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Guston Cemetery

Under the wide and starry sky,
dig the grave and let me lie.

                       Robert Louis Stephenson

Robert Louis Stephenson provides a fitting couplet in his poem Requiem for the shady nook of the Guston cemetery where lie a number of boys who died at school and one member of the school staff. The Church of St. Martin of Tours, Guston, shown in the magnificent etching below, has been associated with the Duke of York's School since it moved from Chelsea, London, in 1909. Not as familiar to students of the school perhaps as the Guston Gate, the lovely Norman Church and its cemetery provide as beautiful and peaceful a last resting place as any to be found in the Diocese of Canterbury.
St. Martin of Tours
(with acknowledgement to Diocese of Canterbury)

The value of the property increased with time at a modest rate. By 1291, the Papal tax return valued the church at £10 and the vicarage at £3 6s 8d. One can imagine what its value would be today, but real estate values aside, the Church of St. Martin of Tours is among the most ancient buildings in the realm. Its graveyard has provided a last resting place for countless generations of citizens of the Parish as well as soldiers, sailors and warriors returning to England’s shores from overseas. Many of its headstones date back 300 years.

When the School moved from Chelsea to Dover it was within the Parish of Guston. The Church Council generously dedicated an area of the cemetery for use by the school. Since that time twelve boys and one member of staff have been buried in the school's part of the cemetery. The school authorities provided a headstone for each boy buried there as well as for RSM Duggie Haig. In addition, a monymental marble cross sits as a centre piece to the Duke of York's School plot bearing the inscription:

In loving memory
Boys of the Duke of York’s
Royal Military School
  Sons of the Brave, may all be gathered
Bravest of all at last to thee
O Lord with all thy faithful soldiers
Give us the palm of victory

At intervals along the path that borders the ground the headstones have been set to remind visitors who these boys were and when they died. The stones, provided at the school's expense and set neatly in place look clean and trim and well-cared for, but that was not always the case.

Phil Roberts, now living in Australia, recalls that about 1965 when he was a pupil, he joined the Voluntary Service Club. This meant dressing in a mixed array of denims, rugby, gym and like ‘mufti’ outfits to pass through the Guston Gate to get to reach the Village. There the volunteers tended the pensioners' gardens, did the heavy digging and did odd jobs for the elderly. They were rewarded, he says, with endless cups of tea and the odd sticky bun. Gardening and cleaning chores for villagers was not the only work they did.


May mellifluous sunbeams pierce
the shade of their mortal rest

Timothy Robert Palace

RSM D. Haig (1917-1986)
George William Thomas Lee

They cleaned, tidied and trimmed the Dukies section of the cemetery. Phil was sure that before his first visit to the Cemetery, it had been unattended and neglected for years. Setting to work with sickles and clippers, the volunteers cut the grass, pulled up the weeds, collected the twigs and leaves and burned the debris. It was great fun, he relates, 'for one wonders how we were to be trusted with matches.'

The toughest job was cleaning and scrubbing the headstones. It meant removing the accumulation of years of lichen and grime. As our chronicler recalls, the work brought with it an unexpected mix of emotions: delight and laughter, happiness and a sense of freedom from being out of school, making fires, collecting and burning the rubbish. But with the merriment and larking about came other emotions, those waves of sadness at the thought of those fellow Dukies who had died so young. There was also a strong sense of achievement and pride for having done something to clean and tidy a this tiny corner of England for the visitors who might come to read the headstones and appreciate the care taken to preserve their memories. Visitors did come. Mrs Fiona Archontoulis, whose forebear WO1 Alfred Fowler (1865-1963) (see Warrant Officer Alfred Fowler) was in charge of the School's infirmary until the outbreak of the First World War.

Mention has already been made of RSM D. Haig (1917-1986), known as Duggie Haig, formerly of the Corps of Royal Engineers and the RSM of the School from 1960 to 1980. Little is known of his military career, but it is entirely possible that he began his military service as a boy apprentice in the Royal Engineers at Chatham. Be this the case or not, it is certain that because the school authorities chose company sergeant majors and regimental sergeant majors with extreme care, one may be sure that RSM Haig had outstanding qualities. Besides, most RSMs of the School have been chosen from the Brigade of Guards, so there must have been something special about RSM Haig. Writing of his former RSM, Phil Roberts remarked that he was '…well liked and feared not a little'. Such regard, esteem and frankness for a member of the School staff does not come with more candour than that.

Editor: With sincere thanks to Fiona Archontoulis and Stephen Sharry of Brisbane, Australia, for the colour photographs of Guston Cemetery.

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