Poltimore House 1939 – 1945


This account has been written by Mr George Renwick, The Headmaster of Dover College during this period of Dover College’s evacuation to Poltimore Manor.

Its with grateful thanks from the Old Dovorian Club, that Mr George Renwick Junior , has very kindly given his permission for the Old Dovorian Club to Publish this unique historical document of the time Dover College was evacuated from Dover for the duration of the Second World War




This account has been written at the request of the present Headmaster, Mr Cobb, who feels that if ever a history of Dover College comes to be written it may be difficult to form a true picture of the war period, and that probably I am now the only person who can write fully of those days for the use of any future historian.  The chief other sources of information will be the “The Dovorian” magazine and the minutes of Council and Governors’ meetings, both of which give a very limited record.

It is not perhaps surprising that “The Dovorian” paid so little attention to recording the past for the benefit of the future.  Mention of many things was forbidden by security regulations, and boy editors rarely realise the importance of writing for future generations.  The masters who were responsible at the time for keeping an eye on the magazine were so busy with other things that it is not surprising if they did not do so either.

That the record of Council and Governors’ meetings is so inadequate for this purpose may be partly my fault.  After Mr Guthrie Morgan’s retirement, I myself wrote nearly all the minutes of the war period.  At many of the meetings major items of business were the consideration of some memorandum which had been circulated in advance, and when I came to write the minutes (to save time, for they were written out in long hand in a book not suitable for the pasting in of loose sheets) I would merely state that such a memorandum was dealt with, and I gave instruction that it should be filed and kept along with the minute book.  At some later date some unknown person seems to have destroyed that file, not realising its importance.  Unfortunately, none of the three surviving Governors who received those memoranda, Lord Astor, Mr Hawksfield and Mr Manning, have kept them.  If the missing file ever turns up, I hope it will be recognised for what it is, for it may reveal inaccuracies and omissions in my account due to my faulty memory.

This account – written without any attempt at style or effect – aims especially at recording things which were secret or were known to very few persons other than Governors on the Council.  It gives no picture of the life and spirit of the College.  It may appear to be very personal and rather self-centred.  I regret this, but feel it is unavoidable because so much responsibility was concentrated on the Headmaster.

Governors often found it impossible to attend meetings, and at many there were only just enough present to form a quorum.  Only two meetings were held in Devonshire, and only some six or seven Governors ever managed to pay a visit to Poltimore.

Beside myself the only members of the teaching staff who were present with the College uninterruptedly throughout the war were Mr Munns and Mr Dale.  Another person who was with us throughout, except for the term at Blundell’s, and who knew well the life of the College from a different angle, is Mr A Ellis, the head of our repair staff.

I should like to pay a tribute to my senior colleagues for their loyalty to the College (and also to  me): to Mr Munns, Major Ewart, Mr Dale and in a slightly different way (for he was absent on service for most of the war) Mr Bruce Johnston.  In the crisis of 1940 I asked them to offer, along with me, a reduction in salary to help the College.  Although, some years previously they had already had cuts imposed upon them; although by Public School standards they were already poorly paid; and although they could have found security, possibly without any loss of income, by seeking employment in other schools, they all agreed to my suggestion.  The Governors have never been in a position to compensate them, although the prospect of such compensation was suggested at the time.  The debt of gratitude the College owes them should never be forgotten.

There are so many other men and women, from Kent and Devon alike, to whom gratitude is due that it seems ungracious not to mention them by name; but it is beyond me to remember them all, and so it is better not to attempt it.  I cannot refrain, however, from a word of special mention of the Housemasters’ wives (including my own), the matrons and other ladies who lived through those years often in great discomfort (especially if they shared the communal life in Poltimore House), all doing remarkable work, and with a minimum of complaint.

I wonder whether it would be worth someone-else’s while to write quite another sort of account, dealing with the day-to-day life of those years, describing the wonderful spirit that there was; above all saying something of the marvellous sense of responsibility shown by the senior boys.  It was they who made the College run so well.  They showed exceptional initiative and a splendid willingness to sacrifice their own time and their own comforts.  They were trusted to do things which in peace time no Headmaster would have dreamt of asking them to do, and they hardly ever failed to rise to the occasion.



January 1964

The Shadow of War:  Munich

The Second World War first cast its shadow on Dover College as early as the spring of 1938, when Major (then Captain) Ewart attended lectures on Air Raid Precautions, and subsequently gave lectures himself to members of the staff.

The mobilisation of German troops on the Czech border in May 1938, was so alarming that it was decided that immediate steps must be taken to prepare a scheme of evacuation, for it seemed then not unreasonable to suppose that if war did come it would start with intensive bombing of the Channel ports to hinder the embarkation of British troops for the Continent.

The Headmaster and the Chairman of the Governors (Mr Finnis) toured Kent looking at possible large houses, but more profitable was an approach to two other Public Schools, Charterhouse (which had an empty boarding house) and Blundell’s (where the Bursar was a friend of our Bursar, Mr Guthrie Morgan).  Both agreed to help if necessary.  To supplement the accommodation at Charterhouse a large house nearby was found and Mr Bostock Wheeler (an Old Dovorian Governor) undertook the task of arranging to rent it.  The tenants were willing, but the Landlords difficult.  At Blundell’s most of the boys would have to become day-boys in billets.  On September 25th the Headmaster and Bursar visited Blundell’s to discuss arrangements.

