It is exactly 65 years since I arrived at my boarding school in Cheltenham as a new boy. A harrowing time for me for I did not know where to go and what to do. A bell rang and everyone disappeared.
I was left alone in the vast main corridor with 20 or so closed class-room doors to choose from. The head boy saw me and asked me which form I was in. I hadn’t a clue. I eventually arrived late in the English class.
The teacher put his arm around my shoulder, criminal offence these days, and told me not to worry, he was a new boy too and it had taken him a while to find the classroom.
He asked us all what we read. I’m not sure what I said but I was still at the Beano and Biggles stage, so were most of us.
“Let me see if I can interest you in some literature with more style and quality.” Said Mr Denys Carnill, the teacher. He read to us from Richard Hughes, In Hazard, a description of a steamship struggling against a hurricane in the Carribean.
Later he read to us a poem about Alamagordo and the detonation of the first atomic bomb. This was just 6 years after Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The wonder and horror of atomic power was still fresh in our minds. I understood it in a schoolboyish way with its imagery of man becoming as a god with power over energy and matter. Sadly, I have been unable to trace the poem to read again.
I was only in Denys Carnill’s class for one term. I realised later what and important and formative time it had been.
Denys Carnill taught hockey and he taught me how to play reverse sticks, a skill which got me into several teams later playing on the left wing. He was an amazing player, swift, accurate in his passing and always anticipating a few steps ahead of the rest of us.
After a game of Staff vs Old boys one of the visiting parents congratulated him on his standard of play. “You should keep it up, Old Boy,” he said, “You could probably get into the County team.”
Denys was too much of a gentleman to let on that he was already captain of the British Olympic Hockey team. He was three times an Olympian and won a bronze medal. He encouraged the development of all-weather pitches and there is one dedicated to his name at the school. Denys was delighted when a stream of old boys were selected to play hockey for the Forces, the Counties and some for England. He was also a good cricketer playing for minor counties for many years.
He was an inspiring teacher and served the school for the whole of his professional life. Later he taught economics and politics and invited politicians to give talks. Political ideas were then subjected to intense intellectual scrutiny and the right to free speech defended vigorously.
I was sorry to hear of his death early this year at the age of 90 and determined to go to his commemoration service in the school chapel last month. I had met him only once since leaving school when, on a return visit, he and I sat in the cricket pavilion on a summer afternoon watching the first XI play and discussing the merits of universities and different careers for school leavers.
Being back in the school chapel, a place where I had spent many boring hours, was strange. The standard of music was always high at Dean Close School and it is still. There was an anthem I had not heard before by Edgar Leslie Bainton (1880-1956) “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” An oneiric text which I looked up later in Revelations 21. Sorry to say the text degenerates into hellfire and damnation later in the chapter but that was not part of the anthem.
Finally, we all belted out the Cwm Rhodda just as we used to after an afternoon on the rugby pitch.
At tea and sandwiches afterwards I spoke to a young man who I thought was probably a sixth form boy. He turned out to be the deputy headmaster. It is not only policemen that look younger these days. It was good to be able to say a final farewell and appreciation of an inspiring teacher. His influence has lasted a lifetime.
Most of us must have been inspired by a teacher. It would be good to know your experiences.
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