Drill – the extra bits

Each performance of Drill is timed perfectly and lasts 20 minutes. But with such a long standing tradition, writing about it takes two blog posts!

Whilst Drill was not unique to the School when it started out, it seems likely that no other schools have anything like it today. The closest might be Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore which has some movements that are similar. However, their Gym Drill is described on their own website as

The Middle and Upper School perform an all-school dance and school exercises which have been performed since 1904

https://www.brynmawrschool.org

There are elements that are more like cheerleading movements than the marching exercises performed at RMSG but as trainees under Madame Bergman-Osterburg came from, and disseminated to, all corners of the world, it is quite possible that the origins were once closely aligned.

Martina Bergman-Osterburg

This image, dated 1880, is the earliest photograph of Drill apparently being performed. One has to say ‘apparently’, as this may be a posed image, possibly including every girl in the School at the time, and there are no records anywhere of it being performed outdoors. Clearly, if this were a performance, someone would have had to have wheeled out two grand pianos for the accompanying music!

This brings us nicely onto the music. In the C19th and perhaps the earlier part of the C20th, the music was played by senior girls. By the later part of the C20th, that task fell to music teachers. The pianists required skill not just to read and play the music but, if necessary, to speed up or slow down tempo if the Drillers were a little too enthusiastic or tardy in performance. On one occasion, some Senior girls decided, out of mischief, to repeat some of the exercises more times than normal. Valerie Curtis, music teacher from 1958, later commented that she had thought the Drill was taking a little longer than usual but she just fitted the music to the movement being performed!

In 1980, it was decided to try recorded music. With some trepidation Miss Curtis was asked if she would mind being made redundant. The nervousness was uncalled for as Val was delighted to be freed from the task of turning up to every rehearsal on time and thumping out music on a keyboard!

This sample of Drill music is from 1933 although the book is dated 1916.

In 1982, Hooked on Classics – classical music given an up tempo treatment by Louis Clark – was storming the charts. The Drill was re-worked to this music which now includes the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, March of the Toreadors from Bizet’s Carmen, the Blue Danube Waltz, Deep in the Heart of Texas, Sousa’s The Liberty Bell, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 and The Dam Busters. About 30 years later, the opportunity arose to tell Mr Clark how his musical treatment had been utilised.

“He was genuinely intrigued and delighted to know that his musical arrangements had helped to popularise Drill, giving pleasure to so many over such a long period of time.”

Drill is a special part of life at RMSG but that does not mean that it is a fixed entity which no-one dare change. It is said that former pupils watch the performances with eagle eyes, later declaring that it wasn’t as good as in their day but they would say that, wouldn’t they?

However it can, and does, change according to need.

This movement is no longer included although, as this image from the Great Hall shows, still was in the 1930s. In 1937, as a special, the staff performed a version of drill for the girls. The School magazine records the apparent astonishment of the watching pupils as, in slow motion, the staff touched their toes!

This is the wheel performed in the very earliest days at Rickmansworth (no portraits on the wall gives that away). It was not performed for Prize Day 1934 (then in May) as there had not been enough rehearsal time since the School had only arrived on site in April. However, it was performed when Queen Mary opened the School – on a wet, miserable, rainy summer day. Some of the spectators here appear to be dressed appropriately for British summer: raincoats and warm clothing!

With performances stretching back as far as at least 1876, there have been many notable spectators. In 1888, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) watched it. In 1946, his grandson, George VI watched it.

The King was in what has become known as the King’s Chair – one of the Caledonian chairs presented to the School in 1795. On the back of this chair is recorded a list of the illustrious royal bottoms that have sat upon it to watch Drill: Queen Mary in 1912 and again in 1934; the Princess Royal in 1927; George VI in 1946; Princess Marina in 1948.

 

With any well-established tradition, there have been those not normally part of a hard-working team who want to participate. In 1934, in celebration of the School being about to move to Rickmansworth, Drill was performed backwards with Drillers wearing masks on the backs of their heads. The teaching staff, as we have seen, have performed it for pupils. In the 1990s, the staff were again challenged, their numbers added to by parents, to a charity performance. Given the all too few rehearsals and fewer than 180 drillers to make the formations, their performance was given grudging praise in the comment “Hey, they’re not bad.”

