All Articles from April 2020
Was this the oldest trophy that Allhallows School awarded on a yearly basis? My maternal Grandfather, Sydney Coles Smith was an OH having been at school in Honiton. Records show that he was born in 1864 and left in 1881 aged 17 years old. (Unfortunately he was too old to be listed in the school's Register and Record which starts in 1885).
Grandfather must have been a great sportsman. A school record shows he was in the school cricket X1 and on leaving school was captain of Somerset R.F.C., played for Western Counties and was capped by the South of England R.F.C. and also the North of England - let us hope not all at the same time!
However, the cup that he won in Honiton was for winning the Half Mile Race Open in 1881. In my last year at Allhallows in 1962 my Mother suggested that the cup should be presented to the school as a trophy for the School Sports Day; it having lain dormant for 81 years!My great passion when at Allhallows was relay running, the school team - R.H.Tabb - J.E.L.Jones - myself and A.P. Martin - never lost a race in my last two years at school. So I felt it appropriate that Grandfather's cup should be assigned to House relay running on Sports Day.
The relay cup was awarded for thirty four years (1962-1998 with a gap of 3 years from 1987-1989 - any reason for this omission?) before Allhallows closed and I was able to buy the cup, which is now back in my possession, having parted with £50 to secure it in September 2000!
During the 34 years that the cup was awarded, Stanton (my old house) won it 7 times, Baker 8 times, Chudleigh 7 times, Venning 7 times, Middlemist 3 times and last but no means least twice by Shallow.
I sometimes wonder where my old relay mates are today. Sadly Robin Tabb died in a road accident in Canada in 1991. Before he emigrated there he used to drive a mean Austin Healey 3000 and I, in my TR4, had a hard time keeping up with him. We remained good friends after leaving Allhallows. But as to where J.E.L. Jones and A.P.Martin are today, I do not know.
Robert G E Hill (St 57-62)
My parents and I first visited Rousdon in May 1940 to see the school and to decide whether I should sit the scholarship exams later that term. It was barely two years since the building had been a private mansion owned by the wealthy Peek Family with an army of servants and 40 gardeners. Lillies still filled the ornamental pond on the terrace, large areas of the walls of the dinning-hall and the main bedroom were still covered in pale yellow silk and the herbaceous border in the walled garden at the end of the terrace was a mass of colour. This was to be its swan song for no labour could be spared that autumn.
The following September found me trudging very nervously and carrying a suitcase up the hill from Combpyne Station to Charton Cross and Rousdon. Little did I think that six weeks later I would retrace that walk after saying good-bye to an uncle who had come down to tell me that my Father’s ship was two weeks overdue in the Atlantic and must be considered lost.
Apart from finding your way around, difficult then but doubtless far harder now, you had to learn and understand the hierarchy. Masters only appeared in class and sometimes in prayers or school chapel. The Head Commoner, house prefects who kept their jackets open and school prefects who kept their hands in trouser pockets and wore black gowns, therefore, exercised almost all discipline. Commoners kept their jackets buttoned and their trouser pockets sewn up. Minor offences were punished by house prefects with washing up, lines, detention or errands and major offences by school prefects with a cane. Washing up entailed twenty minutes running from study to sink and with spare time being short, this was to be avoided.
School prefects in that autumn 1940 term were looked upon as Gods and perhaps they were to new boys.
Head of School was Percy Stumbles, Head of Middlemist and Captain of Rugby. Air raids, night or day, were signalled by prefects blowing bugles and every boy had to go at once to the under ground changing rooms for a roll0call. I remember standing under 5the clock tower watching two ‘planes far above and getting a tremendous kick from Stumbles followed by ‘Get downstairs’! He joined the RAF in December, became a pilot and was killed within a year.
Deputy Head was E.G. (Breed) Fisher of Stanton, an American of little academic stature but a fine games player and a great character. We were in the same dormitory, during an epidemic, looked after by Cynthia Shallow, the Heads glamorous niece. Although he was the only Prefect to cane me, I still respect him for he volunteered ( America was still not in the war) for the RAF Eagle squadron and was also dead within a year.
Head of Chudleigh was Eric Smith, later to become a Ghurkha Brigadier with CAE and also for an instant DSO awarded at Casino. Later in Malaya, his arm had to be cut off, without anaesthetic when his helicopter crashed and was liable to catch fire. He told me that after Casino, perhaps the bloodiest battle in Western Europe with horrendous causalities that the General sent them off for a two day party before carrying on Northwards. “No counselling” he grinned. Sadly he died in 1998. He had seemed to be the obvious candidate to succeed Stumbles but the choice fell on J.A. (Willy) Waycott, the junior Chudleigh prefect, only just 17.
