Memories Of Dover College During The Second World War

Personal Account’s Of Life At Dover College During The Second World War.

This is a personal account of life at Dover College during the Second World War, which has been very kindly given by

Malcolm Sutherland ,Poltimore,  S40 – 44

It may interest today’s pupils at Dover College to read what the college was like in the 1940s.

Dover College can reasonably be described as a closed community, rather like a Club, with its own membership, restricted access and its own rules and regulations. However, it necessarily has to exist within the prevailing national circumstances. The national circumstances were substantially different 80 years ago. In the 1940s the nation and the people were less affluent and they were suffering from the hardships caused by the nation being at war. Perhaps as a consequence, today’s population is far more materialistic.

Eighty years ago the population, overwhelmingly of one ethnicity, could more readily be categorised as upper class, middle class and lower class, with males dominating throughout. Life expectancy was shorter; health care was less sophisticated and cost money; there was no NHS. A really major difference between then and now is that 80 years ago there was no electronic method for communication and for the conduct of business. Moreover, television was in its infancy and very few households had a television set. There was hardly any travel by air and far less travel by road and by rail. Religious practice (all faiths, all denominations) was more prevalent. Government diktat was less pervasive. That is the framework within which Dover College had to function.

At the beginning of World War II, the college moved from Dover to Devonshire. An immediate consequence was that it lost its day-boys. The only boys in Devonshire were boarders. The basic boarding fee was £145 per annum: £45 per term. I had a scholarship and a further small reduction in fees due to the fact that my father had been a regular army officer. My boarding fee therefore was reduced to £30 per annum! Of course there were other expenses, particularly for college uniform.

When I arrived at the college (January 1940), it had just moved into a stately home (with extensive grounds) in the village of Poltimore, near Exeter. Poltimore House had previously been occupied by a girls’ boarding school, and then by a hospital, but it still had some of the original fittings – beautiful mahogany doors and large gilt-framed wall mirrors,

Dover College was listed as a “Headmasters Conference” (superior grade) public school for the secondary education of boys. The college was not secular, but firmly rooted in the Christian (C of E) tradition. In 1940, an outbuilding was used as a chapel. One master acted as the chaplain. (Subsequently he was ordained). He conducted short daily services in the chapel. Attendance was compulsory. Another master played the organ and trained the choir.

All the pupils and all the masters were male. There were no girl pupils and no mistresses, but the matron and one or two domestic staff were women. In practice, many domestic tasks (and some maintenance of the grounds) were undertaken by the boys. (It was war time).

When the college arrived at Poltimore, the standard dress for boys was black pin-striped trousers, black jacket, white shirt with stiff detachable collar and black tie with a thin coloured stripe. That was soon modified to grey flannel trousers, single-breasted navy blue jacket with the college badge on the breast pocket,, white shirt with attached soft collar, and again a black tie with its coloured stripe. This uniform was worn at all times except, of course, during sports or military duties. Open-neck shirts and no jacket were permissible only during hot weather. Casual clothes were never worn. Headgear was a white straw boater: no caps.

Although all housed in the one building, the college was divided into four “Houses” –Scholl House (red stripe in the tie), Priory House (green stripe), St. Martin’s House (gold stripe) and Leamington House (purple stripe). Each House comprised a House Master (married), a House Tutor and some 40 or so boys, of all ages. In fact, there was no individual tutoring such as exists in Oxford and Cambridge colleges. The Head Master was the House Master of School House. When the total number of boys had fallen considerably, Leamington House was closed and its boys dispersed to the other three Houses.

The boys in a House comprised a Head Boy (a School Prefect), other School Prefects, House Prefects, rank and file and fags (the youngest and most junior boys).A fag was not the personal servant of a prefect, but any fag could be called upon by a prefect to undertake a minor chore for him, such as tidying his study, or cleaning his shoes. The Head Boy, with the assistance of the other prefects, was entirely responsible for the orderly running of his House and for the good behaviour of all the other boys. Understandably, the Head Boy might have a close working relationship with his House Master.

Misbehaviour by a boy could result in a caning by one of the prefects (seldom by a master). Unlike today, corporal punishment was quite acceptable. More usually, there was a lesser imposition than caning, such as writing down in capital letters 50 times “I must not swear”, or learning a poem by heart and reciting it next day to the prefect who had demanded it. Caning was rare. As a rank and file boy, I received a caning by a house prefect on two or three occasions; as a prefect myself, I never caned another boy. Canings were not vicious or sadistic, and were accepted without complaint.

