The Staff in the 1930s


Before he died in September 2017 aged 97, the actor and writer Bryan Matheson (34-36) recorded some Memories of the Staff at the Nautical College during his time at the school.


Captain Tracy (Captain Superintendent): A handsome man with a pretty wife. He had a manner that was polished and urbane. To a junior cadet, he was a remote and impressive figure.


Captain Greig (Captain Superintendent): He was more the weather-beaten type. I was one of a number of cadets who were aboard ships of the line during King George V’s Jubilee Review of the Fleet in 1935. We were rehearsed assiduously by Captain Greig in the drill accompanying our arrival aboard our respective ships.


Commander ‘Jackie’ Blair (Executive Officer): A diminutive Scotsman, Irascible, but with often unexpected kindliness. Rigorous on moral standards. A lively sense of humour. A strict disciplinarian but also a great character.


Commander Macilwaine (Navigation Officer): Kindly, deep-voiced, rather remote. His patience was exemplary – particularly as he had to counter the insidious effects of the fumes from the evil-smelling coke-consuming fires which helped to heat the huts in which he taught. On cold afternoons, I was semi-conscious.


Harry Sykes (Maths & Chemistry): A rather Teddy Bear type – very much my idea of James Hilton’s Mister Chips. A gentle person, devoted to Pangbourne.


Percy Robinson (Maths): Rather bird-like, with a tendency to swoop on the unwary. His progress around the classroom when one was trying to unravel some especially unnerving sum was never relished. Dry sense of humour, rather pedantic enunciation.


Mr. Thorold (French): Memorable for his very emphasised pronunciation of French. He certainly made me remember that one does not pronounce ‘tu’ the same as ‘tout.’


Max Findlater (History & Geography):  A rather mournful voice and face. At some stage he was lumbered with Geography which was not his subject. When he was not clear on facts, he would go to his desk top, and, after some quick swotting, return to the fray!


Ewart Masser (Music): Thanks to him, I first heard Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and attended my first classical music concert in Reading. Little time was spent on choir practice in my day – but that was not Mr. Masser’s fault.


William Stamper (Chief Petty Officer): Known to the cadets as ‘Iron Bill.’ He always seemed to me a natural leader. In his spare time, he was an insatiable reader. Reputed to ride his bicycle each morning without dismounting from the village to the parade ground.


Charlie Sewell (Instructor): Responsible for most official business – punishment of offenders, leave passes and so on. He instructed us in Signalling.


Mr. Hennings (Instructor): Took early morning PT at 0600 hours on the parade ground, come rain, snow or hurricane. Very dapper and precise.


‘Bunjey’ Martin (Instructor): He was the boxing instructor and his features certainly suggested considerable ring experience. A very ripe complexion whi9ch no doubt was intensified by his nightly visits to the ‘Cross Keys. Very much a character.