Stories from the Archives: Luis Reflects on His Time at the English School in The Hague
Luis Fernández Herlihy MacGregor, whom we met in the last Stories from the Archives, was son of the Mexican consul in Rotterdam. He was appointed Head Pupil of the English School in 1939 and was one of the very few pupils to remain at the school right through until the time of the German invasion on 10th May 1940. Later in life he wrote what he called A Memoir about his time in The Hague, about the school, his teachers and some of the characters and events of those remarkable months. I have decided to reproduce some of what he wrote.
“I was duly enrolled in the English School which served children of English and American residents in The Hague as well as those of most of the diplomatic corps (like myself) and a few Dutch. Soon after my arrival there was also a small influx of affluent Jewish émigrés from Germany.
At the English School I found an academic turning point due entirely to the kind and dedicated teachers who seemed to have been determined to unlock some potential in me visible only to them. The headmistress was Mrs Brunton-Jones, a lovely, cheerful, dignified and calm New Zealander. It was fun to be in her class. She did not have to be a strict disciplinarian, she carried us along effortlessly. She taught us Geography in a delightful and unforgettable way. I remember especially our studying the Geography of Canada – she took us on an imaginary and exciting railway trip across the country from east to west, stopping at important or interesting places along the way and learning about them, their people, their industries and so on. Mrs Brunton-Jones was delightful, though formal when need be, and set a mannerly tone for the whole school.
My principal teacher was Miss Margaret Davies, a highly intelligent young English woman with short hair, invariably dressed in grey flannel two-piece skirt suits. She was a tough disciplinarian and a dispenser of heavy doses of homework, but she was also a fascinating and forceful, almost passionate teacher – the first whose approbation I eagerly sought. Under Miss Davies’s influence I made progress in English grammar and literature, in history, Latin and French; and I was enjoying it.
Arithmetic, algebra and geometry were still my downfall. My math teacher, a kind and quiet Welsh woman named Miss Olive Jones (late Bowen), must have recognised my block and set out to eliminate it. She suggested that we work together on math after school and then, after an hour or so, go ice-skating on one of the canals or do some other interesting thing. This we did, and with long, low Dutch skates with turned-up points tied to my shoes she taught me to skate holding on to the back of a chair which I pushed along in front of me. Pretty soon, and almost imperceptibly, the numbers started to come together and I found myself enjoying math almost as much as the other subjects. For the first time studies became my favourite part of school, my report cards improved and, one proud day, I was awarded the coveted Head Pupil badge which I still possess. I took and passed the eleven plus exams, and the British Royal Council presented me with a handsome embossed volume of Shakespeare “for proficiency in English.”
After I had been at the school a year and a half Mrs Brunton-Jones announced to my parents that it was the teachers’ consensus, given my age, that the school had nothing further to offer me and recommended that I transfer to one of the public schools in England. This caused considerable family turmoil since I most emphatically did not wish to leave. In the event Hitler solved our dilemma by invading the country.”
It would be nice to think that an ex-student of the BSN, reminiscing in the year 2080, would have similar feelings about their old school.
Stories from the Archives is a Voices Blog series by BSN Archivist Mike Weston.
Mr Mike Weston
BSN school archivist, detective and storyteller
Mike came to the English School at The Hague (BSN) in 1972 as Head of German, intending to stay for two years. Mike has been at the BSN for nearly 50 years. Over the years, he has taught a range of subjects and has been involved in many school activities. Starting a school archive from scratch and tracing the school’s history is the activity that has given him the most pleasure. Once he reached retirement age, he asked if he could stay on as the school archivist in hopes to be of service for a while yet. In this capacity, he regularly dives into the archives and comes up with some great stories. His stories are all our stories; enjoy them.
When asked what does he do? In limited space, he can only give the bare bones: Mike stores the BSN’s past. Strictly speaking that is the past of the whole school up to 1966 and after that date (when the BSN split into separate Junior and Senior Divisions) of the Senior School. He has past students’ records, about 150 photo albums going back to the 1940s, programmes, letters, realia, over 200 CDs and DVDs, magazines (beautifully bound in blue and gold!), newspaper clippings. And so on. It’s a long list. Much of the printed material has been scanned – a very onerous and time-consuming task. Mike deals with all manner of enquiries, from parents, alumni, colleagues, employers, other schools, embassies, the public, people being shown round the school.
He enjoys it very much when visitors come to the archive. If you would like to get a glimpse into the archives and hear a fascinating story (or two), just get in touch with Mike beforehand to arrange a time.
In case you missed it, you can read the last instalment of Stories from the Archives: Two Friends Separated by War