“How could you resist the chance to meet a 6 foot 2, blond, blue-eyed war hero?” is Jonathan Selby’s invitation at Bedales early morning notices as we reassemble after that unnatural coincidence of warm May weather and a bank holiday. His provocative message is to advertise the next stage in the history department’s regal march of Thursday lunchtime lectures – it is, of course, the turn of Richard 1st – aka Lionheart that he refers to. This series of brief and colourful lunchtime lectures, given by different history teachers and designed to help all students gain a better sense of that British chronology – once distinctly unfashionable and now, thankfully, being revisited – is proving popular. Coming from a family where everyone older than me – mother, father and elder brother – were historians I have always found it difficult to see how anyone could not find history endlessly intriguing. In the end – a close call and no regrets – literature got me, but now my own reading for pleasure is at least as much history as literature. So it is always good to hear that something that I have read (a kind gift from one of our young co-travellers in California) and have been very tediously telling everyone else they should read gains additional prominence in influential quarters. In this case it is William Dalrymple’s Return of a King, his masterful account of the disastrous British invasion of Afghanistan in 1839 when, against good intelligence, the British marched into Kabul, deposed one leader (Dost Mohammed Khan) and imposed another (Shah Shuja) who, luckless fellow, had already had a series of ill-fated attempts to assume the kingship. The terrible retreat in 1842, which resulted in wholescale loss of life and just one survivor reaching his destination, is the grisly stuff of legend. The reason for the additional recent publicity, following a good amount of interest with the reviews earlier this year, is that Dalrymple was invited last week to the White House to give a briefing to the CIA and defence departments. In as much as one can be encouraged by anything to do with Afghanistan, it is good to know that there is some interest at this level in the country’s cultural and historical background. No doubt, the Americans’ interest is partly tweaked by the fact that Hamid Karzai is a tribal descendant of Shah Shuja, whilst the Taliban come from the Ghilzai tribe who were the chief opponents of the British as they tried to extricate themselves from the folly of their invasion.
By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools
Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.