At a Council meeting on 27th September 1938, the Charterhouse scheme was preferred.  The danger seemed to be becoming acute.

Then began a nightmare period of three days.  Early on the morning of 28th September Captain and Mrs Ewart left for Godalming to plan arrangements in the overflow house at Charterhouse.  In case we were unable to move before bombs fell, we began to dig trenches on the “Top Ground” in almost solid chalk.  Orders were given that every boy’s trunk was to be packed with everything except what was needed for immediate use.  Mr Heathcote Hacker (an O.D., later a Governor), who at that time was Continental Traffic Manager of the Southern Railway, arranged for a special train to be ready to take us wherever we were to go.

Later that same morning Mr Bostock Wheeler phoned to say that the arrangement to rent the house at Godalming had fallen through!  At 2.30 Mr Hacker phoned to say that we must leave Dover early next morning, for there could be no rail travel for some days after the declaration of war, which was imminently expected!  However, at 5.30 an announcement by Mr Chamberlain in the House of Commons gave us twelve hours’ respite.  In the meantime a series of phone calls to Blundell’s eventually persuaded them to accept us and the Chairman of the Governors decided that we must go, even if it meant that for their first night at Tiverton, boys had to sleep in barns.

Next day, 29th September, Mr Chamberlain flew to Munich to see Hitler.  Trench digging continued and by the evening, it might have been just possible to accommodate all the boarders in the trenches.  Gas masks were issued.  Mr Hacker arranged to phone us, if necessary in the middle of the night, should it be required of  us to travel very early next morning, and a plan was worked out for rousing everyone in the night to finish packing, prepare haversack rations and so forth, and for summoning all the outside male staff and masters.

When the morning of 30th September came, we were still undisturbed, but it seemed inevitable that we should have to go next day.  Details of the Blundell’s plans for our reception arrived and it was arranged that a party of three masters led by Mr Bruce Johnston should motor through the night to Tiverton to arrange billets and meet the school on its arrival with plans for dispersal. (1)  The day dragged on.  In the late afternoon the advance party of masters was all ready to go, but waited to hear what the 6.00pm B.B.C. news would tell us.  We heard that Mr Chamberlain had returned, and in a speech at Heston airport he ended with the words, “I believe that it is peace in our time”!  Our state of emergency was declared at an end.

It is impossible to express sufficiently the gratitude we felt to Blundell’s and more particularly to its Bursar, Mr Pierce, who had laboured night and day to prepare a scheme for our reception.  It was decided to keep the Blundell’s scheme “alive”, and the school promised to go ahead with the preparation of a list of private householders who would offer our boys accommodation, when the day came; for it seemed quite certain that sooner or later it was bound to come.

The Period of Waiting

The year 1938 passed without further alarm, but it was comforting to know that our friends at Blundell’s were still prepared to welcome us.

The year 1939, and indeed all this period, was one of acute financial anxiety for the College, despite immensely generous help from its President, Major Astor (now Lord Astor of Hever).  The possibility of amalgamation with St Lawrence College, Ramsgate, or some other school was considered, but nothing came of this, and it was decided that the best way in which to get more boys might be to reduce the fees as from September from £147 per annum to £126.  The result was an encouraging increase in the number of entries for the autumn term.

Things were not made easier by an announcement by the Minister of Health that in the event of war evacuation of school children from Dover was considered undesirable.(2)  Despite this it was decided at a Council meeting in July that the Blundell’s scheme should stand, but that if war came before the end of term, the school should close until September.

1939:  The Move to Tiverton

War was declared in the holidays on 3rd September.  Parents were at once notified that the school would reopen at Tiverton, but not until early October.  In the meantime, work began on the despatch of bedding and other equipment from Dover to Tiverton; and Meath House, a few hundred yards from Blundell’s, was rented to provide offices.

When the day for the opening of term came, 166 boys assembled at Tiverton, as against the 170 in the College in the previous term.  This was encouraging, for the loss was entirely in respect of day-boys, of whom there were 20 less.  The number of boarders increased by 16.  The reduction of fees had had a result.  Blundell’s boarding houses accommodated 50, mostly younger, boys; the remaining 116 were billeted with private residents of Tiverton and nearby villages.  The least fortunate were some of Leamington House, who with Mr and Mrs Bruce Johnston, were about six miles away in the village of Halberton.

All the teaching staff came with the College, with the exception of Mr Knowles, who was called up for service in the army.  It was clear that before long others would have to go, and among them might be the Headmaster, who was on the Territorial Reserve of Officers.  The President consulted with the War Office about him, and was told that, except in special cases, Headmasters would not be called up, but should serve with their school’s Cadet force (in those days the O.T.C.)

