in poverty.

George  Stephenson, however, was more successful in spreading railways.  His Stockton-Darlington line prospered, and then, with the ‘Rocket’, the result of his genius and his son’s, the Liverpool-Manchester line flourished.

All of a sudden, the ‘iron horse’ led the way.  Companies, at first almost solely under Stephenson’s direction, built lines linking major parts of the country with not-so-major parts– the London Bridge-Greenwich line in 1836, the London-Birmingham in 1837-1838, and Brunel’s masterpiece, the Great Western Railway line from London to Bristol.  Allowing for rapid transit by Brunellian steam, one could then travel from London to New York!

The 1840s saw the emergence of the railway works, where companies built their own engines instead of relying on Stephenson at Darlington or his rival, Timothy Hackworth at Shildon.  Engines were built at Crewe (1842), Swindon (1840s), Derby (1845), Brighton (1846) and my own borough of Ashford (1847).

In the 1850s, many of the smaller lines began to develop, particularly in East Anglia to serve trade such as sugar beet, and in the north-east.  Companies began to expand into each other’s territory; for instance, a local example would be the London, Chatham and Dover Railway built a line to Ashford, duplicating the existing South-Eastern Railway line.

Finally, we move to the 1870s, with the emergence of locomotives still in use ninety years later (for instance, William Stroudley’ A!/A1X ‘Terrier’ for the London, Brighton and soth coast Railway.  It is fascinating to think about the early development of the railways, and the fact that, in 1963 as in 1873, the branch to Hayling Island near Portsmouth was still traversed by the aforementioned ‘Terriers’ and a few coaches.

Ralph Morley – King’s School Canterbury Junior School

Operation Dynamo (Dunkirk)

‘Wars are not won by evacuations,’ Churchill told the House of Commons, and yet those 336.000 Allied troops rescued surely played a part in winning the Second World War.

May 9th, 1940 saw the German invasion of France and the Low Countries – Operation Bodenplatte.  Despite France’s confident assurances that the Maginot line, the structure built to defend France, would protect the Allies, the Germans succeeded in invading and then occupying France by traversing the supposedly impassable Ardennes Forest and by going through the unprotected Franco-Belgian border.  The German ‘blitzkrieg’ forced the French, Belgian and British forces into a pocket at Dunkirk.  It seemed that nearly 400,000 troops would be taken prisoner.

In the final wee week of May 1940, however, the British Admiralty ordered an immediate evacuation of Dunkirk.  British and Commonwealth destroyers and minor vessels were called in, but each 300ft. destroyer could only take off so many soldiers, and the rate of loss was appalling, as Junkers JU 87 ‘stuka’ bombers dive-bombed and sank the destroyers alongside the mole or pier at Dunkirk.

The man in charge of the operation, Admiral Bertram Hugh Ramsay, saw the situation.  Too many destroyers were lost for too few men – about 20,000 rescued. Ramsay and his team from his HQ at Dover Castle (Hellfire Corner) decided to use the one reserve they had, Britain’s mercantile craft.

The ‘call-to-arms’ went out over the wireless, and all sorts of pleasure craft, steamers, packets, fireboats set out from ports from London to Newhaven, concentrating on Ramsgate and Dover, and were able to come right inshore at Dunkirk.  The soldiers on the beach calmly queued, as if in a Post Office, whilst 500kg. bombs fell around them.

Despite the seemingly continual presence of German bombers, in fact the Germans were not about to occupy Dunkirk.  German High Command ordered the Panzer divisions, and the infantry, to wait.  This crucial decision allowed hundreds of thousands of Allied troops to be taken off the beaches.

The miracle of Dunkirk, however, was not to last.  In the first week of June 1940, the German forces closed in and took thousands of stranded Allied troops prisoner, included many wounded who had been left until last, and Operation Dynamo was called off.

Maybe wars are won by evacuations.

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