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The confessions of an ideal travel companion
How did the school staff live when not managing, teaching, supervising, administering and carrying out those functions essential to the smooth running of the institution? They had their own families, interests and a social life independent of their daily duties. They lived  their lives in private and their activities were rarely reported except perhaps in the social columns of the local press. Still less did their lives figure in school histories. On Grand Day and similar stellar occasions, senior staff and their wives appeared in their plumage and finery to meet visiting dignitaries and to mingle with alumni and their families, renewing half-remembered relationships.

Hardly ever can one catch a glimpse of the private lives of school staff through the minutes of the board of commissioners or the commandant's (now headmaster's) correspondence. The affair of Quartermaster Sergeant Fair (circa 1827) is an uncommon case of one whose conduct is registered in the official records. Fair's behaviour with the wife of another member of staff, added to the abuse heaped on him by Mrs. Fair, became so public an issue that he was dismissed and escorted off the premises. Other incidents of public misconduct, unacceptable behaviour, malfeasance and embezzlement are recorded in the board minutes and correspondence. Nor were they of such ancient happening as the case of Fair. At least one similar incident has occurred since the turn of the present century. On this occasion, a teacher under immediate notice of dismissal was ordered off the premises without delay. Out of consideration for good name of the school, the details of the episode are too fresh to relate here.

On a more optimistic note, among the private lives of those who have contributed to the school is that of Headmaster Eric Lowe MA and his family (see A headmaster's life at school). More particularly, as his accomplishments have already been featured on this site, is the written declaration of Mrs. Vera Lowe whose unassuming claim to fame is a lengthy treatise under the title GIBBON of Pembrokeshire (and Glamorgan), referenced in the Index to Dyford Family Histories. Vera Lowe (née Gibbon) has also written articles of interest to genealogical researchers and offered her expertise to fellow researchers seeking help.

Mrs. Lowe, a lucid and articulate correspondent whose meticulous prose sometimes betrays a doctrinaire style, was born Vera Gibbon in Haverfordwest, a market town a few miles from the Port of Milford Haven in Wales. By the standards of post-WWI depression during the late 1920s and 30, she enjoyed a privileged upbringing that included being taught to drive when she was sixteen. That she was driving in her mid-teens is indication enough of the social milieu in which she grew up. Whether her family was of the landed gentry or professional or merchant class is not known.

Recalling her education, she wrote of having a rigorous English mistress who also taught French. One of her friends, with girlish enthusiasm worthy of The Girl's Own Paper, she reported as having commented on her engagement to Eric Lowe, a French linguist, "What a good job it was your best subject." Vera said that, later, on their holidays in France, her husband corrected her 'chatty French', which had "... the effect of sending me back to my schooldays." Revealing bon mots are scattered throughout Mrs. Lowe's relaxed and comfortable correspondence.

She and Eric Lowe MA, a graduate of St. Edmund Hall, Cambridge, met after he became an assistant teacher at a public grammar school in Haverfordwest. Like all BA graduates of Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin (Trinity College) universities, he was able to buy his MA on payment of five pounds. This indulgence, restricted to these three universities, gave their graduates an advantage over the alumni of other universities when applying for teaching posts and not without reason. This is particularly so when teaching jobs are hard to get, as they were before the outbreak of World War Two. The logic behind this indulgence regarding the award of MA degrees was that these universities considered their degrees superior to those of less prestigious institutions, which some proctors, chancellors and academics might dispute. Be that as it may, it must be agreed that for so modest an outlay, a MA on a CV makes a wonderful impression on teacher selection boards. In this regard, Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), whose revelations in Dark Age Ahead (2004 pub: Vintage Canada) on the replacement of education by qualification inflation in contemporary society might agree that the seeds were sewn by the most prominent of universities.

The late nineteen thirties saw an acute shortage of teaching posts as a consequence of which, many graduates of the universities enlisted in the Army Education Corps (later, with the royal added, to become the RAEC). According to Vera, those who enlisted in the Education Corps before the war owing to the lack of teaching posts in civvy street now had the advantage of 'conscripts for war service'. An MA might have tipped the balance in Eric securing an assistant teacher post in Wales, but now the scales were tipped the other way. He volunteered for military service at the outbreak of war in 1939, but was rejected because he was in a 'reserved occupation'. Following the fall of France in 1940 the Army evidently had a change of mind, for Eric Lowe received his calling-up papers.

