Leaders: Profiles in Courage and Bravery in War and Peace 1917-2020
By ROBIN KNIGHT
(Uniform – £15.99)
ISBN 978 1 913491 62 8
There were three nautical training establishments to train officers for what was to become (after the First World War) the Merchant Navy. They had close links with the Royal Navy, indeed their ‘pupils’ were all RNR cadets (when the RNR was exclusively for members of the merchant service), and two, HMS Worcester and HMS Conway, originally accommodated in hulks, were allowed to retain the prefix ‘HMS’. The third, and youngest, founded in 1917, was Pangbourne Nautical College (now Pangbourne College). Like Dartmouth, boys entered aged 13 and while Dartmouth transitioned from being a public school with a nautical ethos to being a naval college, Pangbourne, which started out as a nautical college, is now a public school albeit with a decided Royal Naval flavour; pupils wear the uniform of naval officer cadets, and of course it has the magnificent Falkland Islands chapel.
The links were closer than just uniform, the Admiralty established a distinct entry scheme for cadets originating from them (and from the South African training ship the General Botha) alongside the special entry scheme, and Dartmouth itself. While this book is mostly about the doings of those who fought in the three armed services (mostly the RN), the colleges were intended to provide merchant service officers. Indeed, in a book published in 1952 (We Joined the Navy by John Winton) a potential RN cadet at the Admiralty interview board says “They told me at Pangbourne I hadn’t a snowball’s chance of getting in the P & O and I’d better try the RN…”. A bit of an in-joke, more than 40 former cadets were serving in the P & O in 1960. Despite this, many went into the navy directly from school and via the RNVR when war came.
It is a pity that the book does not have an introduction to include something of the history of the College for ‘non-Pangbournians’ which would give it a wider appeal. This is mainly an account of former cadets (Old Pangbournians, ‘OPs’) wartime exploits, although a couple of chapters cover OPs sporting and other successes. 177 OPs were to die in WW2, which considering the size of the school (barely 100 when it first opened in 1917) is a significant number. The major part of the book recounts the doings of many of them, mostly in one of the naval services, a substantial number in the RAF and fewer in the army, and some were even in the Merchant Navy! Some names will be familiar to members of the Naval Review, many less so. The accounts of their doing often fill in gaps; it is obvious that the author has not just re-hashed other published accounts. For example, the section on Roger Hill, who gained high praise from Phillip Vian (not an OP) a DSO and a DSC but ended up a passed over Lieutenant Commander, probably because nobody wrote an S206 on him for four years, includes details not in his autobiography.
While now (according to Wikipedia) only three or four pupils a year go into the Armed Forces, even in the years after World War Two many did, and as the chapter on the Falklands relates that almost 50 OPs took part in Operation Corporate, 30 in the Royal Navy of whom seven achieved flag rank. One commanding officer Mike Harris (54-59) [sic] even had an OP as his First Lieutenant!
Whether this book is about leaders is moot, although many leaders are included, as Captain Peter Hore says in his foreword, it certainly contains profiles in courage and bravery, and a lot of devotion to duty, exemplified by a truly remarkable number of honours and awards. The men and latterly women included certainly lived up to the school motto Fortiter ac Fideliter (bravely and faithfully).