|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
Mr. W. A. Sibly
Less than a year after the foundation of Wycliffe in September, 1882, in the room above the oak room in the School House, Mrs G. W. Sibly gave birth to a son. William Arthur spent his childhood years in these grounds we know so well, in due course entered his father's school and rose by merit to be its senior boy. By his academic ability, his membership of the first elevens in cricket and football and, above all, by his character and his good naturehe won the affection and respect of his fellows.
Following his father to Lincoln College, he enjoyed immensely his time at Oxford, his only years away from Wyclifie until his retirement twelve years ago. Thereafter, living in Stonehonse except when on his travels, he was a familiar figure, to be seen in the School grounds on most days and recognised by even the youngest in the School.
Thus he was known to almost every boy at Wycliffe from 1882 to 1959-to our oldest O.W.s. [Old Wycliffians] as an infant in his pram, to those who were at the School at the turn of the century as Senior Monitor and a prominent athlete, to men now in their sixties as a vigorous young man embarking on his career and to all others as Headmaster. Yet this alone would not explain his place in the affections of O.W.s; to a very large number Wycliffe was W.A.S. and W.A.S. was Wycliffe.
EARLY YEARS AS HEADMASTER
After five years as an assistant master he became Housemaster of Springfield in 1910. Two years later, in consequence of a cycle accident which caused permanent injury to his father, W.A.S., at the age of thirty, succeeded as headmaster. Shadowed by anxiety for his father's health, it was a difficult start to thirty-five years of headship. Nor did troubles pass quickly; the outbreak of war in 1914 heralded four of the most difficult years of his life. Still young enough to join his fellows in Flanders, yet entirely responsible for the School, it was essential for him to remain at home and he felt the more keenly the death of so many of his friends on the field of battle. The publication of that admirable volume, Wycliffe and War, was his tribute - a gigantic labour of love - to the Old Boys who fought in that bitter struggle.
Yet life at home, though less dangerous, was very difficult in those years. With temporary masters, shortage of staff in all departments, food-rationing and innumerable problems, the Headmaster carried a heavy load. He did not allow this to prevent him continuing to give to the boys in term and in holiday camps the same cheerful, invigorating lead, and Wycliffe emerged in 1918 with strength and vitality to make full use of the years of peace.
W.A.S. himself often said that he never felt more grateful than when his brother returned safely after that war. In the next three years his appointment of Mr Reade, Mr Bevan and Mr Dixon brought to the Staff young and vigorous men to share the responsibility, leaving W.A.S. and his brother more time to consider the material needs of the School.
A TIME OF EXPANSION
Wycliffe was still a private school, for which the Sibly family carried the entire responsibility, so that the achievements of WAS. in developing its prestige and property, assisted by his brother and sisters and with his father's counsel until 1928, are all the more remarkable. In 1921 the Berryfield was purchased; in the same year a start was made on the building of the Library, the classroom opposite to it, the Assembly Hall and the adjacent buildings; all were completed in 1924. In 1921 the Tower and Spire were added to the Chapel as a memorial to the Old Boys killed in the War, in 1927 the east wing was added to Springfield and Ryeford Hall was purchased to be opened as a Junior School. All of these reflect the vision, wisdom and courage, the endeavour, tenacity and determination which have enabled those of the present generation to enjoy Wycliffe as it is today.
A PUBLIC SCHOOL
One can imagine the mixed feelings with which W.A.S. must have contemplated handing over the School to the first Council of Governors in 1931, though he himself had taken the initiative in this step. There must have been a sense of relief that the financial responsibility was carried by others but it cannot have been easy. after being entirely his own master, responsible to no one, for nearly twenty years, to become the servant of that Council. It says much for his adaptability and his readiness to co-operate that f or the next sixteen years he was able to work in such harmony with the Chairman, Mr Edwards, and with the members of the Council, each one of whom became a closer personal friend with the passing years. In many matters the Council was guided very largely by him and he in turn rejoiced in the practical help they were able to provide in the fulfilment of his plans.