Year Two pupils, in learning about the School’s history, had a go at some of the movements …

… and learned first-hand that it takes practice to be synchronised!

Drill has even been on the radio. Fighting Fit, broadcast on Radio 4 on 28th May 2005, heard presenter Fi Glover discovering that

“getting the rights and lefts going in sequence, the tippy toes turning, the arm movements in the right order and making sure it is all done in time with the music and in line with everyone else is jolly difficult.”

Rehearsal is vital to make sure each Driller knows where she should be at any given moment so let us give special praise to those Reserves who attend all the rehearsals, turn up immaculately attired for the performances and may not actually be in one. Their dedication is crucial as they might have to slot into any one of the 180 places making the performance seamless. As one of them said:

“… nothing prepares you for the moment when [you are told] ‘You’re East 71.’ You think, where the heck’s that? Am I an up or a down line in the arm things and am I a 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1?”

And sometimes things can go wrong. One former pupil recalled with horror the time her shoe fell off when the Princess Royal was watching. The lady in question winked in sympathy but the girl herself felt devastated. But full marks for quick thinking for the Driller who had forgotten her short white socks so painted her ankles with plimsoll whitener!

Drill performances are three in number: Prize Day and Remembrance Sunday are two. The other arose from what had been a full rehearsal on the Wednesday before Prize Day but, as it proved equally as popular with spectators as the other two performances, it became one in its own right.

On Remembrance Sunday, the set square and compass position is held whilst a speech is given (the speaker being implored to keep it brief to prevent girls from keeling over in a faint), Point is rewarded with a little gift and the girls prepare to end the performance. After removing the poppies they are wearing and laying them at their feet, marching on the spot begins and, at the sound of a whistle, the Drillers leave the Hall. Their poppies remain, a poignant reminder of the sacrifice made by many in war.

[Additional information to create these posts was supplied by three former Heads of PE at the school to whom grateful thanks are extended.]

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Digging the Past

“… archaeology: The study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artefacts and other physical remains.” https://en.oxforddictionaries.com

The School’s history doesn’t quite stretch back to prehistory – just the eighteenth century – but as a study of a particular element of human history, it makes for an endlessly fascinating metaphorical excavation to discover what is revealed when the surface is scraped back, the layers carefully exposed and considered in situ, the material sieved, the finds washed and labelled. All of which is a somewhat contrived way of connecting several different elements, all with an archaeological spin, related to RMSG history.

Let us begin, however, with pretend archaeology in the form of Indiana Jones. The first film in the sequence – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark – had scenes filmed at the School. Given that the main buildings have a decided 1930s appearance and the film is set then, this is not so surprising.

The School represented Marshall College where Professor Jones was teaching. (In IJ3, The Last Crusade, the School represents Barnett College where Professor Jones was teaching. Funny how two different colleges have such a similar look …)

www.movie-locations.com tell us that Indiana “meets with the Army Intelligence guys in the school’s Great Hall, where he’s informed of the German archaeological dig at ‘Tanis’.” There were also other places used. The Professor climbs out of window on the ground floor, which was then the Deputy Head’s office – 4th window from the right in the above image. In a part of the School not shown in the above image, Professor Jones is giving a lecture. This was filmed in what was originally a Science lecture room when the School was first built although it subsequently became, and still is, a Maths room. Its banked seating has since been removed but it was here that Harrison Ford’s character looks in astonishment at one of his female students who, by a slow blink, reveals that she has ‘I love you’ written on her eyelids. (http://www.listal.com/viewimage/2939670)

Very shortly after this scene, Indiana was off on his adventures again – via the window.

