Local History Society

 Memories - The R.M.N.S. in WWII

Bearwood College

Bearwood Canadian Convalescent Hospital

The 'Reading Mercury' of 29th July 1939 reported extensively on the Speech Day at the R.M.N.S., illustrated with photographs:

Princess Alice at Bear Wood

Visit to Royal Merchant Navy School

Governor’s Plea for Greater Support

Her Royal Highness Princess Alice Countess of Athlone visited the Royal Merchant Navy School at Bear Wood on Saturday, and, after inspecting the pupils, distributed the prizes. In the course of an address to the children, her Royal Highness referred to the need in these days of loyalty to God, courage to speak the truth, and courtesy towards one’s fellow men.

The Resident Governor, Captain H. W. Edwards, spoke of the fact that the school was tragically hampered for want of funds. “The general public”, he said, “do not yet appear to realise their debt to the fathers of these children, and to others of our merchant navy officers and men”.

It was urged that the needs of the sailor, upon whom the existence of the country depends, should be a first charge on money subscribed for deserving causes. The Royal Merchant Navy School, it should be emphasised, receives no support from the Service charities.

[The article continued with a long list of prizewinners].

Photos (Copyright 'Reading Mercury'; used by permission):

Arriving at the Parade Ground

'Her Royal Highness
arriving at the parade ground
with Captain H. W. Edwards
and Mr. J. W. A. Burness'








Presenting the prizes'Princess Grace, Countess of Athlone,
presenting prizes at Speech Day
at the Royal Merchant Navy School,
Bear Wood'








Inspecting the pupils




'Inspecting the boys'







Two 'Reading Mercury' news items from November 18th 1939 neatly showed the transition from peace to war: 

Bearwood Stud - in Liquidation


Remembrance Service

The annual parade of the Arborfield, Newland and Bear Wood branch of the British Legion was held on Sunday. Meeting at the Sindlesham corner, the procession was headed by the band of the R.M.N. School (Bear Wood) and the standard bearer of the branch (Mr. Cooling) led the Legion members.

The Women’s Section was led by Mrs. Flower as standard bearer. The service at the church was conducted by Captain Benson, of the Church Army.

The 'Times and Weekly News' of November 17th reported the event slightly differently, locating the service in the school Chapel:

The beautiful chapel of the Royal Merchant Navy School at Bearwood was almost filled on Sunday afternoon when a Service of Remembrance was held by the Arborfield, Newland and Bearwood branch of the British Legion. The members assembled at Sindlesham Corner and amongst those present were Mr. John Simonds (President), Captain Peel and Mrs. Capper (Vice-Presidents), Major Morris (Chairman), Mr. Arthur J. Bentley (Hon. Secretary), Mrs. Simonds (President of the Women’s Section), Mrs. Peele (Vice-President) and Mrs. Hopgood (Hon. Secretary). […]

The service was conducted by Capt. Benson of the Church Army. […]

A few weeks later, the 'Times and Weekly News' reported:

John Walter and the Bearwood Connection

We understand that Mr. John Walter has taken over the house at Bear Wood, formerly occupied by Mrs. Fox, and has taken up residence there, thus resuming a connection with the district already rich in associations with the family. […]

Later in the War, the newspaper reported on Mr. Walter’s lectures in Wokingham on the history of the Walter family and Bearwood.


From the 'Reading Mercury on August 2nd:

The King and Queen at Bear Wood

Royal Merchant Navy School

His Majesty taking the salute at the march past of the boys

Three hundred excited, delighted children cheered themselves hoarse at Bear Wood, Wokingham, on Monday, when their Majesties the King and Queen paid their first visit to'The Queen chatting to one of the girls during the inspection' the Royal Merchant Navy School. The King, who is patron of the School, was impressed with the organisation and with the work of the children, and the Queen was most interested with the domestic arrangements.

[… a very long and detailed article on the 1940 Speech Day. Photos by courtesy of the British Newsreel Association].

