Bedales 1908 – 1914, Private R A M C

The death of Ronald Wilson was a shattering blow to the whole School.  He was the first OB casualty who had been well known by all but the most recent arrivals and his twin siblings, aged 15, were still active pupils.

Ronald was the first child of Alfred Wilson, a bookseller and publisher, and his wife Ada, the grand-daughter of a Unitarian Minister. It was the type of background which had produced many of the early pupils at Bedales. Ronald entered Dunhurst after Easter 1905 at the age of 9 and was followed by his brother Hubert two years later; Kathleen joined her twin in the Summer of 1908. All three Wilson children were at School in Steep on census day 1911.

Not necessarily a high flying academic (though an active member of The Chronicle Committee from the autumn of 1912) Ronald was a talented athlete and especially proficient as a diver and swimmer. In March 1914 Mr Badley received a letter from The Royal Life Saving Society, informing him that Ronald was the first schoolboy in Britain to be awarded their Life Saving Diploma with Honours. He was presented with his badge, in front of the whole School, after breakfast on Sunday morning.

Ronald was an accomplished sketcher as reproductions of his work in The Chronicle and The Bedales Record reveal. He left School intending to train as an architect but soon after the outbreak of War he attested as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps and entered training in the 1st London Sanitary Division. Just weeks before he was due to embark for France Ronald fell victim to the epidemic of cerebro-spinal meningitis afflicting the army in London in the Spring of 1915. On 7th March, in The Chronicle, The Chief reported, “On February 22nd he went home ... feeling ill. By the following evening he was seriously ill ... on Friday morning he relapsed and did not regain consciousness but passed away on the morning of Sunday, 28th, the day before he would have reached his 19th birthday.” Later in the year, in The Record, Mr Badley added to his initial comments: “the promise of his gifts, great as they were, does not seem a greater loss than the loveableness of his nature. ...so ended a life of singular beauty and promise.”

Ronald's father and uncles had been Trustees of the Ditchling Unitarian and Free Christian Chapel since 1886; his grandparents were buried in its pleasant churchyard. A Celtic cross was erected over Ronald’s grave and in later years his parents were commemorated on the same monument.

The Wilson connection with Bedales continued; his twin siblings went on to become Head Boy and Head Girl at Bedales. Hubert, a bookseller like his father, married Grace Anthony, another OB, and their son and daughter attended Bedales in the late 1940s when their father was a Governor of the School.

I am indebted to members of the Ditchling History Project Group for information about the Wilsons connection with the Chapel.