He proved to be not just a fearless Rugby Captain but also a fitness fanatic. In the Easter 1941, he persuaded the Head that the school was unfit and that every boy should do PT between 7.00 and 7.30 every weekday morning. Bearing in mind that dormitories were unheated this was extremely unpopular and matters came to a head when George entered his classroom one day to find ‘Down with PT’ on the blackboard. With a rare flash of Irish temper, he demanded the names of the writers. Four Middlemist boys, David Ranft, Tony Swagne, Michael Wesiter and David Alford owned up and received a public beating in the school hall. George took the hint, however, and when Summer Term began, PT had gone for ever. This aside, Waycott proved an excellent and popular Head Boy. He joined the Gunners, won an MC as a Captain in Italy and was killed shortly after. Thus, the three senior boys of my first term were all killed in action. What a waste – they all had so much to give.
Sadly, it was not only those that would lead from the front and be in the thick of the action that were killed. Tony Williams of Stanton was a quiet sweet mannered boy who always took the leading girl parts in the school play. He joined the Merchant Navy who was killed in an air attack in Bari, Southern Italy. Peter Cooley of Middlemist had that sort of greasy skin that looked dirty after a bath. He was constantly ragged but never lost his temper or retaliated even when shut behind the glass door in the bookcase in the Common Room. He became a Sergeant Navigator and was killed in a raid over Germany. They would never have become leaders but still deserve to be remembered and honoured.
The teaching staff throughout the war were a strange mixture of youth and age, experience and near uselessness. Senior was NAP, (George Stuart Napier), who had come to Honiton in 1912 without degree or experience. He joined the Black Watch, fought in France, was badly gassed and returned to school in about 1918. He taught 3 rd & 4 th forms English, Scripture, ran cricket and became Housemaster of Baker. Gas left him with a terrible cough, which could be heard from one end of the building to the other. He wore the same green Norfolk jacket throughout the second war, was universally popular, preached good sermons and was regarded as a good psychologist who could track down any petty thief. He retired to Axmouth ‘wise and full of years’ after an incredible length of service and continue to provide news of OHs from his incomparable knowledge.
Next, and indispensable, was H.A.Lee, Horace to all but Juniors who called him Hog, frightened by his (mostly) pretend fits of temper. Housemaster of Stanton and later Chudleigh, he taught senior French, English Language and literature, ran Rugby, Hockey, Tennis, Shooting, commanded the Corps and Home Guard. He sang in the Choir, preached when needed and produced the school timetable – a Herculean task in view of constant staff changes. He also produced the School plays. Beat that! He went from Marlborough to Pembroke, Cambridge and then straight to Honiton at 21, leaving the school over 40 years later. He gave new tennis courts, retired to Honiton and left Allhallows a substantial legacy.
In charge of Stanton and Chemistry was Sammy Bridge, a mild inoffensive little man who almost asked to be ragged but never worried, pebble glasses kept him out of the services. He had an incredibly old Austin 7 which was rarely in action. Like the Skoda it needed a heated rear window to warm the hands of those pushing it. He was extremely kind-hearted, taking extra classes for stupid pupils, including me, without charge. Half way through the practice exam in School Certificate, I looked happily at the red liquid in my titration tube only to see that everyone else’s was blue! Sammy didn’t grumble but hurried to find all the new materials.
Shortage of domestic staff was also a constant problem although those from Honiton and the Peek family were marvellous. Alice Webber in the pantry could always be relied on for an extra slice of bread and marge., made palatable by a spoonful of one’s sugar ration doled out weekly by the Housekeeper and kept in one’s individual tin. Miss Archer worked tirelessly in the linen room to sort out the laundry, which continued miraculously to appear each week from Honiton whilst Margaret Thompson – later Mrs Webber – battled tirelessly in the bookshop to divide fairly the limited supply of buns and doughnuts from Gills of Axminster. Peach, the carpenter, after his efforts in 1939 to provide black-out panels for every window managed to spend the rest of the war looking busy. All heating and plumbing were run by Gupper and Grabham whose names led to the rather feeble saying that the Greek alphabet should be ‘Alpha, Beta, Gupper, Grabham’!
Food was always in short supply –which was no one’s fault – and of poor quality, which was blamed on a succession of housekeepers who changed regularly. At one time Mrs Shallow herself took over and things improved, she had little experience of mass catering, however, and one day put a number of tins of fruit pudding into the oven without piercing the lids. This lead to a wonderful explosion with pudding over the walls but she carried on undaunted.