Right: 'The Queen chatting to one of the girls during the inspection'.'The King inspecting the Bear Wood Home Guard on the occasion of their Majesties' visit to the Royal Merchant Navy School'




Left: 'The King inspecting the Bear Wood Home Guard on the occasion of their Majesties' visit to the Royal Merchant Navy School' 




On August 23rd, the 'Times and Weekly News' announced that a former pupil of the R.M.N.S. had won a Victoria Cross:

Wokingham Man Wins the V.C.

A supplement of the London Gazette announces that the King has been pleased for the grant of the V.C. to Lieutenant Richard Been Stannard, R.N.R., H.M.S. Arab, for outstanding valour and signal devotion to duty at Namsos. This prosaic announcement covers a story of a local lad – a story of valour and gallantry.

Lieutenant Stannard, who was born at Blyth in Northumberland, will celebrate his 38th birthday this week. He is the son of a sailor who lost his life at sea, and was known as “Scrapper” Stannard at the Royal Merchant Navy School, Wokingham, Berkshire, where he was for five years before entering the Merchant Service at the age of fifteen. […]

On the following day, the Reading Mercury carried a photo captioned: 'Rev. A. E. Gilbertson, Chaplain Warden at the R.M.N.S., Bear Wood, reading the account of the gallant action of a former scholar, Lieut. Richard Beer Stannard, which won for him the V.C.'                         [Photo copyright 'Reading Mercury'; used by permission]

'Rev. A. E. Gilbertson reading the account of the gallant action of a former scholar, Lieut. Richard Beer Stannard, which won for him the V.C.'  

On November 14th 1940, the 'Times and Weekly News' reported:

R.M.N.S. Bear Wood

A Remembrance Day Service was held at the Chapel of the Royal Merchant Navy School, Bear Wood, on Sunday afternoon, conducted by the senior Army Chaplain of Arborfield.

A good number of the Home Guard and members of the British Legion, Winnersh Branch and Arborfield Branch attended. Appropriate hymns were sung and Capt. Tune (secretary) read the exhortation.

In 1943, Captain Tune was in the news for a different reason, as described in the 'Times and Weekly News' of October 29th:

Fraudulent Conversion of R.M.N.S. Funds

Former Secretary Sentenced to 4 years’ Hard Labour at the Old Bailey

Committed from Wokingham Police Court in July, George Edward Tune, former secretary of the Royal Merchant Navy School, Bearwood, was on Wednesday sentenced to 4 years’ hard labour by Judge MacClure, at the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey. The accused after hearing his sentence, gave notice of appeal.

The case, which has attracted considerable interest in the district, was first heard at a special Wokingham Court on July 29th, when the case was committed to the Central Criminal Court. The defendant reserving his defence.

CONVERTED £500 TO OWN USE: Tune, a former secretary of the Royal Merchant Navy School, was charged with three offences of converting subscriptions belonging to the Royal Merchant Navy School Pension Fund to his own use. The sum involved was £568 - £312 having been withdrawn in cash from the P.O. account, and £256 by crossed warrant.

It was alleged that this, together with Tune’s own money – a large sum of which he had borrowed – was spent on a Mrs. Wallace, whom he met in 1940. The hearing in London lasted for three days, before a jury of five men and two women; the counsel for the prosecution was Mr. S. H. Noakes, the defending counsel, Mr. B. Stirling.

SPENT LARGE SUM ON CHILDREN’S CLOTHING, ETC.: Tune pleaded in his defence that he had spent a large sum of money on children’s clothing, shorts and stockings, etc., and had given wrist watches to boys leaving the school. He asserted that he also bought carpets and various articles of furniture for the school. In cross-examination he claimed that the clothing had been bought from Jackson’s of Reading, also Selfridges and Harrods. The furniture had been bought second-hand, and no receipts for the transactions were received.

This money, Tune claimed, had been expended in the interests of the school, and that he had never used one penny piece – directly or indirectly – for his own personal use. He further stated that he had made these purchases without the knowledge or sanction of the Board as he knew that they would possibly have considered it extravagant. Continuing, he said that he had spent the money out of his own pocket, and had also borrowed a sum of money from two people who had since died.

