The Eastbournian Society brings together our extended family of Old Eastbournians (Eastbourne College), Old Androvians (St Andrew's Prep), Old Aschamians (Ascham Prep), parents of both current and former pupils, current and former staff, and local people and businesses and other friends and supporters. Our aim is to maintain close links with any person or organisation who wishes to be associated with Eastbourne College and St Andrew's Prep.

Through a range of events, we keep in touch with and support our members, offering cultural, social, sporting, career and networking opportunities. We also look after those benefactors who so generously support our schools. 


13 October 2021 - Memorial service for Donald Perrens DSO OBE DFC

Around 150 guests attended the memorial service for Donald Perrens DSO OBE DFC, former member of staff, who died on 10 April 2020, aged 101.

For those who were unable to attend, a recording of the service is available here: https://youtu.be/M_pCoX4MR1A.

Donald had served with the RAF in the Second World War and it was fitting that the service began with the RAF and CCF standards being processed to the front of the College Chapel to the sound of the RAF March.

Following a welcome and opening prayer from College Chaplain the Revd Daniel Merceron, the first of a series of eulogies was given by General the Lord Richards of Herstmonceux GCB CBE DSO DL (Wargrave 1965-70). Lord Richards said that we were here today 'to commemorate an exceptional, inspirational person, a man whose combination of courage, humility, humour and commitment was second to none.'

He described Donald's wartime career: after initially enlisting in the army in 1939, where he served with the Suffolk Regiment, Donald managed, after heavy fighting near Rouen, to escape from France on one of the last ships to leave Cherbourg. In November 1941 he transferred to the RAF to train as a pilot in an army co-operation role. In December 1942 he went to Algeria to support the Allied advance on Tunis, flying Hurricanes at first before switching to Spitfires.

Donald flew low-level reconnaissance sorties, often in intense anti-aircraft fire. After Africa he was stationed in Sicily and then moved to mainland Italy until the end of 1943, being rewarded with a DFC for his service over a sustained period. He was made Squadron Leader in January 1944 and worked with the 8th Army in the Italian campaign, providing information and photographs of enemy positions. He was awarded an immediate DSO for an incident in January 1945 in which he came under enemy fire while conducting artillery reconnaissance near Bologna.

The citation for the DSO reads: 'While over the target area... his aircraft was repeatedly hit but he remained over the target for nearly an hour... He was forced to turn away however when the engine of his aircraft failed. He effected a successful crash-landing in our forward defence lines. His coolness and courage in the face of concentrated enemy fire set a fine example.’

Donald was badly injured, and returned to the UK in September 1945, remaining on the RAF active list for a few months more. But as Lord Richards pointed out: 'He didn't leave the RAF altogether. He joined the RAF section of the College CCF in 1948, becoming its OIC in 1954. Then he commanded the whole CCF from 1973 until his retirement in 1981.'

Donald also held commissions in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the RAF Volunteer Reserve, and was appointed commanding officer of the local fighter control unit. On relinquishing command in 1961 he was awarded the OBE. Lord Richards concluded by saying what a remarkable man Donald was: 'over the years effortlessly capturing the imagination, enthusiasm, respect and affection of many thousands of people.' He was 'a peerless example of a life well lived and a duty well done.'

Former member of staff Bernard Drake spoke about Donald's time teaching at the College. Quoting from anecdotes that had been sent to Donald on his 100th birthday, he said that interspersed in these memories were words like 'enthused me', 'motivated me' and 'encouraged me'.

As a housemaster, Donald could be pretty fierce but he was able to care for the individual. One OE had described Donald's time as housemaster of Blackwater as ruling with 'a leather fist, as leather can be so hard, but it can also be soft and malleable. And there is a lovely poetic connection with his pilot's gloves.'

Bernard described the relief he felt when Donald took over as acting headmaster in 1972, in difficult times. 'Confidence of staff, pupils and parents were in need of rebuilding... Donald was calm, energetic and optimistic, and had a very disarming smile.'

He concluded by saying that the key words associated with Donald that he had mentioned earlier, 'advice, encouragement and motivation, applied to everybody at the College, not just the pupils... an extraordinary ethos.' He said it was no surprise to see the Chapel so full, 'in honour of that great man'.

