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The Man Who Looked Smart wearing a Greatcoat

I got the email about Palace-Clarke, but I can't say I remember anyone called Palace-Clarke at school during my time, although it seems the sort of name that would stick in your memory. I didn't know he had died and was buried in 'Dukies Corner' in Guston cemetery. A sad story, but much more interesting than this awful Facebook stuff I've been getting lately. I'm not really interested in naming some spotty pillock standing next to me in a photograph over 40 years ago. What I do find interesting is my memories and impressions of that time and how they appeared to other people with different perspectives.
RSM D. Haig (1917-1986) teaching boys how to salute correctly

   I can remember going down to Guston a few times to do 'Voluntary Service' for old folk. We escaped from school for a couple of hours to dig gardens and clear drains and were rewarded with tea and cake. Just being in an ordinary, domestic small room and eating and drinking non-institutional cake and tea was a rare treat in term time. Also there was the chance of scrounging the odd cigarette or two!
     I don't remember Dukies buried in in the Guston graveyard, but I was touched to hear that RSM Haig had chosen there to be his final resting place. I suppose that in common with most pupils of our era I lived in fear and awe of
'Spra' for most of my school career. Does anyone know why he was called 'Spra'? The irony that our RSM, Douglas Haig, was the namesake of arguably the most incompetent senior British Army officer of the Great War, passed us by. Then, when I was about sixteen, Major Legge our housemaster ordered me to take Spra's daughter to the house dance. I was rather put out by this as I already had a gorgeous girl from Brampton Down, a posh girl's boarding school in Folkstone, who was going to be my partner. Furthermore, although she was a pleasant, cheery lass, Janet Haig, was just not my type. However Major Legge wasn't the kind of man to argue with, so I was forced to comply. In the end I had a very enjoyable evening with Janet, and the posh girl ended up
getting married to a famous racing driver. (But that's another story for some other time.)
     After this episode I got to know Douglas Haig. I was invited to tea once or twice at his house. No cigarettes, of course, but ah! those small rooms! Magic when you eat all your meals in a place about 300 yards long by 100 yards wide. As I got to know the man, I found out that Douggie was an impostor! Beneath that gruff exterior there beat a heart of gold.
     He threw himself wholeheartedly into dramatic productions put on by staff and pupils, and in his role as RSM he was also play-acting. He played the quintessential 1950s British Army RSM. Quite beside his manic verbal performances, his facial expressions and body language made Windsor Davies look like Larry Grayson. All his parade ground bile and ranting was just an act. He had a humanity about him that was absent from the Sam Browne and swagger stick brigade that made up most of the military side of the teaching force at the Duke of York's in those times. In my last few weeks in school I remember telling him that my VSO application had been successful, and that instead of going to the usual hell holes such as West Africa or Labrador, to which the flower of England's eighteen year olds were usually sent, I was to be posted to the Caribbean. "You jammy bastard!" he announced to the class. I wrote him one or two letters about my adventures in Belize, but soon lost contact.
     A few years ago I had a conversation with a man in a lift in Spain, he said he came from Dover and had a friend on the staff of DYRMS called Douglas Haig who had recently died. He said Douggie even managed to look smart wearing a greatcoat!
     How Spra would have liked that as an epitaph on his gravestone down there amongst the Dukies in Guston.

With thanks to Dave Dando

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