RECEIVED £250 FOR FINDING MAN A HOUSE IN WOKINGHAM: He also said that he had received £250 from a man for finding him a house in the Wokingham district. He had kept records of the money he had spent on clothes and furniture, etc., on pieces of paper. In answer to further questions, he said that there would be about 100 sheets which had been filed in his office.

“WOULD HAVE PROVED MY DEFENCE”: “These papers”, asserted Tune, “would have proved my defence but they were removed from my office by someone during the time I was suspended. I was not allowed to go into the office unless I brought a friend and that a member of the Board was present”. Speaking of his own financial position, Tune said that he had received a salary of £500 per annum from the school, and he was in receipt of an army pension of £63 per annum, and that he had received more than £150 from publishers.

On his friendship with Mrs. Wallace, Tune said that it was purely platonic and that he only tried to help her get out of her debt to Harvey Nichols Ltd. Tune claimed that when he took up the appointment at the school in 1939, it had an overdraft of £6,000, but that when he was dismissed, the invested capital of the school was £28,000. After being questioned on this point, Judge MacClure opined that there was no doubt that the war was responsible to some extent for the change of balance, and the public’s appreciation of the wok of the Merchant Navy.

HOUSE AT SINDLESHAM: Mr. Noakes (prosecuting) questioned Tune about a house at Carter’s Hill, Sindlesham, where Mrs. Wallace resided. Tune replied that he had paid the rent of £25. It was subsequently proved by the production of two cheques that he had paid over £60 in two months. This was later admitted by Tune. In consequence of further cross-examination, and questions by Judge MacClure, it was suggested that Tune had spent £1,500 on Mrs. Wallace. This was not disputed by the accused.

Mrs. Carlton Wallace stated that Tune was a friend of hers, and her husband. She had met Tune in 1940, and after they became known to each other, she told him that she owed Harvey Nichols £400. Subsequently she discovered that someone had paid £300 off of her account. [sic]

MINK COAT £198: Questioned by Judge MacClure, “I think you also received a mink coat valued at £198.9.0.”, witness replied “Yes, my Lord.” Cross-examined, she agreed that she had received a writ from a Reading firm, and that Tune had given her the money in cash.

Mrs. M. Nash, of Woodley, a former assistant to Tune at the school, stated that she was, for a time, his private secretary. In answer to questions put to her by Mr. Noakes, she said that there was a letter book, kept in the office, in which he recorded a précis of letters received. This could not now be found, but was in existence at the time she was employed at the school. In response to further questioning, she asserted that the papers which Tune had claimed contained details of purchases were filed with letters in the office, but that they would take a longer time to find, as the index to them was in the letter book. She further stated that the office had been entered during the week that Tune was suspended, by the Headmaster, and by a female member of staff.

“THIS MAN A HUMBUG”: In stating the case for the prosecution, Mr. Noakes addressed the jury by saying “This man is a humbug; he is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. There was never a simpler case of fraudulent conversion”. Judge MacClure’s summing up took two hours, and the jury decided their verdict without retiring, within two minutes.

Judge MacClure, in passing sentence said, “This is a very serious case. We owe a great deal of gratitude to the Merchant Navy, and this man broke his trust.”

During his address to the jury, Counsel for the defence (Mr. B. Stirling) paid a warm compliment to Det. Sgt. Chrisptoher, of the Wokingham Police, for the very fair and impartial way in which he gave evidence.

In mid-summer, the 'Mercury' always reported the annual Speech Day at the R.M.N.S. On September 2nd 1944, it showed a photograph with the caption: Admiralty Sea Cadets at Bear Wood “invade” the island during their mock battle. A separate news article described the day’s proceedings.

With acknowledgements to:

Surrey & Berkshire Media ('Times and Weekly News and 'Reading Standard');
Berkshire Media ('Reading Mercury').

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