The limbo intake

Among the hundreds of Dukies who passed in and out the premises of the Dover School, one group never set eyes on them. These were the boys – an intake of about twenty-five - who entered the school during the years it was evacuated from Dover and left before the school moved back to its permanent quarters.

Even so, like all of those who joined the school in the days when admission was restricted to mostly the sons of 'other ranks', they came from a diverse range of soldier fathers. Some, such as Bob Freeman (see The Soldier Boy review) had unhappy childhoods. The vast majority came from stable, happy backgrounds and thoroughly benefited from their Dukie experience despite their lacking the experience of superbly-designed and amazingly suitable buildings and facilities: that wood-panelled dining hall with its soaring ceiling, its warm and comfortable atmosphere, assembly hall, gymnasium, garrison-church style house of worship in which past monarch’s and school colours were hung alongside those of the Royal Hibernian Military School now no more; the playing fields and cricket pavilion. They may indeed have missed these buildings and places perfectly suited to a Dukie experience, yet they survived and left to lead successful careers so that, today, no one would ever have known they never saw the school premises others before them knew – or those who came after them for that matter.

Jim Dove, Ken Green, Ted Grant, Fred Cockerill and Frank Fendick were in the ranks of the limbo intake. Their stories and backgrounds vary, yet there's a familiarity about them to those of the same generation and era. Jim's father was a corporal in the RAOC in 1930 when Jim was born. The family was living in Hilsea Barracks, Portsmouth in 1939 when, out with his father one day, Jim saw a Dukie in uniform with three dodgers on his sleeve, marching along the street. ‘That's where I want to go,’ he told his father.

Jim Dove
(c 1943)
Fred Cockerill and Ted Grant
at the centre stand at
band practice (c1942)

By the time the war came Dove snr was a sergeant (ammunition examiner). The family were living at the Tiprior Magazine, opposite Porchester Castle, Portsmouth, at the outbreak. Jim Dove remembers playing among the stacked ammo boxes scheduled for shipment to France. (Imagine such permissive behaviour in today's world.) By this time, Dove the soldier was a WOI (known as a 'conductor'). Following the first bombing raid on Portsmouth, the family moved to its grandfather's house at Northend, a northern district of Portsmouth. Jim Dove’s father, meanwhile, went to France and finished up at Dunkirk only to be picked up with haste and despatched back to France in the company of two lieutenants to blow up bridges in the vicinity of Boulogne.

Jim Dove was to have gone to the Duke of York's, but by that time the evacuation had taken place and all new entries were put on hold. He was held back until the school settled at Saunton Sands for the duration of the war.

The next time Jim saw his father he was a Captain with commando flashes on his shoulders. Jim records that his mother, who was epileptic and not in good health, ‘...went off her head.’ She wrote to the War Office demanding that her husband stay in England on account of her condition (something else that could be done in England, even in wartime). As a result, Captain Dove spent the war years in England running ammunition depots. Though he got his majority and became a temporary lieutenant colonel for a while, he never forgave his wife for her letter to the War Office. His fellow soldiers from the ranks of the RAOC finished the war as colonels and brigadiers. He retired a major in 1953 having served in the Corps for 35 years; such are the fortunes of war.

Jim Dove was among those who went to Chepstow under the Army's apprentice training programme, which was not to his liking because he wanted to join his brother in the Royal Signals. He reports having spent considerable time on jankers for minor misdemeanours until the CO sent for him, agreed that he should leave the army, which he did, willingly with an honourable discharge, and joined the Royal Corps of Signals at the first opportunity. He left the army in 1953 and emigrated to New Zealand, but not before spending the Christmas with his family. That was the last time he saw the family because, in New Zealand, he got married, joined the NZ Army. What a tale – and a happy one at that.  

Ray Pearson, who joined the School at Saunton Sands and was among those who returned to Dover, has a closer story to tell. His father, he records, was a sergeant in the Royal Artillery in Shorham in 1919 and the PT instructor attached to the unit was one Dusty Miller of the Loyals. Miller was well on his way to becoming the lightweight boxing champion of the British Army.

Pearson's father was six feet six inches in height; Miller was five feet five inches. Their weights were, respectively, sixteen stone (224lbs/101kg) and twelve stone (168lbs/76kg). The two put on comic boxing bouts for entertainment.

Sergeant Pearson would put his outstretched fist on Dusty’s chest while he flailed about unable to reach his opponent. After a while, Pearson simply bomped Dusty on the head. He would fall and be counted out with Sergeant Pearson declared the winner to the voluble indignation of the audience.

Ray's father was one of the casualties of war, so Ray never knew him. One cannot say the same for PTI Miller who was the same Dusty Miller known to generations of Dukies – and no more popular member of staff was to be found anywhere.

Ray and Pat Pearson (c1942)

In response to the tales of others arriving at school for the first time, Ray Pearson said, ‘My mum gave me an apple, tied a luggage label around my neck, shoved me in the guard's van and told me to change at Salisbury and then at Exeter. This with the admonishment not to be on the wrong train and to do as I'm told at school.’

‘Then it was clickety clack and me against the world. Did I tell you that I have the distinction of being on a charge within two hours or arrival, and still in civvies? My fellow dorm mates came in and, within seconds, one threw a glass of water in my face. I punched him one on the nose, naturally, and a scrap followed. Prefect Avery pulled us apart. It appeared that my attacker saw my flaming red hair and thought my head was on fire. His name was Bugs Tilbury. He became a good mate of mine for the next four and a half years. Actually, that was the only scrap I had except for hammering the bejassus out of Ted Grant in the boxing ring, although though he always insisted that he won the bout.

Such were the reminiscences of the limbo generation of Dukies who never saw the school premises alongside the road to Deal.