He saw with pleasure the building of Windrush in 1932, the work of
his sister, the Sanatorium in 1933, the Old Science Block in '935 and
the opening of the Swimming Bath in 1936.
Once again his work was to be interrupted by a major war, this time more seriously. The selection of Wycliffe, in a safe area, as the war-time home of the Meteorological Branch of the Air Ministry sent WAS. and Mr Edwards in search of new premises for the School. The move to Lampeter and the establishment of the School in a new environment made heavy demands on a man approaching the age of sixty. But he welcomed the challenge and he genuinely enjoyed exploring the countryside with the boys.
Nor did his troubles end with the armistice; his last two years as Headmaster were spent in trying to pour a quart into a pint pot. The School had grown, houses had to be purchased to accommodate the Senior School on its return in 1945 and further improvisation was necessary to provide for the Junior School a year later. For the second time Wyciffe had survived the strain of war years, more conscious than ever of the debt owed to its Headmaster. Its Chapel was in ruins, wooden huts were littered over its cricket field, its buildings were in disrepair; it would have broken many a man's heart-but not Mr Sibly's.
When Wycliffe returned to Stonehouse, W.A.S. recognized the wisdom of shedding some of his responsibilities and reluctantly handed over the housemastership of Springfield which he had held for thirty-five years. His regard for this House was second only to his devotion to the School as a whole. His keen personal interest in what was described fifty years ago as the "vegetarian experiment," his successful representation in London, at the beginning of each world war, of the need for adequate rations for the vegetarian boys, gave him an added interest in their health, physique and athletic performance. Still more was he interested in their moral welfare, their intellectual and spiritual development. It is hardly surprising that many an Old Boy of Springfield was counted among his closest friends.
Most men retiring from such a strenuous life would have sought a secluded haven in which to rest unmolested; Mr Sibly had other ideas. He loved travel and he longed to renew his friendship with many of his Old Boys. Thus even before the end of his last term he was planning his journeys, first on cycle throughout Britain and later abroad. He twice visited South Africa, India, Canada and New Zealand, on the first visit cycling i,ooo miles throughout the length of that country; he also sojourned in Australia, Malaya, Kenya, the Middle East, West Africa, the United States, the West Indies and South America. In every land he stayed with OWs, more than one hundred in all. Links with Wycliffe and the homeland were renewed and his hosts found that he still "spread happiness around him like a wind blowing from the hills."
He was as appreciative of the beauty of the countries he visited as he was interested in their social, economic and political life. There was ample scope for photography-always a favourite hobby-and also for his descriptive writing. Those at home who were denied the pleasure of reading his weekly weather reports in the local paper were rewarded by his admirable articles on his travels, and the beautifully illustrated "Wanderings of W.A.S." were an added interest for readers of the Star.
When in England he gave still more time to public life though, as a member of the Council of Governors, he was ever watchful of the interests of the School, particularly in the acquisition of additional land. He planted many flowering shrubs and trees, both in the School grounds and in the village of Stonehouse, for which future generations will bless him. No other engagement could keep him from an O.W. dinner in any part of the country. Invariably his leg was pulled, and he was the one who enjoyed it most. Laughter abounded wherever he went. Each week brought journeys to committee meetings or to lecture halls but always he returned happily to his home in Pearcroft Road, there to receive a succession of O.W.s and to tend his torrential correspondence, his garden and his bees.
Although his first thoughts were for the School, founded by his father and of which they were headmasters for sixty-five years, his interests were wide and he played a notable part in public life. A life vegetarian, he became President of the Vegetarian Society in 1938 and of the International Vegetarian Union in 1947. Ten years later, at the age of 74, he flew to India by special request to preside at its meetings and to undertake a strenuous tour. For over thirty years he was a member of the Council of the R.S.P.C.A. and he was also a member of the National Executive of the Anti-Vaccination League.
