On 10th June 1949, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery (1887-1976), 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, visited Solihull School, inspecting 250 cadets from the school’s Combined Cadet Force (CCF) and having lunch with the Headmaster and 15 senior cadets. “Monty’s” attendance at the school’s annual parade fulfilled a promise made to the school’s Headmaster, Mr Harry Butler Hitchens (1910-1963), ten months’ previously.
This film of Monty’s visit was taken by Charles Brown, a sixth-former and Upper Bencher at Solihull School, using the cine camera of Reginald Harry Patterson (1896-1986).
Harry Butler Hitchens was appointed Headmaster of Solihull School in 1947 at the age of 36, having previously been a master at Clifton College where he was himself educated before going up to St Catherine’s College, Cambridge. A Scholar and prizeman at Cambridge, he took a double first in the Modern Language Tripos and also held an honorary doctorate from the University of Rostock, Germany, where he was assistant lecturer in English Literature from 1932 to 1933.
Michael Buerk in his autobiography, The Road Taken, describes H. B. Hitchens as “having hair like patent leather and a high-boned, mahogany-coloured face with glittering eyes… [looking] like a cross between the Duke of Wellington and Count Dracula.”
The announcement of Mr Hitchens’ appointment in the Birmingham Daily Gazette on 1st March 1947 referred to his distinguished Army career. In 1934, whilst a master at Clifton College, he was gazetted Second Lieutenant for service with the Clifton College Contingent, Officers’ Training Corps. He joined the Services in 1940 and went to North Africa with the First Army in 1943.
In 1945 H. B. Hitchens served in Italy on General Eisenhower’s staff before becoming Deputy Director of Operational Intelligence for the Mediterranean Theatre under Field Marshal Alexander. He was subsequently appointed Director of British Intelligence in Austria and South-east Europe with the rank of Brigadier, apparently becoming one of the youngest Brigadiers in the British Army. He first met Monty when he went to make a report to him at battle headquarters. John Loynton’s book A History of Solihull School 1560-2010 notes that Mr Hitchens’ references for the Headmaster’s post were supplied by General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery.
During Monty’s visit to the school, he addressed the boys in Big School and told them “the formation of character should be put before examination successes.” As he left the school amid cheers, he autographed the drum of the bugle band.
If you have any further information about Monty’s visit to Solihull School, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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