The college offered secondary education, only. The boys were consequently aged 13/14 to 17/18. Attendance at all lessons was compulsory, as it was at prep on two or three evenings each week. The subjects taught were strongly linked to the national curriculum. There was no tuition for Latin, or for Chemistry (no laboratory). If one opted for History classes, one could not go to Geography classes, and vice versa. For tuition, the boys were divided into forms, dependent primarily on age. There was a 4th Form, a 5th Form and a 6th Form.

The major exams were the Oxford and Cambridge School Certificate and Higher Certificate examinations. For the School Certificate examination, there were 7 or 8 papers, all on taught subjects. The candidate’s result for each paper might be marked Distinction, Credit, Pass or Fail. Five or more Distinctions/Credits gave exemption from the matriculation exam, normally required before going to university. The Higher Certificate examination, taken about 2 years after passing the Scholl Certificate examination, was on two subjects only (of one’s own choice): clearly a stepping stone to what one hoped to read at university.

After education, the major occupation for the boys was sport, compulsory sport: rugger in the winter term, hockey in the spring term and cricket or athletics in the summer. There were no qualified coaches: each sport was supervised by one of the teaching staff. For some sports (rugger for instance), the boys were divided between seniors and juniors. The most able boys at their sport would end up as members of the college’s team for that sport (e.g. 1st XI Cricket). There would be home and away matches against other schools. Due to lack of the necessary facilities at Poltimore, there was no sailing, no rowing, no swimming, no squash, no golf, no riding.

After education and sport, the activity that took up most of a boy’s time was military training. The Junior Training Corps (JTC) was structured like a company in the army. In the JTC the company captain was the headmaster, another master was a junior officer, the company sergeant-major was a boy, as were all the other non-commissioned officers and the rank and file. Standard khaki army uniform was worn and standard army rifles were carried. Membership of the JTC was not compulsory, but most boys enrolled. There was a popular indoor rifle range.

Later during the war the national Home Guard was established. A Home Guard Unit was formed in the neighbouring village of Broadclyst. Boys aged 16 or over could enlist. We did. It was great to mix with strangers and to go on field exercises in strange countryside. Ordinarily, we never went outside Poltimore (the village and the park).

Despite war-tine food rationing, the meals at the college were excellent. There was only one dining room, but each House had its own seating area. Lunch was the main meal every day. Before sitting down, the boys stood while a prefect recited the Grace: For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful: then a resounding Amen. Pocket-money allowing, college food could be supplemented by a visit to the college tuck-shop, which was run by two boys. Every boy had his own tuck box, for his personal possessions (not just for food).When he returned to college at the end of his holidays, his tuck box may have been filled up with goodies provided by his family.

There was little time for leisure, but there were plenty of pastimes on offer. Out-of-doors there was Poltimore Park to enjoy, there was tennis and croquet, there was organised physical training (no gymnasium). Indoors there was amateur dramatics, a library, a debating society, a gramophone society (for listening to recorded classical music) two pianos available for use, and the usual indoor games (including billiards on a half-size table). There was no television at Poltimore House and, of course, no computers, laptops, smart phones and the like.

Finally, here are a few words about relationships. There were practically no relationships between masters and boys: the exceptions being for piano lessons, a head-to-head meeting with the chaplain, or a meeting between a Head of House and his House Master. Masters were always addressed as “sir”. A boy was never addressed by his first name: always by his surname or, within his own House, by a nickname. Boys in one House didn’t mingle with boys in other Houses unless it was essential. It has already been mentioned that the Houses were separated during meals; they were also separated in dormitories, for prep, for seating in chapel and for many indoor pastimes. Within the House itself, prefects were aloof and fags didn’t mingle with other boys. There was a degree of homosexuality; a criminal offence in those days. It never got beyond consensual masturbation of one boy by another or mutual masturbation. It seldom, if ever, happened between boys from different houses. It was frowned upon, but tolerated. Friendships between one boy and another were almost exclusively transitory and within the House. Personally, I made only one long-lasting friendship – with a contemporary in my own House.

