Bertie Owen with his son Nick

Bertie Owen (1915-2008)

Bertie Owen was for many years the Master in Charge of Fives at Berkhamsted School and will be remembered as such a cheerful, welcoming spirit to visiting teams. Following is the tribute written by John Davidson – a former Master at Berkhamsted School - reprinted from “The Old Berkhamstedian”:

“One of the great Berkhamsted figures of the past half-century died on the 1st November. Bertie Owen joined the staff in 1937. His teaching career was interrupted by military service in the RASC from 1940 until 1945. In 1957 he was appointed Headmaster of the Junior School, an office he retained for 20 years until his retirement in 1977.

Born in Shrewsbury in 1915, he won a classical scholarship to Shrewsbury School where he had a distinguished career, editing the school magazine, representing the school at top level at Fives, cricket and football. He became Head of the School and won a classical scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge, where he read Classics and Geography.

In 1937 he was appointed by Cuthbert Cox to teach Classics and Geography and to coach Fives. On the outbreak of war he was instructed by the War Office to stay at Berkhamsted, teaching being a reserved occupation, but managed with the help of an Old Berkhamstedian brigadier in the RASC to wangle himself into active service; this for him meant within six months the nightmare of Dunkirk, an experience he never forgot though he never spoke of it except to his family. Spending most of the remainder of the war in East Africa, he returned in May 1945; at a training camp in Derbyshire he met Second Lieutenant Esme Burton; they were engaged in three weeks and married in three months. Bertie returned to Berkhamsted in November 1945, and in September 1948 was appointed housemaster of Adders in succession to Philip Goodwin. Eight years later he was appointed Housemaster of Overton, the Junior School boarding house, with a view to eventually taking over as Headmaster of the Junior School, which he did in 1957 in succession to Reggie Gulland.

Bertie’s twenty-year reign in the Junior School was marked by unobtrusive administrative efficiency (he covered the ground by getting up at five o’clock in the morning), but his pre-eminent gift was to make the school a family affair; he and Esme got to know a huge proportion of the parents on a personal basis, and indeed for the rest of his life he remained a fund of information about old boys and their relations. This warm humanity was a magic transforming the Junior School from a mere institution to a welcoming society which touched the lives of countless pupils. Evidence of this was the enormous attendance at his memorial service in the School Chapel on the 30th November, an attendance which covered all the generations touched by Bertie’s and Esme’s friendship and kindness over the years. It was a wonderful occasion, and a fitting tribute to one of the giants of the Berkhamsted tradition.

On Bertie’s retirement he and Esme moved to Cheltenham, another town which boasted several schools; the Ladies’ College rapidly became aware of the treasure on their doorstep, and for some years Bertie taught GCSE Latin to the girls, as well as organizing the Common Room bar. He and Esme, though living at some distance, were assiduous in keeping in touch, and remained what they had always been, a much loved and valued part of Berkhamsted society.”