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News > Memories > DGW Felton: Life as a teacher and Officer Commanding the OTC at Hereford Cathedral School

DGW Felton: Life as a teacher and Officer Commanding the OTC at Hereford Cathedral School

Duncan Felton's career began during the turbulent period leading up to the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914.
12 Jul 2021
Duncan Felton
Duncan Felton

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, catapulted the continent into the cataclysm of the Great War of 1914-18.

Great Britain was drawn into this devastating war in response to the German invasion of Belgium whose neutrality was guaranteed by our country. The British regular army at the time was a small professional force, supported by a Territorial Army of some 246,000 men who were deployed in home defense.

Until conscription was introduced in 1916 the government had relied on volunteers to join the armed forces and Lord Kitchener's campaign, promoted by the poster below, had encouraged over one million men to enlist by January 1915.

However, it had become obvious that it was not possible to continue fighting by relying on voluntary recruits because of mounting casualties, and the government saw no alternative but to increase numbers by conscription. 

Teachers, along with certain other classes of people were exempted from conscription and in 1914 DGW Felton, who was destined to become a lifelong friend of, and trusted adviser to Ralph Williamson, was already teaching at Hereford Cathedral School having arrived there from Cambridge in 1913. Duncan soon became heavily involved with the school's OTC, attaining the rank of 2nd Lt and can be seen in the photograph below among the cadets at Summer Camp in 1917.

An unrecognizable DGW Felton (5th from left, seated)

Those of us at school in the fifties knew little of Duncan Felton's former life before he joined R Williamson at Oswestry along with another little known teacher from Hereford, but I have managed to piece together some interesting facts about DGW Felton's time as a very popular figure at the Cathedral School.

Years before Ralph and Duncan made a decision to move on to Oswestry they were already much respected teachers at Hereford and even in those days it was the more ebullient Duncan who had a higher profile. 

They quickly established a rapport at the school, and both of them played cricket and football in school matches. Duncan was a talented striker who played in his favorite position of 'inside right' alongside the centre forward, and on occasion he even kept goal; an issue of The Herefordian school magazine listed them both as Sports Masters on the School Committee.

The Herefordian, July 1917

Unlike his friend who was a bachelor until much later in life, Duncan married whilst at Hereford and both he and his wife were firm favourites with boys and staff alike, just as the future Mrs Williamson would become at Oswestry. 

Mr Felton secured the post of Language Master in 1913, but soon made his influence felt in every sphere of school life both out of doors and in the classroom.

Although he had no previous experience in this field, he undertook the arduous activities of Officer Commanding in the OTC and the Corps flourished under his leadership reaching a standard of efficiency which had never been attained before.

This extract from the London Gazette lists Promotions and Appointments for 1919, and it seems that DGW Felton was promoted to Captain effective from 11 June of that year.

Duncan was even more influential as School Games Master and his stewardship helped to produce some of the school's most successful football and cricket XIs of the era.

Universally popular, he was able to get the best out of all those under his charge and such was his esteem that he instilled high levels of loyalty in the boys under his care both on and off the field of play.

By the year 1917, ever-increasing numbers of boys meant that more accommodation had to be found to house them and the obvious choice to open a new house was the popular duo of Mr and Mrs Felton. The amenable pair then began to play an even larger part of school life until they left for Oswestry in 1920. A hard act to follow, they would be sadly missed by all at Hereford Cathedral School as a new chapter opened up for them alongside their bachelor friend R Williamson in his capacity as Headmaster of Oswestry Grammar School.

Arriving at what would become his home until retirement in 1958, Ralph began a solitary life as Headmaster until his marriage many years later to the sister of the Rev R ' Bob' Worrall whom Mr Williamson appointed circa 1947 as the first House Master of the newly acquired Holbache House.

Duncan and his wife came to live in Oswestry and the town became home for the remainder of his life. One of my earliest memories of Mr Felton is the daily emergence of this large, portly gentleman, cigarette firmly clamped in his mouth, from a tiny car which seemed to kangaroo chaotically across the playground. Woe-betide anyone he caught misbehaving as they would be bawled out by the booming voice of this larger than life character.

During my time at Oswestry my recollection is that there were only two Masters who caused us to be slightly terrified, one of whom was the imposing figure of DGW Felton.

As in his time at Hereford, his very presence commanded respect and although in the early days I only came into contact with him during lessons, I was aware of his importance to the Headmaster as his first lieutenant. He can be seen below in the school photo of 1958, seated between JF Tilley and Mr Williamson with the frail figure of 'Papa' Webster (the Art Master), and Mr Lewis to the right.

(Left to right) Masters: Mssrs Mitchell (glasses and beard), Schofield, ?, Tilley, Felton, Williamson, Webster, Lewis, Rev Marsland (?), Morris, and Lank

In the next episode I will share a few personal memories of 'Fatty', as he was known to us all during the fifties.

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