The Junior School

On the outbreak of war the Junior School under Mr Holland amalgamated temporarily with Ashampstead School at Seaford.  At that time, however, the Junior School had many more day-boys than boarders, and many parents of day-boys (as at the College itself) were not willing that their sons should become boarders.  In consequence only 23 boys (including six former day-boys) went to Seaford, and in November the Council decided to close the Junior School “for the duration”.

The Term at Blundell’s

An article written by a boy and published in “The Dovorian” for September 1939 gives a good picture of life at Tiverton as seen by the boys. (It is to be hoped that some day a more full account may be written of that interesting episode in the history of the College.)  A rider should be added that, though the boys got on extremely well with the Blundell’s boys, for their elders there were inevitable difficulties.  It must be emphasised however that the Headmaster, Mr Gorton (later Bishop of Coventry) and his staff were immensely kind, and it was not until long afterwards that the writer found out how burdensome they found our presence.  There were many reasons for this, but probably the underlying reason was the fear that so long as we were with them they were losing the chance that their safe position away from war dangers offered them of increasing their numbers.  It was made quite plain to us that the arrangement was for one term only and could not be extended.

Life was naturally not very easy for us either.  Although our boys, as guests and strangers, were almost preternaturally well behaved, there were some problems of discipline, and distinction between Blundell’s boys and Dover boys was not easy.  Many trifling matters of all kinds were apt to be magnified and became sources of irritation.

The Headmaster, sometimes accompanied by the Bursar, spent much time hunting for a new home and visited country houses in Wiltshire, in North and South Wales and elsewhere, and a hotel at Swanage.  When we were almost in despair Mr Dale heard that a girls’ school at Poltimore House near Exeter was bankrupt and closing.  As they had at that time only about 50 girls, it did not seem that their premises would be large enough, but while the Headmaster was at Swanage, Mr Dale and Mrs Renwick went over on his behalf to see the Headmistress.  They had an amusing interview for the Headmistress thought that Mr Dale was our Headmaster, but could not place Mrs Renwick.  She had to be disillusioned when it was apparent that she hoped that they intended to open a co-educational school and take over her girls:  On their return they reported that they thought that the place might be just possible, and so the Headmaster arranged to go and see for himself.

It required some imagination to see the possibilities of Poltimore House.  The place was in a shocking state of disrepair, and in some upstairs rooms there were buckets permanently in position to catch rainwater.  “Black out” of a sort had been achieved by hanging old army blankets in the windows, and these made the rooms dark and depressing.  Half of the rooms were not in use, and these were unbelievably dirty.  On the other hand the house had some striking advantages.  There were seven enormous rooms, of which one, the ballroom, was large enough to be an assembly hall and even to provide dining space for almost the whole school.  (As numbers dropped later, it became the only dining room.)  There was also a very large hut in use as a school chapel, and again large enough to accommodate us all.  Time was getting on and the Headmaster decided that it would do.  Its shabby condition was almost an advantage, for there would be the less possibility of claims for dilapidations at the end of our tenancy.

On behalf of the Governors, Mr Fox came to see the place, and he agreed that we should approach Lord Poltimore.  He must have had great faith in the Headmaster’s judgement, for he came on a day of torrential rain, and it seemed to be coming in everywhere.  Chickens were taking refuge in the house; cockroaches and a rat were seen in the kitchen.  On another similar day some members of the staff went to see their future home, and were greatly dismayed.

The financial arrangements with Lord Poltimore were extraordinarily generous to us.  No doubt he preferred schoolboys to soldiers as his tenants and did not expect to get much compensation for damage done by the latter.  We were to pay a rent of £300 for the first year and £450 thereafter, and provided we could show that we spent not less than £100 in the first year and £150 in later years on maintenance, we were to have no responsibility for dilapidations! (3)  Our wages bill for our permanent repair staff alone came to far more than those figures.  The importance of all this became very apparent later, when Lord Poltimore sold the house during our tenancy.  Furthermore, in 1940, when we found it necessary to replace the batteries of the electric light plan, Lord Poltimore actually reduced the rent by £50 for the following five years.

There was of course another side to the picture.  A great deal of money had to be spent on getting the place ready.  The whole hot-water system had to be renewed.  The former domestic science room of the girls’ school was made into a shower bath and changing room.  The laundry was fitted out as a Laboratory with Calor gas.  Much rough and ready decoration was done to make the attics habitable as dormitories.  The question of dry rot was something we thought it wise NOT to look into at all as long as we were there!  Still, by and large, it is doubtful whether any other evacuated school was able to re-house itself for less than four times the cost.  If it had not been for this, the school must inevitably have gone under.

The Move to Poltimore

The transport of furniture from Dover to Poltimore was done by rail.  Some professional packers were supplied by Messrs Turnpenny of Dover to load the containers, and the furniture was carried to them from the houses and class-rooms by the ground staff under the leadership of the two Ellises, father and son.  We purchased at auction a quantity of beds and other articles from the girls’ school in order to reduce the quantity to be transported and the college furniture not removed from Dover was stacked in the Refectory class-rooms.  At Poltimore a team of boys and masters assembled to unload, living under grim conditions made worse by a period of severe frost such that even when the plumbers had finished their operations little water was available anywhere.  (A detailed report of all this was written at the time by the Headmaster, but it has not been found.  If a copy ever is discovered in the possession of any Governor, to whom it was circulated, it would be of great interest.  The Dovorian gives an account, but it is inadequate.)

