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The young scholars of Oxford's Oriel college who fought and died to defeat Hitler would be appalled by today's mob intent on demolishing the statues of Cecil Rhodes, Churchill and Nelson, writes DOMINIC SANDBROOK 

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20.06.2020

Halfway down the High Street in Oxford, past the chain pubs and boutiques, stands a grandiose building in honey-coloured stone.

There, above the central arch, is the little statue of Oriel College’s benefactor, the Victorian diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes, after whom the building is named.

In truth, though, you’d never notice it were it not for the shrieking protesters who have made it a focal point in recent years. And in any case, the Rhodes Building contains something much more interesting.

To pick just one example, Lieutenant Ambrose Austin (left) landed by glider in Normandy on D-Day, aged 22. With the area swarming with German patrols, he was killed almost immediately. Michael Allmand (right) left Oxford early to join the Army and was attached to the 6th Gurkha Rifles. Two years later, during the infamously bloody Burma campaign, he led his company into an attack on a vital railway bridge

Turn through the doors and into the arch, and you see it almost immediately: a list of names, carved in the stone wall beneath the dates 1939 and 1945.

These are the young men of Oriel who died for their country during World War II. The are 78 of them in alphabetical order, from Richard Anstey and Geoffrey Arnold to Edward Worsley and William van Wyck.

Many of them were barely out of their teens. But when their country called, they were not found wanting.

Unflinching: Former Oriel student Alexander Cheale of the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Rifles, who was 20 when he died on May 23, 1940

Inspired by the rhetoric of Sir Winston Churchill and buoyed by the songs of Dame Vera Lynn, they risked their lives in the service of freedom. But like so many young men in those terrible, glorious years, they never returned.

To pick just one example, Lieutenant Ambrose Austin landed by glider in Normandy on D-Day, aged 22. With the area swarming with German patrols, he was killed almost immediately.

According to an obituary in his school magazine: ‘He will be remembered most of all for the happy disposition which made him a host of friends, for the soundness that made one feel he must automatically bypass what was second-rate, and for the perfect form of his tackling on the footer field.’

Dated as those words may sound today, Austin’s personality shines through. Oriel is right to be proud of him.

It is the first name on the list, though, that really stands out. Michael Allmand went up to Oriel to study history in 1941, aged 18. Prodigiously clever, he founded a literary magazine and began writing a book about the 18th-century thinker Edmund Burke, the intellectual father of conservatism.

At the end of 1942, Allmand left Oxford early to join the Army and was attached to the 6th Gurkha Rifles. Two years later, during the infamously bloody Burma campaign, he led his company into an attack on a vital railway bridge.

As the citation for his richly deserved posthumous Victoria Cross put it: ‘Captain Allmand, although suffering from trench-foot, which made it difficult for him to walk, moved forward alone through deep mud and shell-holes and charged a Japanese machine-gun nest single-handed, but he was mortally wounded and died shortly afterwards.’

Our debt to Michael Allmand, and to all the young men on that Oxford memorial, will never fade.

For as long as Britain endures, their........

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