Local, as well as national bodies, enjoyed his support. He was appointed a magistrate in 1927 and served for many years as chairman of the local Bench. A past president of the Stroud Rotary Club, secretary of the local committee of the National Trust, Chairman of the Governors of Stonehouse Secondary School and an active Methodist, he was one of the best known men of the district, in constant demand as a speaker or lecturer and presiding at innumerable meetings.
Such a record is in itself a sufficient claim to the remembrance of posterity, but O.W.s will remember him less for these achievements than for his influence on them as individuals and on the spirit of the School. Many will think first of his friendship, valued alike by young and old. Always ready with help and advice, always interested in his Old Boys, in their families, their work and recreations, how natural it was that when they returned to Stonehouse in later years their first question was Is Mr Sibly at home ?" To him we owe that spirit of friendliness which permeated the School and which contributed so much to the happiness of our schooldays.
More than once he suggested his own epitaph. It began with the words "He opened windows." Many O.W.s will remember the break in the History period when he opened all the windows wide and made boys stand up and take half a dozen deep breaths. But they will remember also the wider sense in which he opened windows, the topics in which he interested boys, the biographies and the poetry he read to them, the countries to which he took them, the passes they cycled and the mountains they climbed. Days spent with him could never be dull. His breadth of knowledge and of interest ensured a lively conversation in which there just was no time for small talk. Matters of moment in local, national or international affairs, the School, friends, the causes so near to his heart, history and literature, architecture, nature, travel and bees, on these and countless other subjects he was ever ready to discourse and to listen to him was both instructive and entertaining.
None can forget his example of physical fitness. He loved his games, in early years cricket and football, and later lawn tennis. He loved the hills and the countryside, encouraged boys to go for cross-country runs in which he joined and to explore and to discover the beauties of Gloucestershire. He showed them the pleasure which rewards the choice of the hard way; bow much more can be seen when on a cycle or on foot than from a car, how much more fun it is to travel 4th class and sleep on deck under a Mediterranean sky than in a first-class cabin, and the sheer delight of physical well-being after a walk and climb of twenty miles, a bathe and a simple meal.
SCOUTING AND JOURNEYS ABROAD
Many of his aims and ideals were those of the Scout movement and from the time of the formation of the first troop at Wycliffe fifty years ago he was an active scouter, giving valuable help to his brother, From early in the century it had been his custom to take small parties of boys on cycle tours through western Europe. Anyone who was not thoroughly fit was ill-advised to accompany him for his itineraries usually included some of the most formidable passes in the Alps. In the 19305 he conceived the idea of taking large parties to Scout Camps abroad and later of taking such parties on tour. Twice groups of a hundred boys camped in Algiers, at a cost of about /io for a fortnight; Egypt, Palestine, Greece, Italy, Sicily, Switzerland, Austria, Bavaria and France received lesser invasions in due course. Some of the happiest memories of O.W.s of these years are of these journeys. At such times perhaps they could appreciate most, not only his astounding ability as an organizer and his skill in coping with unexpected situations, but his genial personality, his unfailing good humour and his cheerfulness in the most trying circumstances.
THE DAILY ROUND
He often quoted Kipling's lines " If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds of distance run." Few squeezed so much into a day; it was as unusual for him to he two minutes early for a train or an appointment as it was for him to he late. When he stood in Whitehall to watch the Coronation he corrected essays, using the back of the boy in front of him as a desk. Prior to his retirement his working day was rarely less than twelve hours and to the end he was never idle.
For him personal ease and comfort counted not at all. He worked at
his desk and scorned an easy chair. The scene in his study was one of
apparent chaos and it was not always easy to walk across the floor without
stepping on letters, papers or lantern slides, seemingly scattered at
random. But his memory was
Yet despite the pace at which he lived he was always ready to drop
what he was doing if an old friend came to see him or if anyone called
on him for help. With such he was remarkably patient and no trouble
was too great for him when be found someone in need.