Spring Term 1940

We started the term with 169 boys.  Both the Ellises joined us and the elder did splendid work preparing a cricket square in front of the house, while gangs of boys worked at removing ant hills and tussocky grass to make fields for Football and Hockey.  We eventually had four useful pitches for these games.  Mr Ogilvy joined the army as a chaplain, and the Archbishop of Canterbury agreed to ordain Mr Grove as priest so that he could take his place as College chaplain, although he had not yet served the normal period as a Deacon.

Summer 1940 : a Major Crisis

The summer term of 1940 (156 boys) was the gravest in the school’s history.  On 22 May the Headmaster visited Dover to inspect the buildings, and he travelled back to London with a party of uniformed journalists.  They were the first men to be evacuated from France on the eve of Dunkerque.  At a council meeting the following day, at the height of the Dunkerque rescues, the Bursar added to the prevailing gloom with the following report.

For the period between the outbreak of war and April the College finances showed a loss of over £4,500 and a further loss of £460 was estimated for the current term.  The money available in the Old Dovorian War Memorial and Endowment Fund had been placed at the disposal of the Governors, but even if the whole of that were used, there would be a cash deficiency at the end of term of £1,500.  There was little or no prospect of being able to borrow from the Bank. (4)

Faced with this alarming situation, the Council instructed the Headmaster to take every possible step to secure more boys for September, even if it meant breaking the rule of the Headmasters’ Conference against advertising.  It was decided to meet again in a month’s time, with the realisation that if by that early date the entries for September could not be greatly increased, the school must close.

The Headmaster advertised in the Press that Dover College would accept immediately boys from any schools that were forced to close owing to the emergency; but this produced no result.  Then a near miracle happened.  Herne Bay College decided to close, rather than evacuate, and asked whether we could accept at once 41 boarders at £2.10.0 a week, on the understanding that they would pay Dover College fees thereafter.  At the Council meeting on 20 June the Headmaster reported that as the Rector of Poltimore had generously placed accommodation in his rectory at our disposal free of charge, the boys could be accepted, and the loss for the school year would be substantially reduced, although it would still be £3,360.  To meet this he suggested a number of economies, the greater part of which would come from cuts in salaries voluntarily offered by himself and a number of the senior masters (amounting to £1,360 p.a.), producing in all a saving of £2,400 p.a.  He also reported that some of the buildings at Dover had just been taken over for use by the forces and there would be rents received of £600 p.a.  Major Astor offered a moratorium on the mortgage payments due to him.  It was decided to increase the fees to £136 a year and hope that all this would enable us to carry on until Christmas without insolvency.

The Herne Bay boys duly arrived and with them came Mr C Pentecost, who eventually became a permanent member of the staff, and is with the College to this day.

Later in this term further economies were made possible through changes in the staff.  Captain Ewart was called up in the Summer, and Mr Ewing at the end of the term. In the Autumn Mr Bruce Johnston and Mr Baxter were called up, and Mr Starr left to take charge of the Senior School at Newbury Grammar School.

At the end of the Summer Mr Morgan, the Bursar, resigned to take up an appointment at Imperial Service College, and the Headmaster took over his work.  When replacements were found, it was possible to effect a substantial reduction in the salaries bill.

This was of course a dreadful Summer; but by comparison with the anxieties we felt for the nation our anxieties for Dover College were a mere nothing, and perhaps this helped us!  We were so busy with forming a section of the L.D.V. (later the Home Guard) (5) and with the amount of work to be put in on the gardens and grounds to grow more food, that we hardly had time to worry.  Besides, the full extent of the predicament we were in was known only to the Headmaster and Bursar and, to a lesser degree, to the Housemasters.  The morale of the school as a whole remained extraordinarily high, as indeed it did throughout the war.

Autumn Term 1940

There were 155 boys in the Autumn Term, for only about a third of the Herne Bay boys remained with us, but it was estimated that income might just cover expenditure.  The possibility of amalgamation with some other school, more particularly Weymouth College, was always under consideration, but nothing came of this.

Mr Dale and Mr Dixon came into residence in Poltimore House to take charge temporarily of Leamington and St Martin’s houses respectively.  Towards the end of term Mr Stainer, the music master, was called up, and to our great regret Sister Peckham resigned after 17 years service in the Sanatorium.

The Headmaster was temporarily suspended from membership of the Headmasters’ Conference for advertising in the summer, but was restored to membership, on the H.M.C. receiving an explanation and apology from the Governors.

In November the College buildings at Dover suffered their first, but relatively minor, damage from bombs.


The first two terms of 1941 produced no crisis, though an attempt by the RAF to commandeer Poltimore House in January was momentarily alarming.  Numbers dropped to 142 in January, but the cash position (helped by a further voluntary cut in the Headmaster’s salary, making a total cut of £600 p.a. in all) remained just manageable.  In order to keep the numbers up, the Headmaster was given permission to accept boys at reduced fees entirely at his own discretion for the duration of the war.