Assigned to the Intelligence Corps in which his knowledge of languages was deemed useful to the service, Eric Lowe applied for a transfer to the Army Education Corps (today a branch of the Logistics Corps) because, Vera wrote, he thought he would have "...a better future if he survived." It goes without say that there would have been no future had he failed to survive, so it has to be taken that "...a better future as a teacher" as opposed to an intelligence officer is presumably what she meant.  

The fortunes of war being what they are, Eric Lowe survived and stayed on in the peacetime Army. Vera accepted this with equanimity, for he was bound to go wherever the military authorities sent him and she with him. As one who chose to 'follow the drum', she described herself as the "ideal travel companion". For his part, remaining in the peace time army was a wise career choice. He did well and, from 1946 to 1948, Lt. Col. Lowe was Commandant of the Army School of Education at Eltham Palace. His next appointment was as Headmaster of the Duke of York's School, which happened to be an interesting time in the school's history. Major changes were taking place when the new headmaster arrived in 1949 to take up his appointment. Not the least of the changes occurred in the important area of education. Some understanding of the background is essential to an appreciation of the significance of the changed environment.  
With the war over, the school returned from its wartime quarters in North Devon to settle in its Dover quarters as it had at the end of the First World War. Most of the changes, though major and significant, took place gradually although some were immediate. House masters, who held commissioned ranks during the conflict replaced the sergeant majors. (The sergeant majors, it might be recalled by those familiar with school history, were at one time company sergeants. The adjutant was once a lieutenant, then a captain, a major, a lieutenant colonel. Commissioned schoolmasters replaced the sergeant teachers.) In time, battledress-style uniforms replaced the out-of-date WWI uniforms. Admission was opened to the sons of commissioned officers – and later extended to include the children of all three services. Under the terms of the institution's original charter, admission was restricted to the sons of rank and file soldiers. It is true that a few entrants in the past had been sons of commissioned officers, but they had themselves been pupils of the school. Such exceptions tested the rule of the original charter. The commissioned ranks had for many years sent their sons to Wellington College, a highly reputable boarding school in Berkshire. The admission of sons of the commissioned ranks to the school was not without its problems although these are not likely to be acknowledged in any official history of the institution.

Reliable oral evidence of former students who at school at the time of the change, when the sons of commissioned officers were admitted, said that a profound transformation occurred in the school psyche. How true this was might never be known. Those same students who claimed to have experienced the admission of sons of the commissioned ranks spoke of a subtle introduction of a class-of-rank distinction that had not been evident in previous egalitarian ambiance in school life. To one, the distinction became obvious when some parents 'pulled rank' to complain about perceived anxieties experienced by their sons.       

The most striking and far-reaching change during the post-war period centred on the curriculum. Under what would become the 'old system', students were taught and examined to levels of set army certificates of education: the 3rd, 2nd, 1st and special. These certificates of education served their owners well enough to follow a military career, but were of little value to anyone aspiring to a higher education, university of otherwise. It is speculated that, for this reason, the board of commissioners decided the school would conform to the National Curriculum.

Lt. Col. Lowe followed the same path (see A headmaster's life at school) laid out by his predecessor, Headmaster W. Atherton. He and his family took up residence in quarters alongside those of the commandant, adjutant and chaplain. Here they settled in to raise their young family.
The headmaster's house is shown in the bottom right position of this collage of staff residences taken in 1909

Commenting on the early period of their time at the school, Vera Lowe stated the while her husband had always "been confident that he knew what to do next, I have always felt my way more cautiously. I think that is what women do when thrust into jobs into which their husbands have been posted (to use an army term)." She maintained that she was not a feminist – far from it - but was of the opinion that "some men never realize how complicated a wife's role can be, especially when they have little choice in the matter."

