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Interview with Colonel E. E. Lowe, RAEC
Headmaster (1949-1954)

Mrs. Vera Lowe, a contributing writer to various journals, wife of Lt. Col. E. E. Lowe, RAEC and Headmaster of the School from 1949 to 1954, provided an invaluable service in typing her husband's answers to the questions asked concerning his tenure as Headmaster of the Duke of York's. Headmaster Lowe's contribution to the academic life of the school from 1949 to 1954 was profound. Not since 1847 when Walter McLeod MA and W. S. O du Sautoy PhD created a Normal School to train Army schoolteachers and a Model School to replace the old monitorial system of teaching had the School experienced so dramatic a change of curriculum.

Headmaster Lowe agreed to answer questions put to him from this site and Mrs. Lowe cooperated in transcribing them. Colonel Lowe, now in his 93rd year, provided the answers as written. The questions, addressed through Mrs. Lowe are, in part, answered through her and not directly.

Lt-Col. E. E. Lowe outside his office DYRMS Dover

Question: Could you provide information on Colonel Lowe's academic background, his military career and, if he has an opinion on the matter, what particular qualifications secured him the post of Commandant of the School?

My husband says that the first thing he must do is to explain the way in which the school was managed during his tenure. His appointment was as Headmaster and as such he was responsible for the control of the teaching staff and for matters of an academic nature. There was, however, a separate post of Commandant. The appointee was routinely a retired Army Colonel. He was responsible for the overall administration of the unit and it was he, and only he, who reported to the Board of Governors and attended their meetings. The War Office (AF3) was supposed to hold a watching brief but, in effect, this was rarely exercised.

To come to your question, my husband was educated at Adam's Grammar School, Wem, Shropshire, which he attended as a boarder after being awarded a County Scholarship, coming in fact at the head of the list of candidates in the County. In 1931 he entered St. Edmund's College, Oxford, where he studied modern languages (French and Spanish). The following year he won a prestigious Oxford University Heath Harrison Travelling Scholarship and as a result was made an Honorary Exhibitioner of St. Edmund's College. In 1934 he was awarded a 2nd Class Honours degree and stayed on an extra year to obtain a diploma in education (a necessary qualification for teaching in state schools). He then secured a post at Haverfordwest Grammar School, a Welsh public school where he stayed for five years during part of which he was a resident housemaster.

On the first day of the war my husband volunteered to join the Intelligence Corps. in view of his linguistic qualifications. He was immediately accepted but was told that as teaching was a "reserved occupation" he would need to wait until the age barrier was altered. This, in fact, happened in 1940 and he was duly enlisted on the 30th. July 1940. He served in Intelligence until the latter stages of the war when he was transferred to Army Education as trained educators were required to prepare for and, in some degree, to pre-empt the problems of eventual demobilisation. At the end of the war, with the establishment of the Polish Resettlement Corps he was given the task of setting up and operating a training programme to enable English-speaking Poles to teach English to non English-speaking Poles. As a matter of interest, during the time he was at DYRMS (January 1949 - January 1954) he held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Some years later, during a tour of duty at the War Office, he was promoted Colonel. On 1st. January 1964 he was appointed CBE (Commander in the Order of the British Empire). On 1st August 1966 he left the Army to become civilian Director of the British Families Education Service. His base was in Germany where most of the British Service Children's Schools were located but he also had responsibility for other Service schools in Europe from Oslo in the north to Naples in the south. My husband finally retired on 1st. August 1976.

Note: Answers to the following two questions were combined.

Question: In what particular did he change the educational curriculum? Did he, for example, bring it into line with the national education system? If so, to what degree? Totally?

Question: Was he appointed by the board specifically for his ability to effect a change in the curriculum? And what directives was he given by the board to follow? Was he given any?

When my husband was appointed to DYRMS the process of re-organisation had already begun. His predecessor, Lt. Col. W. Atherton, had changed the examination system from Army Certificates of Education to the State School Certificate. The first (and successful) entrant took this examination in the summer after my husband's arrival. However, it seems to have been considered that a person with more extensive academically relevant experience was required to carry the process through. My husband was given a free hand to pursue this without any prior directive but, of course, all his proposals were subject to the concurrence of the Commandant and the Board of Governors. My husband says that from this point on he would like to use his own words so I will leave him to continue the narrative.

To begin with, I must make it clear that the Commandant (Col. R. E. Barnwell) and I were completely as one mind in our vision of the school's need to develop a public school ethos. In this connection it was useful that through my previous contacts I was able to arrange reciprocal football fixtures with public schools in London and the south-east. However, it was necessary (and this was my task) to ensure that this evolution took place in a teaching context consonant with State Schools provision. In my view I think the school's intention was that entry should depend on the quality and nature of the father's military service rather than through the quality of the child. Thus a high claim for entry would be the death of the father on active service. To me this indicated that the only children that might be excluded would be those who, by reason of mental or physical disability, could only receive suitable treatment in special schools created for that purpose.

In view of the above I concluded that the appropriate model to follow would be that of the multi-lateral State School with three streams, grammar, technical and secondary modern, with a review system which allowed pupils to move up or down from one stream to another as might be found appropriate. I found this worked very well in practice.