The Summer term was saddened by the tragic death of Mr Whitehead and the retirement of Mr Dixon, who insisted on observing the 60 years of age rule.  (As will be seen later, we welcomed him back after an interval in another capacity.)  Mr Grove temporarily took charge of St Martin’s House in his place.

The Autumn Term was rather more depressing.  The war was not going well.  Numbers had dropped to 126.  Finances were again very tight, and we started the term with over £2,000 of bills not yet paid by parents.  In his annual report the Headmaster said he thought it just possible to continue until the end of the summer of 1942, but he could not see further ahead than that.  However, in the same report he gave an excellent account of the life of the school.  The academic standard was as high or higher than it had been for several years.  In games the College was competing with Blundell’s, Clifton, Highgate, Taunton, Downside and Sherborne and was managing to hold its own with credit.

Catering was a problem.  Mrs Munns, who took charge when we first arrived at Poltimore, was finding the work too much for her and Mrs Renwick relieved her.  For a short period we employed a Miss Pearce.  Later on Mrs Munns took over again.

The Headmaster also was finding the work too much for him, for he was Headmaster, Bursar, working with the J.T.C. (as the O.T.C. was now called) and the Home Guard, and running a very large number of activities such as Physical Training and Field Labour, which in normal times would have been done by assistant masters.  He felt obliged to ask for the appointment of a Bursar, and a Captain Williams was found to do the work.  Unfortunately, after about 6 months, Captain Williams had a thrombosis and was obliged to resign.

Occurrences of lesser importance in this year were the formation of a section of the A.T.C. under Mr Pentecost, the running of a Harvesting Camp at Braunton during the summer holidays by Mr Grove, and the assumption by Mr Dale (henceforward Major Dale) of command of the Bradninch Company of the Home Guard on top of his command of our J.T.C. Contingent.


The life of the school throughout 1942 remained – for war time – extraordinarily normal.  Numbers remained steady, with 115 boys in April and 114 in September; but the lowering of the age of call-up from 181/2 to 18 years threated us with a drop in January 1943.

Early in the year there were two welcome returns.  Major Ewart was retired from the Army, with ear trouble, and Mr Dixon came back to act, first as Bursar’s clerk, and then, on the departure of Captain Williams, as Bursar.  Major Ewart resumed his Housemastership of St Martin’s, but for reasons of economy it was decided to close Leamington House, the boys of which were distributed between School and Priory Houses.  Major Dale moved out to quarters in the village.

The most exciting incident of the Summer Term was the “Blitz” on Exeter on the night of 30/31 May, one of the series of so-called “Baedeker” raids.  As was usual when an alarm sounded, our fire watchers manned their posts, but as it did not seem likely that bombs would fall on us, the remainder of the boys remained in their beds.  Exeter is hidden from Poltimore by a high hill, but it was obvious from the glow over the whole sky that a really large raid was in progress and that there were enormous fires.  We could hear that the raiders were also machine-gunning the streets.  There was one very alarming moment for the Headmaster when he heard the whistle of a bomb descending apparently quite near, for he knew that all the boys were sitting up in bed and he feared that when the bomb exploded there might be many casualties from flying glass.  The whistle was succeeded by dead silence.  The bomb, which failed to explode, was eventually dug out after being found quite half a mile away. (6)

A vast area in Exeter was burnt out that night, but the reorganisation of the life of the town was very rapid and efficient, so that the College was little affected, though shopping was difficult for some time. One thing, however, did happen to us which admirably illustrated the spirit among the boys in those days.  We were asked to provide immediate accommodation for a small school for maladjusted children from Exeter.  The boys from two of our largest dormitories agreed to give up their beds to the visitors and themselves slept in great discomfort on mattresses in a loft at the stables.  The children stayed with us for about a week, and we were thankful to see them go, for their “mal-adjustment” apparently manifested itself chiefly by bed-wetting!  Also their Warden and staff showed little appreciation of the fact that we were ourselves evacuees and that they were adding greatly to our existing difficulties.

With our reduced numbers, steps to maintain the morale of the school were important, and as there had been no Prize Giving in 1940 or 1941 it was decided to have one again.  Sir Frank Fletcher (formerly Headmaster of Charterhouse) gave away the prizes.  It was also important that the boys should not forget that the College belonged to Kent and not to Devonshire, and so the Headmaster arranged that the annual service of Confirmation in the Autumn should be taken by the Bishop of Dover.  (In other years it was taken by the Bishop of Exeter, who became our very good friend.)

During the year more of our Dover premises were taken over by the forces, but the additional rent received looked like a mere drop in the ocean.  The financial red light was again burning brightly and it was very doubtful whether the College could survive.  Some money other than fees had to be found and more quickly than seemed really possible.   However, although it was possible that the College might run into bankruptcy, the Council decided to risk continuing for one term more and to see whether help could be obtained in sufficient time from Old Dovorians and friends.

