Stowe

In 1923 I became a pupil at Stowe at the beginning of its life as a Public School. Unlike established Public Schools all the pupils were 13/14 years old. In many ways it seemed more like a grown up Preparatory School. There were a few older boys, prefects imported from Lancing together with J F Roxburgh, our new Headmaster, who had been the Sixth Form master there. They had graded us as best they could into the various Forms, and I was placed in Remove B. David Niven was one of us and I remember him as an extrovert, very pleasant and with a gift for amusing everyone with his quick sketches of events going on outside the classroom windows, where there was always a lot of building taking place. Our Form Master was the deputy headmaster, the Rev. Ernest Earle, a delightful man who, like J F Roxburgh, was a Latin scholar. He had a great sense of humour, had no difficulty in keeping strict discipline and, as a result was a good teacher. He must have been for I obtained a Credit in Latin in my final Certificate. And Niven, for all his cunning and concealing his sketches was nicely brought down to earth when Mr Earle was asking each of us what subjects we wished to take in the final Certificate: “Niven, may I suggest you take Drawing?” I believe Niven did so and obtained a Credit in it. Our English lessons were taken by Mr Arnold – son of Arnold of Rugby I believe – who was often impressed by Niven’s gift for narrative – which was later to blossom into ‘The Moon’s a Balloon’ and others.

About J F Roxburgh – always known as ‘J F’ a much respected man who did so much for us all at Stowe. My wife and I were at Stowe when he retired, and I remember the shock of the day he died. It was then I realised how much we had all loved that man, and that everything which had gone well and smoothly in my life was due in no small measure to his influence during the four short years I was under it. My younger son, who will be 50 in two months’ time, has just asked me what it was like to be 50. I remembered JF’s final words when I left Stowe in 1927 “ People will tell you to remember your school days as the best in your life; this is utter tosh – the best years are always ahead.”

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