Donald's grandson David Kirtley then gave some personal reflections in his eulogy, considering Donald, the family man. He was born in Willenhall, Staffordshire on 1 January 1919, less than two months after the end of the First World War. At school he thrived, where he was in the 1st XI cricket, 1st XV rugby and was an excellent tennis player. He achieved a distinction in both pure and applied maths, as well as in physics. At 17 he went to St Catharine's College, Cambridge, graduating aged 20 in 1939.

He married Mary Robertson, and their children Pip and Rob were remarkably close, a testament to their loving upbringing and their devoted parents. David said that his first memory of 'Gramps' was that he was always playing with the grandchildren, including making sledges out of sunlounger cushions which they would slide down the steep front garden in East Dean, dodging the apple trees on the way. Trips to the beach involved something more substantial than just building sandcastles, as Donald would also build a boat, a car or even an aeroplane. 

He also used to make 'the most fantastic birthday cakes... and normally consisted of Swiss rolls, digestive biscuits, Smarties and lots and lots of chocolate icing.'

He was an early adopter of innovation and was one of the first people that David knew to own a computer. A few years ago, Pip and David took Donald to the Spitfire museum in Ramsgate. On seeing the Spitfire 'his eyes lit up and he started recalling the differences between the Mark XVI and its predecessor'. He pointed out that the clipped wings made it more nimble but that it pulled to the right and he had to compensate by pulling to the left to keep it in a straight line. He showed them the cockpit and where the camera would have been mounted on the underside of the wing, and where the cable from the camera came into the cockpit so he could take the photos.

David said: 'Gramps was a charmer, he was so kind and gracious.' At David and Lucy's wedding, aged 94, Donald gave a reading, speaking with a quiet authority, and looked incredibly dapper. 'As the day progressed he made friends with everyone, not to mention the bridesmaids. And with a twinkle in his eye and the kindest of hearts, he conducted himself with such elegance and style.'

He continued: 'Gramps made the most of each and every opportunity that was given to him in his long and full life and made such a positive impact on everyone around him. He was an inspiration to many - his friends, his colleagues, his students, and most of all his family.'

David remembered a conversation he had with Donald shortly after he had moved into the nursing home where he spent the last few years of his life. Asking if he was OK and if everybody was being kind, Donald responded with something that David will never forget: 'I find that if you are kind to people, then they tend to be kind back.' He concluded: 'A more charming and handsome man would be hard to find.'

Prayers were then said by the Revd Stephen Gray (Powell 1979-84), the Conduct of Eton College, followed by a blessing from the Revd Chris Macdonald, former Chaplain of Eastbourne College.

Following the service, the guests assembled on College Field to watch a Mark IX Spitfire, RR232 'City of Exeter', make a flypast over the College, with the unique sound of its Merlin engine. This type of Spitfire features in Donald's flying logbook and was his favourite.

The guests then moved to the reception in Big School, at which Donald's daughter Pip Kirtley thanked everyone for attending and for their kind words and thoughts. She then unveiled a framed display of replicas of Donald's medals, which are to go on show in the College.


13 Oct 2021    Memorial service for Donald Perrens DSO OBE DFC
8 Oct 2021    Jamie Garratt (Wargrave 1999-2004) walks John O'Groats to Land's End for charity
7 Oct 2021    Theatre trip to Tom Stoppard's Leopoldstadt
3 Oct 2021    Evensong and harvest supper
1 Oct 2021    Eastbournian Society October newsletter

> Click here for all 2021 news headlines and our news archive

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Eastbourne College: 150 years in pictures

A new fully-illustrated souvenir book, Eastbourne College: 150 years in pictures, is now available to buy from the Eastbournian Society.

Exploring the history of the College with a series of themes, covering art, buildings, the cadet force, chapel, charity, drama, houses, personalities, science, sport, the war years and much more, the book is packed with photographs and drawings sourced from the College archives.

With a soft cover and 108 pages it is available to buy for just £5.00.

You can buy it in person from the Eastbournian Society office or the school shop, or order a copy to be posted to you.

The price including postage and packing (UK) is £7.70. For postage costs outside the UK please enquire for details.

Contact David Blake at 01323 452262 or drblake@eastbourne-college.co.uk .

You can pay by credit card over the phone or send a cheque, made payable to Eastbourne College Incorporated, to Eastbournian Society, Headmaster's House, Old Wish Road, Eastbourne, BN21 4JX.

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Comprehensive details are in the listings on our Forthcoming events page.

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