The possibility of the College amalgamating with some other school was always under consideration, and as this was the year in which the “Fleming Committee” Report recommended that counties should provide places in schools for boarders, the Headmaster prepared proposals, which were put to the Director of Education for Kent, for a possible amalgamation with Dover County School, the chief feature of which was that after the war the College buildings should be used as a boarding department for the combined schools.  Fortunately, as it turned out nothing came of this, for though the Kent Education Committee was interested, it did not at that date have the necessary powers.

Staffing, Teaching, and Similar Problems

This midway point may be an appropriate one at which to say something of the problems of staffing and teaching.  Many temporary masters came and went: too many to be recorded or even fully remembered, with certain exceptions.  It has already been mentioned that Mr Pentecost came to us from Herne Bay.  He was a valuable replacement of Mr Baxter as Sixth Form Mathematics master and on Mr Whitehead’s death, he became House Tutor of School House, which he continues to be at the time of writing.  He ran the A.T.C. section and throughout the war was in charge of cricket.  Mr Wodeman, formerly Headmaster of the Grange preparatory school, Folkestone, taught lower forms.  His most conspicuous work was with music and dramatics.  He trained the choir and produced both School and Staff plays which made a most important contribution to the happiness and morale of the school.  Mr G Lageard was an invaluable teacher of French, but he left us to our great regret, to take up a permanent appointment at Clifton College in 1943.

Some of the teaching was “farmed out” to members of the staff of the University College of the South West – now Exeter University.  Boys who were doing Biology when we moved to Poltimore went there, until they left: and then the subject was temporarily dropped from the curriculum.  Later on, candidates for the Higher Certificate Physics went into Exeter also, and later still (when Mr Grove left) those who needed tuition in Greek and Latin Composition for Higher Certificate or Scholarships did so too.  School Certificate Greek, and occasionally some Latin, were from time to time taught by Mrs Renwick.  For a short period a woman teacher of French was employed, but the experiment was not altogether successful.

A woman member of the staff who deserves a special mention is the late Miss O. K. Ockenden (known to all as OKO), the Headmaster’s secretary.  She moved to Devonshire from Dover, bringing her mother and another elderly lady whom she looked after with her, and turned her hand to everything, only once asking for a rise in pay, when she was almost literally unable to make ends meet.  She worked for the Bursar as well as for the Headmaster, and she was so determined that the boys’ happiness should in no way suffer, that on her own initiative she ran a Tuck Shop in the school buildings, with all the headache of collecting “points” ration coupons.  Without her help the Headmaster could not possibly have done all that he did.  There seemed to be nothing with which she could not be trusted.

Mention must also be made of the two Ellises, father and son, both of whom moved to Devon.  They were a wonderful example of the kind of loyalty which Public Schools so often seem to inspire in those who work for them in maintenance capacities.  The elder Ellis took charge both of the playing fields and of the very extensive vegetable gardens, where we grew practically all our needs.  From the first he proved himself a leader of the local men who worked for us, who might so easily have been suspicious of a “foreigner” from Kent.  His son ran all our maintenance work assisted by the old Estate carpenter, Harry Grant.  Between them they seemed able to turn their hands to anything.  Ellis joined the Home Guard and was soon commissioned as second in command of the College Platoon.  Off parade he was “Bert”; but from the very first day on parade there was no boy who ever dreamt of calling him anything else but “Sir”.   


An account of what was done in this year to raise money is believed to have been written by Mrs Duckworth (daughter of the former Headmaster Canon Compton), who was very largely responsible for the approach to Old Dovorians; so what follows is only a bare outline of what happened.

Early in this year we knew that a small number of O.D.s had promised substantial sums to help their school, and it was arranged that in return for this they should have the right, if they wished, to nominate boys of their own choosing who would come to the College at reduced fees.  With this guarantee to help, a full scale appeal was launched.  By September £7,035 had been raised; by December £8,918, and by January £9,380.  In this way the College, not for the first time in its history, was saved from extinction by its Old Boys.

But money was not everything; there must also be boys, and numbers continued to fall.  There were 108 boys in January; 101 in May and only 88 in September.  This was no worse than most evacuated schools experienced, which nearly all fell to half their pre-war strength; but we had started small and now we were no larger than a Preparatory School.  Would parents feel that Dover College could no longer give a Public School education?  However, the end of 1943 proved to be the turning point and a slow but steady increase began.

It was not, however, until 1944 that fears gradually lessened, and secretly the Headmaster felt it his duty to boys and senior masters alike to prepare for the possible worst.  Knowing that Tonbridge School was greatly depleted, he arranged confidentially with its Headmaster that, if the worst did occur, he would approach his Governors with a view to getting accepted at Tonbridge the surviving boys, at least one Housemaster as a Housemaster, and as many other members of the staff as he could, if they wished to transfer.

On St Martin’s Day at the usual commemoration service the Headmaster read to the little congregation of 88 boys the Exhortation, and when he came to that part which (in the form of words used in those days) spoke of following the good example of those who had gone before and of setting one for “those who will follow after us”, he was so filled with emotion that he could hardly control his voice.  Little could he guess that all was to be well.

