Another excellent year for the school, with numbers of both day pupils and boarders rising and the governors releasing a million pounds from income to pay for more improvements.

That was the central message from headmaster Bob Barnes at the annual reunion dinner of the Old Shebbearians Association held at the RAF Club in Piccadilly, London, on January 21.

He said the school roll stood at 280 – a 10 year high – and by Easter should be at least 285 which would be the highest for 14 years.

Furthermore , the number of boarders had risen to 90, thereby bucking a national trend against boarding.

There would be 47 candidates sitting the entrance examination at the school for Year Seven and five for Year Nine. Another candidate would be taking the examination in Bali. Tuis was the highest number of candidates for Shebbear since 1990.

“It is a reflection on how well the school is doing. Our reputation locally and wider is getting greater and greater,” said Mr Barnes. “Indeed, this year at Shebbear we have pupils from France, Germany, Spain, Canada and Hong Kong. We have even had an application from Azerbaijan and interest also from the United States and Australia. It is warming to know that we being looked at globally as well as on a local scale.”

If the news from the headmaster was good, then the attendance at the 98th consecutive annual dinner was just as heartening. A total of 103 guests and Old Shebbearians -more than half of recent vintage and many old girls – attended.

Grace was said by the Rev. Geoffrey Wrayford and the assembly stood in silence to remember Old Shebbearians who had died since the last gathering. The now customary toast to absent friends was made.

Continuing with his reply to the toast to the school, proposed by President Michael Buckingham, Mr Barnes reported a truly unique event – the arrival of the first true, all Shebbearian – a baby born to former pupils Michael Carpenter and Charlotte Brady, who had married after leaving Shebbear.

Another new arrival was the first full-time Chaplain for eight years. The Rev. Oluyemisi Jaiyesimi, from Nigeria, was doing a remarkable job.

And what of the improvements to the fabric of the school?

The Pollard House had been totally refurbished. Double glazing was being installed in most of the bedrooms.

“And,” he said, “This is really going to hurt. We are spending money on new bedroom furniture as well! Perhaps , he suggested, constant hot water and a central heating system that worked marked the end of the character-building cold of yesteryear and was producing a “real bunch of softies?”

Old Shebbearians, old and young, roared their agreement.

There were other improvements: the kindergarten had been redeveloped, the refurbishment of the science block would be completed by Easter, new desks and chairs had been purchased for most classrooms and interactive whiteboards would be standard throughout the school.

Shebbear was also seeking to improve links with the village. A joint venture scheme was going ahead to put a synthetic turf pitch on Dartmoor field.

More thought was going on to try to improve links with the local community to provide joint facilities

“Compared to other schools, we are now one of the most sound, forward looking schools in the area. There is a lot to be proud of in that.”

Shebbear added value to education and that made it a leader in the market place. The school had come a long way through difficult times. “We are a business as well as an educational institution – never lose sight of that.”

He congratulated Mike Heath and John Harding on organising the 40 years on reunion at Shebbear in May.

“There were a lot of them. They enjoyed staying in a girls’ house (it was half-term) They liked the cushions, the smell of perfume and the messages left in lipstick on the mirrors!

“The group, from Canada, from Tasmania, from far away in |Britain,. was fantastic. Such a sense of fun, whether walking around the college, in the village pub, the church, walking around the Triangle.

“I would suggest we do this more often. If you are passing please drop in to see us. The school is changing and needs you to reaffirm the links between the school and the Old Shebbearians.”

The toast to Shebbear was proposed jointly by Emily Cooper, Head Girl, and Jack Warner, Head Boy. Mike Heath, responding, reiterated his thanks to the Headmaster and the school for the warm hospitality he and his 40-years-on group had received during the May reunion.

War Memorial Fund

Then, former President David Shorney was called on to make the War Memorial Fund award. Before doing so, he outlined the history of the fund and called on Old Shebbearians to support it.

“It has been said that Shebbear is a very special place and that was no more so than 80 years ago when Old Shebbearians got together to found the fund six years after the end of the First World War.

“Those who founded it themselves found it very difficult to come to terms with the fact that 48 of their number were no longer with them because they had died in France or Gallipoli or one or other of the war zones of the first major conflict of the 20th Century. They wondered how they could honour the memory of the men who died and for whom they felt a great affection – their friends.

“They collected £1,000 or thereabouts which in present day values was the equivalent of £100,000.

“I think that one of the reasons why they did it was because Shebbear up to 1914 was a pacifist school. It had two headmasters who were pacifists who had been brought up to abhor war. I doubt whether half a dozen Shebbearians went into the armed services between 1841 and 1914. And yet when war came they volunteered in their scores, their hundreds, because they believed it was a cause worth fighting for. Many paid the price.

“So for Shebbear the losses of that war meant more than for most other schools which had strong military traditions.

“During the last year we have tried to augment the fund. Five years ago at the annual reunion we decided to change the fund’s remit to award scholarships to boys and girls at Shebbear. An appeal was launched in June. We have had a very generous response but until we get a 100% response we will not be able to award scholarships.

“Although there are many who can afford to keep their sons and daughters at Shebbear, there are some who cannot and find themselves having to withdraw their children before they have completed their education. We would like to ensure that this never happens in the future.

“But only you and your friends can do that. I appeal to you tonight for no-one to leave this room without filling in a standing order form.

“The Head has already talked about cementing links between the school and old pupils. One of the best ways to do that would be to support the fund year in and year out so that we can make a major contribution to Shebbear in the years ahead. “

He said it was hoped the first scholarship would be awarded in September, 2007.

This year’s award to a former pupil in higher education was made to Rebecca Betambeau who is studying music at Birmingham Conservatoire – someone “who has enchanted us year after year by her music at speech days”.

With that it was left only for His Honour Judge David Pugsley to propose Simon Birks as President for 2006; Chris Blencowe, vice-President, and the re-election of David Haley, Secretary; Michael Buckingham, Treasurer, and the committee en bloc.