None of the IJ films are set in Palestine but this is nevertheless our next port of call. This is where an archaeologist, whose daughters became pupils, was based. Sadly, and unlike the films, this story does not end well. James Leslie Starkey was field director of the Wellcome-Marston Archeological expedition in Palestine and was working there at ‘Tell ed-Duweir, identified as Biblical Lachish, an important city of the Kingdom of Judah.” as https://www.pef.org.uk/profiles/james-leslie-starkey-1895-1938 compiled by Ros Henry 2008 tells us. In 1938 he was murdered en route to the opening of the new Palestine Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem. Depending on the sources used, this was either Arab militants or a rebel commander or possibly a lone wolf with a grudge. He had grown a long beard whilst in Palestine and one source suggests ‘it may have been this that caused him to be singled out and killed (on the basis that he was Jewish)’ http://myrightword.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/starkeys-last-dig.html Wikipedia’s information declares that a rebel commander from the ad-Dhahiriya area was held responsible by the British authorities. In addition to a lack of agreement about who perpetrated the act, there is disagreement about the manner of his death, with some quite lurid versions of it (Aberdeen Press and Journal 15 April 1938 describes it as ‘brutally slain’ at Beit Jibrin) but his family affirms that he was shot twice in the chest. He was buried in the Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion, Jerusalem, his funeral attended by hundreds of mourners and there was a memorial service in St Margaret’s Westminster in 1938 but, such was his impact, another memorial service was held in Jerusalem 50 years later.

https://ferrelljenkins.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/james-leslie-starkey-excavator-of-lachish/

Both of Starkey’s daughters subsequently arrived at the School, one leaving in 1948 and the other in 1951. It seems likely that their brother went to the Masonic Boys’ School as all three very much fitted the criterion for Masonic support.

It is possible, though unlikely, that during their time at the School, the Starkey girls encountered a member of staff called Elizabeth Wace. It is not clear when Miss Wace began teaching at the School but we know that she left in 1959. She became a member of the Old Girls’ Association which membership she retained until at least 1998. As she went from the School to become Director of the British School in Athens and then, subsequently to become ‘an authority in Mycenaean archaeology, especially pottery and terracotta figurines’ (Wikipedia), it seems probable she taught history. Whether the School was aware of her ‘pedigree’ is not recorded but Elizabeth was the daughter of Alan John Bayard Wace, a leading authority on Mycenae.

Professor A J B Wace, the archaeologist whose name will always be associated with the Mycenae excavations died on Saturday in Athens – The Times, 11 November 1957

When he first went to the British School at Athens early this century knowledge of Mycenaean civilization was still young (Dr F H Stubbings)

https://web.archive.org/web/20110116090809/http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/periods_styles/features/history/staff_obituaries/textiles/wace/index.html

At the time Elizabeth Wace was listed as a member of staff at the School, the majority of the teaching staff were still former pupils although by this stage they were usually fully-trained. In earlier days, they became pupil teachers and learned their trade at the chalk face, as it were. Earlier in the 20th century, they began to undergo teacher training before returning to the School on the staff. But the days when the School attracted highly qualified professionals was yet to come. Elizabeth as the daughter and granddaughter (twice over) of professors may well have seemed like a flamingo amongst sparrows! Amongst other publications attributed to her is Well built Mycenae: the Helleno-British excavations within the citadel at Mycenae, 1959-1969 which has 70 editions between 1981-2013, as well as being published in translation in many countries. Her father had been appointed Director of the British School at Athens in 1914 and Elizabeth followed in his footsteps after leaving RMSG. Established in 1886, the BSA has been involved in a multitude of archaeological projects.

https://www.bsa.ac.uk

The final archaeological link with RMSG is archaeological fieldwork actually at the School. As part of Time Team’s Big Dig in June 2003, a group of pupils under the guidance of a local archaeologist set out to ascertain if the raised area of land on the Uppers really was part of a Roman road as had always been believed.

Following proper procedures, half a dozen or so girls began to explore the ground. The findings were all carefully recorded and any items washed and recorded. The girls discovered first hand that archaeological work is painstaking and time-consuming. Fortunately, the weather was kind. It might have been a very different story if it had been raining or scorching hot!

At the end of the day, the conclusion was that in all probability it was indeed a Roman road although the ‘classic’ elements of construction were absent. Later, a local archaeology group undertook a resistivity survey on the site and produced a report which concluded that all the evidence was in support of the view that it was Roman. Many years later, in a different part of the School, groundwork in preparation for an adventure playground showed what appeared to be a continuation of the road so that, long before the School was built – indeed long before anything was ever built in the parkland – a roadway crossed the site from north west to south east. As the current main road goes round the parkland, following boundaries established in the sixteenth century (with some adjustments over the years), it could be argued to be typical of Roman roads: don’t go round, go straight to your destination, without deviation. They probably wouldn’t have approved of this meandering, contrived account of RMSG archaeological connections!