At the end of the Spring Term Mr Grove and Mr Lageard left the service of the College.  We were extremely sad to see them go, but our small numbers called for a reduction of staff, and both were offered good posts at Clifton College.  Mr Grove’s departure meant that we no longer had a chaplain, and for a time the Headmaster conducted all services other than Holy Communion, which was celebrated on alternate Sundays in the parish church and (for boys and villagers alike) in the College chapel.  Later on a Mr Tucker, who was in Orders, was appointed to teach Classics and normal arrangements were resumed.

Few of the boys who had known Dover now remained, and the Headmaster was always on the lookout for ways to remind the school of its origins.  He learnt that Archbishop Temple, then only recently appointed Archbishop, planned to visit Exeter in May, and he invited him to visit the College at the same time as it was an “outlier” of his diocese.  This he did (accompanied by the Bishop of Exeter) and spoke to the whole school in the Dining Hall.

Once again there was a Prize Giving, and this time Lord Fortescue came to give away the prizes.  He said how welcome we were in Devon and had a special word of praise for the work we were doing through Major Ewart, Major Dale and the College Platoon (much in demand for demonstrations and exercises) to help with the training of the Home Guard in his County, where he was both Lord Lieutenant and Commandant of the Home Guard.

Early in the year further damage was done to the College buildings at Dover, the greatest loss being the destruction of Crescent House.


1944 was a year of both encouragement and frustration.  Of encouragement because the appeal fund reached over £10,500 before May, and at the same time the number of boys increased from 95 in January to 113 in May and 127 in September.  (The fee income, however, did not increase proportionately because of the number of “Bursaries” granted.)  A decision was made to admit boys from the age of 11 years, until such time as a Junior School could be started again, and this bore some fruit.

It was a year of frustration because of the requirements of a new landlord.  In the spring of this year Poltimore House and grounds was sold to a Mr Cox (or a syndicate headed by him) who wanted the place for purely speculative reasons.  His only object was to have the place in as good a condition as he could manage with a view to selling it again.  (After we returned to Dover he at once sold it to a group of doctors who then ran it as a nursing home, which it still is.)

Where Mr Cox had us to some extent in his power was that in our lease there was a clause to which, when the lease was signed, we had paid too little attention, stating that as tenants we must keep the gardens and grounds “in good order”.  They were in a shockingly derelict state when we took them over, and we had done a great deal to improve them, but in no way could they be regarded as being in what, in normal times, would be called “good order”, and we had never imagined that we should ever be expected to restore them to such.  Mr Cox insisted that this must be done.  Probably he knew from the first that there was no possibility of this being done, but he found it a useful lever with which to obtain concessions.  In the end he said that he would be satisfied if more were done to cut down wild growth in the “pleasure grounds”, clean the paths, and, above all, improve the drainage ditches in a badly drained corner of the park near the lodge, provided that we agreed to leave behind us, all the fittings which we had installed in the Mansion.  Perhaps we did not lose much over this; though we had hoped to bring back to Dover the Esse cookers which we had installed in the kitchen.  A great deal of time, however, and it was largely a waste of time, had to be devoted to quite unproductive work out of doors.  The clearing of the ditches, which was a particularly noisome job, was done by gangs of boys working under the Headmaster.

The increase in numbers mentioned above demanded more teaching staff, and in May we were joined by Mr F.M.White, who on our return to Dover took charge of the junior day-boy house, and later of Crescent House.

Mr Dixon was anxious to give up his work as Bursar, and as now the day was approaching for a return to Dover and consequent extra work in the Bursar’s department could be looked forward to, the post of Bursar was advertised and Mr Harold Cooper was appointed, who served the College until his death.

The secret of “D” Day was remarkably kept, but we were well aware when it was near at hand.  Anyone cycling past the aerodrome could see that it was crammed with aeroplanes and gliders.  Every night a different Platoon from Major Dale’s Company was stationed at the stables ready to help in protecting it, should the enemy discover what was afoot and attempt parachute landings.  When one evening all the planes and gliders took off and the sky was fully of their landing lights, we knew well that the great day had arrived.

In October, the progress of the war in France was so encouraging that the Chairman of the Governors and the Headmaster had an interview with the Borough Surveyor of Dover to discuss the problem of getting the Dover buildings ready for our return.  Though it was too soon for work to begin, he was most co-operative, for the town was anxious to see the early return of its largest rate-payer! By now School House, Leamington House and St Ann’s were vacant, as the Navy had removed the WRNS quartered there to a safer place.  Priory House was intact, but St Martin’s had suffered grievous damage.  The class-rooms and Refectory and Tuck-Shop were only slightly damaged, but the Library (the old Gate Way) was in such a shaky condition that it could not be used until it was almost entirely taken to pieces and reconstructed.  The possibility of restarting a Junior School was also discussed, but it was decided that the old West Mount premises, even if available, would not be satisfactory.


