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News > News > Robin Knight's Leaders reviewed in Warships magazine

Robin Knight's Leaders reviewed in Warships magazine

Peter Hore of the Warships International Fleet Review reviews Robin Knight's excellent book Leaders: Profiles in Courage and Bravery in War and Peace 1917-2020.
22 Jun 2022
March issue of Warships International Fleet Review
March issue of Warships International Fleet Review

Review by Pete Hore:

‘Fortiter ac Fideliter' or 'bravely and faithfully is the motto of Pangbourne College, now a co-educational independent day and boarding school, which was founded in 1917 as the Nautical College, Pangbourne. Its purpose was training boys to become Merchant Navy officers. While conforming to the general lines of a traditional British boarding school, the college retains a distinctly nautical flavour and the pupils wear naval uniform. 

Robin Knight, author of ‘Leaders’ (Uniform Publishing, £25.00, hardback) is an old boy of Pangbourne. In this book Knight compellingly and inspiringly explores how the college’s motto has been translated into action by generations of pupils who know themselves as ‘Old Pangbournians’: It is subtitled ‘Profiles in Courage-and Bravery in War and Peace 1917-2020’ and, as the examples in this book show, bravery-takes many forms. There is bravery of the berserker kind, when the red mist of anger drives an individual to leave their own place of safety to charge the enemy or to save another life. There is bravery when a person, knowing the dangers, repeatedly runs the same risks, like a bomber pilot flying recurring sorties over enemy territory at night. Or as exhibited by a sailor on Atlantic convoys when, to the ever-present danger of the violence of the enemy, may be added the dangers of the sea. There is another bravery, which is of the unit, the aircrew or the ship's company. Through teamwork and leadership they may achieve some difficult or daring task, though perhaps only the actual leader may be recognised with an award. Some individuals evidently are able to make bravery a lifestyle, while for others being brave is a matter of opportunity, often unwanted and uninvited, when - to paraphrase Shakespeare - bravery is thrust upon them and they reacted instinctively well. There are numerous examples of all these different kinds of bravery in the pages of Knight's book. What is truly remarkable is that this one school, founded little over a century ago for one purpose, produced so many exceptional people in so many walks of life.

In the British system of honours, they include the winners of two George Crosses, two George Medals, 31 Distinguished Service Orders, 91 Distinguished Service Crosses, 17 Military Crosses and 18 Distinguished Flying Crosses, not to mention many lesser awards and uncounted mentions in despatches. More astonishing still is that for most of its history the College's roll has been only a little over a couple of hundred pupils. Clearly the early leaders of Pangbourne established a distinct and enduring ethos.

Many of the first cadets in the 1920s and 1930s reached positions in WW2 where they could show the qualities with which they had been imbued at Pangbourne. However, as Robin Knight shows the reader, this was not some accident of timing or the incident of war.

In the post-war years, OPs remained true to their motto and to show the same qualities ‘Fortiter ac Fideliter’, including the police and sports as well as in later watts and even the current pandemic. From the beginning, Pangbourne College’s founder, the far-sighted Sir Phillip Devitt, wanted the cadets to have a well-rounded education, but he could not have known how strongly or how well ‘Fortiter ac fideliter’ would become embodied in the souls of OPs. This work is highly recommended as a study in bravery and leadership.


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