He was both thrifty and generous. His letter to The Times asking why
a glass of lemonade should cost 4d. at Swindon, 5d. at Paddington and
6d. at Victoria, inspired a fourth leader. He spent very little, partly
because he had discovered that the greatest joys of life are not those
which cost most and partly because the less he spent the more he could
give. He was most generous in helping individuals and in his gifts to
charities and to the School. When Old Boys subscribed £1,500 for
him to mark his completion of twenty-five years as Headmaster, he promptly
gave it all to the School for the building of the west wing of
He was utterly fearless and uncompromising on principle, took note of popular opinion but never allowed it to influence his own judgments or his pronouncements. Nevertheless he respected the conscience of others and could not be accused of bigotry. Unconventional at times in dress, unorthodox in many of his views and nonconformist in the widest sense, he probably never troubled to think what others thought of him.
Few could have tolerated as colleagues men whose opinions differed so widely from his own. But those who disagreed with him on vegetarianism, vaccination, vivisection or cruel sports, recognized that his views on these matters were based on a deep underlying principle to which they readily subscribed - the respect of the strong for the weak, of the fortunate for the handicapped, and of mankind for the animal creation.
The absence of bullying at a time when it was still to be found in many schools, the spirit of kindness towards one's fellows and to animals, and a discipline rooted in consideration for others rather than in fear, these were the marks in the School of those ideals which he cherished so greatly for himself and for others and for which he pleaded so eloquently.
A LOVABLE MAN
He was loved simply because he was a lovable man. The first impression in the minds of those who met him was of his vast expansiveness. His warmth, geniality and immediate response made them feel at their first meeting that they had known him for long and that he was their friend. His personality was so bright that his presence brought colour to the conversation and atmosphere of any room he entered. His breadth of outlook and of knowledge enabled him quickly to find topics of mutual interest. Social class meant nothing to him and snobbery he abominated. He was equally happy talking to a peer or to a road mender, lunching with a Dominion Governor or Prime Minister, or giving a snack to a tramp who came to his door. Each was to him his brother before God, his interest in them and their problems was genuine, and his sympathy sincere.
No detail was too small to escape his notice, no cause too small for his whole-hearted support, yet his comprehensive outlook enabled him to see both great and small matters in true perspective. To this characteristic, second only to his simple but clear religious belief, may be ascribed his calm serenity.
Like so many truly great men he never considered himself one. Coupled with his lovable humanity was an essential humility which won the hearts of all. Few could listen with obvious delight, as he could, to a public recitation of all their quaint but endearing oddities of behaviour, few could welcome to their house without embarrassment a boy whom they had expelled a year or two before, few have learned so well that most difficult and most necessary of lessons, to hate the sin and love the sinner.
Many O.W.s looking back would consider that his greatest influence on them and on the School was in the Chapel. His words will be remembered: "Let us cherish laughter and contentment and good fellowship and, above all, an enduring faith in God, our fellows and ourselves. So may we hope in time to attain to something of the measure and fulness of the nature of perfect man.' He disliked narrowness and also ostentation, he loved simplicity. His addresses were nearly always on Christian virtues and qualities rather than on Christian doctrine. Many of his listeners found inspiration in them; few could ever have been offended whatever their denomination. His beliefs were simple and were held with firm conviction; no one doubted his sincerity. lie was forthright in his preaching yet his tolerance was such that boys found a religious freedom at Wycliffe which would have been denied them at many schools. He quoted freely, often from Tennyson, but he always illustrated his talks by telling of his experiences and those of his friends, so that boys could apply his precepts to their own lives.
Perhaps the theme which recurred most frequently in his talks was the brotherhood of man. Two verses from one of Whittier's hymns express well that faith which was the foundation of his life, which gave him his clear sense of purpose, the source of his indomitable courage and tireless zeal, of his kindness, gentleness and humility and his love for his fellow men.
O Lord and Master of us all,
Our Friend, our Brother, and our Lord,
What he said with his lips he believed in his heart, what he believed in his heart he showed forth in his life, and his life had an incalculable influence on Wycliffe and on everyone who was at the School in his time.
Details of the W.A.S. Memorial Fund have been sent to all O.W.s. If any have not received this, or would like further copies, these may be obtained from the Bursar. A first list of donations will appear in the next issue of the Star.