Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Harrow School's Tribute to Lt. Alex Fitch

Lt. Alex Fitch

Above a fireplace in a room at Harrow School a light has shone on the portrait of a young man in uniform night and day for the past 89 years.

When 19-year-old 2nd Lieutenant Alex Fitch was killed in northern France in September 1918 his parents were determined their only son would be remembered.

Fitch had been a pupil at Harrow School and was one of 644 Old Harrovians killed in the Great War.

The memorial to him, the Alex Fitch Room, makes up part of Harrow School's War Memorial Building. It was completed in 1926, but the room, a gift from the Fitch family, appears to be much older.

Anne Hall-Williams, a tour guide at Harrow, said, "The walls are actually made up of Elizabethan panels and the floor is made up of teak timbers from a George III warship called the St Vincent.

"The fireplace is interesting because it is a composite. It is also much older than the building itself. The interior is from the reign of King Henry V and the carving around the outside dates from the reign of King Henry VII."

The doors to the room are inscribed with the words "Pass Friend," taken from the lyrics of a Harrow School song.

The song remembers the sacrifices of the Boer War and the words were written by Fitch's housemaster, George Townsend-Warner.

You stand there where your brothers stood,

And pray where your brothers prayed,

Who fought with Death as brave men should

Not boasting and not afraid.

For the blood and the lives that your brothers gave,

For the glory that you share,

The message comes from beyond the grave,

The challenge - 'Who goes there -


Pass, Friend - All's Well

Above the fireplace is a portrait of Fitch in uniform. His head rests on his right hand and he is holding a cigarette in his left. Over the portrait burns a light and it burns permanently.

Mrs Hall-Williams said, "That was put there at the request of Alex Fitch's parents, and it has been burning there since 1926. The only time it had to be turned out was during the blackout in the Second World War. Otherwise, it is on all the time."

The room was built for a specific purpose. Fitch's family, especially his mother Lady Fitch, wanted a place where parents visiting the school could meet their sons.

Subsequent generations of the Fitch family have made use of the room.

Jamie Ingham Clark is Fitch's great-nephew and is himself an Old Harrovian. He said, "My father was also at Harrow, mostly because of the fact that Alex Fitch had been there. We used the room for his mother's original intent."

Alex Fitch Room

He says over the years the room has come to be used for other purposes. "Certainly I remember taking my French O-level oral in that room, and I think I did the odd music lesson when I was learning, unsuccessfully, the bagpipes."

Despite the change of use, the appearance of the room is as it was in 1926. It contains Elizabethan chairs, a Cromwellian refectory table, and Jacobean chests, all given by the Fitch family.

Mr Ingham Clark said, "Lady Fitch's gift stipulated that nothing should be in that room which, to quote the biblical text, moth nor rust could corrupt. The idea being that it would never change from her ideal, as she gave it."

Fitch is also remembered in Harrow School's Roll of Honour and within the six volumes of the Harrow Memorials of the Great War. In each volume, for each Old Harrovian, is a photograph and a short biography.

The entry for 2nd Lieutenant Fitch contains the words written to his father by his commanding officer:

"I loved your boy and I trusted him with very responsible duties which always proved his capability, and, although he was so young, his personality was so great that he held his men in the hollow of his hand, and they all liked and respected him."

Monument to the School's 644 Killed in the Great War

Harrow guide Anne Hall-Williams says the gift of the Fitch family remains as relevant as it ever was—"He was their only son."

"Everybody who loses a child usually wants some kind of memorial, even today. So he's lived on, which is what they wanted—immortality for their son."

Alex Fitch's great-nephew agrees.

"I think it is a fantastic memorial," said Mr Ingham Clark. "Not only to a much-loved son but to recall the sacrifice of so many young men from such a wonderful school."

Source:  BBC, 22 August 2015; Harrow School Enterprises