Postgraduate Profiles: Charles Whitney – WWI Volunteers in Cheltenham

This post comes from Charles Whitney, who recently completed an MA by Research at the University of Gloucestershire. Charles was supervised by Dr Vicky Randall and Prof. Melanie Ilic.

This research resulted from a project into former pupils of Dean Close Memorial School, Cheltenham, known as Dean Close School from World War I onwards, who died as a consequence of World Wars I and II. This led to the publication of a short book entitled We Will Remember Them: Old Decanians Who Lost Their Lives as a Result of Conflict (Herefordshire, Logaston Publishing, 2014).


Further research indicated that specifically Evangelical Christian schools, such as Dean Close School, in the Headmasters’ Conference of public schools (HMC) at the end of the Victorian and into the Edwardian period, were a small, informal but distinct group. It raised the question of whether the recruitment or war records of former pupils would be any different than those of former pupils from other types of public school.

Volunteering from public school leavers was considerable immediately after the declaration of, and throughout, World War I. Dean Close School had its own distinct perspective on values and beliefs, being explicitly Evangelical Christian. The research and resulting thesis explored the extent to which that approach to education influenced attitudes, values and behaviour of former pupils when volunteering for active service. There was also an examination of the part played in that school community by its magazine, The Decanian.

The resulting thesis reviewed the school’s history and ethos. It looked at masculinity and the development of Christian manliness and growth of Athleticism that were part of the general public school experience of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Dean Close Curriculum in its broadest sense was discussed and the part The Decanian played both in disseminating news and reflecting that curriculum was examined.

The recruitment of former pupils, or Old Decanians (ODs), was detailed and The Decanian‘s role in providing a conduit of information between school and front line discussed. The magazine’s bias and reporting approach was examined, as was its presentation of Old Decanians’ conduct in the War. Through appropriate tables, the contribution and sacrifice of Old Decanians as against those of former pupils of other public schools in different contexts were compared. A conclusion offered an explanation for the results obtained and an assessment of the contribution made by The Decanian to the Dean Close community, both former and present, during World War I.

The thesis aimed to show the specific contribution and sacrifice to the World War I public school effort made by an Evangelical Christian School. It also showed the information and insights possible in World War I studies using a school magazine of the period as a primary source. It concluded that as far as could be ascertained, there was little to choose in attitude, commitment and sacrifice between those public schools who were Evangelical Christian and those who were not. This was because Athleticism seemed to have substituted for Evangelical Christianity in terms of motivation, values and commitment even though a spiritual dimension may have been lacking in some instances.

The Postgraduate Student Experience

As a part-time, retired person living out of Cheltenham, my experience was decidedly mixed. On the plus side, my tutors were always interested, sympathetic and mainly positive. They had most helpful suggestions as to ways forward, books to read, places for additional, relevant material. They were obviously key in helping me shape what I was to present and how I was to present it. They were also enormously understanding when there was a family crisis and I had to defer research for six months. I was invited to History seminars that were often interesting.

As someone who came to computers comparatively late in life, my confidence with them is low and my competence level rudimentary. When I had to put my limited IT skills to use, I was sometimes close to despair and I often had to rely on others to guide me. Although help is available at the university, I would advise others to brush up their IT skills in advance of taking on such a demanding project. I was and am enormously grateful to the ‘Helpzone’ staff, the Information Advisor and to Research Administration, who between them saw me through.


Neil Wynn says:

Good to hear this research came to fruition … I liked the fact tutors were “mainly positive”! and seminars were “often interesting”!!
Well done charles!

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