Shrewsbury CCF already has three very successful sections (Royal Marines, Army and Royal Air Force) and 122 cadets (87 boys and 35 girls). The Royal Navy were very happy to grant the School permission to form a new section, partly to reflect the growing demand amongst Shrewsbury pupils for the benefits of the ‘cadet experience’.
Admiral Hudson was ‘piped aboard’ the School premises by Cadet Oliver Toms, who did very well in making the right sound on a traditional bosun’s whistle. At the CCF Contingent Dinner that evening our guest congratulated the 16 founding cadet members of the section, which is to be known as the RN Beagle Section, and wished them well.
Sub Lt Philip Lapage is Officer Commanding RN Section. “I chose the name Beagle for the Section for reasons other than the obvious link to Darwin and his voyage," he explains. "Beagle’s captain, Fitzroy, was a man ordered by Their Lordships in the Admiralty to survey and chart the coast of South America, to include the Falklands, Tierra del Fuego and of course, the Galapagos. Making charts is a long and involved business if it is to be done accurately, and hence Beagle was anchored, or was at least very slow-moving, on a given section of coast, for months at a time. While this certainly released Darwin to travel inland, up mountains and across plateaus collecting and observing, it also yielded some of the best charts of the time. In this context, ‘On the Origin of Species’ is a lucky and random offshoot from the prime task of the voyage, and the level of detailed observation and recording that Fitzroy and his officers and midshipmen performed stands proudly juxtaposed with it. Sections of the charts are, to this day, still in use, such was their quality.
One focus of the RN section at present is cartography and navigation, in Fitzroy’s memory. Another is weather interpretation and forecasting – that being the other major contribution Fitzroy made in his era, under the watchful eye of his Naval patron, Admiral Beaufort. Another focus is to have a lot of fun afloat on the river!”
Sub Lt Lapage has been a member of the Chemistry Faculty as well as a Rowing Coach with the RSSBC for more than 35 years and was also Housemaster of Churchill’s Hall from 1994-2005. He adds, "For any wondering what a soon-to-retire schoolteacher is doing proudly sporting one wavy stripe in a brand new RN section, I ought to explain. Having taught navigation for 15 years to Yachtmaster level, and taken school sailing trips for nearly 20 years, my fascination with cartography is still growing. Add to that one elderly (deceased) relative who, as watch officer, pushed 'Action' on board HMS Tiger as the High Seas Fleet hove in to view and took part at Jutland, and another who flew Seafires in 807 squadron, Fleet Air Arm, about 27 years later, I feel a certain affinity for the deep blue of the Senior Service. I am, in fact, in possession of the pictures from the photo reconnaissance of Marseilles harbour the day after the Axis troops withdrew in 1944.
“More: it serves the very DNA of Shrewsbury School that a small group of pupils may be inspired by the slightly lunatic enthusiasm of a teacher and learn how to join the fun. So when asked, I naturally said - yes!"
He will be assisted in his role by Lt Alex Russell. Chief Petty Officer Ed Hart is the first RN senior cadet NCO.
The broad function of the Combined Cadet Force is not recruitment to the Services (although it does inspire some cadets to carry on into the Reserve or Regular Forces after they leave school) but, to quote from its Founding Charter, “to provide a disciplined organisation within a school so that boys and girls may develop powers of leadership by means of training to promote the qualities of responsibility, self-reliance, resourcefulness, endurance and perseverance, and a sense of service to the community. It is firmly believed that the self-discipline required in Service life is equally important in the civil life of the nation today.”