One has the impression that like many wives with husbands of commissioned rank, Mrs. Lowe assumed the mantle of her husband's position and authority in the school hierarchy in which her position in the pecking order was fixed by reason of being the headmaster's wife. This might, on occasions, require her to lead junior wives and, at other times, defer to the commandant's wife. For example, she wrote of the school's active mother's union or MU as it was known and recalls inspiring visits by the wife of the Dean of Canterbury (Hewlett Johnson aka 'the Red Dean'). Among other visitors, one came to address the MU and give advice to young mothers on how to bring up their children. Meetings took place in the afternoon, which meant that those with pre-school children took them to the meetings and left their babies outside in their prams. During one meeting, a crying baby bothered the speaker, who asked, "Would the mother of that baby please attend to it." Chastised, the mother who had a second infant with her left the room, took her children home and that was the last seen of her.

Having been briefed by the Commandant's wife to take the lead should there be an awkward silence, when the speaker invited questions, Mrs. Lowe leapt into the breach with one, which started the discussion. Later, she was  challenged by the medical officer's wife, who said, "Vera, you were a bit controversial. I don't think that was wise." Not to be outdone, Mrs. Lowe replied that she and others had  learned before the meeting that the speaker was herself childless. They were therefore indignant she should presume to give them advice. At the same meeting, someone asked if women who did not have children could become members of the Mother’s Union and was answered that all married women were potential mothers. Others thought that adopted children would qualify their adoptive mothers for membership. MU meetings must have been lively at times with an undercurrent of mutiny among the junior ranks. In retrospect, Vera was of opinion that mothers of the School MU were - in the idiom of the day –  considered as being 'a bit bolshie'.

A steady, unvarying beat at the heart of institutional life is essential to its success, but  events in the best-run schools occur to disturb the steady tenor of life of any establishment. Writing on behalf of her husband who is now practically blind, Mrs. Lowe reports one event that remains vivid in his memory. The wife of one member of staff was known to be showing unbalanced behaviour. Her husband happened to be away on a course and, seeing her pass his window and wondering where she was heading, the headmaster followed her.  She went into town on the bus. He went with her and accompanied her back to her house. She invited him in to show him something. She having left the room, he telephoned the medical officer to report her 'acting strangely again'. She returned to the room and, on replacing the telephone, he found himself confronted by an African panga (Swahili for broad blade weapon). He smiled – a strained smile one would imagine – and she said, "This is to show you that I trust you." Fortunately, nothing further happened beyond the arrival of the ambulance to take her to hospital. The dramatic incident came as a shock to Mrs. Lowe when she heard. As she remarked of the incident, "Life has its up and downs."

Protective of her husband legacy and reputation, she declared that her reason for making contact with this site was to state the facts about his educational reforms at the school because "there was no mention of him on your various websites." The Director of Army Education, Sir Cyril Lloyd had sent him to do the specific job of carrying out the much-needed reforms. As a result, the school was transformed under his headmastership whatever his successors did later. She pointed out that she and her husband were "not in the business of seeking publicity for self-glorification." She only wanted to put his work on record. One has to admire her loyalty and pride in her husband's achievement, which explains to some degree why her story is here told.

Vera Lowe has happy memories of the family's time at the school. Their son, Jonathon, was born in Dover, one of six babies of families of school staff during a four-month period, which meant he had no shortage of companions during infancy. All good posts come to an end eventually. When the position of Director of the British Families Education Services (BFES) in Germany fell vacant, Mrs. Lowe and several friends persuaded the headmaster to apply. Mrs Lowe expressed dissatisfaction with her husband's career situation at this period. In her opinion, he should have become the Director of the RAEC, but that didn't come to pass because it was "...bungled for various reasons, some unpleasant." She went on to state that she was "...tired of the rather churlish way the RAEC had treated him and others like him who had been regarded as 'civilians' just because they had not joined the army before the war." From this admission, one is led to conclude that the 'regular officers' who derided their 'civilian' counterparts were the same graduates who enlisted because they were unable to find teaching posts when they graduated.

Not to end this fascinating account of the life of one family resident at the school during a period of change on a down note, the Lowes led a full and interesting life in the Army. Lt. Col. Lowe was promoted to Colonel and, in 1964, awarded an CBE. Colonel and Mrs. Lowe retired to live in Ripon, Yorkshire.

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