Vanbrugh Castle School

Reunion Speech 2021

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Frank Valentine's Speech

Good afternoon everybody. A warm welcome to you all at this gathering to mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Vanbrugh Castle School. It is lovely to see so many here.

I am Frank Valentine, also an old boy. I came here in 1947 when the school reopened after the war and stayed here for the next eleven years.

I’m also the person behind the school website which I began many years ago when it looked as though the school had disappeared into the mists of time.

Happily, those mists have lifted today. It’s quite clear that this place hasn’t faded from our memories.

I was wondering if I might be the most ancient old boy here today but I’m pleased to say that claim has been trumped by someone who was here from 1936 to 1939 and he is Bernard Langdon. [Applause as he is identified]

Our hosts

This reunion would not have been possible without the support from the current owners of the dormitories, laboratories, lavatories and sundry other rooms that we knew as a school. We are indebted to them for their generosity in inviting us back here today.

They are: the Taylor family (Martin, Lisa, Harry, Lucy and Bill) in the Wakefield Wing, and from two of the apartments in the castle - David and Jocelyn and Emilie and Josh.

It is incredibly kind of them to invite us here to take over their homes for the day. I think they have all been labelled so you should be able to pick them out quite easily.

Before we continue please can we show our gratitude to them with a round of vigorous applause.

This reunion

For organising this reunion we must thank two people in particular - the ever enthusiastic Lisa who has done so much over the years to uncover the history of the school, and old boy Danny Downes who has deployed his organisational skills to the full for this event. [Applause]

Our guest

We had hoped to welcome here today a special guest, Kirsty Mitchell, the Chair of the Alexander Duckham Memorial Schools Trust. As I am sure you all know it was the business man and early aviator Alexander Duckham who donated his former home, Vanbrugh Castle, to the Royal Air Force Memorial Fund (later re-named the Benevolent Fund) which enabled it to open Vanbrugh Castle School here in 1921. The Duckham Memorial Schools Trust was established in 1997 and continues to promote the education and welfare of RAF children in need.

Unfortunately Kirsty has tested positive for covid so she isn’t here. As Danny has indicated elsewhere any surplus from our donations today will be sent to this organisation.

The School

It would be remiss of me not to say a few words about life at the school. So here in a couple of sentences is my summary.

From the RAF widows point of view, suddenly left to bring up three or four children on her own, this place must have seemed like a godsend. But of course she had no idea how her boys would get on here far away from home.

From the boys’ point of view their experience of the school would depend on the epoch in which they were here.

From 1921 to 1950 life for the boys here was pretty grim. These are precise dates corresponding with the first head’s reign of terror. The school worked by suppressing personal liberties and imposing strict discipline. There were no organised activities to amuse the boarders or keep them occupied and out of mischief. Corporal punishment ruled.

Thankfully over the following years as the school developed, a more enlightened regime came about which improved things no end for the boys. It came as a surprise when I found out that a couple of boarders, here in this period, had returned as teachers. That is surely proof that life for the boys had improved …. or perhaps they were just desperate to get a job!

I jest for Brian & David were very well liked by the boys they went on to teach.

The most radical changes took place in the latter years of the school’s existence. With well organised activities - trips abroad, a cinema, band playing, rock climbing, piano playing, weaving, sports and a host of other things for the boys to do - this place became a veritable holiday camp. No wonder, in this period, most of the boys enjoyed themselves no end.

Mothers who sent there boys here in these times must have been very happy they did so.

Thats the end of my shortened history. If you wish to fill in the many gaps, I can recommend a good website!

I can see you are itching to climb on the walls again, so I will stop there and hope you all have a very enjoyable afternoon.


Addendum - this was left out of the speech

To finish I would like to share with you an item from one of my school reports.

The headmaster had written something which I think was intended to make my mother give me a good talking to when I got home. I don’t remember what her reaction was, but I liked the the essence of the criticism and have used it as my guide for day to day living ever since. The report said “Frank succeeds in all he attempts, unfortunately he attempts very little.”.