Month: January 2004

2004 OSA President – Lt Col Michael Johns JP

It is the early 1950s. Shebbear is bursting at the seams. Under JBM’s energetic and inspired headship, the number of boarders creeps towards the 250 mark. Few new buildings then. Boys sleep out – Buckland House, the Vicarage, the Manse … The school bustles with vitality. Competition to get into school teams is intense. House matches are fought with ferocious zeal. There are four scout troops. On stage in the Old Third, soon to be transformed into the Memorial Hall, something is always being rehearsed.

It is an environment that shaped many lives.

We look through the magazines of the period to discover how M.O.Johns was developing. A rugby player certainly; in the 2nd XV but soon to be promoted to the 1st. His ability in the senior team is applauded by EGEL.

He is a keen scout – a patrol leader in the Senior Troop. Leadership qualities already showing. A Sub-Prefect, too. This privilege allowed occupancy of the “subs hut”, furnished with leather chairs, a darts board and an electric wall fire for making toast. He does not ignore his studies and is heading for a good clutch of O-levels, including Latin. He is a Librarian.

We get some clues as to the direction he will take when he leaves Shebbear in 1957. An edition of the Shebbearian reviews JBM’s “zestful production” of Shaw’s Arms and the Man. We read that “Michael Johns capably portrayed a Russian officer.” Arms … officer … could a military career lie ahead?

Then in an earlier magazine, there is a report of a mock trial held in the old library and organised by the Union Society. Before Mr Justice Dickinson, Commander William Daniel is sued for breach of promise by Mrs Eliza Jones.

Evidence was given by a Pc Johns, “a stalwart constable of Holsworthy” …

Michael Johns left Shebbear and was called up for two years’ of National Service in the army. Quickly, he was picked out as someone of potential to be an officer. After attending Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lt and served in Kenya, Muscat and Oman.

In 1960 he joined the Devon Constabulary as Pc No 689. Two years later he rejoined the Army and was awarded a Regular Commission. He served with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Rangers, undertaking duties in Muscat, Oman, Aden, Bahrein, the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, Berlin, BAOR and Northern Ireland.

He was also attached to the Royal Ulster Constabulary for two years.

Retiring from the Army in 1979, he returned to Holsworthy where for four years he was Transport Manager for West Devon & Cornwall Farmers Ltd. From 1983-86, he was Clerk to Bude and Stratton Town Council.

He was a member of the area’s Youth and Adult Training Team from 1986-96 and subsequently has “been self-employed in many, various occupations and tasks”.

He has been a Magistrate on the North Devon Bench since 1990.

Proposing him as President, Bill Oke, a lifelong friend, said: “He has had a worthy and sometimes colourful career. He is a community man, a man always willing to help or to give advice. A man always ready to go that extra mile.

“He is sincere – and he can be wonderfully hilarious. He is conscientious, likewise he is caring.

“He will, I know, fly the OSA flag with enthusiasm throughout the coming year.”

2004 – 96th OSA Reunion and Dinner Report

Mirus Bilis! Shebbear has reintroduced Latin. After how many years? Nobody seems to know. Furthermore, two verses of the school song are sung every Friday morning. In Latin, of course.

The subject is not exactly on the curriculum but is available as a spare-time activity, along with German. Old boys who struggled with the fifth declension await to hear how many take up the opportunity.

Good news, also, from the sports’ fields – the Ist XV managed to see off Plymouth College, Blundells, Grenville and Kelly College in the winter term. At the same time, the girls’ netball team had one of their most successful seasons.

No wonder then that Headmaster Bob Barnes was in an upbeat mood at the 97th OSA reunion dinner at the RAF Club in Piccadilly on January 24, helped, no doubt, that at last his new house is taking shape on the Lake Chapel side of Beckley field.

His toast to the association set the tone for a good-humoured and even exuberant reunion with a splendid meal of venison and numbers totalling 77.

It was good to note that there were more younger members attending than ever before, among them a good showing of old girls.

There was even a memory test for the “ancients”. Keith Arnold brought up a school photograph dating from 1938.

So what of the school in its 163rd year of existence?

Bob Barnes answered the question as he replied to the President’s toast to the school: Shebbear College, he said, was very much going forward, both academically and financially.

“Last year was best financially in 14 years. Now we can actually reinvest in its infrastructure to make it the best small independent school in the south west.” That reinvestment was going into teaching resources, into computers – not just for the computer and business studies’ centre – but one for every room in the school and into the new 6th form centre.

Academically, more than 70% of pupils sitting last year’s GCSE examinations had achieved five passes or more ranging from A* to C.

That put Shebbear into the top 20% of schools in the United Kingdom.

There had been a change in routine. Now morning service in chapel took place before morning break. “And if pupils don’t sing – they don’t get a break!” he added. The school stressed moral values and standards.

“Shebbear College is working flat out to ensure that when pupils leave they are fully prepared to face and play their part in the modern world; that they are independent and able to speak up for themselves.

“We at Shebbear work tremendously hard to achieve that because we have hopes for our pupils.”

The school had had an outstanding year with regard to music and drama. Violinist and pianist Rebecca Betambeau had been appointed leader of the North Devon Youth Orchestra.

At the centenary celebrations in London of the 14 schools in the Methodist group, Shebbear had been the smallest school taking part but had contributed the most. “Some schools were more than six times as big as us.”

He went on: “As a collective the college is in very good heart compared to how it was when I first arrived. Wherever you go people speak very highly of its pupils, their academic excellence and their moral fibre.”

Over recent years £750,000 had been invested in the infrastructure. All this had come out of revenue – “making us the envy of schools in the west”.

“Shebbear is easily the most successful school in the Methodist group.” President David Shorney, proposing the toast, said he had enjoyed his year of office immensely, especially his visits to Shebbear in the summer.

He recalled his father’s time as a teacher at college and said there was always a danger that some might confuse father with son but instead he had been flattered at being recognised by people he had not seen for fifty years.

There had been a Shebbear boy called into the RAF in 1948 who was summoned to see his Commanding Office. He marched in with some trepidation. “Rodney – how nice to see you,” said the CO.

It was Old Shebbearians Alfred Earle, later to become Sir Alfred Earle, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff. “Being recognised can be a good thing,” he added.

He was grateful to Shebbear for having made so many differences to his life. It had fostered his love of music and singing, books and radio which, in that remote school, had been the only link with the outside world.

The toast to the OSA was jointly and charmingly proposed by Cara Hyman, Head Girl, and Greg Barnes, Head Boy, and responded to by Paul Sanders.

Then came the award of the War Memorial Scholarship. Charles Verney reminded guests that the award owed its origins to the work Lt Col Walter Parkes, H.E.Down and John Rounsefell.

Their aim had been to establish a fund in memory of the many Old Shebbearians who gave their lives in two world wars to provide a grant to help old pupils in higher education.

This time the recipient was Debbie Kinsey, of Winkleigh, who had achieved four A grades in her A-levels and was now reading Political Science at York University. The evening drew to a close but not before Lt Col Michael Johns JP was elected as President for 2004, Michael Buckingham as vice-President and the committee en masse.