In summary, Dover College in the 1940s was a small fee-paying public school for the secondary education of boys – boys within the age range 13/14 to 17/18. The prevailing ethos was not secular, it was rigidly Christian. Although all the boys were accommodated in one building (Poltimore House), they were divided into 4 (so-called) Houses, each House containing some 40-45 boys of all ages. As far as possible, each House was autonomous.

For tuition, the boys were divided into classes (Forms), depending on age. The curriculum for teaching was basically standard, governed by the requirements for passing the Oxford & Cambridge School Certificate and Higher Certificate examinations. Attendance in the classroom and at evening prep was compulsory.  Compulsory, too, was participation in sport. There was little time for leisure pursuits, but plenty of opportunities, both indoors and out-of-doors. Behaviour was of a high standard, enforced, if necessary, by prefects (senior boys). Exceptional misbehaviour could result in corporal punishment.

Overall, life at the college was enjoyable. I certainly found it enjoyable, despite receiving a prefect’s caning on two or three occasions! The college was fortunate in having a highly capable and industrious headmaster. Great credit is due to him for getting the college through difficult wartime years in Poltimore, until its return to Dover when the war ended.

Malcolm Sutherland

September 2020

This is a personal account of life at Dover College during the Second World War, which has been very kindly given by

Richard Stickland, Poltimore,  S43 – 47

Recollection of Time at Dover College 1943-1947

I joined Dover College at the start of the Autumn Term in 1943, when Dover College had moved to Poltimore House for the duration of the 2nd World War. As a boy just aged 14, joining a new school in new surroundings was quite frightening! I remember being driven down the drive to Poltimore House and getting out of the car when we had reached the building, which was quite impressive. My memory fails me about what followed immediately, except a few other boys were arriving by car. I had joined School House, where the headmaster, Mr. George Renwick (called George by the boys when no master could over-hear), was the Housemaster, but Mr. C Pentecost, the House Tutor of School House, took over most of the duties for the headmaster.

During my first term I distinctly remember having to help a local farmer pick up potatoes which a tractor and some machine were digging up in a field. As the tractor went up and down a local farm worker kept us on our toes to lift them all before the tractor’s return. Alas, his strong Devonshire accent baffled most of the boys, but we picked out the word “teddies” which we assumed meant potatoes.

RAF Exeter aerodrome was not far from Poltimore, and a friend and I used to cycle to the perimeter some weekends to watch aircraft taking off and landing. I joined the ATC (Air Training Corps) as soon as I could (I disliked the “bull” in the JTC), and enjoyed most the half term trips with Pilot Officer Pentecost, to RAF Exeter (and RAF Manston when we returned to Dover), where we were able to fly in whatever aircraft were available, such as Miles Master, Avro Anson, Airspeed Oxford, etc. There was no Health and Safety in those days! All we were told was how to open the parachute if we had to bale out, and off we went.

The local bus passed by the end of the drive, and we occasionally caught the bus either to Pinhoe or Broadclyst, two small local villages, where. We could spend our weekly pocket money of one shilling (5d). We could also spend this in the Tuck Shop in Poltimore House.

When D-Day arrived on June 6th 1944 I remember the whole school being called to the Refectory after breakfast when the Headmaster told us about D-Day, and asking us to report immediately to the police if we saw any German troops coming down by parachute.

Most masters were able to maintain discipline in classes, but some young temporary masters were hopeless, and I’m afraid we took advantage of this!

The Autumn term in 1945 saw the school’s return to Dover, by which time I was in the lower 6th, and had decided to take Maths and Additional Maths for my Higher Certificate, so I had numerous occasions to be taught by Mr. C Pentecost, and soon by Mr Baxter on his return from the war. I eventually had a study shared with another boy, and became first a House Prefect and later a School Prefect. In those days School prefects were allowed to cane boys if they had misbehaved, but only with the permission of the housemaster. New boys were Fags for a period, and prefects could shout out “fag” (I think it was “boy” in School House} and the last fag to reach the prefect got the job (such as fetching something for the prefect).

I think most boys at that time were pleased to be resident in Dover, where there was more room, Houses kept separate, a School Chapel and with two Playing Fields not too far away. But food was still rationed (some food being rationed for the first time after the war) but by then we were used to that.

Some time soon after the war Winston Churchill, then leader of the Opposition, was installed as Lord Warden of the Cinq Ports during the school holidays, which took place on the College Close, and was broadcast by the BBC on the Home Service.

Richard Stickland

October 2020