Prince Rupert School
Wilhelmshaven, Germany, 1947 to 1972

Operation Union, which allowed the married British servicemen and civilian members of the Occupation Forces to have their families join them in the occupied zones of Germany, started in September 1946. With so many units scattered throughout the occupied zone, most areas did not have enough children to justify opening local schools. As a result, schooling for most children was very limited, some children initially being taught in classes covering a wide age range, and many having to travel long distances in trucks to school. Others were being taught privately in their own homes. Many older children had no formal lessons for a year, until the opening of the first boarding school at Wilhelmshaven.
Prince Rupert School (PRS) opened in July 1947 and is believed to be the first comprehensive, co-educational, boarding school under the terms of the 1944 Education Act. The school, for the children of the British Armed Forces and Control Commission personnel stationed in the British Zone of Germany, was situated in Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea Coast. The site had originally been a German Naval submarine base for two Training Flotillas. At the end of the Second World War the site was occupied by the Royal Navy and called H.M.S. Royal Rupert. Subsequently, the Royal Navy vacated the site to allow it to be used as a school and formally handed it over on 1st July 1947, by the lowering of the White Ensign and the raising of the Union Jack. Present at this ceremony were many of the first 70 pupils who were attending school for a one-month trial period, prior to the full complement reporting to the school on 7th of September 1947. Unfortunately, some pupils missed the ceremony as their truck got lost on the way to Wilhelmshaven! So it was that Prince Rupert School (PRS) was born. Mr Smitherman, the first Headmaster, chose that name in recognition of the kindness and help he had received from the Royal Navy personnel of HMS Royal Rupert. PRS was home for some pupils for as short a period as one term; yet others remained as long as six years or more. It is a place that many remember with great affection, though there will always be some who for many various reasons did not enjoy their time there.

Bunker and flagpole with Union Jack raised after handover Ceremony (Note the HMS Royal Rupert sign still in position behind the flagpole)

Some of the milestones in the school history are recorded below.1947 In the first full term beginning in September 1947 there were 250 pupils, who were accommodated in five boarding houses, all named after well known British Admirals. The four senior houses had an equal mix of boys and girls who lived on separate floors, each supervised by a Housemaster and Housemistress. The fifth house was for boys aged between 11 and 12 years of age, who, on attaining age 13, moved on to a senior house. What other boarding school at that time could boast double-glazing and central heating, in buildings built pre World War II? The School continued to maintain good relations with the Royal Navy through the Sea Cadet Corps, which was formed shortly after mid-term in 1947.1948 The Official Opening Ceremony of the school by The Right Honourable George Tomlinson MP, Minister of Education, took place on 11th May 1948. During the ceremony, the Director of the British Families Education Service, Mr J Trevelyan, said, “This is the Official Opening Ceremony of this school – not, of course, the real opening, for that took place on the 1st of July last year with the arrival of seventy pioneers of over fourteen years of age, ‘guinea pigs’ who came to see whether the school worked or not!” To this day, the surviving members of that band of 70 pupils are still affectionately known as “the pioneers”, and we still meet many of them at our reunions. Following the success of the trial at Wilhelmshaven, another secondary boarding school, King Alfred School, Plön, was opened on 7th May 1948. The Minister of Education officially opened this second boarding school on the 12th of May 1948, the day following our official opening.1949 In the Spring Term the school uniform arrived: Navy Blue Blazer with White Badge, Grey Trousers/Shorts, Navy Blue Skirts/Gymslips, White shirt and Silver/Navy Striped Ties, Navy Blue Caps for the Boys and Berets for the Girls both with a smaller White Badge.1951 In the Spring Term plans were made to build a new gymnasium, a new range of classrooms, extra boarding houses and a new administrative block as school numbers were set to increase. Also new playing fields would be required.1952 In the Spring Term the School grew to 400 pupils and had a teaching staff of 28. To accommodate the additional children two boarding houses were established in another ex German Naval barracks on the Fleiderdeich. Shortly afterwards an extensive building programme was completed whereby all Nissen huts were replaced by modern classrooms, laboratories, offices and stores, and a gymnasium and other amenities were added.1953 In response to the increased demand for places arising from the increased number of Service families in Germany, expansion was resumed. Another German barracks on the Bonteheim, was adapted to accommodate 140 boys and another 110 places found by structural alterations on the main site and the Fleiderdeich. Similarly another 10 teaching spaces, mainly workshops and practical rooms were created, largely by adapting existing buildings and the teaching staff was expanded to 48 to cater for a roll of 670. Thereafter boys and girls lived in separate houses, with the girls located on the main site, and the boys in two houses on the Fliegerdeich with 95 boys in each house and two houses on the Bonteheim, each holding 65 boys. The following term the former staff quarters on the Fliegerdeich were vacated and taken over as a house for 30 junior girls.
The above are numbers and changes in the early years. Further changes came later when day pupils arrived at the school.1954 During the year the School was subjected to a general inspection and in their report Her Majesty’s Inspectors reached this conclusion: “Great difficulties confront this School; in addition to those implicit in the co-educational and comprehensive framework, it is beset by the constant turnover of pupils and staff, by the dispersal over three sites, and by expansion of numbers undertaken at a startling rate. Against this have been set a staff good in number and quality, generous facilities except for books, and the cooperation and support of the British Families Education Service and military authorities. It has triumphed, and a very good School is the result.”1955-56 A new church had been planned for some time and the building work for a new C of E Chapel began in 1955. The Bishop of Stepney laid the Foundation Stone for the Chapel of St Nicholas on 24th July 1955 and its Dedication was by the Bishop of Fulham on 6th May 1956.1959 The closure of King Alfred School Plön resulted in the transfer of some pupils and teachers to PRS. The school rolls reached their peak of 715 pupils.1961 Day pupils from Jever keep up the school rolls to near 700 and rumours of the school closure in 1962/63 were quashed. The Speech Day Guest of Honour was Flotillen-Admiral Max-Eckardt Wolff, Flag Officer Commanding German Naval Bases.1964 The School moved out of the Bonteheim Site.1966 The Headmaster reported that the school numbers were far too large for the existing facilities with the arrival of a large intake from the final closure of Lancaster School Osnabruck. The Spring Term was long and cold with eight foot drifts of snow on the main site. The School Sportzplatz was derequisitioned and handed back to the German authorities. Only the area alongside the swimming pool was retained for the sole use of the school1967 In this year there were 560 pupils: 520 boarders and 40 day pupils. (As reported in an HMSO publication called “Tommy Atkins’ Children”.)1969 The School roll was down to just 500 pupils.1972 With the run down of the number of Service Personnel in Germany and the distances children had to travel to Wilhelmshaven, it was inevitable that the Wilhelmshaven site would be closed sometime. Various plans to move the school further south had been mooted since the 1950s and the axe fell finally in June 1972 and the school moved to a new purpose built establishment in Rinteln. Prince Rupert School is still functioning at Rinteln as a school for the children of service families in Germany to this day. 