There were 133 boys in January and 138 in May.  The war news was good and an early cessation of hostilities in Europe seemed imminent.  In the Spring holidays a party of boys under the Headmaster and Major Ewart assembled at Dover, camping in School House among the debris and feeding at the Priory Hotel, and got to work on sorting and making an inventory of the furniture which had remained at Dover throughout the war.  It had been stored in the Refectory class-rooms, and as the windows of these had been blown out, it was in a very dirty condition.  It was all removed to the Refectory, so that the class-rooms could be repaired.

By the date of V.E. Day, which was celebrated with a splendid bonfire and the lighting of every possible light in the house, without black out, work on getting the Dover buildings back into condition was well under way.  As there seemed every possibility of Major Bruce Johnston getting an early release from the Army, it was decided to reopen Leamington House as, once again, an independent house.

As there were not many old members of the house still with us, a number of picked boys of all ages from the other houses were invited to join it, and there was a good response to this.

The idea of reopening the Junior School was abandoned, but not until the possibility of staffing such a school at Folkestone or at Waldershare had been considered and found impracticable.  (The possibility of using Waldershare Park was very attractive.)  The deciding factor was that of expense.  Much Junior School equipment had been taken into use at the College, in order to avoid the expense of war time replacements necessitated by wear and tear, and much of what remained was in very bad condition.  A new school would have had to be equipped from scratch, and at that date the cost was prohibitive.

The end of the last term at Poltimore was celebrated by a full scale Prize Giving at which our President, Colonel Astor, presided and expressed our gratitude to our many friends in Devonshire.  There was a performance in the gardens of scenes from A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and a presentation was made to Mrs Munns for the hard work she had done with the catering, which she had taken over again from Mrs Renwick for the last two and a half years.

The removal of the furniture from Poltimore to Dover was again done largely with the help of boys, while the rail containers were packed by professionals.  All the carrying at Poltimore was organised by Mr Pentecost and Bert Ellis between 10th and 15th September.  At Dover another gang under the Headmaster and Major Ewart first removed all the furniture from the Refectory to the houses and class-rooms, and then competed eagerly to see if they could unload and distribute what came from Devon as fast as the Poltimore gang had loaded it.

The Autumn Term at Dover began on 5th October with the arrival of 163 boys, of whom only two (?) had been at Dover before the war (and those had been at the Junior School).  Every boy had been issued in advance with detailed instructions, including a map of the Close.  It was a strange sight to see boys getting out their maps in order to discover where their various houses were!

Life was not easy at first, chiefly because St Martin’s House was not ready.  Major Ewart and his family lived temporarily at 18 Folkestone Road, and their matron, Miss Smith (who had been with us throughout the war) at the Sanatorium.  The boys slept in the Refectory, and were distributed for meals between the other houses.  The Junior day-boys were found accommodation at No 16 Effingham Crescent.  The Library was housed, for a long time, in the class-room behind Leamington House.  Gradually, however, things straightened themselves out, and St Martin’s was re-occupied before the term was out.

Naturally the financial position was not yet a happy one, and at the first Governors’ Annual Meeting since the war against Germany the Headmaster had to report that there were 51 boys paying reduced fees, which meant in effect a loss to the College of £3,183 p.a.  But prospects were bright.  In May 1945 at Poltimore there had been 138 boys.  In October at Dover there were 163; in January 1946, 181, and in May 1946, 197 (181 boarders and 16 day-boys).  In September 1946, when the fees were increased to £170 p.a. for boarders and £54 for day-boys, there were 182 boarders and 19 day-boys, and the College had once again passed the 200 mark.  The cuts in masters’ salaries came to an end.

The College was not yet entirely out of the wood, but there was no reason to fear that it could not survive.




(1) Pg 5 : I have been told that we sent Mr Baxter in advance to Tiverton that morning, but I have been unable to confirm this.

(2) Pg 5 : This decision was later cancelled, and in September 1939 all possible children were evacuated, and the College Close was used as the embossing point.

(3) Pg 8 : At the time of writing these figures seem absurdly low, but the £ was worth three or four times more in those days.

(4) Pg 9 : As the College had evacuated voluntarily, it was not eligible, as other schools were, for a Government grant towards the cost of moving to Devon.

(5) Pg 10 : The College mounted an armed post at night on a nearby hill; the first to be manned in Devon and probably one of the first in the country.

(6) Pg 12 : Our Air Raid Precautions never really satisfied the local authority, which wished us to dig slit trenches in the garden and occupy them whenever an air-raid siren sounded.  The Headmaster was convinced that such action would involve the boys in a risk of death from pneumonia far greater than any from bombs.  There were certain parts of the house that were well screened and seemed strong, and these became assembly points indoors, which were occupied on one or two occasions, but mainly for practice.

In the course of the war there were many alarms sounded, due to planes passing overhead or to tip-and-run raids on the nearby aerodrome.  We usually disregarded them, except for manning fire stations at night.  No reports of anything of this sort appear in The Dovorian, as stringent security regulations forbade it.  (The picture of German agents studying The Dovorian at least 3 months after each event is an amusing one!)

A Picture Gallery of Dover College at Poltimore Manor During The Evacuation 1939 – 45