From Books to Barracks

Students at the project launch

About the project

This exhibition was researched and written by students from Hall Cross Academy, with support from Doncaster 1914–18. The students produced this exhibition, a leaflet and a walking trail.

View the leaflet
Download the trail: iOS / Android

With thanks to Monica Wilkinson, Clive Howarth and Carol Hill.


Hall Cross Academy War Memorial

This exhibition explores the personal stories of the ‘Old Danensians’, boys from Doncaster Grammar School who fought in the First World War and are remembered on the school war memorial. It looks at the boys’ school days before they became men, and also examines their wartime achievements.It looks beyond the soldier to the young aspiring school boys who once conquered the cricket field. It explores the boys’ dreams and ambitions before the war, as well as how they transformed into the brave young men they became.

What is an Old Danensian?
An Old Danensian is the name given to former pupils of Doncaster Grammar School. Doncaster Grammar School was founded over 600 years ago in 1350 around the time of the Black Death. The school is now Hall Cross Academy. During the First World War, the Grammar School only took boys. Girls attended the nearby Doncaster High School for Girls.


William Royle, Doncaster Heritage Services

Soon after war broke out, William Royle enlisted with his brother Reginald. Another brother, Fred also joined the army, and later the R.A.F. All served with the K.O.Y.L.I. (King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry). Another brother, Francis, served with the Royal Air Force.

William was a well-known member of the Doncaster community. He attended the Grammar School, performed in the parish church choir and was a member of the Doncaster Operatic Society. He worked in banking before the war, signing up with the Sheffield Pals Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment before obtaining a commission in 5th Battalion K.O.Y.L.I. William was killed at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. After his death his mother received a letter from a W.L. Lister who had fought alongside William. Enclosed with the letter were photographs of William taken behind the lines of the Somme just days before his death.


James Gilderdale, Doncaster Chronicle

Imagine you’re a prime student with the capability to be anything you wish until war whisks you away.

James Stanley Gilderdale was born on 6 December 1890 and impressed from day one. A celebrated intellect in his Hall Cross days, earning prizes left, right and centre, he was at the top of his class.

Seven years later, he joined the army, becoming a private in the Royal Fusiliers Regiment.

Like many of our Danensian heroes, he sadly died at war on 4 October 1916, age 26, leaving behind his mother, father, younger sister and future career as a railway clerk. He is buried at Christ Church.

William Crabtree’s funeral, Doncaster Chronicle

Promising engineer dies in taxi tragedy

William Crabtree was born in 1896. He was a Doncaster Grammar School student who lived with his family at 4 Windsor Road, Doncaster, before training as a mining engineer at Brodsworth Colliery. He was commissioned in the Lincolnshire Regiment 8th Battalion Sherwood Rangers. Although he was not killed in combat, he was accidentally killed on 10 February 1915. William was returning to his army base following a night out in London when the taxi he was travelling in veered off the road.

Engineering student killed in flying accident

BE2c over the trenches IWM Q06931

Imagine being eighteen years old and fighting for your country. Imagine holding a gun or operating a war plane. Imagine losing your life due to an accident. This was Walter Crooke’s life story.

Growing up in Doncaster, Walter attended Doncaster Grammar School and the Public Secondary School, where he completed a short course in engineering. After completing his studies, he became an enthusiastic member of the Officer Training Corps. However, his life was turned upside down during the War. He was accidentally killed along with another pilot on 12 November 1917, aged 18, as a result of a collision during practice.

John Forster, Doncaster Gazette

Charming, smart, athletic young man dies at the Front

Corporal John Noel Forster died alone in France in 1917 from severe burns. He joined the army at 17 years old, and died before his 19th birthday.

John was the only son of Elizabeth Forster, and Dorothy Forster’s only brother. Doncaster Grammar School boys remembered him for his humour, character and great interest in sports. A school mate remembered John in a letter to the Doncaster Gazette: “It was a sight to see him rush off to the cricket field on his bicycle, with two or sometimes three other boys as passengers.”

Ernest Goodridge, Doncaster Chronicle

Firm friends die on the same day

Ernest Goodridge had a firm friendship with Corporal W. H. Long. Ernest and Long spent almost every moment of their leisure time in each other’s company. They both signed up together for the army and they both had their last laugh together. They both fought in the Battle of the Somme and by a strange coincidence both met their deaths on October 7 1916, during this battle.