Headmasters – Between 1947 and 1972

The school had 5 Headmasters, though one was only Headmaster for one term, before returning to his previous school, due to a change of circumstances:

John S. H. Smitherman O.B.E., E.R.D., Croix de Guerre, M.A. – Summer 1947 to Summer 1951. A retired Lt Col who had served in the Suffolk Regiment during the war. He left the school at the end of July 1951 to take a new appointment as the first Headmaster of Woolverstone Hall, Ipswich. He was later awarded the O.B.E. for his services to education.Hugh E. Pacey C.B.E., M.A., M.Sc. – Spring 1952 to Summer 1957. He was awarded the C.B.E. in June 1957 for services to education and left the school to take over as Director of the British Families Education Service in Germany. A post he held from 1957 to 1966.Hugh Wallis-Hosken M.A. (Oxen), Dip. Ed., L.R.A.M. – Autumn 1957. Due to the impending closure of King Alfred School Plön, he moved to PRS as Headmaster on Mr Pacey’s departure. However, when he learned that his old School, which had been planned to close in July 1958 had been reprieved, he felt it his duty to return to Plön after the end of term.John R. I. Sharp M.A. – Summer 1958 to Autumn 1963. He went on to be headmaster of two other notable schools in the Lake District and Oxfordshire, setting out his ideas on education in two books “Educating One Nation” and “Open School”.John R. Meredith M.A. – Summer 1964 to Summer 1972. He moved with the school when it was relocated to Rinteln in June 1972 continuing in his post as Headmaster for a further three years. 

Life at School

The house that you lived in was the group you supported in all events around the school and inter-house rivalry was typical of any boarding school. Besides the normal school lessons, the school provided excellent sporting facilities and many pupils excelled at the various sports. There were also a wealth of other activities to occupy the time, such as a thriving Saddle Club, Sailing Club, Model Railway Club, Stamp Collecting Club, Sea Cadets (which in later years was converted to a Combined Cadet Force), Junior Red Cross, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, Sea Rangers, Dramatics Society, Ballroom dancing lessons, School Choir, Orchestra and a Music Society, to name a few! In the early days there was even a small farm tended by the pupils, which later had to go to make way for new buildings. Food and the ritual of 3 meals a day, plus the mid morning break, tea and cake (if you were lucky) at end of lessons and the evening hot drink and buns in the winter months occupied much time and thought of the pupils.

