Obituary: Commander Hugh Hodgkinson

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The Independent Online
Hugh Hodgkinson became a public-school headmaster after he had already completed one career with distinction.

He was born in 1912 and educated at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. He was then sent to South Africa, where he served as ADC to the Governor- General and found time to visit Table Mountain where he proposed to his wife - Wendy - and started a partnership which was an outstanding success to the day he died. His war service, which he was usually too modest to recall, included a period commanding HMS Pytchley; his courage and leadership while in command and confronting enemy E-boats earned him a DSC.

He was appointed Headmaster of Milton Abbey school in 1955, six years after leaving the Navy and at an age when many would have been happy to retire to the nearest bar and spend the rest of their lives recounting their exploits. He took up his post when the school was just a year old.

Milton Abbey, near Blandford in Dorset, was a large country house designed by Sir William Chambers, built in 1771-76 for the first Lord Milton and latterly owned by the Hambro family. It had been a faith-healing centre and had then lain empty when Dr C.K. Francis-Brown acquired it to found the school. At the time of Hodgkinson's appointment there were 50 boys and a bank balance which even the most optimistic politician would have found hard to justify. Confidence was in short supply.

When his predecessor walked out without introducing him to the staff or providing any other information, Hodgkinson called the boys and staff together and expressed his own confidence in the school's future. When he announced that the uniform would change from grey suits to green shorts and every day would start with a mile run and a cold shower he encountered almost as much flak as he must have seen in Dunkirk, where he was Senior Officer of a flotilla of destroyers, and when covering the Normandy landings. His efforts there earned him a bar to his DSC for "gallantry, skill, determination and devotion to duty" and they were qualities which never deserted him.

As a headmaster he knew he faced a challenge but he persisted even when in 1956 a fire destroyed a fifth of the school buildings two days before term began. Gradually his efforts were rewarded and a place which then no one wanted to know has become one of the most sought-after schools of the 1990s, catering for 250 pupils.

The most important lessons Hughie Hodgkinson taught were not academic. He encouraged thousands of boys to discover abilities they never knew they had and gave them the self-confidence to perserve and get things right. He also urged everyone to respect the views held by others - all qualities which are helpful in life, as Hodgkinson knew from his own experiences.

At a time when minions hiding behind a cloak of political correctness are giving education a bad name, it is refreshing to recall the achievements of a man of foresight and courage who always led from the front and who set an example which others were proud to try to follow.

Robert Hugh Hodgkinson, naval officer and schoolmaster: born Tarporley, Cheshire 13 January 1912; DSC and bar 1944; Headmaster, Milton Abbey 1955- 69; married 1938 Wendy Ward- Jackson (two sons, one daughter); died Horton, Dorset 22 January 1996.