These lines may give the impression of unrelieved gloom but, despite the food and the cold, morale remained high and there was constant laughter at minor episodes now mainly forgotten and perhaps not so funny in print now as at the time.
The Home Guard platoon was run by Capt. Lee and CSM Harry Aggar, demotion to Lieut. and Sergeant since a platoon did not warrant such ranks. It consisted mainly of boys over 17 who were waiting to enlist, a few of the servants and Mr.Paul the Sexton from Combpyne whose drill was worse than Corporal Jones! One day early in 1944 there had been E boat activity in Lyme Bay and the Coastguard failure to make his daily telephone call to HQ at 6am. The Home Guard was called out, in case the German crew had landed, our hastily decision, drew rifles, the Bren gun and live ammunition from the armoury and marched down the road to the beach. A few hundred yards away they formed a semi-circle round the hut, aimed their gun whilst Horace Lee shouted. After a minute or two the Coastguard strolled out putting his pipe out asked what the blankety-blank fuss was about! The telephone wire was broken and the nearest Germans were back in Normandy. To those of us eating breakfast avidly awaiting the sound of machine-gun fire this was a great anti-climax.
I found to my dismay that scholarship boys went straight into 5A, the second highest form (6B not then existing) and was expected to sit School Certificate in July. Not only were we regarded as swots but there was little opportunity to meet, or make friends with, boys in lower forms, we also missed NAP’s Scripture lessons and Harry Aggar’s gym. Harry had fought with the Hampshire’s at Gallipoli in 1915 and had a large part of one calf missing to prove it. His greatest joy of the year was bayonet drill for the Corps, when he could demonstrate how to scream, thrust the bayonet into the enemy and twist it to remove his guts. Nevertheless, he was a tower of strength providing a link between boys and masters. He seemed to be everywhere and knew everything that went on.
The war news improved from El Alamein in October 1942 onwards and it became easier for the Head of School to persuade the Headmaster to give a half-holiday when an OH was decorated. Group Captain Brian Sellick with 2 DSOs & 2 DFCs must have been quite the most popular but Sir Arthur Harris, C in C of Bomber Command, was a good second with frequent promotions. As well as Him the school also provided the Quartermaster General to the Forces, General Sir Walter Venning. To have two prominent war leaders from a small school was no mean feat.
On going into breakfast on June 5 th, 1944 we saw that most of Lyme Bay was covered in ships of all sizes, from large warships to small landing craft and we knew that at last the invasion was starting. It was a sight to remember. Next day the early news announced that troops had landed in Normandy before dawn.
On May 7 th 1945, the war in Europe ended and the following day was declared VE Day, a public holiday. I cannot remember how it was arranged but almost every boy was sent home with money for a return rail ticket and after two days of celebration we returned on the 10thh.
The last great event of the Summer Term ended with a visit from Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris to present prizes on Speech Day. I had to command the guard of honour wearing service dress, Sam Browne belt and carrying a dress sword. All went well at rehearsals but on the day I found it incredibly difficult to return the point of the sword to the very small slot at the top of the scabbard and those few seconds were the longest of my life. No one could doubt Sir Arthur’s dynamic resolution nor his pride and sorrow that over 50,000 men in Bomber Command alone had died. Sir Arthur was never promoted to Marshal of the RAF nor given a peerage and returned to his native South Africa, embittered by the slight to his men.
Those who left that July, after five or more memourable years, were sure that in about two years that we should be landing in Malaya, Burma or Japan. Little did we realise that the greatest war in history would end three weeks later after two atom bombs were dropped on Japan.
There have been so many changes since then that the school is almost unrecognisable. First of these is of course the introduction of girls (what did we miss!) and the greater number of day pupils. Both are common to nearly every boarding school but Allhallows has been at a great disadvantage because of the sparse population within commuting distance. Taunton, for example, still has three public schools and Wellington, a much smaller town, has over 700 pupils, three times what Allhallows had.
September 1943. A young Gunner officer watches a lorry unloading rations in his prison camp in Bologna. His "muscles turned to jelly" and his "heart a steam hammer", he decides on a bid for freedom, dives under the lorry's tailboard, and pulls himself forward over the back axle until his belt catches on a cross frame and stops him wriggling further forward. He's sure his feet are visible from behind but he can only hope for the best, and wait . . .