Sea Cadet Colour Party  Army Cadet Guard of Honour on Founders Day

Lessons – When the school opened and certainly throughout the years when Mr Smitherman was Headmaster, the school routine was lessons in the mornings, with the afternoons set aside for sport and hobbies. In the evenings, there were two more hours of lessons, and lessons again on Saturday mornings, except on free weekends. In the first few years, the main lessons were in the Nissen huts, with physical education classes in the main assembly hall, Churchill House, as were music lessons and choir practice. The Nissen huts were originally built as canteen facilities for H.M.S. Royal Rupert. At the beginning of the 1950’s, new classrooms in permanent buildings replaced the old Nissen huts and the buildings and classrooms are still on the site today. Rust can be seen on Nissen huts in the following photograph, this occurred due to the exterior being hosed down with water during the summer months to keep the classrooms reasonably cool.

Speech Day group outside Churchill House, with Nissen huts in view
New build and new classrooms behind the goalposts

Churchill House – The Main Assembly Hall was built during the Royal Navy occupation of the site. Over the front entrance of the building was a plaque commemorating Mary Churchill’s visit in 1945. This was where the school held morning assembly and it became the C of E Church on Sundays. On weekdays after assembly, it was cleared of the fold-up chairs and was used for the PE classes. On Saturdays, it was where we held Dances or Socials, performed School or House plays, and eventually became the school cinema. It was from here that regular Sunday Church services would be broadcast on the British Forces Network (BFN), and ‘The Festival of Nine Carols’ would be recorded for playing on the British Forces Network on Christmas Eve. In later years, a purpose built Gymnasium was built connected to Churchill House, and later still a new Church was built the other side of the Gymnasium, parallel to Churchill House.

Churchill House in 1947 – Front View
Churchill House in 1947 – Side view – viewed from the Bunker

Main Entrance to PRS – Many pupils will recall passing through this entrance in the first few years in the life of PRS, usually in the school buses going to or returning from the Sportzplatz for games, swimming or riding, with just about everyone joining in singing during the bus trips. In later years pupils will also have passed through the entrance when visiting Wilhelmshaven, once this became an accepted practice.

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Guardhouse by main entrance to PRS

School Magazine – The first magazine was produced at the end of the first full term. The Magazine Committee initially consisted of the Headmaster Mr J S H Smitherman, Mr J N Duxbury, Miss H M Sellar and four pupils, one of whom was the Editor. It was mainly produced by the pupils, as the Headmaster felt that it should represent their views. The Magazine title was “The Cavalier”. In later years a member of the teaching staff was appointed Editor of the magazine. Many former pupils still possess precious copies of the magazine. Over the 25 years at Wilhelmshaven, 38 Editions of The Cavalier were produced and a full set of the Magazines is held in the Memorabilia Collection of The Wilhelmshaven Association (TWA). Latterly a full set of Magazines has been deposited in the Imperial War Museum.Marriages – Many staff members met their future spouses at PRS, as did many of the pupils. So, PRS holds a special place in their lives.Old Pupils Association (OPA) – This was formed during the Autumn term in 1948 under the chairmanship of one of the teachers. As time went by with more pupils leaving to return to the UK, annual reunions in London became a regular event organised over the years by ex-pupils. On 18th December 1954, it was resolved at the AGM in London, that in future the OPA should be know as “The Cavaliers”. However, during the early 1960’s for various reasons the reunions were discontinued and “The Cavaliers”, as the Old Pupils Association was now known, disappeared. That is until 1993, when an ex-pupil, Liz Bird, who was at PRS from 1961 to 1964, formed a new association, The Wilhelmshaven Association. Full details of the Association and how to join appear elsewhere on this Web Site.If what you have read has triggered memories, which may be your own, or you have heard a parent, relation or friend talk about PRS, please advise them of the existence of TWA. They will, in most cases, be grateful that you told them. If you are an ex-pupil, or an ex-staff member, why not join us and renew old friendships. 

You can learn more about Prince Rupert School from the book:Prince Rupert School, Wilhelmshaven 1947 to 1972 which was published by TWA in May 2003. Unfortunately all 550 copies have now been sold to Members. Legal Deposits were lodged with the British Library, Oxford and Cambridge Universities, the National libraries of Scotland and Wales and Trinity College Dublin.

Joe Kinson (PRS 1947-1950)
December 2002