Putting Something Back

Michael Roberts 1905 - 12 B

Michael Roberts 1905 - 12 B

When you are at school, you accept things; they just come up, like assemblies, the sun, exams, lunches, lessons, cross-country runs. But other things come up as well – like prizes, awards, medals, advice, interest, encouragement, opportunity, somebody being there. You accept all that too. If pressed to say why, you might have remarked, 'Our parents paid good money for it.'

Yes, they did. But that is only half the truth. A lot of what 'comes up' does not figure in a School end-of-term bill or a balance sheet. What am I saying? I am saying that a lot of people do a lot for the School with no expectation of payment, or even of recognition. And often the most unlikely people.

Look at this photograph. At first glance he seems a typical old buffer. And we don't take old buffers seriously, do we?

He was a brigadier actually. Brigadier Michael Rookherst Roberts, DSO, MC. Seeing him like this, one finds it hard to picture him as a small, very new boy. He was born in 1894, and came to the School in 1905, from Ifracombe.

Before he had left, he had played cricket and football for the School, won his colours at both, and was top of both batting and bowling averages. He won the Donegall Badge for shooting, he was Athletics Champion, and won a couple of Exmoors, the second in record time. He was President of the Debating Society (before it was reincarnated as the Phoenix), Head of School, and – of course – holder of the Fortescue Medal. He appears to have been pretty popular too, because Old Boys years later were referring fondly to 'Mickey' Roberts; you don't usually get names like that if you are not liked.

He won the MC in the First World War, and the DSO in the Second, and ended, as I said, as a brigadier, in the Gurkhas. He also became a distinguished historian.

During all those years he regularly attended all sorts of Old Boys' functions, and served as President of the Association twice. He sat on the Board of Governors, and was Chairman for several years. After that, he was Chairman of the Friends of West Buckland. When he died in 1977, he had been associated with the School for 72 years.

In all that time, everything he did for the School was done without payment, or indeed any expectation of payment. He did it because he wanted to. He was grateful to the School; he wanted to put something back.

Now many of you may be thinking, 'Yes, that's all very well, but we can't all be like good old Mickey Roberts.' True; we can't all win the Exmoor in record time, or come top of the batting averages. But we all have the capacity to put something back, if we feel like it.

You don't think about things like this when you are at school, not even when you have left, and you are building a life. But somewhere along the line, you may pause and remember – a friendship, an escapade, a perceptive teacher. A friend tells you he has joined the OWBA. You get curious. After a while, you are just passing, and you drop in just to see how the old place is getting on, and tell yourself that things are not what they used to be. You attend an OWBA dinner; you buy a raffle ticket; you lend a hand at a School fete. And that's how it all begins.

What are you doing? You are putting something back. You are doing what Brigadier-General Michael Rookherst Roberts did. And you won't care tuppence whether people think you're an old buffer or a has-been or a relic from another century. Look around you – there's another Mickey Roberts out there somewhere. Maybe several. And you will all do it for nothing.

Berwick Coates