FEW schools can boast a former headmaster who began his working life as a cowboy and died a war hero – but then few men lived such a remarkable life as Captain Maynard Percy Andrews.
It is almost 100 years since Capt Andrews relinquished his post at Hipperholme Grammar School, near Halifax, to serve his country in the First World War, where he died in action in Flanders in 1915 while attempting to save his wounded men from enemy fire.
The school was yesterday commemorating his life with his descendants, who travelled from as far as London, Norfolk and Cumbria to join staff, governors and pupils past and present in celebrating his gallantry.
Great-grandson Matthew Andrews, 51, from London, said: “His story is something we were very much aware of in our family, but whoever has researched this has really done a fantastic job – the amount of detail is fantastic. It is great that somebody has recorded it. Seeing all these pictures and his memorial really brings it to life.
“It is extraordinary how distant it is yet at the same time how immediate it is, particularly because it is 100 years ago. You look at some of the kids here and you think 100 years ago they would have been about to become soldiers.
“With the centenary of the start of the war coming up next year, being able to remind everybody, particularly the kids, that it was a huge tragedy, that millions of people died, and still finding a way to make it personal by focusing on the story of one man is fantastic.”
Born in Shropshire in 1870 and educated at Oxford University, Capt Andrews was forced to postpone his studies due to health problems resulting from a bout of typhoid he had suffered in infancy.
He left Oriel College to become a cowboy in the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming, USA, in the conviction the mountain air would “kill me or cure me”. Returning two years later rejuvenated, he finished his studies and graduated from Oxford in 1895, achieving his MA four years later.
He spent the next few years teaching general subjects before deciding to specialise in languages and spending a number of years in Europe. On his return he made a name for himself with the Education Board of the time as possibly “the first true modern languages teacher in the country”.
In 1911, he took up the post at Hipperholme and, while there, joined the Brighouse Company of the 4th Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment – known as the Brighouse Territorials – where he quickly rose up the ranks to become a Captain.
When war was declared on August 4, 1914, Capt Andrews – by then a father-of-three – immediately offered himself up for service and was deployed to France the following April.
He was killed in the Battle of Ypres on August 14, 1915, when he ventured over the top of a trench to try to rescue comrades wounded in a mortar attack. He was 44.
School governor Alan Petford, who carried out much of the research into Capt Andrews’s life, said: “We know the words he spoke to his men – probably his very last words: ‘I shall not ask you to do what I will not do myself.’
“So he went over the top and as he did he was shot in the head and died at the scene of his wounds.”
In a letter to his widow, Charlotte, a comrade wrote: “He need not have been doing it, but he went because he would not send another on so dangerous a task. It was an act of magnificent calculated bravery, but it was to be expected from him for he has acted so ever since he came out here.”
Also writing with his condolences, the Brigadier General, Edward Brereton, added that he had lost his life “in the noblest manner”.
“His battalion has lost, in my opinion, its very best officer, and the brigade a most gallant and exceptionally good officer,” he told her.
Capt Andrews’s grandson Maynard Hall, who travelled from Cumbria with his wife Joy, said it was “amazing and very humbling” to read the letters.
Mr Hall and his grandfather’s other descendants were traced by Hartshead historian Barbara Reardon, who helped Mr Petford to research his family tree.
“It’s wonderful to put faces to all these names I’ve been researching,” she said.
Paying tribute to his predecessor, Hipperholme Grammar School head teacher Jack Williams said: “His story is an inspiration, not just what he did in the war but as a teacher as well - as an educationalist and a headmaster he was outstanding.”