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When I was first asked to write something about Sylvester Cowell, I thought about why we honour people of the past. I thought about what makes someone worthy of being in an historical textbook or immortalised by memorial. I also thought about how I could relate to Sylvester Cowell, a man or, more poignantly, a boy, who was born more than a 100 years ago.

As we know so little about this person, perhaps, we should consider what he represents. He represents the ‘everyman’ or ‘every-person’ that often is overlooked in our history books. We are given facts on kings and queens, great empires and terrible atrocities, but we are often not presented with the ‘everyman’ hero. That person who often goes unnoticed in the annals of time, but is no less important.

So, what is a hero? Can we call Sylvester Cowell a hero? By many standards, yes. In antiquity a hero is considered to have overcome great hardship and died in glorious battle. This could be said of Sylvester.

His birth parents were unable to look after him and he spent time in the Northallerton workhouse. He was killed when his ship, the S.S. T.R. Thompson, was torpedoed on Good Friday 1918 with the loss of 33 lives. Tragically, he was only 17 or 18 when he was killed. So, in my opinion, hero is an appropriate title.

However, when we give someone the title of hero this can distance us from the person. I think it’s important to remember he found love and family with Mr & Mrs W Hunton with whom he lived in Brompton while attending Northallerton Grammar School, having won a North Riding County Council Scholarship. He most definitely will have had friends who laughed with him and who cared for him. He may even have had a love interest; someone he may have gone on to raise a family with and the descendants of whom could be sitting right next to you in class. But that was not to be.

So, we remember him now with the name of our House: Cowell. That ‘everyman’ hero, that life that was so full of potential and that person who represents us all. We take the name Cowell in the hope that we live our lives in honour of Sylvester. In doing so we can live the life he could not, we take the opportunities that were not given to him and we make proud the generations who have gone before us with the lives we live today.

Stephen Jennings

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