By the time of my arrival the "sergeant-majors" could really no longer be regarded as obstructive. On the contrary, I found them to be understanding and supportive. No doubt it had been very different under the old regime. Of course, this was all happening at a time when the Army itself was experiencing a degree of liberalisation. Opportunities were being made available to officers and other ranks to broaden their interests and improve their educational qualifications. The sergeant-majors were supervised by the RSM, not so much in their boarding house duties which were intended to assist the housemasters in minor matters of discipline, but particularly in their task of ensuring that the pupils were able properly to perform traditional school ceremonies such as the Trooping of the Colour. In a sense these could be regarded as the counterpart of the Army Cadet Force activities current in the State Schools. The RSM also had the unenviable prerogative of being the only person permitted to administer a caning for classroom offences. This function was carried out in the Commandant's office with due ceremony in the presence of the Commandant, myself and the school medical officer. In my 5 years at the school there was only one occasion on which I found it necessary to invoke this provision. By the time of my arrival the faction of hard-liners in the OBA had ceased to have any practical effect. The Commandant and I simply disregarded their admonitions. In fact, those among them who took the trouble actually to come to the school were usually reassured by what they found.

As it happened the most obdurate resistance to reform came from within the Sixth Form. Indeed, it was only when intakes under the new regime got to the stage of taking over the sixth form that the school could be said to have been thoroughly transformed. One consequence was that we were able to send our first student, "Joe" Gianetta, to Oxford, to St. Edmund Hall, my own College. I left Dover early in 1954, for service in Malaya, and in the summer Gerald Dear gained the school's first State Scholarship and with it obtained entry to a Cambridge College. Meanwhile Colonel Barnwell had retired and had been replaced as Commandant by Colonel Kiggell. My successor as Headmaster, Lt-Col W. S. Mullin (1954-1959), did not accept my view (and that of Colonel Barnwell) that, to fulfill the aims of the school charter, admissions should be on as wide a basis as was at all practicable. He therefore abandoned the multi-lateral selection system in favour of one admitting pupils only if they showed promise of being able to follow an academic curriculum. Thus, DYRMS rapidly became a Grammar School. As regards the pace of liberalisation the Colonel and I were equally agreed that this should proceed with a degree of caution. Wholesale changes carried out too rapidly can cause disorientation with sometimes somewhat anarchic effect. For instance, under the old regime the boys were never allowed to use the library. Before my time it was realised that this was wrong and it was decided to give them full and unconditional access without any supervision. The immediate result was that the boys amused themselves by taking books off the shelves and throwing them at each other. Colonel Barnwell and I did not find it at all difficult to agree on a sensible  rate of change and while, of course, we may have erred on the slow side, at least the programme did continue without untoward effects.

Grand Day at the Duke of York's Royal Military School Dover, July 1950
L to R: Field-Marshal Gerald Templer, Mrs. Vera Lowe, Lt.Col. Eric Lowe, headmaster, Lady Templer, Diana Barnwell, Ed Hopper (USA) Charles Barnwell (killed on exercise in Germany 1953) Staff and friends.
Centre: Duke of Gloucester, Col. (rtd) Ralph Barnwell, Lt.Col. (rtd) Grafton,  Adjutant & ADC to the Duke
Grand Day at the DYRMS July 1950
L to R: Lt. Col. E. E. Lowe, Mrs. Vera Lowe, HRH Duchess of Gloucester, Mrs. Ralph Barwell
Question: What was General Archibald Nye's involvement in the post-war changes, particularly with regard to the uniforms and the reign of the sergeant-majors? It is known that a large faction of the OBA was vocal in objecting to what they considered to be good enough for their successors since it had been 'good enough for them'. When brought to the notice of the General, he wrote a scathing attack on the old system of discipline and the brutish ignorance of the sergeant-majors of his day. By inference, he included the current military staff at the house level.

As regards General Nye, his influence on the school was immense and wholly beneficial. During my time he made a number of visits, together with his wife and daughter, and I always looked forward to those occasions. I consider it a privilege to have been able to know him. He and Colonel Barnwell shared the same Regiment (The Royal Warwickshires) which was, of course, an additional bond. I wish I could help you in the matter of his circular but I had no knowledge of this until you told me about it.          

Question: CSM Fry joined the staff in 1942 during my time when at Saunton Sands. He was still going strong when I interviewed him in 1973 and, remarkably, recognized and named me the moment I walked through his front door. It was during that interview that I learned much about the roguery of the sergeant-majors, for Jam Fry was brutally frank about it, so I had some empathy with what Nye wrote in his circular. And, my next question, did the change from CSMs to commissioned officers of companies (or houses) take place during your husband's tenure or was that later.

On the question you raise concerning the introduction of commissioned officers, the decision to introduce a proper and balanced education programme made it necessary to employ both military and civilian teachers in order to cover the subjects in the new curriculum. Among the military teachers some were commissioned officers, others non-commissioned including, in my time, some National Servicemen straight from university. Military heads of houses were invariably commissioned officers but by the time of my arrival about half the housemasters were civilians as, indeed, were about half of the teachers.

Question: What level of autonomy was Colonel Lowe able to exercise? That is to say, although he reported regularly to the board, did he effect, for example, the change of uniforms and introduction of grey flannels and blazers on his own volition or were these directed by the board under his advisement?

I think I have already dealt with this in the section relating to the pace of change. Basically it was left to the Commandant and myself, acting jointly, to come to decisions on these matters and I do not recall any occasion on which what we considered to be appropriate was countermanded.

Footnote. There was one development affecting the civilian teachers which I consider it would be useful to record. During my second year at Dover I found that most of the necessary "spade work" had been accomplished and it would be possible for me to undertake a regular teaching programme. I therefore allotted myself 10 periods a week consisting partly of Current Affairs discussions among the Senior Forms but also including full responsibility for the teaching of English in Form 4T. I made it clear that these periods were to be regarded as sacrosanct and that during them I would simply not be available. To my surprise, the consequence was quite electrifying among the civilian teaching staff. It was quite clear that they now regarded me as one of them and what had been a somewhat formal relationship was replaced by one of warmth and whole hearted co-operation. This convinced me that it was greatly in the interest of any head teacher to establish such a relationship.

© Eric Lowe 2005

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