June 15th 1920

O.D. Dinner – June 12th 1920.

On Saturday, it was a great pleasure to be able to welcome back to the School a great gathering of Old Dragons. I am delighted to say that the events of the day have been recorded by one of our company,  who prefers to remain anonymous!

“The Senior Old Boys’ Dinner (‘the first since 1914’ as the carte d’invite said) took place in the School Hall on Saturday June 12, 1920, according to plan, at 7.30.

Photo at 7.15, according to plan; showers, noon to 7.00 p.m.; downpour, 7.16 p.m.; the interval, no doubt, pre-arranged by the School authorities…

It was a magnificent gathering of 116 or 160, or perhaps 1,600 Old Boys, including representatives of all the First Families such as Tyrwhitt, Townsend, Johnson, Holland, Mayhew, Taylor, Spurling etc. – even men who were boys before the Skipper knew the difference between a centreboard and a centrebit, or between Capri and Chianti. ‘Fancy that!’ as Ibsen’s characters always remark when a divorce or murder in the family is announced.

Orders and decorations were worn, mostly on the left pap, where the heart doth hop; but some Old Boys preferred to tie them round their necks. These, we noted, were chiefly those who had lived in India and other light-fingered countries, so no doubt the precaution was instinctive. Be that as it may, the room glowed and gleamed with polychromatic ribbon and tinkling symbols of valour and prowess. 

The menu was well chosen, the courses numerous and costly, the liquor generous, and the conversation consequently consecutive, but not subsequently inconsequent.

After the loyal toast, and the reading by the Skipper of the School’s Roll of Honour, he was again on his feet to give the health of his Old Boys in one of those magnificent characteristic speeches where spasmodic recollection of disjointed portions of the prepared speech (when the note happens to be decipherable) is periodically annihilated by a spontaneous heart-felt outpouring of the Skipper’s own colloquial, breezy, generous speech. He threw in, of course, as an afterthought, the usual time-worn plea that he should not be referred to in subsequent speeches…

But what, may we ask, is Home without a Mother? What Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark? ‘Quelle idee!’ as a naval officer sitting near me remarked under his breath, when he heard this request enunciated by the man he had come  – we had all come – to see and hear and talk about.

Walter Moberly was in very good form, and having said a few nice things about the School, turned frankly to the subject closest to our hearts and spoke at length and in detail about the Skipper, whose health really got drunk at the end instead of the School’s. The general opinion was that the School was quite able to look after its own health…

It was a great occasion, medicine for the spirit of the middle-aged pessimist and a vast stimulus to the wiser optimist. It is good to come home and find a welcome there, and go away humbled with the lesson that even the worst of us must have been good once.”

4 thoughts on “June 15th 1920

  1. Jane Pendry says:

    This is so beautifully crafted – what a difference between tidy dull reports written by professionals, and this warm, witty, heartfelt expression by an alumnus?

    How many of them were shell-shocked and traumatised? It’s a picture that tells a hundred stories.

    It’s moving that after the terrible Great War these men returned to the place where they had been innocent once. No mention of the horrors here. Only decorations. Just a day when they could return to tales of sporting triumphs, pranks and ice-skating in the winters. When they could remember being just boys.

    But what is a home without a mother …? Witty and slightly sad we’re reminded they were all separated from their mothers from an early age, for weeks or months at a time with no phones or Skype, few visits and no girls! Although Skipper clearly was like a mother and The Dragon was, and remained, unusual in its warmth and character. Having gone on to much harsher environments, the Dragon must have remained their spiritual Valhalla.

    However that separation from parents and siblings, sentiment and nurturing – part of our culture at the time – in part gave men like these the grit, fortitude and, dare I say, dissociation, to become colonial Masters.

    So for me this photo symbolises the beginning of the end of one era; and the heralding of a new.

    It’s stark, as current events unfold now, how mono-culture this photo looks today. Fine, upstanding men, resolutely white and colonial in their demeanour, having suffered cheek by jowl and bound by bonds of steel.
    With no time, space or inclination to consider the rights and wrongs of colony and Empire, or family wealth gathered from slavery, invasion or exploitation, these men saw themselves as honourable and decent, well-educated, witty and wise. They were part of a tribe with values we question today.

    How did those outside the tribe see them? I doubt they gave it a second thought. So for me it’s a complex snapshot in time.

    However for those men in that moment, I have no doubt they were once again simply boys.


    • It would be wrong to think of the OPS as a boarding school – in 1912 it was 136 strong, of whom 59 were boarders (i.e. under half). The likes of Ronald Poulton, Hugh & Frank Sidgwick, Pat Duff, the Campbells, Jack Smyth were all dayboys until they went off to boarding schools at the age of 13-14.

      The Skipper also believed in “open access” for boarders, hating the idea of cutting them off from their families for long periods of time. All to be explained in the forthcoming book on ‘The Skipper’s War’ – hopefully to be available before the end of this year!


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