September 2013. The 70th anniversary of my father's 400-mile walk down the spine of the Apennines behind enemy lines to reach freedom; the 1st anniversary of his death; the 60th anniversary of my birth. Too many anniversaries to ignore; and so I find myself climbing up Monte Falterona in the Apennines to the east of Florence, puffing and panting with a 20 kg rucksack on my back. A large cross finally emerges from the mist; I realise I'm at the top and stop to check my position on the GPS. Panic! It puts me in my garden at home. I rather wish I were there too. I'm a bit nervous about not knowing what lies ahead and my poor navigational skills - but remind myself that Dad had only a home-made button compass to find the way - and after some hapless fiddling, I finally achieve a position that seems to make sense, and off I head into the mist in a south-easterly direction, treading the ridge path my father walked 70 years earlier.
It was definitely the tail-end of the walking season in the Apennines. Some days I hardly saw a soul as I followed the mountain ridges, just an occasional stooped figure glimpsed through the mist, picking its way slowly through the trees, foraging for mushrooms. The air was cool, even when the sun was shining, and smelt earthy and, well, mushroomy. The trees dripped. The main ridge formed a divide between two weather systems, so that often there was a cloudless blue sky on the northern side and thick cloud rolling heavily up the southern side, curling onto itself and evaporating somewhere above and around me
Sunlight shafted through the trees ahead of me. It was very quiet. There was an occasional clearing with sweeping views across a sea of further ridges, but mostly I was enveloped in these vast, hushed beech forests and a sense of timelessness which connected me to Dad's journey as he followed the same ridges 70 years ago.
I didn't walk very far, only about 65 miles over 9 days - 36 hours of which I spent holed up in a rifugio, drying out my kit during downpours. The intention had never been to get as far as possible, but rather to savour the essence of the walk and experience the journey in a way similar to Dad's own experience, albeit with tent, stove and provisions and not expecting to bump into the enemy around every corner. I was sure that, like him, I would encounter the kindness of strangers along the way, and wanted to leave myself time to enjoy these encounters.
My worries started to dissolve into the mist. I'd wondered if I'd be able to carry 20 kilos, but quickly got used to the weight. More of a problem was loading up the old donkey. If I couldn't find a place to stop with a suitable boulder or tree stump, I would have to wriggle into my backpack on the ground, roll over to get my knees under me, heave myself up onto all fours, regain my breath, lurch into a squat, regain breath again, then stagger upright trying to avoid the momentum of the pack continuing onwards and pulling me over flat on my face on the ground again. I spent ages looking for the right spot for these contortions and - perhaps even more important - making sure there was no possibility of anyone arriving to witness them. I remembered slipping off the undercliff path at school once on my own and the ignominy of being unable to extricate myself from a thorn bush, half hoping someone would find me and pull me out, half praying they wouldn't! So, being a bit unbalanced with the weight of my large red travelling companion, I was very careful - there were often steep drops to one or other side of the path, but even falling on the flat could have left me floundering on my back like a great overturned red beetle.
Finding suitable camp sites wasn't easy - everywhere was on a 45 degree slope and I wanted to find spots well away from the path as camping wasn't allowed and there were wild boar hunters out and about for the start of the hunting season. When I wasn't trying to work out if a thunder storm was getting closer, I was trying to guess if gunshots were. I had a little wobble one night when I heard an animal outside the tent (there are wolves in the Apennines) and texted my son to say there was something which sounded big outside the tent and was it better to put my food inside or outside? He texted back saying it didn't really matter since it would only be the starter anyway. Sons can be so comforting!
I particularly wanted to find a cottage below a small church on a hill where, in the book he wrote about his escape, Dad mentions spending a night. Following the few clues he had given, and talking to people I met, I pinpointed an isolated hermitage on my map, and arrived there as the campanile bell was tolling midday on the day he left it 70 years earlier. It's an extraordinary place, perched high on a cliff on the hillside. I tried to explain to the priest living there in halting Italian why I was there and got a bit choked. He simply put his arms round me and language wasn't needed. I'm not religious, but perhaps I edged a step closer to redemption that day.
As ever, it was the people I met along the way who made the trip special: the priest; the caretaker at the beautiful home of the Contessa who helped Dad and others and who was imprisoned by the Germans as a result and had her home blown up (it was restored after the war); Marco, the rifugio owner, whose father had been a partisan and whose walls were lined with old photos of him and his comrades; Guiseppe, my B&B host the night before I started my walk, who insisted on driving me to the base of Monte Falterona and on me texting him when I got to the top to tell him I was OK. From local mushroom gatherers to international trekkers following the St Francis trail which criss-crossed my path, everyone was incredibly kind.
Finally, I met three generations of the family in Bologna who were the first to shelter Dad on his escape from the camp when they found him hiding in their manure heap. He had spent eight hours under the lorry, with no opportunity to escape from under it, until he found himself back where he had started from - still inside the camp but now fortunately outside the prisoners' compound. He was able to crawl out unseen and climb over a wall into the Loros' garden. With them I was enveloped by kindness, warmth and a cacophony of talk, almost none of which I was able to follow. But I did understand how important our families' continued friendship is to them. Dad returned several times to visit them on his beloved Moto Guzzi - an incongruous sight with his ancient helmet and umbrella - the last time (still by motorbike) at the age of 83. They told me that, of the 20 or so prisoners they had helped, at huge risk to themselves, only Dad and one other had returned after the war to find and thank them. It was enormously important to them - and humbling for me.
The bravery of the Italian farming folk - the contadini - who risked their homes and lives to give food and shelter to so many escaping POW's is little known and has not been given the general recognition it deserves. A happy spin-off from my walk was the money I was able to raise (£3500) for two charities building important bridges: the Monte San Martino Trust, which acknowledges the bravery and self-sacrifice of the contadini in a past war and awards bursaries for young Italians to come to England to study; and Afghan Connection, which actively promotes education in remote regions of Afghanistan - surely the best way to help prevent future wars. My thanks again to those generous OH friends who donated towards my fundraising efforts.
Past and present merged as I followed paths Dad had followed 70 years earlier, in a region where little seems to have changed in the intervening years; and I feel I experienced a tiny bit of what he experienced during those months in 1943 when he revelled not only in his new-found freedom from the prison camp but also in a freedom from all the rules of society which had dominated his life from the nursery to the army. For those two short months on the run he was governed only by the desire to get back to his regiment and continue fighting, and the instinct to survive. It was a huge adventure for him, and an experience which must have done much to form the older man whom I knew as my father. I think - I hope - he would have approved of my little adventure.
My walk was part of a family 'relay', following the whole of Dad's escape route (I was No 2!). When Dad finally reached the enemy front lines near Cassino, he spent several days on a high mountain ledge, watching troop movements and trying to signal information to the allies with a home-made heliograph, which he hid up there before making his break across the lines, not wanting to be caught with it on him and being shot as a spy. My plan, when we have reached that point, is for all of us who have participated in the walk to climb up to the ledge and celebrate Dad's achievement with a bottle or three of something appropriate. And wouldn't it be a great end to the story if we found the heliograph?!
But, for now, the path leads on for the next member of the family to take up the baton (Dad's notebook) and continue south following his long walk to freedom.
Myf Adams (Gregson) - (M 1969 - 71)
Charles Grover, born 1842, left his employment with a London Instrument Company to accompany Cuthbert Peek (son of Sir Henry, later Sir Cuthbert) on the 1882 Expedition to Australia to observe the Transit of Venus. On return he was appointed Rousdon Astronomer, and died here in 1921. Jerry Grover, his great-great-grandson who lives in Cheshire, has done extensive research into Charles’ life and work, and made information available for display at the three Local History Exhibitions we have staged in the Peek Hall in recent years. Also, there is a book entitled ‘The Astronomer of Rousdon’ about Charles - written by Barbara Slater, another relative.
There was an Observatory, which fell into ruin about 1970, at the East end of the Archery Lawn, and Charles Grover made extensive records, published his observations and wrote many letters – the originals of some are in the Museum at the Lockyer Observatory near Sidmouth. He wrote that the meteorological department was founded here in 1883, and was gradually extended; also that the Observatory was often open to visitors ‘and the genial baronet (Sir Cuthbert) was never happier than when showing to delighted friends the wonders of the heavens, or explaining to interested enquirers the construction and working of the complicated meteorological apparatus in use for weather records’. We should note that, amongst several distinctions, Sir Cuthbert was on the Councils of the Royal Meteorological and Royal Geographical Societies.
The Grover Family lived at East Lodge North; Henry Yool, on the Allhallows Staff (physics), who lived in that house from 1950-72, wrote that the shed at the top of the garden ‘has doors in its roof so that a transit instrument could check the time of passing of a star before the days of time signals!’. The initials ‘GCG’ scratched on a N window are those of Charles son, George.
Charles was on the St Pancras Church Council and was the ‘Overseer’, looking after the interests of the local poor. We have a copy of his Obituary, and newspaper cuttings show that he was an active member of the community – giving magic lantern shows to children, and giving talks locally.
If anyone wishes to know more about this remarkable man, please get in touch and we will pass your request on to Jerry Grover if it cannot be answered here.
Mary & Graham Jones, Combpyne.